The Bald Head Island Conservancy has established a Center for Coastal Sustainability to serve as a research partnership and education hub for sustainability-related initiatives on Bald Head Island (BHI), North Carolina. We intend for the Center to eventually serve as a beacon for coastal sustainability initiatives throughout the southeastern United States in pursuit of enhanced environmentally sustainable living and development. By incorporating experts from across disciplines including coastal science, engineering, management, economics, land use planning, and human social dynamics, the Center will promote strategies that allow BHI and coastal communities to adapt to and/or mitigate threats at the land-sea interface including flooding, land-use change, and coastal pollution.
BHI is a planned community that has had “living in harmony with nature” at the heart of its development perspective since the 1960s when the Save Bald Head movement challenged developers who had disregarded the ecological integrity of the environment. The legacy of environmental awareness was amplified by the Mitchell family (Bald Head Island Limited) who purchased the island in 1983 and helped found the Conservancy in this same year. Because of BHI’s sense of community pride, synergistic relationships among the municipal government, businesses, and nonprofit organizations (Conservancy and Old Baldy Foundation), BHI is an ideal location for establishing a Center for Coastal Sustainability. In 2022, seed funding for the Center was provided by Dick and Pat Johnston, long-time BHI residents and Conservancy supporters.
An important first step in the creation of the Center was defining the term ‘sustainability’ as it relates to coastal environments. Coastal systems in their natural steady state are dynamic across a wide range of time and spatial scales, yet remain stable in that they are resilient to both episodic and chronic stressors. Most modern human interventions that drastically alter natural dynamics on populated coastlines have caused a disruption to the previously stable, steady state long-term behavior of the coastal system. For the purpose of the Center, coastal sustainability will be defined as a characteristic whereby the actions of humans promote stable long-term behavior of the entire coastal system as storms, sea level rise, and other climatic factors change. It is expected that the Center will principally serve Bald Head Island, but will eventually expand to assist other southeastern United States coastal communities.
To promote the conservation and preservation of coastal resources for future generations in response to climate and other anthropogenic change in a manner that balances environmental, economic, and social factors.
A key facet of the Center is an annual symposium to bring experts from across coastal sustainability disciplines to Bald Head Island for public discussions and interactions with Conservancy staff. On April 4-5, 2022, the Conservancy hosted the inaugural Johnston Coastal Sustainability Symposium with specific goals to: 1) network with experts across the coastal sustainability research and education fields 2) share current knowledge regarding coastal environmental/climate science with the public, and 3) create a BHIC Sustainability Advisory Panel that will assist in the development of the Center’s purpose and to define initial pilot activities/projects.
The Advisory Panel consists of the Conservancy’s scientific leadership team (3-4) and 6-8
academic/management experts (total 9-12 people) whose primary roles are:
The scope of panel expertise aims to include coastal management/land use planning, environmental
economics, coastal and landscape ecology, shoreline processes, social/political evaluations, public
education and community engagement, coastal and structural engineering. It is expected that
panelists will serve a minimum of 2 years.
The Advisory Panel has identified the following activities that BHIC will pursue immediately to support the Center’s Mission.
ACTION: In partnership with the Smith Island Land Trust, promote stronger land preservation actions among the Village of BHI and island property owners/businesses.
Gifts to the Center for Coastal Sustainability will be matched up to $100,000 by Dick and Pat Johnston