Preparing for Sea Level Rise and Climate Change Impacts in Maine

Sally Ann Sims
Posted on: 10/13/2021 - Updated on: 12/03/2021

Posted by

Rachel Gregg

Project Summary

The Island Institute is conducting a multi-year project to assist all 120 Maine coastal and island communities to access the resources needed to plan for and implement sea level rise and coastal flooding adaptation projects. The project includes the “Shore Up Maine” Technical Assistance Fund, a grant-making mechanism to fund adaptation implementation efforts. The Island Institute’s vision for the project is to support the continuing vibrancy of coastal and island communities in their ways of life in light of climate change.


The Gulf of Maine is particularly vulnerable to both long-term environmental changes and short-term natural and human-caused disasters. The 120 island and coastal communities along Maine’s 3,000-mile coastline are especially vulnerable to projected climate change impacts due to their small sizes, isolation, and heavy dependency on coastal ecosystems as a source of economic revenue. The Island Institute, a community development organization focused on the needs of the island and coastal communities, has served Maine’s coastal population since 1983. By facilitating information exchange and supporting community sustainability efforts, the organization has built trust along the coast over the past three decades. So when communities were increasingly experiencing the impacts on sea level rise and flooding, they asked the Island Institute for advice on how to address the challenges they faced. Initially, the inquiries primarily concerned how to best access flooding insurance.

In May 2017, the Island Institute received a grant from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, Gulf Research Program to conduct a project focused on disaster preparedness as well as climate change and sea level rise impacts in Maine’s island and coastal communities. The overall focus of the effort is to connect communities to resources to plan for sea level rise and implement adaptation infrastructure projects.


Working with a network of 150 agency, academic, and nongovernmental organization partners, the Island Institute leads a collaborative effort to identify the risks to Maine’s working waterfront communities, facilitate resilience planning in affected communities, and encourage implementation of infrastructure-related adaptation projects. The overall goal for the project is for all 120 coastal Maine communities (105 on the mainland and 15 unbridged islands) to have access to the technical and financial resources to address sea level rise and coastal flooding.

Using Maine-specific sea level rise and flooding datasets developed by the Maine State Geological Survey (using data derived from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), The Nature Conservancy (Coastal Resilience Risk Explorer), and other non-governmental organizations, the Island Institute first begins dialogue with a community that expresses interest in learning more about climate impacts through a public meeting. The focus of these meetings is primarily on impacts of sea level rise, storm surge, and flooding on community and private infrastructure assets and community connectivity and emergency services (e.g., road inundation). Participants are provided with a flood resilience checklist from the Maine Emergency Management Agency and develop project ideas that may qualify for funding under the “Shore Up Maine” Technical Assistance Fund.

Since each community faces unique challenges particular to their working waterfront, existing infrastructure, and citizen engagement, the Island Institute helps communities tailor their approaches to planning and adaptation. Through the technical assistance grant, municipalities, community associations, businesses, and schools can apply for financial assistance in projects, such as producing flood map corrections/updates; assessing the vulnerability of working waterfront infrastructure (including fuel tanks, bait coolers, and other infrastructure related to handling lobsters); incorporating sea level rise into comprehensive or disaster preparedness plans and permitting; modeling future sea level rise impacts; assessing community preparedness status vis-a-vis the Maine Flood Resilience Checklist; preparing federal or other grant applications, and conducting community knowledge exchanges to learn from outside experts.

Outcomes and Conclusions

Through this project, the Island Institute helps island and coastal communities better understand risks associated with storms and sea level rise, and gives communities the tools to take actionable steps to enhance resilience. However, readiness for and acceptance of climate resilience planning varies along the coast. Some town councils do not want to engage with external partners on town planning issues or do not currently view climate change as a necessary impetus for planning. In addition, financing is a challenge for many communities. Because Maine is a home-rule state (e.g., local governments are able to govern themselves) and regional approaches are needed to address the issue, the scale of the problem and the funding mechanisms do not always align. In addition, there is a strong tradition of cultural independence in many Maine communities that makes them reluctant to accept outside assistance.

The Island Institute seeks to address these challenges in several ways. Most important is the strategy to engage with communities in ways that are culturally comfortable. The trust the organization has built with local communities helps get the dialogue started, and this relationship is strengthened as the organization connects technical and financial resources to the communities that need them. In addition, the Island Institute works outside of communities at state and federal levels on relevant policies to raise the voice of communities calling for additional financial resources (e.g., state-issued bonds and redirected FEMA disaster funding). These funding sources have given towns the ability to start resilience work that they would not have been able to do on their own. In some instances, the relatively small coastal population in Maine (470,000 people) is an asset in that it is easier for the Island Institute to make connections within communities and bring them together for meetings.


Sims, S.A. (2021). Preparing for Sea Level Rise and Climate Change Impacts in Maine [Case study of a project of the Island Institute]. Product of EcoAdapt’s State of Adaptation Program. Retrieved from CAKE: (Last updated October 2021)

Project Contacts

Affiliated Organizations


Effort Stage
Scale of Project
Sector Addressed
Habitat/Biome Type
Target Climate Changes and Impacts
Type of Adaptation Action/Strategy

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Adaptation Phase
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Sector Addressed
Climate Justice
Conservation / Restoration
Culture / Communities
Disaster Risk Management
Education / Outreach
Land Use Planning
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Transportation / Infrastructure
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