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Urban Coast Institute

Expert Panel to Discuss Legal Accountability for N.J. Climate Damages Aug. 19


Register now for the free online panel event “Accountability for Climate Change Harms in New Jersey: Scientific, Legal and Policy Perspectives,” to be held from 3-4:15 p.m. on Aug. 19. The expert panel discussion is being organized by the Climate Integrity Project, the Union of Concerned Scientists and Monmouth University.

This event is intended to educate the state’s legal and policy communities and the public on local climate impacts and associated costs now facing communities and taxpayers, and to initiate a dialogue on the growing trend of climate damages litigation in the U.S. Panelists will discuss the extent of climate harms in New Jersey as well as the scientific basis for holding the fossil fuel industry accountable for them. Panelists will also offer legal and community perspectives on damages litigation as a means to shift some of the burden from taxpayers to polluters.

The discussion will be moderated by Monmouth University Rechnitz Family/Urban Coast Institute Endowed Chair in Marine and Environmental Law and Policy Randall Abate. Panel members will include Brenda Ekwurzel, director of climate science with the Union of Concerned Scientists Climate & Energy Program; Nathaly Agosto Filión, chief sustainability officer, City of Newark; and Marco Simons, general counsel, EarthRights International. Opening remarks will be delivered by New Jersey State Sen. Joseph Cryan.

The event was originally scheduled to be held on the Monmouth campus in March, but was postponed due to COVID-19.

Attendees will be provided a link to the webinar after registering. For more information, contact Alyssa Johl at

UCI Marine Scientist Assists with Humpback Whale Rescue

Photo by Jim Nickels

UCI Marine Scientist Jim Nickels responded to an emergency call aboard Monmouth University’s research vessel Heidi Lynn Sculthorpe on July 30 to help free a humpback whale entangled in a trawl net off Long Island.

Officials from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Army Corps of Engineers, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, Atlantic Marine Conservation Society, U.S. Coast Guard, Center for Coastal Studies (CCS) and Turtles Fly Too all collaborated to free the animal. The effort began on July 27, when the Coast Guard received a report of a distressed whale in the Ambrose Channel of New York. Nickels was joined aboard the Heidi Lynn Sculthorpe on Thursday by Monmouth University graduate Peter Plantamura of the NOAA Northeast Fisheries Science Center’s (NEFSC) Sandy Hook lab.

The humpback was essentially anchored in place by the heavy net wrapped around its tail. Nickels said by the time he arrived, the whale appeared in mortal danger.

“It was a massive commercial net and the whale was in a nasty tangle,” Nickels said. “It was to the point where it was having trouble breathing.”

The Heidi Lynn Sculthorpe’s net reel was used to lift up the gear enough to relieve the pressure on the whale and allow it to move and breathe easier. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Drift Collection Vessel HAYWARD’s crain then pulled the gear out of the water and the CCS team cut the ropes and steel cables until the whale could swim free.

This press release recounting the full four-day rescue was issued by NOAA on behalf of all of the rescue partners.

Additional Coverage

Whale tangled in fishing gear off Jones Beach freed after 4-day effort, Newsday

Distressed, entangled humpback whale off New York set free, WPIX 11

Entangled humpback whale rescued from New York channel, National Fisherman

Humpback Whale Near NYC Successfully Freed After Days Of “Fighting To Live,” Gothamist



Trip Diary: Hurricane Research Gliders Launched from Monmouth Vessel

With the 2020 hurricane season officially underway, the UCI partnered with a team of federal agencies and research institutions to deploy a pair of Navy research gliders that will shed new light on the interactions between the ocean and powerful storms that pass through the New York Bight.

The gliders were launched from Monmouth University’s research vessel Heidi Lynn Sculthorpe at locations between the shipping lanes that approach New York Harbor. The crew included (seen above from l-r) Monmouth student Bryce McCall, Rutgers University scientists Scott Glenn and Travis Miles, UCI Marine Scientist Jim Nickels, and (not pictured) UCI Communications Director Karl Vilacoba.

