Sunday, September 18, 2016

Center for Marine Science Open House and Science Carnival




The UNCW Center for Marine Science (CMS) on Crest Campus is hosting an Open House and Science Carnival, October 1 11-3:30.  Students of the Master of Coastal and Ocean Policy program will man a booth passing out flyers and answering questions.  

Come visit!  Crest Campus is Beautiful and there is sure to be some fun stuff to see, touch and learn =)

You can find more information about the event on the CMS website

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

New Op-Ed about Science, Policy and Politics


I (Jessica Weinkle) have an op-ed in the Wilmington Star News Today.  

The title is a bit harsher than I would have preferred.  But the work is meant to respectfully approach the touchy subject of scientists and subtle issue advocacy work. 

The work served as a good case study to kick off the start of the new semester today!  My class didn't read the op-ed.  Instead, we used some of the materials I referenced in the op-ed to stir a good discussion about facts and values and different expectations one holds for scientists and policymakers.

You can read about it here.  An excerpt is below...
Politics is the essence of community deliberation. Inclusive political discourse is well served by a healthy democracy. Today, a resounding swath of America feel left out of the political conversation and in turn, many are skeptical America’s claims to democratic governance. 
Resolving political conflict often has more to do with addressing differences in the public’s moral consciousness than it does with advancing science. Yet, in recent decades the language of science and technology - often wrongly mistaken as free from personal values - has replaced a user-friendly moral discourse. 
North Carolina is a heated battleground for political debate played out through a haze of science. The state garnered national comedic reputation and the science community became enraged when the N.C. legislature regulated the assumptions used in producing sea level rise estimates.
The estimate is a key number in calculating erosion rates used to regulate coastal development. Those opposed to development tend to favor higher estimates of sea level rise. 
However, when estimates of risk threaten the state economy and political stability, it is common for policymakers to control the conception of risk imposed upon the public. 
Most recently, Dr. Stanley Riggs, of East Carolina University, left his long-term, respected position with the Coastal Resources Commission Science Panel due to concerns that the panel’s work has become politicized by pressure to produce information supporting a rigorous policy of growth and development. 

Monday, August 15, 2016

MCOP Students in the News


One of the features of the Master of Coastal and Ocean Policy program is the flexibility to learn more about a specific area of research through independent research projects guided by a UNCW faculty member.

Recently, two MCOP students, Jonathan Bingham and Kathy Cyr, worked on a research project overseen by Dr. Larry Cahoon exploring the potential for the Port of Wilmington to employ lighter vessels.  The work received press by the locally influential environmental interest organization, The Coastal Federation.  

In a post-PanaMax world, ports (and the economy they support) are struggling to remain accessible to cargo ships.  Dredging wider and deeper channels is an option, but it expensive and taxing on ecosystems.  Cahoon, Bingham, and Cyr found that lighter vessels provide a promising policy alternative.

You can read the story here.

Way to go Kathy and Jonathan!



Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Navassa Superfund Redevelopment


Yesterday evening, Dr. Jennifer Biddle, assistant professor, MCOP advisor, and Coastal Federation Board Member, led a group of Public and International Affairs graduate students in providing an original report to the local town, Navassa, on opportunities for redeveloping a Superfund sight.  

The group effort was highlighted in the local Star News yesterday.  Below is an excerpt,
The students' work on Navassa’s behalf is part of a collaboration between Navassa and UNCW, which is supported by the Environmental Protection Agency’s College/Underserved Community Partnership. The UNCW students working on Navassa’s behalf are earning their master's degrees in public administration or coastal and ocean policy. 
“It’s a great opportunity for the students to work with real-world clients,” said Jennifer Biddle, assistant professor in UNCW’s Department of Public & International Affairs. “And also, the goal is to really help the town. The town is our client. We’re giving policy and planning assistance.” 
The students’ assessment is a first step of a comprehensive policy analysis UNCW will give Navassa for the restoration and redevelopment of its contaminated land. A policy analysis is a tool to assess the merit and feasibility of redevelopment alternatives before the formal policy formation phase begins. 
A well-done policy analysis, which often undergoes several iterations, increases the likelihood that proposed legislation will be adopted, according to the report, “Exploring the Future of Navassa: An Integrative and Evaluative Framework,” Biddle and the students wrote. 

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Negotiating beach nourishment benefits and costs

Jonathan Bingham is working on his Master of Science degree in Coastal and Ocean Policy at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, where he also received his Bachelor of Science in Environmental Sciences.   He has lived in Wilmington for almost a decade. Jonathan began his career project management branch at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Wilmington, NC, and quickly became involved in Federal navigation, coastal storm damage reduction, and environmental restoration projects across coastal North Carolina. His background and experience, in the sciences and involvement in complex policies and politics, ignited his interest in the coastal policy field. 

Coastal storm damage reduction project at Carolina Beach, NC undergoing its final federally funded periodic nourishment in April 2016.
Beaches – many parties have an interest in them.  Beachfront homeowners, the summertime tourist, businesses that make a living from beachgoers, outdoorsy folks, tax collectors, and even those people who bike to the beach because they’d rather not fight for parking (especially this guy right here). 

