2022 Summit – Reflections from Sophia Tigges

By Sophia Tigges

My name is Sophia, and I am a coastal geomorphologist and PhD student in the Department of Earth & Environment at Boston University. My research concerns coastal resiliency in beach and saltmarsh environments, and I am interested in environmental justice, community engagement, and science communication. I was excited for the opportunity to attend the 2022 RAE Coastal & Estuarine Summit because the sessions and workshops covered all of these topics, and I wanted to gain in-depth knowledge of each of them.

On my first day, I participated in the hands-on restoration project with the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana (CRCL),where we planted native cypress trees and bagged recycled oyster shells for reef construction. I am a field scientist at heart, so I had a lot of fun getting muddy and learning about CRCL’s extensive work in coastal restoration and environmental education. I also met other enthusiastic participants from nonprofits, industry positions, academic institutions, and all levels of government; connecting with other people over shared passions and goals was a very special experience.

While I knew that it would be hard to top that first day, I was still looking forward to the concurrent sessions. I went to the summit wanting to learn more about living shorelines and nature-based solutions for coastal erosion, science communication through art and educational programming, and marsh restoration in the northeastern United States. I mapped out some sessions that covered these topics, but I left some space in my schedule to choose other subjects that seemed interesting in the moment. Overall, I learned so much through the presentations about specific case studies of restoration efforts, coastal engineering projects, and outreach programs. However, my favorite sessions were about incorporating art into coastal practices, partnering with Indigenous communities, and Gullah/Geechee cultural and coastal heritage.

For me, a significant part of the summit experience was connecting with other people. On the first night, I explored all of the tables and booths during the President’s Opening Reception. I combed through the pamphlets, booklets, and handouts for examples of effective science communication, and I saw so much creativity in the materials that I read. I also did a beach cleanup crossword puzzle with the Ocean Conservancy and painted an oyster shell with CRCL, which will soon be installed in a reef.

At the Poster Session Happy Hour, I talked with other graduate students about their research. I had so much fun discussing shared experiences and hearing about the most current work in many different areas of marine science. I also met up with some of the other RAE scholarship students, and I feel that we made lasting connections and will keep in touch.

On my last morning, I had time to grab some beignets from Café du Monde before heading to a workshop on nature-based features in coastal systems. On the plane ride home, I was able to reflect on my summit experience.

I often feel a bit bogged down (pun intended?) with the weight and immediacy of the environmental work that we do, but the summit helped to shift my mindset to a more positive outlook. I had the chance to feel like I was part of a broader community of people who are working toward similar goals and forming a collaborative culture that advocates for change. I was amazed by the amount of support that I saw, and I feel re-inspired to continue to work in my community to practice and share what I have learned.

To summarize my student summit experience, I created an RAE bingo card to bring with me next time. The card includes reminders to listen, be curious, talk to new people, take care of my mind and body, and have fun. I hope to carry my experience with me as I continue to do coastal resiliency work. Thank you for a wonderful summit!