Biden Administration Supports Resilience in the Gullah/Geechee Nation

The Gullah/Geechee Nation‘s citizens are beating drums along our shoreline today as we enter into celebrating Earth Day 2023. The celebration follows an outstanding Coastal Cultures Conference that was held on historic St. Helena Island, SC in the Gullah/Geechee Nation which brought together a wide array of national environmental and ocean justice partners to engage in dialogue with leaders of the Gullah/Geechee Nation and the Gullah/Geechee Sustainability Think Tank. During their convening, they discussed the numerous hurdles to advancing resilience and adaptation plans for the Gullah/Geechee Nation‘s coast. They were awaiting information from the United States government regarding support for various grant proposals that had been submitted. Today, Vice President Harris announced that the Department of Commerce has recommended $15.5 million for projects across South Carolina to make communities and the economy more resilient to climate change, as part of the investing in America agenda. Across South Carolina, eight projects will create jobs and boost economic and environmental outcomes for coastal communities. The awards are made under the Biden Administration’s Climate-Ready Coasts initiative funded through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) with additional funds leveraged from the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). 

“The Biden-Harris Administration is proud to uplift projects that support diverse and underrepresented populations impacted most by climate change,” said Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo. “Equity is at the core of everything we do at the Department of Commerce, so I am proud to recommend funding for projects that will support community-based efforts to restore wildlife habitats, improve water quality, and create jobs in the communities that are served.”

Administered by the Department of Commerce’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Climate-Ready Coasts initiative is focused on investing in high-impact projects that create climate solutions by storing carbon; build resilience to coastal hazards such as extreme weather events, pollution and marine debris; restore coastal habitats that help wildlife and humans thrive; build the capacity of underserved communities and support community-driven restoration; and provide employment opportunities.

“Florida’s elaborate coral reefs, vast shorelines, and national marine sanctuary attract thousands of environmental enthusiasts each year,” said NOAA Administrator Rick Spinrad, Ph.D. “These vital investments will help preserve and protect the natural wonders of Florida for future generations to enjoy.”

“Climate change is impacting South Carolina’s coastal ecosystems and the communities that depend on them, bringing impacts like rising sea levels and more frequent flooding,” said Rick Spinrad, Ph.D., NOAA administrator. “This funding will help address these risks– with new partners offering valuable perspectives and an emphasis on equity – and build climate-smart solutions that will make South Carolina prepared for the future.”

“From extreme flooding to shoreline erosion and habitat loss, the climate crisis is wreaking havoc on our coastal communities,” said Congressman James E. Clyburn (SC-06). “This latest round of Infrastructure Law and Inflation Reduction Act funding will allow NOAA to invest in various projects across South Carolina, including climate resiliency and restoration efforts along the Gullah/Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor. These recommendations will help protect our coastal economy and improve the quality of life for local residents who bear the brunt of this crisis.”

“Ossabaw Island and the traditional lands of the Gullah/Geechee are seeing increased flooding and storm activity that puts ecological and resources in harm’s way,” said NOAA Administrator Rick Spinrad, Ph.D. “These recommended investments will help build living shorelines for Ossabaw Island, and allow the Gullah/Geechee to develop tailored resilience plans that can guide future adaptation actions.” 

“Senator Warnock and I are delivering infrastructure upgrades to strengthen coastal resilience and protect our communities from tropical storms and coastal flooding,” Senator Jon Ossoff said. “Our bipartisan infrastructure law will deliver long-overdue upgrades to Georgia’s infrastructure for years to come.”

“I fought to pass the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and Inflation Reduction Act because I knew these transformational laws would create lasting progress in North Carolina and beyond,” said Congresswoman Deborah Ross (NC-02). “North Carolinians are all too familiar with the burden of extreme weather, and this funding from the Climate-Ready Coasts Initiative will help our coastal communities better prepare for and respond to high-impact weather events.”

“North Carolina’s recommended projects focus on protecting undeveloped shoreline, restoring oyster habitat, removing abandoned vessels and other debris from waterways, and deepening the relationship between people and their environment,” said NOAA Administrator Rick Spinrad, Ph.D. “NOAA is proud to recommend and support such projects, which represent multiple approaches toward building healthier, more resilient coasts and coastal communities.”

