More than 30 watershed professionals from across the country met face-to-face for the first time in June 2016 to review the early successes and continuing challenges of NOAA’s Habitat Focus Areas. Launched in 2013, Habitat Focus Areas coordinate expertise to improve a large coastal watershed and its community.
NOAA Administrator Dr. Kathryn Sullivan opened the workshop: “Your work in Habitat Focus Areas exemplifies the value and importance of our mission to the well-being of the American people and the health of our environment.”
To appreciate Habitat Focus Area (HFA) challenges and accomplishments, attendees met local non-profit and governmental partners and shared immersion experiences in the Choptank River watershed in Maryland and Delaware. They toured Oxford, Maryland with the town’s manager, examining nature-based solutions that used knowledge from NOAA about flooding and sea level rise. They also sampled local oysters raised by aquaculture after learning about the decimation of natural oyster reefs in Chesapeake Bay.
Partners joining forces with the Choptank River’s HFA include The Nature Conservancy, Envision the Choptank, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Chesapeake Bay Foundation, and several other organizations working in the region.
Places in Need
“HFAs are places that people really care about and where NOAA’s efforts can make a difference,” said Russell Callender, Assistant Administrator for NOAA’s National Ocean Service. He praised the remarkable commitment of the HFA practitioners.
Attendees sincerely believe in HFAs as a model for conservation. “It’s been a highlight of my career at NOAA,” said Lani Watson, the coordinator from the West Hawaii HFA. She witnesses how communities want to support the HFA goals and bring a spirit of “aloha” into its practice.
Practitioners at the 10 HFAs across the nation face the challenge of improving a watershed within a 5-year timeframe. They agree that long-term repairs may take much longer but are grateful for the opportunity to establish relationships that can last a lifetime.