Since the 1960s, our NC beach towns have grown substantially.  Today, multi-million dollar properties fill the coastline and tourism is a cornerstone of our local and national economy. This valuable development exists in areas vulnerable to flooding and storm damage.  Because of this modern day beach-lifestyle “baggage,” someone has to pay to strategically develop and protect beach communities from storm damages.

The federal government invested in multiple programs through different federal agencies as a means to protect, reduce, and enable community development in these areas. In the 1960s, the federal government started investing in Coastal Storm Damage Reduction (AKA beach nourishment) projects to protect and reduce damages at beaches, and the communities have become highly dependent on beach nourishment projects for their livelihood. I expect a major shift in federal funding and coastal policies in the near future, as the federal government is tightening budgets and politically beginning to slip out of this costly, never-ending business.

The federal government decided to enter into the business of protecting citizens and property from flood damages in 1936 (Flood Control Act), following serious flooding on the Mississippi River in the 1920’s and 1930’s that brought the problem to the national spotlight. 

It wasn’t long before the government began protecting beach communities from the serious flooding associated with hurricanes. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers implements the federal government’s coastal storm damage reduction program. These pre-disaster mitigation actions are very efficient at reducing storm damages, when beach nourishment is consistently maintained. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), acting under the Coastal Zone Management Act of 1972, fully supports preserving, protecting, developing, restoring and enhancing, the Nation's resources within the coastal zone. Later, in 1982 Congress passed the Coastal Barrier Resources Act in order to curb any further development using federal expenditures and financial assistance. This act, enforced by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS), realized that the federal government has historically subsidized and encouraged development, such as federal flood insurance, on coastal barriers, resulting in threats to human life, health, and property; the loss of natural resources; and the expenditure of millions of tax dollars each year.

There’s a disconnect happening between federal agencies, and conflicting missions cloud the overall goal of the federal government. The questions at hand are: what should the federal government’s pre-disaster stake in coastal development be? Then, does the existing legislation meet the goal? I chose to look at the protection portion of a federal coastal investment policy under the Corps of Engineers, and build a recommendation that uses our current state of development, trends and projections in order to improve the program for all stakeholders involved (federal and local taxpayers, home-owners, tourists, business owners, etc.).

Coastal storm events causing billion-dollar losses and total costs associated
with the storms (2013 dollars) Source: NRC 2014
There are limits to how nourishment project costs and benefits are calculated.   This alters the degree of justification and importance reported to Congress.   On top of that, the trends indicate fiscal responsibilities are shifting away from the federal government and towards the beach communities, likely because of shifting federal budget priorities. However, because of a decrease in the Corps’ funding for coastal storm damage reduction projects, trends demonstrate that storm impact costs are rising, such as: higher losses and post-storm damage costs, and a higher percentage of federal aid to cover these costs. 

Percentage of federal aid through the years following major hurricanes
Source: Michel-Kerjan 2013
I aim to meet policy goals such as: increase the reduction of flood damages to property and infrastructure, increase coastal emergency safety and reduction in loss of life, decrease federal emergency declarations, reduce federal expenditures towards managing coastal risk, and develop an improved benefit-cost analysis, which includes real risks and actual benefits. After an alternatives analysis, I found that restructuring the Corps’ program with updated Congressional legislation would best address the issues surrounding the protection portion of a federal coastal investment policy. In seeking coastal resiliency for the future, a reduction of risk to federal taxpayers, and a true benefit-cost analysis, I saw the need to reduce the federal government’s cost-share in the CSDR program and to establish consistent federal values across multiple agencies for pre-disaster mitigation actions. These recommended actions support a reformed federal coastal investment strategy, with consistently funded and supported policies and programs, in order to lessen overall costs for all parties involved with coastal living.

National Flood Insurance Program and Land Management

Hayley Wise will graduate from the Masters of Coastal and Ocean Policy program this Spring 2016.  She comes to her capstone project with experience in private insurance and administration of the federal government's National Flood Insurance Program. 


The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) was introduced in 1968 after the private market failed to carry the risk associated with floods. In addition to offering affordable premiums, the NFIP was tasked with encouraging sound land use, minimizing flood losses, and guiding development away from locations threatened by flood hazards. The latter of the two is where the NFIP fails. The NFIP has become a driver in unsustainable coastal development. 

With 52% of the United States population living in a coastal county the demand for coastal development is high. Developers want to make money, and people want to live near the beach. It has caused poor decision-making, which puts property and life in danger. The NFIP uses subsidized rates to offer affordable premiums to homeowners. These rates do not allow for people to realize the real risk associated with coastal living. There is little financial risk associated with building on the coast. Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Sandy are extreme but very realistic examples of the damages caused by poor coastal development.  The reliance on man-made structures, such as levees, dikes and sea walls, cannot be our only solution.  

It is my attempt to bring this issue to light and offer ways in which we can build a better coast. Using insurance as a tool to allow people to realize the true risk of coastal building will encourage smarter floodplain development.   In many cases there are building code regulations to reduce the potential of flood damage, however they are often not strictly enforced or only meet minimum standards. It does nothing but endanger a community and put people in harms way if building codes are lax or not enforced. 

