City establishes fund for UNCW study on Living Coastline

ST. JAMES – Years ago, the term “living shore” was not well known in North Carolina outside, say, coastal scientific and research circles.

“I don’t remember back then we used the term ‘living shore’ as much as we do today,” chuckled Taylor Ryan of St. James, Brunswick County. He is the project leader and founder of The Royal Order of the Honorary St. James Oysters community group.

When Ryan visited the University of North Carolina at Wilmington and the Coastal Federation of North Carolina, which publishes Coastal Review, to ask how his city could reduce erosion along its riverside park water, he had no idea his request would lead to a 16-year boom. -and-count a relationship forged by a passion for education, research and resilience.

The relatively young small town of St. James in Brunswick County established a university endowment fund in August with a donation of $ 25,000 to support student work and research on the city’s vibrant coastline, officials announced last month.

UNCW has over 2,000 funds that support a range of programs, but the St. James Endowment is special because it was created by the city.

“It’s unique in that the city actually created the endowment fund,” said Lindsay Crighton, director of development for the Academic Advancement Division at UNCW. “It’s unique because it brings together a city and a university to examine coastal resilience and how a coastal university can partner with a coastal community and have such an impact in the region.”

It all started in the mid-2000s when Ryan attended a seminar on oysters, specifically the value of an oyster.

A single oyster can clean between 40 and 50 gallons of water per day, Ryan learned. Their shells can be incorporated into a living shore, built with natural materials to stabilize and protect a shore.

Such a project seemed perfectly suited to the shoreline along the St. James Waterway Park nestled along the Intracoastal Waterway.

Ryan went to then-mayoress of St. James, Shelley Lesher, to ask for $ 5,000 to start a living waterfront project at Waterway Park. His response was an immediate “yes”.

Proceed quickly through the licensing process, which was not straightforward, until the first construction, where UNCW students and their professors, Coast Federation officials and 94 residents of St. James worked. together.

Since that first construction, 9,000 bushels of seashells have been placed along the shore and more than 27,000 clods of Spartina grass have been planted, according to St. James Mayor Jean Toner.

The city’s website says some 540 feet of shoreline has been restored and stabilized with plans to make an additional 2,360 feet.

“Every year, twice a year, students and staff join our residents to work along our intra-coastal shoreline to build the oyster reefs,” Toner said. “It’s an excellent project. We have learned a lot from the staff and the students. We really appreciated the partnership we have with them. This program, in particular, I have never seen so much dedication.

Their enthusiasm ultimately led to a natural collaboration between the city and the university, a collaboration that transcends the boundaries of St. James’s borders and offers college students a treasure trove of research possibilities.

For the past year and a half, the university has been organizing presentations open to residents of the region.

These presentations included conversations about coastal habitats and the dynamics of living shoreline erosion, issues of general interest to the community as a whole.

“When we do a build, it’s not just a build, it’s also awareness and education,” said Martin Posey, professor and director of the Center for Marine Science at UNCW.

The advantages of the project have become manifold.

“This is one of the big aspects of this long term study where we have been able to see over the last 15 years how it has been as we start to have more storm and sea rise effects. sea ​​level, ”Posey said. “And, the endowment somehow reinforces that research can continue for another 10 or 15 years. We’re not going to stay here forever, but the endowment will help ensure that work continues and we can continue to see how these systems respond in the long term when faced with these pressures of climate change.

Posey and Troy Alphin, senior research associate at the centre’s benthic ecology lab, have been involved with the living St. James shore from the start.

The city’s support has provided a great opportunity for dozens and dozens of students, graduates and undergraduates, they said.

“The classroom is good. The class tells you facts and figures and the labs give you a controlled approach. But, to really go out there and do your research, to see how things don’t always turn out the way you want them to, to see the fact that the results can be blurry and you kind of have to figure out what’s going on. , learning the art of science is absolutely critical that has to be done on the job, ”Posey said.

Kenneth Halanych, who took the helm in June as executive director of the UNCW center, said the relationship between the city and the university had an even broader reach.

“Engaging both the community and young science researchers really helps build confidence in science from a community perspective,” said Halanych.

“One of the things we’ve had a huge problem with in this country, especially lately, is trust in science and trust in expertise has eroded dramatically. So it’s a chance for scientists to go interact with the community, interact with young researchers or young individuals and say, look, science is essential in your daily life, ”he said. . “This kind of activity, I actually think, is really important in helping people understand the importance of science and the scientific process. These types of partnerships between communities and universities and student involvement are essential to building a productive future.

The St. James Endowment will provide funds to continue the partnership at the university and support student work in the city.

“Our hope is that other people in Brunswick County, people interested in coastal resilience and marine biology and applied learning at UNCW, are also interested in supporting this fund because we want others to cities, communities, etc. this opportunity and think well maybe we could do that too, ”Crighton said. “As more support arrives we will be able to do more work, not only in the town of St. James, but also in Brunswick County and expand the capacity to have more learning opportunities.” applied for our students at UNCW which is a great thing.


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