The Institute for Coastal Science and Policy

Legend says that the ancient English king, Canute the Great, in testing the reach of his reign, placed his throne on the shoreline and commanded the tide to stop rising. Later, as he stood with wet feet, he proclaimed the power of the kings to be worthless and never wore his crown again.

ICSP director, Dr. John Rummel, leads the institute in its efforts to study the complex interactions between human behavior and North Carolina coastal environments

Today, our ability to wield power over the seas has remained meager, but our knowledge of oceans and coastal environments, as well as our understanding of their importance to the planet, has grown tremendously. In the centuries since Canute, scientists have peeked into the history of the Earth’s oceans, seen how they have risen and fallen over the millennia, and determined one indisputable fact: No one can hold back the sea forever.

At East Carolina University, the Institute for Coastal Science and Policy (ICSP) is not trying to control the seas. Instead, it is using research, education, and outreach to achieve the next best thing—sustainable coexistence. ICSP focuses on the complex interactions between human behavior and the natural processes of the marine environment, and aims to understand them well enough to support the development of sound public policy, leading to a long, productive relationship between humans and the coast.

While no one at ICSP would characterize our relationship with the oceans as a deliberately contentious struggle, it is clear that the areas where water meets land are some of the most dynamic and delicate on the planet. These areas are rich with biological ecosystems, archaeological and geological clues to our past, and unmatched natural beauty. Without the knowledge developed and taught by institutes like ICSP, many of these areas would be irrevocably changed or lost completely.

North Carolina is made up of a wide array of coastal marine environments. The famed Outer Banks are a series of barrier islands that separate the Atlantic Ocean from the North American continent. Between the Outer Banks and the mainland rest the Albemarle and Pamlico sounds. These areas combine to form a huge, rich ecosystem for fish and other marine life who come there to spawn, and which in turn nourishes the open ocean. The sound-side, coastal-area communities, contain marshes and estuaries. From the mainland, many rivers and streams feed into the sound. Add a hurricane or a tropical storm from time-to-time, and these areas combine to form an ideal locale for interdisciplinary research.


ICSP was established at ECU in the summer of 2007, combining the Institute for Coastal and Marine Resources, the PhD Program in Coastal Resources Management, and ECU’s Office of Diving and Water Safety. Oceanographers, biologists, geographers, chemical oceanographers, maritime archaeologists, sociologists, anthropologists, and geoscientists join together under the umbrella of ICSP to research all aspects of riverine, estuarine, coastal, and shallow marine environments. ICSP’s Office of Diving and Water Safety provides training, research support, equipment maintenance, and safety oversight for ECU’s research diving activities and for the safety of 17 university research vessels. The institute currently has 14 scientists,with a 15th slated to arrive in July. In addition, more than 60 other ECU faculty members from a wide range of disciplines contribute to the institute’s mission.

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