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Urban Coast Institute

Student Q&A: Johanna Vonderhorst on Strengthening Protections for High Seas

Monmouth University student Johanna Vonderhorst recently completed a paper titled “Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction: A Need to Improve Governing Frameworks and Enhance a Global Commitment to Conservation” as part of her work as a spring intern at the Global Ocean Forum (GOF). In it, Vonderhorst contends that the high seas “are home to a wealth of ocean resources that are taken for granted” and deserve greater legal protections.

The internship gave Vonderhorst, a NOAA Hollings Scholar and former UCI research assistant, the opportunity to earn university credits while conducting external research on ocean policy. The senior majoring in chemistry and political science plans to continue her internship with the GOF in the fall. Read below to learn more about the issues explored in her paper.

Q: Your paper focuses on the need for greater protections for Areas Beyond National Jurisdiction (ABNJ) – typically deep-sea zones that fall outside of the governance of any national entities. Why are these areas so important and what are some of the threats they face?

ABNJ are extremely important not only because they house major fisheries that feed millions worldwide, but also because they provide shipping and transportation routes, seabed for laying telephone cables, and resources used in medicine and scientific research. They also provide vital ecosystem services, acting as carbon sinks to regulate climate change impacts and generating over half of the world’s oxygen. Some of the biggest threats to ABNJ are overfishing, resource overexploitation, plastic and oil pollution, and climate change, which exacerbates all other threats to the health of ABNJ.

Q: You highlight some of the international frameworks that have been initiated to guide human activities in ABNJ, notably the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which calls for nations to cooperate on issues such as the exploitation of marine resources and the management of fisheries. Why do you believe UNCLOS and other existing initiatives are inadequate?

UNCLOS and other regulatory frameworks are inadequate primarily because they provide no mechanism for global enforcement and create no international entity to punish violators of their terms. UNCLOS is also anthropocentric, advocating for preservation of marine resources in ABNJ only to the extent that it benefits humans and not for the sake of the environment in its own right. Additionally, under UNCLOS, each member state is responsible for gathering its own scientific information regarding the condition of fisheries and other ABNJ resources and for creating and implementing policies in line with its findings and the terms of UNCLOS, resulting in fragmented governance.

Q: What steps do you think should be taken for the international community to better address the challenges for ABNJ?

A new framework under UNCLOS is currently being negotiated to improve cross-sectoral and transnational communication and build equivalent scientific capacity and information-sharing networks among party states, and this is a great place to start. The creation of an international enforcement body under this new framework would also be an important step forward. Increased support and funding for initiatives like the Deep Seas Project and the Common Oceans ABNJ Project, as well as regional projects such as the Global Ocean Forum’s efforts to enhance capacity-building and cross-sectoral communication, would also be beneficial.

Monmouth University Awarded Grant to Monitor Health of County’s Coastal Lakes through 2023

The Monmouth University Urban Coast Institute (UCI) has received a $150,000 grant from the Jules L. Plangere, Jr. Family Foundation to extend and expand a program that partners scientists and students with community volunteers to monitor the health of coastal lakes.

The funding will allow the Coastal Lakes Observing Network (CLONet) project to continue through the summer of 2023 and facilitate the purchase of handheld probes that enable volunteers to measure harmful algal bloom (HAB) levels in their community lakes. The grant has also made it possible for the UCI to establish a citizen science coordinator position to oversee the day-to-day management of CLONet, including the analysis and monitoring of sampling data, organizing coastal lake summits on campus, and guiding multiple CLONet lake groups and individual samplers.

Through CLONet, university scientists and students have trained and equipped community members to sample Monmouth County’s beach-adjacent lakes for properties such as temperature, salinity, clarity and dissolved oxygen levels, then file their readings into an online database. Since the summer of 2019, citizen scientists have been sampling Deal Lake, Fletcher Lake, Lake Como, Lake Takanassee, Sunset Lake, Sylvan Lake and Wesley Lake. Monmouth students and scientists have supplemented the data by regularly sampling the same bodies, along with Silver Lake, Spring Lake, Sylvan Lake and Wreck Pond.

With two years of data now on file, CLONet has determined a baseline of normal conditions for each lake that can be used to discern how recent developments such as weather events, waterfront construction projects or the implementation of new stormwater filtration measures are impacting the waters. The detection of sudden shifts in lake conditions can be used to predict, and perhaps thwart, the onset of HABs, according to Endowed Associate Professor of Marine Science and CLONet coordinator Jason Adolf.

The new probes being provided to samplers will enable them for the first time to collect data on HAB biomass that can be contributed to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s (NJDEP) online HAB Interactive Map Reporting and Communication System. Prior, only Monmouth’s scientists and students had access to the equipment, limiting the collection of information.

