Director's Editorial: Michael K. Orbach

[Mike is also Director of the Duke University Marine Laboratory as well as a Board member; one might say a "Director, Director"---Ed.]

When a section of the western bulkhead of the Duke Marine Lab, near the old flounder research pens, began to show signs of needing replacement, it was actually some of our students who came up with an idea. "Why do you need a bulkhead?" they asked, "Aren't there better ways to protect the shoreline and still have a productive environment?"

Great question. To get the answer, our facilities Manager, Howard Weckerle, and I got ahold of Tracy Skrabal at the North Carolina Coastal Federation. We knew Tracy had been working on creative alternatives for shoreline stabilization, and she was pleased to come to Pivers Island to discuss our options.

The western shoreline of Pivers Island, where the Duke Marine Lab and the NOAA lab are located, faces a relatively small, shallow embayment. Where the bulkhead was in the worst shape the channel was some distance from the shore, there was not a lot of "fetch" across the embayment, and there were no buildings or infrastructure close to the bulkhead on the land side. We decided to put together a draft plan for a "sill-and-marsh" system to replace the old vertical bulkhead. See image below:

The first step was to draw up a draft plan, which we did with the assistance of the Coastal Federation and folks from the NOAA lab. The next step was to run the plan by the Duke Facilities Management Department, the people responsible for infrastructure at Duke, including the Marine Lab. They were initially, to say the least, cautious (You want to do WHAT?). We explained, however, that if properly designed, the sill-and-marsh system should provide adequate shoreline erosion protection. We also pointed out that the Marine Lab is part of the Nicholas School of the Environment and Earth Sciences at Duke, and we should be setting an example by trying new and innovative techniques in environmental design. They agreed, ultimately with great enthusiasm. Their enthusiasm increased when we calculated that the proposed system would not be any more costly that simply replacing the old bulkhead. This actually surprised even us when we did the calculations, but it ended up to be entirely true.

The next step was to formalize the plan and apply for a Major CAMA permit from the Coastal Resources Commission. The 'major permit' provision was triggered by the size of the project -- over 300 linear feet, with another 400 feet of stone revetment against an existing bulkhead which could not be taken out -- and the fact that we proposed to go up to 70' into public trust waters in order to follow the natural channel contour with the sill. We proposed to monitor the project before and after construction with student teams from Duke supervised by Duke faculty and NOAA personnel, and to construct the site as a public demonstration project for all to see.

The permit was approved in the spring of 2002. First the bulkhead came out (assisted by the HAZMAT team because of asbestos sheathing); then the sill was constructed; then the land was graded to a natural slope; a berm was constructed on the landward side of the project; and finally, 7,000 Spartina plants of two different species were planted by volunteers one rainy April morning.

Now, one year later, the Spartina has taken hold, the sill and berm appear stable, and the project has all the appearances of a great success. Stories of the project have appeared in local print and electronic media, and many individuals and groups have visited the site to see the results. It is both functional and aesthetically pleasing. I hope that the project will serve as an example of what the public, private and non-profit sectors can do together with a little creativity and some solid expertise.

Helping Local Communities Address Microbial Contamination in Surface Waters.
Whitney Kurz
North Carolina National Estuarine Research Reserve (NCNERR)

Water pollution to North Carolina’s riparian and coastal waters is one issue that currently concerns scientists, policy makers, and many of the state’s residents. An aspect of water pollution that is being researched and explored at this time is microbial contamination. A wide variety of disease-causing organisms can be present in human fecal material including viruses such as cholera, Hepatitis A virus, Norwalk group viruses; bacteria that cause typhoid fever, shigellosis, salmonellosis, and gastroenteritis; and parasites such as Giardia lamblia and Cryptosporidium. Farm animals can also carry human pathogens such as E.Coli O157:H7 (a potentially fatal a mutant form found specifically in the intestinal tract of cattle) and Salmonella. Domesticated pets carry pathogenic bacteria (Campylobacter) and parasites (Cryptosporidium, Toxoplasma gondii and Toxocara) in their fecal matter. Knowing the sources of these pathogens in the environment is of great value to managers for prevention of fecal contamination in watersheds; however, identifying and quantifying these pathogens directly in the environment can be difficult, expensive, and sometimes hazardous. Researchers often use indirect indicators of pathogens to identify potential sources of harmful microbes for watershed management purposes. There are a wide variety of indirect indicators of pathogenic contamination made up of bacteria (total coliform bacteria, fecal coliform bacteria, E. coli, enterococci), viruses, and by-products of human activities (caffeine and cholesterol) in nature.

In September 2002, NCNERR’s Coastal Training Program (formally known as Coastal Communities Services) and the North Carolina Coastal Nonpoint Source Program hosted a gathering of scientists that research bacteria and viruses to address this issue of microbial contamination in North Carolina waters. This developing field that attempts to identify the ultimate fecal input sources (human, dog, cat, cow, pig, etc.) and to estimate the relative percentages of those sources contributing to the contamination of water bodies is known as Microbial Source Tracking (MST). MST methods were discussed at this conference along with application of tools by environmental quality managers to combat fecal contamination. At the end of the meeting, scientists provided a synopsis of their discussions and answered questions from environmental
health managers and students live via the Internet

This gathering helped the Coastal Training Program understand the importance of the growing field of MST. Therefore, we have once again partnered with the North Carolina Coastal Nonpoint Source Program to produce a document titled “Microbial Source Tracking: A Reference for Local Governments” and to bring this document to the public. This document includes the following sections: How microbes contaminate local waters; Federal and state agencies involved in preventing and reducing microbial contamination and their water quality standards; MST methods; What local governments can do to prevent and reduce microbial contamination, including a review of nonstructural and structural best management practices (BMPs). Contributing authors include NCNERR Graduate Research Fellows Monica Powers and Eileen Vandenburgh, as well as Duke University graduate student Lisa Powell.

Our coastal decision-makers (i.e. local government officials, land use planners, etc) can improve their audiences' understanding of this information and capability to address microbial contamination in their communities through a series of Coastal Issues Workshops, scheduled for Fall 2003. “Microbial Source Tracking: A Reference for Local Governments” will be distributed at these workshops, and both the reference document and the workshops are free of charge. For speakers, we will draw on many of the researchers that participated in the September 2002 conference. For more information on either the MST document or workshops, contact Whitney Kurz at 252-728-2170 or

Crossroads News:

Thanks again for your generous support of Crossroads. And a special thanks to Larry and Dot McGee, who made a significant further contribution, even though they are already Life Members. Our newest Life Member is Joyce Mize, who lives in Hawaii. Ms. Mize is surely our most distant member; we are especially grateful to her for such support from far away.
In an effort to cut mailing costs and keep paper to a minimum, we are considering publishing the newsletter by e-mail. We already make the newsletters available on our web site shortly after they are written. We will, of course, continue to mail copies to those who prefer this way of getting the newsletter. It would be a big help if you would let us know if you would like to get yours by e-mail, read it on the web, or continue to get it mailed. Also, we need to have e-mail addresses of members to notify them quickly of Action Alerts and breaking news. If we don’t have your e-mail address, we would appreciate receiving it. The simplest way to give us your opinion is by sending an e-mail to I will look forward to hearing from you about this or any other topic of concern to Crossroads.