My work focuses on understanding, enriching, and improving human relationships with water. I take an engaged and interdisciplinary approach to research and teaching which means that I shape my research to respond to needs for information and critical inquiry. I also collaborate with a diverse set of research partners across disciplines and within communities. My research usually starts with intensive information gathering where I co-define problems, research questions, and general areas of inquiry with the people who will eventually use the final research and writing products. I collaborate and co-publish with people in disciplines such as ecology, oceanography, hydrology, marine policy and biology, anthropology, economics, psychology, environmental engineering, and more. My three main topic areas include coastal resilience, rivers and social-environmental justice, and interdisciplinary collaboration and citizen science.
Communicating Coastal Resilience
My approach to communicating coastal resilience grows out of years of working with clamming communities and in Maine’s shellfish co-management program. Many of my research questions come directly from community partners, including questions how like how do we open closed clam flats or how can we raise awareness about clamming as a livelihood.
Engaged communication research to build adaptive capacity in shellfish co-management
In 2018, my team published a paper in Ocean and Coastal Management that describes what we learned from more than 40 interviews, attending more than 50 shellfish committee meetings, and reviewing many technical documents from the 74 towns that have a shellfish ordinance. In this paper, we drew from rhetoric and environmental communication to create a framework for identifying the ways in which communication shapes co-management as well as communication-focused opportunities to address challenges related to learning, relationship building, and power. This research helped identify how people are defining problems and what, in the face of these problems, may be considered success in co-management. We provided specific communication-focused recommendations for supporting co-management efforts, including strategies to systematically gather information from municipalities to tailor state-municipal partnerships, how to improve and leverage the learning that occurs as part of Shellfish Focus Day, and opportunities for science-based partnerships and to strengthen civic connections with shellfish management. These recommendations are now serving as the foundation for the policy initiatives to strengthen the shellfish co-management system.
This research is also being used to advance multiple initiatives to improve learning, expand partnerships, and strengthen linkages between shellfish science and decision making, including the Maine Shellfish Restoration and Resilience Fund (MSRRF) and the Maine Shellfish Learning Network.
Communicating clamming as a livelihood and culture
Clamming is a way of life like no other. The places in which clamming takes place are incredibly beautiful, shaped by the rhythms of the tides washing into and out of mudflats on twice daily basis. The stories clammers tell about their experiences here, and their observations of change over time, attest to the rich history of this way of life and one that has persisted on Maine’s coast for thousands of years. Yet, few have ever clammed and those who work in the mud face biases in a fishery that is also in steep decline. My team has worked on a number of efforts to communicate about clamming to raise awareness and celebrate the culture of this unique way of life. I lead multiple engaged digital media efforts to help raise awareness and communicate about clamming through multiple media. Clam Cam (http://nest.maine.edu/clamcam/) is one of the most significant efforts in this area. We also provide digital media services for the annual Shellfish Focus Day at the Maine Fishermen’s Forum. I am currently working with a web developer to combine and archive all of our shellfish-related digital media products into a single website, Communicating Clamming, which will launch this fall.
Community partnerships and decision support for water quality
I work with an interdisciplinary team to connect communication research and community partnership approaches with hydrological and oceanographic studies that feed into decision support processes to improve water quality decision making. Coastal pollution is a major issue, and one that is expected to worsen under climate change as rainstorms become more intense and patchy. The State of Maine takes a precautionary approach to water quality closures, which results in large areas of the coast being closed to clamming and related fishing activities. This has negative social and economic consequences for the people who rely on access to these areas for their livelihoods. Our team works to improve the understanding about the relationships between sources of pollution, delivery of pollution through watersheds, and residence time in coastal estuaries.
Water quality, river restoration, and social-environmental justice
Thinking with water can fundamentally shift how we see ourselves in the world. In my work, thinking with water in general and with rivers in particular has helped me begin to understand the disparate impacts of water pollution and management on coastal communities and indigenous peoples. My focus on rivers and social-environmental justice seeks to understand and transform the disparate impacts of water pollution and management, especially for how these regimes and practices affect clammer and coastal livelihoods as well as the the health and sovereignty of Indigenous peoples, especially the Penobscot Nation.
Water pollution and damming are social-environmental injustices and efforts to promote river restoration and to improve water quality decision making can also support broader justice-related goals. My work in this area is largely informed by two National Science Foundation funded projects: (1) the Future of Dams Project (Track II NSF EPSCoR, #IIA-1539071) and (2) Contest-based Crowdsourcing Scheme for Public Water Quality Monitoring (NSF EAGER, #1743997).
Interdisciplinary collaboration and citizen science
My interest in addressing complex social-environmental problems feeds into my need to better understand how to develop collaborations across disciplines and with community partners. To that end, I have an extensive set of publications focusing on inter- and transdisciplinary collaboration as well as citizen science where I have identified the importance of decision making in collaboration, the role of governance processes, the value of collaborative writing, the relationships between leadership and adaptive natural resource policy development, and a host of praxis-focused activities to support collaborative efforts.
One of the most recent and important achievements in this area of my scholarship was the invitation to lead the Communication and Team Science (CaTS) research and serve on the Leadership Council for the new $20 million Track I EPSCoR project focused on environmental DNA This project builds from my previous research on inter- and transdisciplinary collaboration and offers an exciting opportunity to fill a key gap in knowledge about the Science of Team Science by bringing rhetorical and communication theory, and especially work in Rhetoric of Science, Technology and Medicine, as well as environmental communication, to this field. I am working closely with Dr. Heather Leslie, the Director of the Darling Marine Center, as well as Dr. Mike Kinnison from the School of Biology and Ecology and collaborating faculty members, Ph.D. students, and postdoctoral associates to lead this research for the next five years.