WCU shoreline program opens coastal station at USC Beaufort

Two years after relocating to Western Carolina University from its longtime home at Duke University, a program known worldwide for its use of science to influence public policy affecting management of U.S. shorelines is establishing a permanent beachhead in South Carolina’s Lowcountry.

Officials from WCU and the University of South Carolina Beaufort have signed a memorandum of understanding that establishes a partnership providing space on USCB’s campus for Western’s Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines.

Founded at Duke in 1986, the PSDS conducts research focusing on beach replenishment and other forms of shoreline stabilization, hazard risk mapping on barrier islands, sedimentary processes on shorefaces, and mitigation of hurricane property damage on barrier islands. The program relocated in 2006 to the WCU campus in the mountains of Western North Carolina and is administratively housed in the Graduate School.

“Having access to laboratory and office space on the South Carolina coast will assist the program greatly as it continues to use science as a tool toward responsible management of our nation’s vulnerable natural coastal resources,” said Scott Higgins, dean of the Graduate School and Research at WCU. “While Western’s location offers the advantage of being roughly equidistant from both the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, as well as providing shelter from hurricanes and tropical storms, proximity to the shoreline will make it easier for our faculty and student researchers to do their fieldwork.”

Through the new agreement, faculty from the PSDS will teach at least one undergraduate course per year at USCB in the academic area of coastal studies and marine science, and at least one course per year for the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at USCB.

Joe Staton, an associate professor of biology and marine science who has been at the forefront of USCB’s efforts to formalize the partnership, called WCU’s coastal program “a natural fit” with his university’s mission to serve the needs of a region where coastal zone development and beach erosion issues are critical to a growing population.

“As a part of the Lowcountry, Beaufort County is the fastest-growing county in South Carolina and it has extensive shorelines. In part, that has made us attractive to the program, which already has been conducting work in our area on a regular basis,” Staton said.

“Through this agreement, USCB will provide a home base away from home for the PSDS, and we get a local presence of a nationally known center where our students can intern and take courses otherwise not available at USCB. Our top students who develop an interest in the PSDS’s work also have a potential graduate destination in Cullowhee,” he said.

The PSDS is directed by Rob Young, professor of geosciences and natural resources management at WCU and one of the nation’s leading experts on the science of hurricane impacts and coastal management.

“Since its formation, PSDS has become a driving force in asking policy-makers to rethink the way our nation’s shorelines are managed,” said Young, who studied under program founder Orrin Pilkey at Duke. “In the last five years alone, poorly planned coastal development has cost American taxpayers more than $100 billion. Much of our work over the last two years has focused on projects in South Carolina, our nearest coastal neighbor. Thanks to the partnership with the USC Beaufort, we have a strong ally in our ongoing efforts to translate good science into good public policies at the state and federal levels.”

For more information on the Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines, call (828) 227-3822 or visit the newly launched program Web sites at http://psds.wcu.edu or http://www.uscb.edu/shorelines.