25 years of RAE: A look back to the beginning from a founding board member

Guest blog by Mark Davis, former Executive Director for the Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana and one of the founding board members of Restore America’s Estuaries.

A huge amount of American history revolves around estuaries. Almost all of our country’s first cities were built around estuaries.  We called them bays, sounds, and even lakes but they were estuaries and provided food, shelter, and connections between a growing continent and the rest of the world.  They served us really, really well and in return we took them for granted.  No, we did worse than that. We abused them to the point that many of them were dying.  By the 1970s and 80s condition of our estuaries had become a point of embarrassment and then a point of action.  Action rooted in community action and fueled by philanthropy. Each of the groups that formed RAE had that in common.  We did not know each other well but there were things we did know.

We knew that most people did not know what an estuary was or why they were important.  We knew that our estuaries faced chronic challenges and newer ones like sea level rise and climate change. We knew that regulation was necessary to save them but regulation alone was not enough—restoration had to be the goal.  We knew that each estuary is unique but that they had things and needs in common. And we knew that estuaries need to have a voice. 

Knowing those things did not make anything happen.  Coming together with that knowledge did.  That is what made RAE happen.  That is what makes RAE work.  RAE combines local roots with national reach and advocacy with outreach and education.  We only had kind of an idea of what RAE might become when we formed it.  It was a bit of an experiment.  I am glad to say it still is because there is no status quo in this racket.  I have been part of some pretty cool things over the years and RAE is one of the coolest. 

Founding RAE Board and funders, 1999