MacArthur Funds Team Bracing for Climate Change on the East Coast

Extreme weather events like the 2012 Hurricane Sandy have focused East Coasters on the scary realities of climate change. One group of researchers and regional nonprofits is teaming up to assess the threats and help communities prepare, thanks to a $1 million grant from the MacArthur Foundation. 

The Boston Globe recently ran an article about real estate on Cape Cod, that precariously narrow strip of land that has always been favorite getaway among New Englanders. One couple described their experience with a house they thought was perfect:

“When we came back. … The house was twice as close to the water as it had been,” Carno said. “We decided then and there [that] we wanted to be on the second row back from the water.”

Indeed, there is a growing apprehension that things are changing near the shoreline, and vacation real estate is just one aspect. There are also intense storms, flooding, ocean acidification, and impact to commercial fishing.  

One of the most renowned research institutions in the region is studying the array of threats facing the coastal Northeast, focusing on Buzzards Bay, the body of water just south of Cape Cod. With a $1 million grant from the MacArthur Foundation, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution is working closely with conservation nonprofits in Buzzards Bay to make a multi-pronged evaluation of the threats facing the spot. It's hoping to develop potential science-based solutions and adaptations that will be applicable broadly to communities on the East Coast.

Related: MacArthur Foundation: Grants for Conservation

The grant will support a research team at WHOI, and its work with Buzzards Bay Coalition, the Commercial Fisheries Research Foundation and the Nature Conservancy, both to come up with future ocean management strategies, and to help connect the science with the public, local stakeholders, and decision-makers. 

There will be three main focuses in the research: 

Sea-level rise and coastal flooding: This branch of the project will look at the risks from increasing frequency and intensity of storms as well as rising coastlines. One interesting component is a study with the Nature Conservancy about creating artificial reefs to mitigate the impacts of storms.

Coastal water quality and ocean acidification:Acidification poses a major threat to, among other things, shellfish production. This component will build on citizen monitoring done by the Buzzards Bay Coalition to further study water quality in the area.

Ocean climate warming and fisheries: This component links up researchers and commercial fishermen and women, equipping them with oceanographic sampling tools and working with the Commercial Fisheries Research Foundation to coordinate the two communities.

The WHOI grant is part of the MacArthur Foundation’s relatively new subprogram on climate change mitigation and adaptation, branching out from its strong emphasis on global conservation (although it is also very interested in fisheries).

And MacArthur’s funding of such programs is part of a growing field of resilience and adaptation in environmental philanthropy, in which funders seek to help prepare for the looming threats of climate change. 

Related: Resilience is Hot Among Climate Funders. Here's Who Is Out Front Prepping for Doom