The gliders will cruise the waters between the continental shelf and the coast from now through late October, collecting data on water conditions and transmitting it to scientists on the shore. Of particular interest is the influence that cooler waters at the bottom of the ocean have on storms once they “upwell,” or rise to mix with warmer surface waters as the ocean churns. Warm waters are known to fuel hurricanes, but the full degree with which colder waters slow and dissipate the storms is still under study. The gliders enable the researchers to safely measure those dynamics directly from the violent, roiling waters beneath a hurricane, and ultimately improve storm modeling. Scroll below to learn more with our photographic trip diary.

Above, Miles gets set to deploy the first glider roughly 20 miles east of Asbury Park, New Jersey. He’ll wheel the equipment to the edge of the vessel using a special hand truck with rails, angle it downward, and release the torpedo-shaped glider to plunge into the sea. It will quickly float back to the surface.

With eyes on the glider, the team will use a satellite phone to call the Naval Oceanographic Office at the John C. Stennis Space Center in Mississippi. From that site over 1,000 miles away, researchers can command the drone to carry out a battery of tests, including dives, timed cruises and data collection.

In the meantime, the team will take some readings in the water with their own equipment to make sure the glider’s data is matching up accurately. Once all of the tests were passed, the Heidi Lynn Sculthorpe headed to its next stop an hour north.

McCall launched the second glider about 15 miles south of Jones Beach, Long Island. From this point, the New York skyline and the high rises of Long Branch and Asbury Park were no longer in view. But over the next few years, these waters will be home to an installation of massive wind turbines that could produce enough renewable energy to power 1 million homes. While sailing, the crew came upon one deep-water buoy (above right) owned by the Wildlife Conservation Society and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, used to gather scientific data.

As the Heidi Lynn Sculthorpe embarked on its 3-hour trip back to Atlantic Highlands, the waters suddenly grew rough and Capt. Nickels’ radio buzzed with warnings to mariners. The 100-degree, ultra-humid air was about to burst open with thunderstorms and 40 knot winds. Nearing Sandy Hook, the crew was treated to a dazzling show of fork lighting and ominous cloud formations over New York City.

The glider deployment was carried out under the auspices of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Association Coastal Ocean Observing System (MARACOOS). Several other gliders were launched at other locations along the Atlantic Coast as part of the multi-year project. Additional partners include the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the Integrated Ocean Observing System (IOOS) and several other academic institutions.

Watch our video below chronicling last year’s glider deployment aboard the Heidi Lynn Sculthorpe.


Eyes on the Storm

Watch: Dr. Sterrett & Students Conduct Takanassee Lake Turtle Research

The UCI checked in with Monmouth University Assistant Professor Sean Sterrett and students Angel Ireland and Sara Grouleff as they conducted research on turtle populations in Long Branch’s Takanassee Lake. Among the team’s findings, a common pet species that is not native to New Jersey is now perhaps the most widespread in the system. The group’s research is being supported through the UCI’s Heidi Lynn Sculthorpe Summer Research Program.

UCI Call for Proposals: Just & Sustainable Community Recovery after COVID-19

Special Call for Proposals – Due August 21, 2020

UCI Heidi Lynn Sculthorpe Faculty Enrichment Grants

In light of the continuing crises of the COVID-19 pandemic and concern about systemic racism, the Urban Coast Institute has issued a special call for proposals to support faculty and student research and community-based projects focused on bold ideas for sustainably rebuilding our coastal communities and economies while addressing disproportional impacts to and needs of our most vulnerable populations. Research points to systemic under-investment in certain communities and populations based on factors including race and income that increase their vulnerability to natural hazards and changing climate conditions. Socially vulnerable populations are already living under highly stressed conditions that are exacerbated when a natural disaster impacts the community.

The COVID-19 pandemic amplifies the impacts of climate change stressors including increasing temperatures, rising sea level, storm intensity, floods and drought that impact local air and water quality, food security, and community vulnerability to natural hazards. Climate change-driven impacts and the COVID-19 pandemic interact with underlying community health, demographic, and socioeconomic factors. Environmental justice (EJ) communities, including those of low income, communities of color, immigrant groups, and Indigenous peoples are disproportionately vulnerable to the environmental and health impacts of climate change and COVID-19.

The UCI will award four to six seed grants of up to $5,000 each for research and community-based projects that advance just and sustainable community recovery and the development of a new equilibrium in social, economic, and natural resilience among all coastal communities. Preference will be given to multi-disciplinary faculty collaborations that include student research opportunities. The UCI is committed to the principles of equity, diversity and inclusion and strongly encourages faculty and students of color and marginalized populations to consider submitting a grant application. Research outcomes should be aimed at developing an academic or professional publication, community-based analysis/recommendations, and/or a plan to secure additional external funding support to continue the research or project.

