Izzy Clarke, 29, helps ocean shorelines come alive.
As a senior field technician at Coastal Action, she sees coastal conservation as important climate mitigation and adaptation. In her spare time, the mother of two-year-old Willow leads hikes helping the public understand the importance of preserving wilderness near her home in Halifax.
This piece is part of a series of 56 profiles to date that highlight the work of young people across the country in addressing the climate crisis that I have been doing over the past two years. These extraordinary humans give me a lot of hope. I write these stories to pay it forward.
Tell us about your work.
Nova Scotians, like all coastal people, have always understood the ocean has moving shorelines. We used to think the way to protect the landmass from ocean flooding was to erect hard infrastructure like rock walls. While these carried the illusion of security, predictable sea-level rise and increasing storm surges resulting from a warming climate mean many of these are no longer effective. The proximity of other hard infrastructure like roads meant that the waves were often squeezed, creating even larger and potentially more dangerous surges, altering shorelines and the habitat they contain and wiping out salt marshes and other havens of biodiversity. With the Town of Mahone Bay, we are engaged in a pilot project applying science to implement more nature-based solutions with multiple benefits, including more effective protection.
In partnership with the town and many other stakeholders, we are dismantling the old hard rock walls and working with nature to allow the ocean to find its own shoreline and path inland. Since the ocean is rising, we are creating space for larger salt marshes to appear over time. Intact shorelines produce more attenuated wave energy, which, together with making space for expanding salt marshes, protects communities.
We also work with farmers to assist them in grappling with a changing climate. We support farmers to approach their land stewardship with an informed eye for their bottom line. Planting trees, repasturing previously mono cover-cropped grazing land, planting riparian buffers and managing their fertilizer use to diminish nitrogen output can save money. It also increases yields, reduces pollution, sinks carbon, helps protect the integrity of Nova Scotia’s landmass and improves habitat for wild birds and other wildlife. The combination usually makes them more supportive. Farmers are close to the land and they really care about their natural world. I have had farmers who are every bit as concerned for the health of barn swallows as they are for their own profitability.
What is the work you do as a volunteer?
I lead hikes for the Friends of Blue Mountain Birch Cove Lakes. The area is the largest contiguous wilderness in Nova Scotia and is a significant source of biodiversity, water quality and an important carbon sink. It is under threat from development. I know from personal experience that we want to protect what we know and love. I hope these experiences motivate others to act for conservation in the region.
What drew you into these endeavours?
As a senior field technician at Coastal Action, 29-year-old Izzy Clarke sees coastal conservation as important climate mitigation and adaptation. #ClimateAction #shorelines #SeaLevelRise
As a child, I was fortunate to spend time with my grandparents at their maple sugar bush woodlot. In the winter, we gathered the sap and in the summer, the trees offered shade and solitude. The woods are such a happy place for me. I studied sustainability and philosophy at university in Halifax and enrolled in a master's program, but within a few weeks knew I needed to be much more grounded in fieldwork. It was impossible not to notice how enormous the ocean's presence is in the culture of this place. I knew that was where I wanted to contribute. I enrolled in a technical certificate program at the Nova Scotia Community College providing hands-on education in plant identification and ecosystem management.
What makes your work hard?
To succeed, we must engage a wide diversity of stakeholders from government regulators and policy people to granting agencies and local citizens. But they come to the issue at hand with very different perspectives. Finding the common ground can be challenging.
What keeps you going?
Willow and all children deserve a good future.
What gives you hope?
I am surrounded by people making a difference. I also take heart from the generations coming up behind me who are so passionate and mobilized. I sometimes get to lead workshops for middle schoolers and it is heartening to see how quickly they absorb the benefits of nature-based solutions.
Do you have advice for other young people?
Climate change is so big, it is easy to feel paralyzed. Don’t succumb. Seek out the good news stories in your own community. They exist. Millions of people are working on them and some of them will be in your own neighbourhood. Once you listen, the way you can engage will become evident and you can map out a path. Don’t worry if it might not be the best path. You can always change direction.
What would you like to say to older readers?
I have learned so much from the people who preceded me. Thank you for your patience, curiosity and grace and for including young people like me in your thinking and decision-making.