A FEW MINUTES WITH … Craig Colten

Advocate staff photo by ARTHUR D. LAUCK  -- Craig Colten, director of human dimensions with The Water Institute of the Gulf, on Monday, in Baton Rouge.
Advocate staff photo by ARTHUR D. LAUCK -- Craig Colten, director of human dimensions with The Water Institute of the Gulf, on Monday, in Baton Rouge.

POSITION: The Water Institute of the Gulf director of human dimensions.

AGE: 61.

Craig Colten, a professor of geography at LSU, recently joined The Water Institute of the Gulf as director of human dimensions. In that position with the nonprofit research group, he will be looking at people and communities impacted by coastal land loss and by restoration efforts to try to stop that loss.

How do you view your role at The Water Institute of the Gulf?

There’s been a lot of solid science done along Louisiana’s coast both with the physical sciences and the social sciences; however, there needs to be a better integration since restoration work will impact where people work and live. My role will be to help bring those two sciences together in the planning and construction of coastal restoration and water resource projects.

What does it mean to incorporate the human aspect into the research programs?

Years ago when areas of Louisiana’s coast were set aside for wildlife refuges, not much consideration was given to the people who had always been able to use those areas. As a result, fishermen and trappers were squeezed out. Today, as coastal restoration work moves forward, it’s important to also remember that the work is about more than just science. It’s science that is being employed where people live and work, and society and economy needs to be included in the planning, into the scientific process.

What are some things residents and policy makers will have to look at as coastal land loss continues?

It’s going to be important to reacquaint people that Louisiana has a dynamic coastline that’s always been changing. Historically, people have adapted to this changing environment, and that’s something current residents and policy makers are going to have to revisit. One way to help build a resilient society is to find a way to retain the lessons learned from previous disasters like hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005.

What are the challenges with bridging the gap between coastal communities and scientists studying those areas?

There is some wariness and research fatigue within some coastal communities that get studied in the aftermath of disasters, hurricanes and the Deepwater Horizon/BP oil spill in 2010. Communities don’t get to see the results of these studies because many times researchers go into a community, do their research, leave and then publish in publications that are not readily accessible. I’d like to see researchers make a commitment to have a regular fact sheet or something online that can report back to communities what it is they found.

What would you like to see as the result of your work?

I’d like to see a solid presence of social science within the institute. There has been solid physical science work and very good social science work done in Louisiana’s coastal areas, but rarely do the two groups read each other’s work. Getting those two groups working together more closely could benefit both.

Advocate staff reporter Amy Wold