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It’s Summer Time – What’s Hot at the Coast?

by Cindy Lee Van Dover | June 23rd, 2008
posted by Erica Rowell (Editor)


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Dr. Van Dover, director of Duke’s Marine Lab, often holds brainstorm sessions on the porch overlooking Taylor’s Creek. For today, she spoke with three students about hot topics in their community.

In my academic world — a small island adjacent to the old town of Beaufort, NC — there are three hot topics these days: sustainability, Green Drinks, and storm-water rules.

What’s the word on these sizzlers? I sat down with three graduate students in chairs made of recycled plastic on the porch of our new green facility overlooking stunning views of Taylor’s Creek to find out.

Several Takes on Sustainability

Sustainability is a word I never used routinely before arriving on Pivers Island two years ago. Wikipedia tells us the term “refers to the potential longevity of vital human support systems.” The definition goes on, but I have the sense that sustainability means different things to different people.

Mary Turnipseed: Sustainability? It is deliberately shaping the future. It is about choice and opportunity, the choice to determine what we want our world to look like. The word is opaque at first, but it is about choosing to stop destroying the ecosystem services on which humanity depends.
It is about recognizing that our collective actions modify the natural world on local and global scales, and that there is a point where we can go too far in our disregard for how natural systems must work, in our persistence in practices that challenge the capacity of ecosystem services to rebound.
I have come to my concern for sustainability through the intrinsic value I find in diversity and the relationship between the quality of human life and the quality of the environment.

Elliott Hazen: Personally, I think about sustainability at three levels.
At one level, there is the daily conversation — talking with others about sustainability.
Then there is how I live my life and the actions I take to minimize my footprint on the world.
And at a third level, there is how I can influence the impact we have on the environment through grass-roots efforts and policy changes. I come most recently from Seattle, where there are progressive views about the environment and our care of it. And I am a diver and I have seen how we destroy coral reefs through ill-conceived practices that could easily be modified.

Rhema Bjorkland: Sustainability. It is hard to define. It is an ideal concept of how to live without impairing the resources on which we depend and about maintaining the life-support systems of the planet. So much human infrastructure is in place that works against sustainable living.
In Jamaica, where I am from, in some ways our economy forces us to be conservative in our use of resources, to use sustainable practices. There, we are used to 6-hour water ‘lock-offs’ — from 10 pm to 4 am — as a way to manage our water resources.

Diving Into ‘Green Drinks’ and Storm-water Runoff

Green Drinks and storm-water runoff have also made it into Wikipedia.

The storm-water entry introduces the concept of Integrated Water Management Movement that advocates for storm-water harvest, infiltration, and rain gardens (or bioretention).

Last month at our local group’s inaugural meeting of Green Drinks — “an informal networking event where environmentally minded people meet over drinks” — I was pleased to see the mixed crowd of locals and students coming together to discuss issues in our community and how to fix them.

Elliott Hazen: We are a small community here and want to work together to join forces. Last month our discussions focused on storm-water rules. This is an area of real concern for us — our county has one of the largest watersheds in the state and some of the worst coastal water quality.
There are such easy checks to storm-water runoff, like restrictions on the amount of impervious surfaces allowed in new construction projects, above which low-cost remedial measures like retention ponds and rain gardens must be included in a project. Developers don’t seem to see that minor costs would enhance the quality of life here.

Sensible storm-water rules in our coastal county are at the heart of what we mean by striving toward sustainability and the recognition that we must give a little to gain a lot. Green Drinks brings together neighbors who want to see sustainability become reality. This is what’s hot this summer in our town.


Dr. Cindy Van Dover directs Duke University’s Marine Lab, a facility of the Nicholas School of the Environment. Lab Van Dover is a deep-sea biologist with an interest in ocean exploration and the ecology of chemosynthetic ecosystems.

Mary Turnipseed worked for the Blue Ocean Institute and its sustainable seafood programs before coming to Duke to pursue her doctoral degree. She is now deeply involved in a legal study of common pool resources.

Elliott Hazen is a co-founder of the Green Wave, the grass-roots environmental group at the Duke Marine Lab, and co-instructor of Green by Design. In the field, Elliott is often closer to fish and whales than he is to people.

Rhema Bjorkland is a former zoo curator who rediscovered Jamaican iguanas that had been listed as extinct by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) in a remote dry limestone forest. With support from the World Wildlife Fund and other conservation groups she established a captive breeding program that has successfully reintroduced the reared lizards into the wild population. Rhema now works on conservation and management of sea turtles.

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