SEJ Day 1: Oceans and Coasts Workshop!

Hello SHE-J crew,

Just wrapped up a fantastic first day at SEJ!

While my brain is overflowing from eight hours of panels, I will quickly recap what I learned about covering oceans and coasts.

So excited to get going!

Panel 1: Carbon and Oceans

I got my day started with a panel on carbon capture and oceans, led by the New Orleans Times-Picayune’s Mark Schleifstein. The speakers were Virginia Burkett of the U.S. Geological Survey and Charles Sutcliffe, Chief Resilience Officer of the Governor of Louisiana.

Burkett began saying journalists could be better at keeping up with carbon capture technology. She also said that journalists should be letting science lead stories on carbon.

“The noise kind of occupies half of your articles, when it only makes up 1% of published literature,” Burkett said.

Sutcliffe spoke about the transformation of Louisiana as an energy state. Ground-level evidence of coastal erosion has sped investment in carbon capture and offshore wind energy.

Sutcliffe emphasized that marketing prosperity for the Louisiana private sector will be paramount for policy change.

But he did not escape tough questioning on his state’s climate plan, and its resilience in the face of political opposition. “I think it remains to be seen,” he said.

Panel 2: Fisheries

Mark Schleifstein led a second panel on ocean plastic and fisheries, featuring Anja Brandon of the Ocean Conservancy, Sepp Haukebo of the Environmental Defense Fund, and G.P. Schmahl of the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary.

From left to right: Mark Schleifstein, Anja Brandon, Sepp Haukebo, G.P. Schmahl

Brandon spoke on the toxicity of microplastics. She highlighted the incidence rate of cancer in Houston from exposure to air petrochemicals is 1 in 29,000; with a city of 2.1 million, plastic chemicals may be accountable for thousands of cancer cases. “The shale boom in Texas was really a plastic boom,” Brandon said.

Haukebo spoke mainly of the impacts of climate change on global fisheries. Three billion people worldwide rely on fish as a source of protein. Haukebo noted that as tropical water heats up, traditional Gulf fish will move up the East Coast and down south toward temperate waters.

Haukebo concluded that strengthening Gulf fisheries means moving away from habitat-dependent species, and emphasizing opportunities with resilient species of fish.

Panel 3: Houston Floodplains and Flood Plans

My last panel was moderated by Emily Foxhall of the Houston Chronicle, and covered the flooding vulnerability of Houston. The panel featured Phil Bedient of Rice University, Kelly Burks-Copes of the US Army Corps of Engineers, and Ayanna Jolivet-McCloud of Bayou City Waterkeeper .  

From left to right: Emily Foxhall, Brian Lezina, Kelly Burks-Copes, Natalie Snider, Phil Bedient, Ayanna Jolivet-McCloud

The predominant subject was the Coastal Texas Study, a $30-million dollar project to investigate storm flooding protections for Houston and Galveston Bay. The project is scheduled to begin in 2023.

While mockups of floodgates have been designed, researchers and journalists alike worry current floodplain estimates will be insufficient in a few years. “100 years is not really enough, but you’re doing your projects,” Schleifstein asked. “How do you get that done?”

Overall, I had an exhilarating first day in Houston. I’m excited to get out on the water tomorrow, and get personal with the Texas coastline!

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