The Gullah/Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor is a national heritage area that runs through the Gullah/Geechee Nation. Queen Quet, Chieftess of the Gullah/Geechee Nation who was an Expert Commissioner on the inaugural Gullah/Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor Commission and who served as the General Management Plan Chair will be engaged in several of the projects that will be funded. She stated: “Tenk GAWD fa disya! We land da we famlee and disya gwine keep we coast ya fa de Gullah/Geechee famlee stay ya. We binya and ain gwine nowhey! I have personally been focused on engaging with numerous divisions of the US government and with various sustainability, adaptation and resilience partners for decades in order to have them assist us in making the Sea Islands more resilient especially in the face of climate change. Therefore, I am looking forward to engaging in the numerous projects that NOAA will be funding along our shoreline especially the ‘Gullah/Geechee CREATE Debris Removal Project‘ that we will work on with The South Carolina Sea Grant Consortium which has been a part of the Gullah/Geechee Sustainability Think Tank since its inception. I’ve worked on living shorelines with SCORE (South Carolina Oyster Restoration & Enhancement) for decades. However, the Gullah/Geechee have truly scored this time! Tenk GAWD!”

These projects are part of NOAA’s nearly $6 billion total investment under BIL and IRA. Recommended projects and funding amounts in South Carolina include:

  • Transforming the Scale and Equity of Living Shorelines in South Carolina
    The Nature Conservancy: $6.2 million
    Funding Source: Transformational Habitat Restoration and Coastal Resilience Grants

    This investment will expand and significantly scale up the use of nature-based solutions for coastal resilience along the entire coastline of South Carolina. This work includes accelerating existing habitat efforts to prioritize and implement living shoreline projects in underserved communities, developing a plan to address statewide coastal risks in using large-scale nature-based solutions, and implementing a living shoreline demonstration project at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort. The project will partner with the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor to support an ongoing community ambassadors program, which will contribute to the long term buy-in and installation of living shoreline projects. An array of recreationally and commercially valuable fish species will benefit from the coastal habitat improvement. 
  • South Carolina’s Black River State Park Land Conservation Project in Georgetown County
    South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control: $4.5 million
    Funding Source: Coastal Zone Management Habitat Protection and Restoration Grants

    This investment will allow conservation partners to conserve 1,800 acres of key floodplain properties within two coastal counties. The area will allow for recreational uses compatible with habitat protection, including fishing, non-motorized boating, birding, hiking, biking, kayaking, camping, picnicking, and environmental education. 
  • From Blue-Gray to Blue-Green: Facilitating the Transition to Non-Plastic Natural Material Use Within the Coastal Zone Economy
    South Carolina Sea Grant Consortium: $2.6 million
    Funding Source: Marine Debris Challenge Competition

    This investment will catalyze the replacement of plastics with natural materials in South Carolina and the Southeast United States, including those used in coastal restoration, water quality protection and aquaculture initiatives, via testing from lab to mesocosm to field pilot scales, leveraging regional partnerships and community linkages for maximum impact. This project aims to strengthen connections between displaced/disenfranchised African American communities and coastal environmental sectors, enhance Historically Black Colleges and Universities’ research and educational capacity, inform K-12 students regarding  plastics pollution in South Carolina, and develop the next generation of cutting-edge environmental professionals.
  • Improving the Resilience of Salt Marsh Ecosystems within the ACE Basin through the Creation of Intertidal Oyster Reef Habitat
    South Carolina Department of Natural Resource: $620,00
    Funding Source: National Estuarine Research Reserve System Habitat Protection and Restoration Grants

    This project will address salt marsh erosion and habitat loss, and generate essential fish habitat, by creating intertidal oyster reefs within the ACE Basin National Estuarine Research Reserve. The project will also promote salt marsh stewardship by engaging various stakeholder groups, including the use of volunteers, in the project implementation efforts. 
  • Capacity Expansion to Support Habitat Restoration and Resilience in the Gullah Geechee Corridor  
    Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor: $536,000
    Funding Source: Coastal Habitat Restoration and Resilience Grants for Underserved Communities

    The Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor will create new staff positions to expand their work creating a plan for restoration and resilience across the Corridor, which stretches from North Carolina through Florida. The new positions will help build relationships between restoration organizations and Gullah Geechee communities, identify the resilience priorities of community members, and form local advisory committees to support future restoration efforts. 
  • Co-creating Inclusive Community Resilience with Nature-based Solutions in the Coastal Carolinas
    National Audubon Society: $499,000
    Funding Source: Coastal Habitat Restoration and Resilience Grants for Underserved Communities