Eligibility and Requirements

  • Proposal may be submitted by full-time Monmouth University faculty of any rank.
  • Proposal must be a maximum of five pages, double-spaced 12 point font, and include:
  1. Cover page listing the title of the proposal and investigators;
  2. statement of the problem and significance;
  3. description of the research, including student engagement;
  4. methodology or approach, and timeline; and
  5. expected outcomes and next steps.

References, one page CV of all investigators, the budget and budget justification are not included in the five-page limit. Note: CV, Budget and Budget Justification templates can be found at: (must have MyMU Portal credentials to access).


  • Proposals must be submitted by email to UCI Administrative Assistant Aliya Satku ( by 11:59 p.m. EDT on Friday, Aug. 21, 2020.
  • It is anticipated that funding is available for four to six research proposals.
  • Award announcements will be made by Sept. 1, 2020.
  • Funding during the academic year is limited to direct costs (no salary) associated with the research and student support. Student support is limited to $11/hr. and $12/hr. over a 20-hour work week in the fall and spring semester, respectively.
  • Funds must be expended the end of the spring 2021 semester.

Review Criteria

  • Proposals will be evaluated by a three- to five-member panel comprised of MU faculty with relevant expertise and UCI staff.
  • Evaluation Metrics
    1. Relevance to the research topic 20%Proposals should focus on socially vulnerable environmental justice coastal communities and develop research questions or community-based projects that, when answered or implemented, advance community response and or recovery, equity and inclusion for all coastal communities.
    2. Expected Outcomes 25%Proposed research and community-based projects should have clearly defined outcomes that will lead to a publication, tool, informational product, exhibit, and/or future research plan.
    3. Research Merit 20%Proposal demonstrates credible research methods or approaches to meet the research objectives
    4. Research Team 15%Research team demonstrates relevant expertise and experience that can advance project objectives.
    5. Student Engagement 15%Proposed research directly includes students in the research and/or provides experiential education experiences related to the research.
    6. Relevance to the mission and goals of the UCI 5%The UCI’s mission is to serve as a forum for research, education and collaboration to further healthy and productive coastal ecosystems and resilient and economically vibrant coastal communities.

For more information about this funding opportunity contact UCI Associate Director, Tom Herrington, at

Report by Monmouth, NJDEP Touts Nature Restoration for Coastal Resilience

Monmouth University researchers, in partnership with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP), recently completed a report that offers guidance for determining the appropriate type and location of green infrastructure projects designed to improve the resilience of coastal communities and ecosystems. The report, Framework for a Coastal Ecological Adaptation Prioritization Support Tool: Methodology, was authored by Urban Coast Institute (UCI) Director Thomas Herrington and History and Anthropology Department Associate  Professor Geoff Fouad.

The research stemmed from a 2015 NJDEP effort to create a guidebook for communities implementing natural and nature-based adaptations in coastal areas. Natural adaptations focus on conserving and restoring existing features (for example, planting grasses on beach dunes) while nature-based adaptations are hybrid, engineered approaches that seek to mimic the risk reduction functions of natural systems (such as depositing dredged sediments in a bay to create an artificial island). The NJDEP developed 10 successful pilot projects in coastal communities based on its guidebook, but recognized that the projects may not have targeted areas most in need of ecological restoration.

“They wanted to know how to prioritize projects so they can identify the best possible adaptations for specific locations in the state,” Herrington said. “We worked with the NJDEP to determine what types of natural and nature-based solutions work best in a given environment, considering factors like the project’s distance from a community, its consistency with the landscapes around it, and whether it would restore what’s there rather than building something new.”

The report notes that in contrast to hard or traditional “gray” engineered structures like seawalls and bulkheads, natural systems can offer equal or better hazard protection, avoid negative impacts to the environment and naturally adapt to changing conditions over time. However, these natural defenses have degraded significantly in New Jersey over the last century due to development, climate change and other trends.

