North Carolina's Coasts in Crisis:
A Vision for the Future

"The shoreline in this South Nags Head photograph has flanked the sand-bagged houses that are now in the surf zone, and destroyed the adjacent houses and access road." Photograph by Stan Riggs.

Greenville, NC
February 12, 2009

Over 250 people attended Dr. Riggs's presentation.

On February 12, Dr. Stan Riggs, distinguished research professor of geology, presented "North Carolina's Coasts in Crisis: A Vision for the Future" to a crowd of over 250 in the Great Room of the Mendenhall Student Center at ECU.

Dr. Riggs began by explaining the dynamic geologic systems that formed North Carolina's barrier islands. He discussed the geologic history of the region and the effect of ancient global periods of warming and cooling. Particularly important is how barrier islands naturally move as they continuously erode and rebuild themselves.

This variable environment comes into conflict with the static infrastructure humans have built on top of it. Dr. Riggs demonstrated the impact and economic consequences that sea-level rise, erosion, and storms have on coastal homes, businesses, roads, and bridges.

Using examples from past storm events in North Carolina and other coastal communities, Dr. Riggs also explained how common development practices are costly and often unsuccessful alternatives to natural processes. For example, sand that is dredged and pumped onto beaches as part of "beach nourishment" programs is washed back out to sea within a year, leaving only rocky, unattractive shorelines. Thus, the costs of these programs escalates each year as more and more sand is required.

Instead, Dr. Riggs and collegues offer a vision for the future that will encourage coastal communities to build sustainable economies that are resilient to natrual forces, provide better environmental quality, and preserve the unique character of North Carolina's coastal resources and communities.

The key solution that Dr. Riggs envisions is allowing the Outer Banks to become "a string of pearls." NC Highway 12 which connects the current barrier islands is unsustainable due to erosion. Instead, Dr. Riggs suggests deconstructing the road and allowing the larger segments of the Outer Banks to develop into separate "Ocracoke-style destination villages" accessible by a quality ferry system. This alternative plan would allow new inlet openings to rebuild the shrinking barrier islands, improve water exchange and quality in the Pamlico Sound, create new tourist destinations, and preserve the environment by limiting large automobile usage on the islands.

Dr. Riggs concluded his presentation by taking questions from the audience. Afterwards, in appreciation of the contributions that Dr. Riggs has made to research and to the ECU community, he received a distinguished service award from Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Studies, Deidre Mageean.

See the full vision here:

This event was sponsored by the Center for Sustainable Tourism (CST), the RENCI at ECU Center for Coastal Systems Informatics and Modeling (RENCI/C-SIM), the Institute for Coastal Science and Policy (ICSP), the Division of Research and Graduate Studies, Recreation and Leisure Studies, Department of Geology, and the Center for Natural Hazards Research.

Event Flyer

[back to News]