WETLANDS WATCH’S STORY
Wetlands Watch is small, smart, and growing, having evolved in a measured and careful way since its start in 1999: from local activism, to regional volunteer group, to statewide organization, to a regional resource.
Wetlands Watch began in 1999, when a group of concerned and talented residents of Norfolk, Virginia, met to oppose a dredging permit on Crab Creek. From this effort grew a realization that wetlands-disturbing activities were routinely occurring across the city, the region, and the State. Founding board members included a former Mayor of Norfolk, numerous doctors and professionals, Garden Club members, and citizens of every kind who wanted to protect wetlands.
Wetlands Watch was incorporated in 2001 as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, launching on Earth Day of that year to continue our work on wetlands protection.
We received our first grant in 2004 from the Virginia “license plate fund” to educate waterfront homeowners about wetlands conservation. Our visibility increased and we were asked to sit on statewide panels and environmental agency committees. One such assignment with the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality resulted in their directing a significant wetlands penalty payment to Wetlands Watch in 2005.
This funding triggered our decision to move to a paid staff operation and seek our first major foundation grant in 2006.
Our early regulatory and policy work focused on local, state, and federal wetlands permit decisions, but we soon learned that this did not get us far – in a strong property rights state, land use decisions often trump the regulatory process. Today, we spend much of our time helping individuals, organizations, and local governments to make better land use decisions to protect the coastal and wetlands environments.
Our most recent turn came with a realization that sea level rise threatened Virginia’s tidal wetlands and shorelines. We estimated that with the region’s rate of relative sea level rise we stood to lose between 50 and 80 percent of our vegetated tidal wetlands. Starting in 2007, Wetlands Watch began a campaign to help local governments in eastern Virginia adapt to sea level rise.
Today we continue our work as educators, advocates, and activists on behalf of Virginia’s wetlands. We balance our work between addressing today’s challenges and those posed by sea level rise in coming decades.