CIRCA Partnerships in Engagement and Education: The Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk and Fairfield Museum Rising Tides Exhibit

By Hannah Spicer, CIRCA Undergraduate Program Assistant Intern, 2016-2017 Academic Year

The Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk was a recent recipient of a $485,000 grant awarded by the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration in the United States Department of Commerce. They were one of five to receive this 2016 Environmental Literacy Grant out of 170 applications emphasizing the need for education projects that build resilience. This is the largest federal award the Aquarium has ever received in their 28 year history.

The Aquarium will use the funding over the next three years on their initiative “Sound Resilience- Get On Board!” This project will include the involvement and professional development of middle and high schoolers and their teachers in Greenwich, Stamford, New Canaan, Darien, Norwalk, Westport, Wilton, Weston, Fairfield, and Bridgeport. The initiative focuses on how severe storms, erosion and environmental hazards threaten these communities, and how communities can mitigate these forces. “Sound Resilience- Get On Board!” has four main goals for students, teachers, and guests. These goals include identifying environmental threats like hurricanes, storm surge, flooding, winter storms, erosion, and runoff; identifying locations and activities vulnerable to those hazards; understanding the science behind those threats and how to measure them; and discovering current and potential mitigation and minimizing efforts of those threats.

The Connecticut Institute for Resilience and Climate Adaptation (CIRCA) was pleased to support the Maritime Aquarium’s proposal during the grant application process. The Aquarium initiative directly relates to CIRCA projects and interests like infrastructure resilience, living shorelines, and coastal and inland flooding. In CIRCA’s letter of support, the Institute encouraged the use of CIRCA’s local climate information and community resilience solutions to guide the initiative’s materials. The CIRCA Director of Community Engagement, Dr. Rebecca French, agreed to sit on the Advisory Committee for the project as well.

This year CIRCA also partnered with the Fairfield Museum and History Center in their recent exhibit, Rising Tides, Fairfield’s Coast: Past to Future. This exhibit, which ran from September 29, 2016 to February 28, 2017, displayed photographs, artifacts, and documents to examine our shoreline’s long history of coastal resilience and how climate change presents new challenges for the future. CIRCA consulted with the museum as the exhibit was constructed. Rising Tides benefitted from CIRCA expertise on the relationship between sea level rise and increased flood risk as well as example solutions for coastal adaptation. Rising Tides also included community engagement and conversation programs. On February 16, 2017, Dr. Rebecca French spoke at their “Museum After Dark: Resilient Bridgeport & Coastal Connecticut” event, which addressed shoreline resilience and change, as well as community impacts of climate change and extreme weather. She was joined on the panel by David Kooris, Director of Rebuild by Design and National Disaster Resilience; Dr. James Biardi, Fairfield University; and Dr. Jennifer Mattei, Sacred Heart University. (Dr. French’s presentation)

CIRCA participates in these partnerships to broaden the audience for climate adaptation and resilience information. As a multi-disciplinary center excellence at the University of Connecticut, CIRCA delivers actionable science to ensure the resilience and sustainability of both the natural and built environment of the coastal and inland waterways communities of Connecticut. Outreach and engagement organizations like the Norwalk Aquarium and Fairfield Museum provide an accessible window for the public into the challenges that they will face as residents of coastal municipalities and the solutions that they will need to implement going forward. If you belong to an organization that might benefit from CIRCA’s tools and expertise, please contact Rebecca French at