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  • Writer's pictureAbigail Long

Coastal Flooding and Community

Abigail Long, Resilience Outreach Fellow, describes her observations during a coastal flooding walk, highlighting the emotional impact, community building, and the importance of firsthand experience in raising awareness and fostering collective action in the face of sea-level rise and climate change.


On August 1st, I led a group of community members down Commercial Street in Portland to witness coastal flooding at 11:30 p.m. Why would we plan an event for the middle of the night? At 11:30, tide models predicted an 11.4 ft high tide – which in the past has led to flooding in areas off Commercial Street. This night was no exception. The observed tide was about 11.8 ft causing an even larger amount of water to breach Portland Pier and Widgery Wharf providing us with an eerie sight.


We turned the corner at Portland Pier to see water calmly engulfing telephone poles, buildings and parking spots. The full moon provided us with enough light to see the water existing comfortably on the pier as if touring its future home. Volunteers waded up to their knees demonstrating just how high the water levels truly are. We moved around Portland Pier observing the blurred lines between the harbor and the pier as they became one. Possibly a look into the future.

In the past, when I heard the word flooding, I would think of a stormy day where rain and wind brought excess water into places it normally would not be found. Since serving at the Gulf of Maine Research Institute, with my efforts focused on coastal flooding, this definition has shifted. Coastal flooding can happen during any conditions when a high tide is predicted and can be worsened by weather. Before my involvement in this work, I did not think I would be walking through the City and turn a corner to see an entire street inundated with water. This is now a sight I have witnessed five separate times in Portland in the 9 months of my service.


Each time I witness an astronomical high tide, I am filled with a bucket of emotions. Sadness to see areas of the community underwater, excitement to witness a somewhat rare event, confusion as to how this could happen so calmly, and fear for what the future holds. This is the second coastal meetup I have led at GMRI during sunny day flooding or flooding not associated with weather, but rather tides. For most participants, this is the first time they are seeing this kind of flooding and I notice similar buckets of emotions overtake the groups. It is one thing to learn about coastal flooding, it is another to experience it.


One positive that comes with these events are collective action and community building. Observation and discussion about flooding in real time with those who constantly interact with the same space provides connection and motivation to act. I have found it powerful to witness flooding with my own neighbors and those who care about the City. I leave these events with a sense of hope and community as more people join the ranks of observers leading to a more resilient future in the face of sea level rise.


About Abigail

Abigail is originally from Setauket, NY on the north shore of Long Island. She recently graduated from Binghamton University with bachelor's degrees in biology and environmental science with a concentration in ecosystems. Through her studies, she developed an interest in sustainability and the growing connection between humans and the environment. By working in the parks department, interning on an organic farm and being involved in a variety of community groups, Abigail has developed a greater understanding and interest in building strong community relationships. She believes that community focused organizations are the cornerstone to creating positive change. Abigail loves everything about the outdoors, but also loves to cook, listen to music, make (and eat) charcuterie boards, meet new people and spend time with friends and family. She is excited to learn more about community science efforts in Maine and connect with the Greater Portland community!

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