    The National Audubon Society will work with coastal communities to identify and propose nature-based solutions that increase resilience to extreme weather and climate change. They will collaboratively create a suite of proposed projects that address the goals and challenges of Awendan and McClellanville, South Carolina, and Columbia and Tyrrell County, North Carolina. They will also hire community planners to support the process and help coordinate future restoration. 
  • Gullah/Geechee CREATE: Coastal Debris Removal Engaging Artists through Environmental Cleanups
    South Carolina Sea Grant Consortium: $299,000
    Funding Source: Marine Debris Community Action Coalitions

    This project will result in multiple community-based clean-up efforts across Gullah/Geechee communities in South Carolina. Cleanup event attendees will gain scientific literacy through collecting and entering marine debris data. The marine debris collected at these events will then be converted into artwork by local Gullah/Geechee artists, and subsequent showcase events will highlight the art installations in concert with marine debris education opportunities. Partners include the Gullah/Geechee Nation, the Gullah Geechee Chamber Foundation, and the Gullah Preservation Society.
  • The Lowcountry NETwork: Building a Coalition of Community Members, Shrimpers, Educators, and Conservationists to Remove and Recycle Marine Debris
    South Carolina Sea Grant Consortium: $299,000
    Funding Source: Marine Debris Community Action Coalitions

    Trawl to Trash, an existing, successful Sea Grant program, engages the public in stewardship activities that educate communities about the impacts of marine debris and encourage use of upcycled stow bags made by commercial shrimpers from  nets that would have been discarded to prevent littering, and to collect and remove debris from waterways. This investment seeks to expand the program to additional communities that have commercial shrimping activity, to enhance education and outreach capacity, and to sustain a successful program with existing community partners while fostering new collaborations across South Carolina and Georgia coasts, including communities within the Gullah Geechee National Cultural Heritage Corridor, which is a federal National Heritage Area. Partners include University of Georgia Marine Extension, Georgia Sea Grant, and the Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor. 

Recommended projects and funding amounts in Georgia includes:

  • Ossabaw Island Living Shoreline: A Collaboration to Model Resiliency through Ecosystem Restoration
    Georgia Department of Natural Resources Coastal Resources Division: $826,000
    Funding Source: Coastal Zone Management Habitat Protection and Restoration Grants
    This project will result in the design and construction of a living shoreline on Ossabaw Island in Georgia. Significant ecological and cultural resources are being lost to erosion on the island due to an increase in storm events, wave frequency, and tidal inundation. The project will restore functional estuarine habitat and protect natural shoreline ecosystems, while preserving unique cultural and archeological resources. 
  • Capacity Expansion to Support Habitat Restoration and Resilience in the Gullah Geechee Corridor
    Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor: $536,000
    Funding Source: Coastal Habitat Restoration and Resilience Grants for Underserved Communities
    The Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor will create new staff positions to expand their work creating a plan for restoration and resilience across the Corridor, which stretches from North Carolina through Florida. The new positions will help build relationships between restoration organizations and Gullah/Geechee communities, identify the resilience priorities of community members, and form local advisory committees to support future restoration efforts.

Recommended projects and funding amounts in North Carolina include:

