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Seeing Is Believing

Japanese Delegation Pursues Nature-Based Solutions

The Delegation touring a living shoreline on the Severn River

When asked what the biggest takeaway was from the Japanese delegation’s visit to Maryland to study nature-based solutions, Dr. Komatsu simply stated, “Seeing is believing”. That is how we found ourselves standing knee-deep in a bog with a group of impeccably dressed Japanese leaders in suits and muck boots. Nature-based solutions (NBS) are not only gaining traction in Maryland and across the United States, they are gaining worldwide attention. Opportunities abound for collaboration, sharing knowledge, and wandering through wetlands together.

The ecological restoration collaboration between Japan and Maryland has been germinating for many years. Dr. Komatsu, President of the Ecosystem Research Institute of Japan, established a strong relationship with the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (SERC), who then connected him to Underwood & Associates when he was looking for ways to bring nature-based solutions to life. Dr. Komatsu has traveled to Maryland numerous times to pursue his research on using holistic restoration techniques that mimic nature to solve environmental problems, and Underwood and SERC have visited Japan as well. Underwood is currently in the design process for multiple project sites in Japan, in which we are collaborating to design some of the first nature-based solutions for Japan. As NBS gains footholds in Japan, Dr. Komatsu recognized the need to introduce a wider audience to these methods. In May we were fortunate enough for Dr. Komatsu to bring an entire delegation from Japan with him. Members of the esteemed Japanese delegation included high-ranking political leaders of Japan’s National Diet (including the former Minister of the Environment), scientists, professors, and members of the Japanese embassy.

The Japanese Delegation with Secretary of State Susan Lee and Deputy Secretary of State Michael Lore

The week took us outside to restoration sites and inside to meeting rooms, onto boats and into sushi restaurants. The delegation met with Maryland Secretary of State Susan Lee in Annapolis. After a productive discussion, the State of Maryland and the Nation of Japan signed a Cooperation Agreement on Nature-Based Solutions, in which they “acknowledged the importance of both parties cooperating to promote NBS in their jurisdictions through information exchanges with experts about technology and funding mechanisms, as well as holding future meetings between the State of Maryland and Japan”. The Japanese delegation traveled to Washington D.C. to meet with the U.S. Council on Environmental Quality to discuss big picture questions such as how to explain the importance of implementing NBS to constituents and how to quantify the benefits of an ecosystem service. Another event that called for dress shoes instead of field boots was dinner in downtown Annapolis with around 30 local and state politicians and leaders in the environmental field. Conversations covered a wide range of environmental topics and stretched well into the night. Throughout the visit, collaboration flourished both inside conference rooms and outside on project sites.

Dr. Komatsu gives a speech during dinner in Annapolis

We spent much of the week touring our restoration projects throughout Maryland while discussing how to fund projects, the design and engineering of our regenerative restoration techniques, monitoring water quality improvements, and creating resilience to flooding and climate change. On a rainy day at St. Paul’s Wetland Restoration, we observed dirty water flowing into the project and clean water leaving the site. While straddling a stream at Howards Branch Restoration we discussed the rain tax and generating funding for restoration projects with Erik Michelsen (Chief of Anne Arundel County’s Bureau of Watershed Protection and Restoration). Community champions proudly showed off Cattail Creek and Belvoir Pond Restoration as they shared the positive impact these projects have had on their respective neighborhoods. Strolling the water’s edge at Assateague Living Shoreline while gentle waves lapped at our feet, the delegation saw an alternative to hardening techniques and envisioned their own shorelines being set free from concrete. Havre de Grace demonstrated how innovation and nature-based solutions can transform a city into a thriving network of green spaces for citizens and wildlife to enjoy. The sites they visited covered a wide range of new, old, and not-yet-started projects situated in streams, wetlands, and shorelines. By the end of the week, the Japanese delegation had toured nearly 20 Underwood restoration projects, which provided ample opportunities for seeing and believing.

We have all seen the bumper stickers “think globally, act locally”. That is exactly what Underwood and our partners at SERC are doing by nurturing our relationship with the Nation of Japan to disperse ideas and create global change.

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