Working with input from coastal experts and stakeholders, the NJDEP and Monmouth researchers set out to develop a project prioritization framework that places green adaptations on par with gray ones for protecting communities and ecosystems. The framework provides a high-level, landscape-scale screening of possible coastal ecological adaptations using geographical information system (GIS) data housed and managed by the NJDEP. The objective is to prioritize those adaptations that address a particular coastal issue of concern, such as coastal inundation, and are aligned with existing and/or future land use and management goals.

For more information on the report, contact Dr. Thomas Herrington at

Webinar: The Underwater United States

The Mid-Atlantic Regional Council on the Ocean and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution presented the webinar “The Underwater United States,” which provided a rare glimpse of life in the many undersea canyons located just 100 miles off our coast. Dr. Timothy Shank, who explored eight of the region’s lesser-studied canyons with towed camera technology, provided a tour of the insides of these ancient formations and their coral colonies. UCI Communications Director Karl Vilacoba recently highlighted Shank’s work in a Mid-Atlantic Ocean Data Portal ‘Ocean Stories’ feature and photo gallery that are educational companions to the webinar.

Professor Abate Delivers Interviews on Two Recently Published Books

Randall Abate, professor in the Department of Political Science and Sociology, Rechnitz Family/Urban Coast Institute Endowed Chair in Marine and Environmental Law and Policy, and director of the Institute for Global Understanding, was interviewed on two podcasts and one TV program this summer in connection with his two recently published books: “Climate Change and the Voiceless: Protecting Future Generations, Wildlife, and Natural Resources” and “What Can Animal Law Learn From Environmental Law?”

In May, he was interviewed on the “Little Brains, Big Topics” podcast (posted above), hosted by students at the University of Leeds, U.K. The topic of the interview was “Climate Change, Animal Rights, Future Generations, and Factory Farming,” which addressed topics from both of recently published books.

In July, Abate was interviewed on the “People Places Planet” podcast, hosted by the Environmental Law Institute in Washington, D.C. The interview focused on topics related to the second edition of his book, “What Can Animal Law Learn from Environmental Law?,” which was published in July.

Later in July, he was interviewed on the “Law Matters” program on Cambridge TV, hosted by Jenifer Varzaly, a faculty member at Cambridge University. The interview addressed topics from his “Climate Change and the Voiceless” book.

Abate will teach a new course—PS 298—based on his “Climate Change and the Voiceless” book in fall 2020 at Monmouth.


UCI Heidi Lynn Sculthorpe Scholars Kick Off Summer Research

The Urban Coast Institute has awarded Heidi Lynn Sculthorpe Summer Research grants to support seven Monmouth University student-faculty projects ranging from studies of historic discrimination practices in beach access to nature’s power for treating mental health issues.

The Heidi Lynn Sculthorpe Scholars Program offers competitive grant funding for students and faculty of all disciplines whose work supports the UCI’s mission. The program supports several hands-on research projects each year that provide real world experience to students while helping make a positive impact in coastal communities.

The summer projects listed below kicked off this month and will continue until August. All work will be conducted in accordance with social distancing restrictions as prescribed by Monmouth University and the State of New Jersey.

Adapting to Protect the North Atlantic Right Whale from Climate Change

Student: Aidan Bodeo-Lomicky

Faculty Mentor:  Randall S. Abate, J.D., Rechnitz Family/Urban Coast Institute Endowed Chair in Marine and Environmental Law and Policy

The North Atlantic right whale is a critically endangered species native to the waters off the East Coast with only 400 individuals remaining. The student will prepare a paper that examines the range of threats to the species and the existing regulatory framework in the U.S. to conserve it, and proposes measures to enhance protections for the whale from climate change and the threats that it exacerbates.

Beach Access and Race Discrimination in New Jersey 

Student: London Jones

Faculty Mentor:  Randall S. Abate, J.D., Rechnitz Family/Urban Coast Institute Endowed Chair in Marine and Environmental Law and Policy

The student will prepare a research paper on beach access policies that were implemented throughout New Jersey’s history to discriminate against minorities and where vestiges of these measures remain in place today.

Ecotherapy: Nature as a Co-Therapist

Student Researcher: Nicole Owenburg

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Megan Delaney, Department of Professional Counseling

The researcher will design a qualitative study and a survey that will explore the impact of ecotherapy (contact with nature/the outdoors as a method or element of therapy) in treating mental health issues such as anxiety, depression and adjustment disorders. The project will also examine the influence of the coastal environment on ecotherapy outcomes.

