RAE Summit brings more than 1,375 coastal restoration professionals to New Orleans
By Rob Shane
In its 11th iteration, the 2022 Coastal & Estuarine Summit Hosted by Restore America’s Estuaries convened coastal restoration, management and policy professionals and practitioners to New Orleans, LA and through our virtual platform to celebrate our collective successes and discuss the future of restoration and conservation for bays and estuaries.
New Orleans, situated precariously on the banks of the Mississippi River and a short drive or boat ride from the Gulf of Mexico, was the ideal place to host this year’s Summit. Threatened by increasingly volatile and more regular storms, sea level rise, and land loss, the Mississippi River Delta is ground zero for the worst of what we can expect in the future of climate change.
In the face of these threats, coastal Louisiana also represents the epitome of this year’s Summit theme: Resilient Coasts. Resilient Communities. Hurricanes Ida, Delta, Katrina, and many more have wreaked havoc on coastal Louisiana, yet these coastal communities have continuously bounced back from tragedy to strengthen their legacy as centers of culture, community, and commerce.
How do we change the narrative, though? As Jessica Dandridge, Executive Director of the Water Collaborative stated, I don’t want my community to be resilient. I want my community to thrive!
With that sentiment in mind, RAE approached the 2022 Summit in search of solutions to our most challenging questions facing coastal restoration. How can communities’ partner with the federal government, state agencies, for-profit and non-profit organizations to achieve our shared goals of thriving coastal ecosystems?
We kicked off the week with hands-on opportunities for Summit attendees to see the challenges that face coastal Louisiana firsthand through field sessions, workshops, and a restoration project led by RAE Member Group and Summit partner Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana (CRCL). Registrants planted native flora to help with coastal erosion, assisted in the construction of oyster reefs, kayaked through local swamps and bays, and learned valuable skills like working with the media to get your success stories seen by a larger audience. These activities have become a staple for Summit attendees, and we are so happy to partner with local organizations and businesses to offer outside the box opportunities.
The Summit program began on Monday, Dec 4th with our Opening Plenary featuring local leaders in coastal restoration and community resilience. This conversation was kickstarted by Sharon Lavigne, founder of Rise St. James, a community-based organization based in St. James Parish, LA. Bringing the crowd to their feet in applause, Ms. Lavigne spoke to the environmental injustice St. James and other predominantly black and brown communities have been burdened with in favor of industry and development. Her story was an optimistic one though, speaking to the power that communities have when they together to advocate for their rights to clean water, air, and livelihoods.
We were also honored to have Janet Coit, Assistant Administrator of NOAA Fisheries and Chip Kline of Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority speak on behalf of the federal government and state of Louisiana’s initiatives to combat climate change, habitat loss, and better prepare for future disasters through community led restoration. We also heard recorded remarks from Congressman Garrett Graves (LA-06) who touched on the importance of bipartisan solutions to fund coastal resilience.
In addition to our plenary speakers, this year’s Summit also featured our largest collection of presenters and dedicated sessions in history. Sandwiched between our opening and closing plenaries, more than 500 of the nation’s (and even a few international) coastal restoration professionals shared their personal stories at 110 different sessions. Additionally, RAE showcased more than 140 posters in our expo hall, highlighting innovative work and research from students, government agencies, non-profits, and private companies.
The content of this year’s Summit was as diverse as it’s ever been, too. There were traditional conversations about wetlands, living shorelines, and the importance of nature-based solutions – all incredibly valuable – but we also had a larger than ever before focus on diversity, equity, inclusion, justice, and access (DEIJA). In that same breath, we were also happy to work with our sponsors to award more than 50 scholarships to students and early-career professionals from traditionally underserved and underrepresented communities to attend the 2022 Summit.
To improve access to the Summit content, this was also our first ever hybrid Summit, with more than 200 attendees joining us virtually. Due to a myriad of reasons, many people were not able to make the trip to New Orleans, but we felt it important to offer an alternative opportunity for folks to have access to the information discussed at the event. Additionally, all 175 hours of content presented at the Summit is available on-demand for registrants to view until March 10th.
There was also a heavy focus on the emerging science of blue carbon, or the ability of coastal ecosystems to store sequester carbon dioxide, at this year’s event. RAE has long been a leader in the blue carbon field, and we were happy to convene some of the leading experts for in the space for multiple workshops, sessions, and conversations as we try to emphasize the importance of coastal ecosystems in the fight against climate change to policy makers and land managers at the state and federal level. Highlighting our blue carbon conversations was a workshop led by Principal Sponsor, The Pew Charitable Trusts the day after the closing of the Summit.
In addition to Pew, there were more than 60 sponsors and exhibitors that showed their support for the future of coastal restoration and conservation. We’d like to thank all our sponsors for making this year’s Summit a success, especially our lead sponsor, NOAA. Joining Pew, we are also thankful for the support of the USDA – NRCS at the Principal level and for our Executive Sponsors, the U.S. EPA, CWPPRA, The Curtis and Edith Munson Foundation, the Walton Family Foundation, Stantec, and The Ocean Foundation.
Lastly, we’d also like to thank our friends at the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) for choosing the Summit as the backdrop to host their 2022 National Coastal Resilience Fund Grant Announcement. RAE President & CEO, Daniel Hayden, joined Administrator of NOAA, Dr. Rick Spinrad, NFWF Chief Conservation Officer, Holly Bamford, and a few of this year’s awardees to celebrate the investment of roughly $136 million in coastal resilience and restoration projects around the country. (Read the full press release here)
In the end, though, what made this year’s Summit our most successful ever was you. More than 1,375 of you showed up with an open mind while sharing your ideas and experiences with us. We can’t thank you enough and we can’t wait to see you all again in 2024 in the Washington, D.C. region.
Special thanks also to our good friend Andrew Boyd for snapping photos at the 2022 Summit.