The NFIP has a program in place, since 1990, called the Community Rating System (CRS). CRS offers premium discounts for community’s that require higher than the minimum standards for floodplain management. The program uses a class scale system to determine the discounts. Class 9 is a community that participates in the CRS but only to the lowest level. A class 1 is a community that receives the highest discount of 45% off NFIP premiums. There is only 1 community in the United States, Roseville, CA, that is a Class 1 CRS community. Many of the remaining participating communities fall between a Class 8 and 6. The CRS is a great tool but has been plagued with low participation. The CRS points can be earned through a variety of activities.  Here are just a few: 

Outreach projects
Hazard disclosure
Flood protection assistance
Promote flood insurance
Open space preservation
Higher regulatory standards
Acquisition and relocation
Floodplain management planning

There are areas around the county that are creating a more resilient coast. One great example of acquisition and relocation is the New Jersey Blue Acres Program. After Extratropical storm Sandy, the state of New Jersey began a program using Federal Disaster money to remove homes from high-risk flood areas. The goal of the program is to reduce the risk of future catastrophic floods, and to help move people out of harm’s path. As of September 2015, The Blue Acres Program had received 519 accepted offers from homeowners to purchase homes. If the homes were damaged during Sandy, the program pays the homeowner pre-damage value. 243 of the 519 homes have completed demolition. The properties will be conserved as green space for recreation and conservation. 

It is not realistic to say every house in danger should be forced to retreat from the coast, but we can create a better and more resilient coast using tools such as the National Flood Insurance Program’s Community Rating System. Instead of throwing money into losses again and again, more funding should be given to prevent losses in the first place. In the long run, this could make the program more successful than its current state. As more and more people move to the coast and as world population continues to grow it is extremely important to make change now to protect the precious coast that we all love.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Southern Flounder: Fish, family and uncertainty

Shelby White is a graduate student in the Masters of Coastal and Ocean Policy Program at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. As a part of the commercial fishing industry in NC, she has witnessed first-hand the issues occurring between commercial and recreational user groups. Shelby's research focuses on the socio-economics of commercial fishermen in the Albemarle Sound, providing insight into how recent southern flounder regulations will impact the commercial fishing industry in the area. 




Historical accounts of eastern North Carolina often begin with tales of Algonquin tribes settling along the bountiful coastline and relying on the water as a means of survival. Using primitive tools to harvest species such as shad, striped bass, and herring, the Algonquin tribes and their discovery of North Carolina’s invaluable water resources paved the dreary road for what has become fisheries management.

The term “fisheries management” sounds relatively simple. Professionals and scientists within the field make sure fishes and other marine species are sustainable and viable for years to come. Since the purpose of management is to sustain fisheries that are important to both the commercial and recreational industry, it would seem that both stakeholders accept management decisions and regulations with ease. Unfortunately, fisheries management is far more contentious and convoluted, with most management decisions exacerbating conflicts between and within the commercial and recreational industry. These decisions must account for multiple stakeholders and potential user group conflicts, making fisheries management more about managing people, rather than fish. 

North Carolina’s commercial and recreational fishing industries are a source of tourism, recreation, employment, income, and food for the state. However, these two groups of fishermen often find themselves at odds with one another when it comes to fisheries management and regulation. With the decline of many fish species equally important to each industry, commercial and recreational fishermen blame each other. As a result, fishery managers struggle to make equitable and politically palatable decisions.

The recent controversy over the southern flounder (Paralichthys lethostigma) in the Albemarle Sound of North Carolina highlights the difficulties of fisheries management. Southern flounder is one of the most prominent species found in North Carolina, with significance to both the commercial and recreational industry. The southern flounder is the most economically valuable finfish species in the commercial industry and a popular target species in the recreational industry. 

Recent stock assessments of the southern flounder place the species under “concern,” raising alarm between commercial and recreational fishermen. The North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries (NCDMF) suggests the sustainability of the species at current harvest is questionable. Other scientists, however, claim these results do not account for the mixing of stocks and suggest the data is highly uncertain. With potential for regulation, commercial and recreational fishing interests politicize the science and practice of fisheries management. Commercial fishermen question the accuracy of the stock assessment and the legality of proposed management plans, while recreational fishermen focus on extensive regulation of large mesh gill net practices.


Faced with making decisions mired in scientific uncertainty and cultural value tradeoffs, the Marine Fisheries Commission, the regulating body of NCDMF, held several meetings inviting public comment from all stakeholders. Public comment included outcries from commercial fishermen whose livelihoods were at stake, as well as recreational fishermen who believe the large mesh gill net is to blame for southern flounder declines. Despite pleas from both sides, the Marine Fisheries Commission developed regulations that affected both groups of fishermen, pitting them against each other once again.  

Evidence demonstrating flounder stock variability decline, naturally or anthropogenically caused, increases hostility between the commercial and recreational industry. It is important that the future of fisheries management account for these user group conflicts and find a way to support regulations that not only aim to bring back North Carolina’s once thriving fisheries, but that are also politically acceptable to all stakeholders.