Nature-based solutions to coastal climate threats are an innovative approach to building resilience in our coastal communities. Natural infrastructure is the introduction or restoration of natural resources and systems — such as salt-marshes, rain gardens, open space, or even rocks and seagrass — that not only enrich the natural environment of a given area but support in mitigating the effects of climate change.

Maine is home to many coastal communities that are already experiencing flooding as a result of sea level rise. Utilizing natural infrastructure to minimize coastal flooding allows us to effectively respond to climate change by looking to nature for answers.

Nature-based resilience

In November, the Greater Portland Council of Governments was awarded $250,000 by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and along with the Gulf of Maine Research Institute identified another $250,000 in matching funds, to support nature-based climate action planning in the region.

Utilizing natural infrastructure to minimize coastal flooding allows communities to effectively respond to climate change by looking to nature for answers. Shawn Patrick Ouellette photo/Press Herald

Over the course of the two-year project, Greater Portland Council of Governments will work with 11 coastal communities in the region, including South Portland, to find nature-based solutions to combat coastal flooding. The project aims to be a collaborative effort between community members who will be affected by coastal flooding, volunteers, city employees, elected officials and community leaders. The two years will be dedicated to data collection and research to develop best practices for this regional initiative and planning exercises that result in a project pipeline. At the end of the project, the 11 communities will be well-prepared to implement natural infrastructure projects across the region.

“Now is really the time to do the planning that will ensure that our coast is resilient economically, environmentally, and socially to the coming impacts of the climate crisis, it is essential that we understand what our regional vulnerability is, and find sustainable solutions to reduce our risk” said Sara Mills-Knapp, Greater Portland Council of Governments’s director of sustainability.

The benefit of natural infrastructure

The benefits of natural infrastructure along our coasts are plentiful. In addition to being sustainable and cost-effective, these approaches expand and enhance our open spaces and support habitat for species. Natural infrastructure strengthens coastal communities like South Portland by providing a buffer to important infrastructure and by keeping our coastal shorelines healthy and able to absorb the impact of climate threats.

Our very own Bug Light Park is a prime example of natural infrastructure making our community resilient. The rocky edge of the park as well as the large grassy area are not only a recreational highlight of our city, but protects us from coastal flood risk. Waves break on the rocks that line the park and the grass absorbs any flooding before it can damage our streets, sidewalks and other infrastructure. Other examples in the region include living shorelines, which use natural materials to stabilize shorelines.

As South Portland collaborates with the Greater Portland Council of Governments and communities in our region over the next two years, we will identify coastal resilience projects that improve and increase our resilience to flooding. By implementing natural infrastructure, we are taking a proactive approach to making our city and coasts resilient to sea level rise, flooding and other climate risks, and preparing for a safe, sustainable future for our community.

If you are interested in learning more about Greater Portland Council of Governments’s coastal resilience projects, reach out to Sara Mills-Knapp, director of sustainability, at [email protected]

Our Sustainable City is a recurring column intended to provide residents with news and information about sustainability initiatives in South Portland. Follow the Sustainability Office on Instagram and Facebook @soposustainability.

Mia Ambroiggio is a Greater Portland Council of Governments Resilience Corps fellow serving with the South Portland Sustainability Office. She can be reached at [email protected]

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