  • Completing the Pamlico Sound Oyster Sanctuary and Training the Next Generation of Restoration Professionals
    North Carolina Coastal Federation: $14.9 million
    Funding Source: Transformational Habitat Restoration and Coastal Resilience Grants  
    This project will restore nearly 120 acres of oyster habitat in Pamlico Sound, completing the 500-acre goal of the Jean Preston Memorial Oyster Sanctuary. Oyster restoration will provide direct benefits to key recreational and commercial species such as striped bass and wild oysters thereby supporting commercial and recreational fisheries and tourism businesses throughout the state’s coast. Additionally, NCCF will join with North Carolina State University’s Center for Marine Sciences and Technology and North Carolina Central University to provide hands-on opportunities for underrepresented graduate and undergraduate students studying marine sciences. 
  • North Carolina Large-scale Marine Debris and Abandoned and Derelict Vessel Removal
    North Carolina Coastal Federation: $4.5 million
    Funding Source: Marine Debris Removal Competition
    This project will remove storm-related debris, lost fishing gear, and derelict vessels throughout coastal North Carolina. In addition, the project will seek to prevent marine debris that future storms generate through broad public outreach to increase awareness and encourage more resilient building techniques for waterfront structures.
  • Capacity Expansion to Support Habitat Restoration and Resilience in the Gullah Geechee Corridor  
    Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor: $536,000
    Funding Source: Coastal Habitat Restoration and Resilience Grants for Underserved Communities
    The Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor will create new staff positions to expand their work creating a plan for restoration and resilience across the Corridor, which stretches from North Carolina through Florida. The new positions will help build relationships between restoration organizations and Gullah/Geechee communities, identify the resilience priorities of community members, and form local advisory committees to support future restoration efforts.   
  • Bay River Coastal Land Conservation 
    North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission: $500,000
    Funding Source: Coastal Zone Management Habitat Protection and Restoration Grants
    This investment will support the Bay River Coastal Partnership in the purchase and conservation of an ecologically significant coastal property within the over 400-acre Bay River Tract in Pamlico County. Conservation of this area will protect an undeveloped natural shoreline and rare coastal forest communities, minimize the loss of life and property by directing development out of a high risk area, and safeguard coastal water quality along the Bay River.
  • Co-creating Inclusive Community Resilience with Nature-based Solutions in the Coastal Carolinas
    National Audubon Society: $499,000
    Funding Source: Coastal Habitat Restoration and Resilience Grants for Underserved Communities
    The National Audubon Society will work with coastal communities to identify and propose nature-based solutions that increase resilience to extreme weather and climate change. They will collaboratively create a suite of proposed projects that address the goals and challenges of Awendan and McClellanville, South Carolina, and Columbia and Tyrrell County, North Carolina. They will also hire community planners to support the process and help coordinate future restoration. 

Recommended projects and funding amounts in Florida include:

  • Multi-Site Coral Reef Restoration to Build Resilient Communities in Florida, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands
    Coral Restoration Foundation: $6.9 million 
    Funding Source: Transformational Habitat Restoration and Coastal Resilience Grants
    Investments in coral reef restoration will help provide coastal protection, enhance fisheries, and support recreation and tourism economies across Florida, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. This project will help rebuild populations of five Endangered Species Act-listed corals at multiple sites, including reefs associated with ongoing NOAA efforts in these areas. The project’s outreach and education activities will engage Girl Scouts, student interns, and the local community by building on an established outreach program.
  • Hogans Creek Restoration Design Project
    Groundwork Jacksonville: $2.9 million 
    Funding Source: Transformational Habitat Restoration and Coastal Resilience Grants
    This investment will support planning efforts to restore wetland and upland habitats along Hogans Creek, which will ultimately include removing culverts and daylighting sections of the creek that run underground. This work will create habitat for species such as sturgeon, shrimp, crabs, and red drum and is one of the top two flood reduction priorities for the City of Jacksonville. 
  • McCoys Creek Restoration Construction – The Branches
    Groundwork Jacksonville: $2.8 million 
    Funding Source: Transformational Habitat Restoration and Coastal Resilience Grants
    Restoring natural habitats like wetlands and forested areas along creeks are an important way to reduce flooding in urban areas. This project has been identified as a top flood reduction priority by the City of Jacksonville’s and will eliminate or reduce flooding for homes and other structures in adjacent neighborhoods. This investment will also increase and enhance green space as part of the Emerald Trail system, improve stream water quality, and support community engagement through an expansion of the existing Community Restoration Environmental Stewardship Training program.
  • Capacity Expansion to Support Habitat Restoration and Resilience in the Gullah Geechee Corridor  
    Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor: $536,000
    Funding Source: Coastal Habitat Restoration and Resilience Grants for Underserved Communities
    The Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor will create new staff positions to expand their work creating a plan for restoration and resilience across the Corridor, which stretches from North Carolina through Florida. The new positions will help build relationships between restoration organizations and Gullah/Geechee communities, identify the resilience priorities of community members, and form local advisory committees to support future restoration efforts.  

The Gullah/Geechee Nation‘s leaders are ready to sail out with NOAA on these outstanding projects to ensure that the quality of life and human health as well as the health of our ocean will be improved. Tenki Tenki Biden Administration fa supportin we Gullah/Geechee!

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