Young nabs Fulbright for Bulgaria work

Rob Young, director of Western Carolina University’s Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines, will spend five months in Bulgaria next year as a Fulbright Scholar, helping develop science-based criteria for sustainable development of the burgeoning tourism industry along the coast of the Black Sea.

Announcement of the Fulbright award comes after Young, one of the nation’s foremost experts in coastal geology and shoreline development policy, spent some of the summer of 2011 touring the Bulgarian coast from Romania to Turkey at the invitation of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences. That visit was the beginning of what has become a long-term collaboration with the Bulgarian Institute of Oceanology in Varna.

Data collected during Young’s past and present visits, along with existing data from the institute, will be used to develop a list of criteria for future development that will protect both the environment and the coastal economy.

Rob Young

He will collaborate with Margarita Stancheva in the Bulgarian oceanology institute’s department of marine geology and archaeology in studying coastal erosion, sandy beaches and dunes, and other coastal zone management issues facing Bulgaria.

“The Black Sea Coast of Bulgaria has extensive, beautiful sand beaches, and travel to Bulgaria is still very affordable and safe. As a result, many of Bulgaria’s beaches have experienced an explosion in development for tourism over the last 10 to 15 years,” Young said.

“While this development has become a critically important part of the Bulgarian economy, it must be done in a way that is both economically and environmentally sustainable,” he said. “Coastal development that is unplanned and not carefully regulated can destroy the key economic resource – the beach – that tourists come to enjoy, and can result in significant environmental damage.”

Young will be drawing upon his broad experience working with similar issues at the local, state and national levels across the United States and in many other countries.

Long regarded as the world’s premiere academic exchange program, the Fulbright attracts exceptional scholars from more than 150 countries worldwide. Named for former U.S. Sen. J. William Fulbright, it is the flagship international educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government and is designed to “increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries.”

The Fulbright award provides another example of the high caliber of research and teaching that takes place at WCU, said Beth Lofquist, interim provost.

“This is a most prestigious honor for Rob Young, one that recognizes the depth and breadth of his work in the area of coastal geology and the use of science to develop sensible shoreline policies not just in North Carolina and the United States, but across the globe,” Lofquist said. “Dr. Young exemplifies what we mean when we say that Western Carolina University offers opportunities to those who aspire to make a difference in their world. He truly is making a difference.”

Young was elected a fellow of the Geological Society of America last year in recognition of his sustained contributions to the science of coastal geology and coastal hazards. He also was cited for his public service and outreach work with coastal communities, the National Park Service and state government, and for his role in communicating science to the general public through the media.

He is co-author of “The Rising Sea,” a book about the threat posed to coastal communities by global warming. His appointments have included service on the Science Panel on Coastal Hazards that advises the N.C. Coastal Resources Commission, the S.C. Blue Ribbon Committee on Shoreline Management, and the N.C. General Assembly’s Offshore Energy Exploration Study Committee.

He also serves on the board of directors for the Olympic Park Institute in the state of Washington, where he has been part of an ongoing collaborative partnership with the institute through a $1.5 million National Science Foundation-funded initiative called the Elwha Science Education Project. The initiative involves inviting young people from Washington’s Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe to investigate how the nation’s largest dam removal project would affect the tribe’s cultural heritage.

In addition, Young is a frequent contributor to the popular media. He has written articles for publications including the New York Times, USA Today, Architectural Record, the Houston Chronicle and The (Raleigh) News & Observer. He has appeared on shows ranging from PBS “Now” to CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360.”

The Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines, which relocated to WCU in 2006, was founded at Duke University in 1986 by Young’s mentor Orrin H. Pilkey, the James B. Duke Professor Emeritus of the Earth Sciences at Duke. The program has become an internationally known advocate for responsible coastal management policies that consider and balance economic and environmental interests.

For more information, visit the website psds.wcu.edu.