Harmful Algal Blooms in Monmouth County Coastal Lakes, Estuaries, and Ocean

Student Researchers: Karly Nolan and Skyler Post

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Jason Adolf, Department of Biology

This project will build on research that started in 2018 on the prevalence and causes of harmful algal blooms in Monmouth County aquatic environments, including the Navesink/Shrewsbury river estuaries, the Hudson-Raritan Estuary, and the county’s coastal lakes.

Reptile and Amphibian Ecology and Conservation in Urbanized and Suburbanized Ecosystems

Student Researchers: Sara Grouleff and Angel Ireland

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Sean Sterrett, Department of Biology

The team will study the persistence of reptiles and amphibians in areas heavily developed by humans through activities including surveys of turtle and frog populations in Monmouth County’s coastal lakes and the Delaware-Raritan Canal, and experiments with the use of drone technologies to detect diamondback terrapins and estimate their populations.

Using Artificial Intelligence to Track the Environmental and Economic Consequences of Climate Change

Student Researcher: Avery Jackson

Faculty Mentor: Katie Gatto, Department of Computer Science

The team will experiment with the use of algorithms to analyze data related to past natural disaster costs and future sea level rise projections in an effort to estimate the economic costs of climate change in America’s coastal areas.

Using eDNA as a Tool for Understanding Our Coastal and Estuarine Communities

Student: Cameron Gaines

Faculty Mentor: Dr. Megan Phifer-Rixey, Department of Biology/UCI Marine Genetics Fellow

The researchers will collaborate with Monmouth University and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientists to investigate how marine environmental DNA (eDNA) can be used effectively to learn about local waters. Their efforts will contribute to both controlled, experimental tests and field surveys designed to determine how best to use eDNA.

Apply for Fall Funding

Monmouth University students and faculty are invited to apply now for fall Heidi Lynn Sculthorpe Scholars funding opportunities. Fall grants available include:

  • Faculty Enrichment Grants for the enhancement of existing curriculum, new curriculum development, research and scholarship, and team-teaching opportunities.
  • Mini-Grants are also available to faculty and students for conference fees, symposia, guest speaker honoraria, equipment and supplies, and other needs to be determined on a case-by-case-basis. Applications can be submitted at any time and are reviewed on a rolling basis. Awards range from $250 to $500 depending on the availability of funds.

Those interested may apply via the UCI Funding Opportunities page on the MyMU Portal (Monmouth University sign-in credentials required). For more information, contact UCI Associate Director Dr. Thomas Herrington at

These opportunities have been made possible through the generous support of many corporate and private donors. If you would like to make a tax-deductible gift to the Urban Coast Institute, please use our Give a Gift Now contribution form.

Join Prof. Abate for Summer Environmental, Animal Law Talks

Members of the public can register now for expert discussions on environmental and animal law topics with Monmouth University Professor Randall Abate in the coming weeks.

Abate, the Rechnitz Family/Urban Coast Institute Endowed Chair in Marine and Environmental Law and Policy, will deliver a presentation for the Nation Rising Online Assembly, to be held June 27 from 3-4:30 p.m. Speakers at this free online event will cover legal and societal issues related to stopping subsidies for animal agriculture in Canada. Click here to register.

On July 9, Abate will join 38 speakers from 16 countries in the Coronavirus and Animals: The Human-Animal Relationship in Pandemic Society webinar series, hosted by the Autonomous University of Barcelona. The panels will run from June 22-July 16 and cover a variety of topics regarding international animal law and welfare issues. Abate’s presentation, “Coronavirus and Indirect Opportunities for Enhanced Protection of Animals in the U.S.,” will address parallels and synergies between the climate change crisis and the COVID-19 crisis. Visit the series website for registration details.

You can also watch recordings of these recent book talks and lectures.

  • Abate delivered a presentation titled “Information Is Power: Parallels and Synergies in Animal, Environmental, and Food Law Advocacy” as part of an April 23 Food Systems Summit panel hosted by the City University of New York and Richman Law Group. Click here to watch (free sign-in required).
  • In an April 8 webinar hosted by the McGill Journal of Sustainable Development Law, Abate spoke about his book, Climate Change and the Voiceless: Protecting Future Generations, Wildlife, and Natural Resources.