“The HABs issue has received increasing attention in New Jersey in the last several years, particularly following the closures of Lake Hopatcong and Greenwood Lake in 2019 that caused major losses in tourism revenue,” said Adolf, who co-leads a HAB Expert Team formed by Gov. Phil Murphy to provide input to the NJDEP. “Unfortunately, we expect climate change will make HABS all the more common in urbanized areas like the Jersey Shore by overheating our lakes and allowing more intense coastal storms that overload the waters with nutrients. The data collected by CLONet’s citizen scientists can help us get ahead of HAB events by spotting the warning signs instead of repeatedly reacting to them after they occur.”

The roughly 650 samples collected by the volunteers as of July have already provided insights into the conditions of the lakes, among them:

  • Poor Quality: On a four-tier scale ranging from oligotrophic (best) to hypereutrophic (worst) conditions, the lakes overall fell in the latter category. Typical characteristics of hypereutrophic water bodies include an abundance of nutrients that fuel HABs, low dissolved oxygen levels, occasional fish kill events, and the presence of thick scum and dense weeds.
  • Ideal HAB Conditions: Data shows the lakes are most susceptible to HABs from June through September. Links between rainfall and HAB occurrence are suspected and are being investigated using CLONet data.
  • Diversity of Lakes: Although they’re similar sized and only miles apart, the lakes vary significantly. Overall water quality (Takanassee consistently rated highest of the group), water properties and even water colors were distinct from body to body.
  • Warming Waters: Historic data on the lakes’ conditions is scarce, but measures taken in a study of Deal Lake in the 1970s indicate that its temperature is significantly higher today.

Those interested in joining a CLONet lake sampling team are encouraged to email Citizen Science Coordinator Erin Conlon at econlon@monmouth.edu. Volunteers will be provided free sampling kits and training and can conduct the work as their schedules permit.

“No one knows more about the lakes than the people who live in their neighborhoods, and that local knowledge has been an important asset for CLONet,” Conlon said. “It’s been a pleasure watching the project strengthen our volunteers’ bonds with the lakes and I believe that will go a long way toward protecting these waters in the future.”

UCI to Support Studies of N.J. Sea Level Rise Real Estate Impacts, Youth Climate Activism, Ecotherapy

The UCI has awarded three Faculty Enrichment Grants for projects that will research whether sea level rise has impacted Jersey Shore home values, how engagement in climate activism influences young people’s social views and identities, and the psychological benefits of experiencing nature.

The UCI offers these grants on a competitive basis to Monmouth University faculty to support individual or collaborative projects for the enhancement of existing curriculum, new curriculum development, research and scholarship and team-teaching opportunities. Funding is available through the Heidi Lynn Sculthorpe Scholars program for faculty and student researchers of all disciplines whose work advances core elements of Monmouth’s Strategic Plan and supports the UCI’s mission. The following projects were approved for the summer round.

Counseling with Nature: A Qualitative Study of the Experiences of Ecotherapy Clients

Faculty researcher: Megan Delaney, associate professor, Department of Professional Counseling

Student researcher: Molly Malkinski

This research will continue work begun through a previous UCI grant exploring clients’ experience in ecotherapy (contact with the outdoors and nature as a method or element of therapy), including their connections with the natural world, connections to eco-grief and thoughts about climate change. Since many of the clients’ sessions will have been done in areas on and around the New Jersey coastline, the researchers will also explore if and how water affects their counseling experience.

Experiences of Youth Climate Activists

Faculty researchers: Alyson Pompeo-Fargnoli, assistant professor, Department of Educational Counseling and Leadership; Melissa Alvaré, lecturer, Department of Political Science and Sociology

The team will explore how engagement in climate activism impacts the development of youth and their broader understanding of social justice issues. The research questions guiding this study are: What is the developmental journey like for youth activists? What are their catalysts, supports, and impediments? Are these environmental youth activists making connections to other areas of social justice activism?

Sea Level Rise – Flood Risk, Property Values and Income Effects on New Jersey’s Coastal Communities

Faculty researcher: Gina McKeever, instructor, Department of Finance, Economics and Real Estate

Student researcher: Valentine Pane

To study the impacts of sea level rise on residential real estate values, an analysis will be conducted of 20 years of sales data for properties located within and outside of FEMA flood zones in coastal communities in Monmouth, Ocean and Cape May counties. The project will also seek to determine how income in these areas has changed and whether homeowners of low to moderate income are being priced out of their homes by rising flood insurance premiums and replaced with higher income buyers.

About the Program

The Heidi Lynn Sculthorpe Scholars program is funded through the generosity of many corporate and private donors. If you would like to make a tax-deductible gift to the UCI, please click here. For more information, contact UCI Associate Director Thomas Herrington at therring@monmouth.edu.