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To serve Monmouth University and the public as a forum for research, education, and collaboration in the development and implementation of science-based policies and programs that support stewardship of healthy, productive, and resilient coastal ecosystems and communities.

Mission and Staff

Supporting Stewardship of Coastal Ecosystems


The Urban Coast Institute (UCI) was established in September 2005 as one of Monmouth University’s “Centers of Distinction.” The UCI builds on the University’s program in Marine and Environmental Biology and interdepartmental strengths in marine biology, environmental science, business, economics and real estate, public policy, and the arts and social sciences.

The UCI maintains a principal focus on the interactions between humans and the coastal and ocean environment, and sustainable coastal development along New Jersey’s coasts and watersheds. Monmouth County and the New Jersey-New York region is an ideal “laboratory” for study of these issues. It has a unique focus on how science can inform public policy and the “human dimensions” of coastal ecosystem-based management, including the impacts of human use and development on coasts. The UCI seeks to foster collaboration among citizens, watershed and community organizations, governmental agencies, business, the scientific community, and other parties interested in coastal and watershed management, conservation, and restoration.

Meet Our Staff
Photo of Tony MacDonald, UCI Director
Tony MacDonald is director of the Monmouth University Urban Coast Institute (UCI). He was previously the executive director of the Coastal States Organization (CSO) from 1998-2005. CSO, based in Washington, DC, represents the interests of the governors of the nation’s 35 coastal states and territories on coastal and ocean policy matters.

Prior to joining CSO, Tony was the special counsel and director of environmental affairs at the American Association of Port Authorities, where he represented the International Association of Ports and Harbors (IAPH) at the International Maritime Organization on negotiations on the London Convention. Tony has also practiced law with a private firm in Washington, DC, working on environmental and legislative issues, and served as the Washington, DC, environmental legislative representative for the Mayor of the City of New York.

Photo of Tom Herrington, UCI Associate Director
Dr. Thomas Herrington is the associate director of the UCI. He was previously the director of the ocean engineering graduate program at Stevens Institute of Technology and the director of the New Jersey Coastal Protection Technical Assistance Service. Tom has over 25 years of experience in coastal sustainability and hazard mitigation research, including the analysis storm surge and wave impacts on coastal communities. He has authored or coauthored on over 100 journal, outreach and technical publications in the field of coastal and ocean engineering, including the NJ Sea Grant Manual for Coastal Hazard Mitigation, and is a contributing author to Blue Dunes: Climate Change by Design. He presently serves on the FEMA Region II Coastal Outreach Advisory Team and is on the Board of Directors of the American Shore & Beach Preservation Association and the Jersey Shore Partnership.

Photo of Chris Haak, UCI Postdoctoral Researcher
Chris Haak is a postdoctoral researcher focused on fisheries science. In this role, Haak splits time working at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s James J. Howard Laboratory in Sandy Hook and the Monmouth University campus. After an Emmy-winning career in film and television, Haak shifted gears to follow his lifelong passion for the oceans, pursuing his Ph.D. in marine science at UMass Amherst. There, his research focused on bonefish and other species occupying shallow nearshore habitats in the Bahamas and Puerto Rico, which he used as a model for examining a diverse range of ecological questions.

Photo of Jim Nickels, UCI Marine Scientist
Jim Nickels is the Marine Scientist for the Urban Coast Institute. Jim obtained his M.S. in Environmental Studies from Montclair State University and has 25 years of academic and professional experience in designing, implementing, and directing a variety of marine and inland water field research and sampling programs. He has managed and operated research vessels, scientific crews, and associated equipment. His expertise includes survey work in fisheries, plankton, benthic organisms, sediment, water quality, mitigation, and geophysics. He has an extensive background in Geographic Information Systems (GIS), use and integration of Global Positioning System (GPS), and real-time mapping and data logging. He has held the position of Vice President at Aqua Survey Inc., and as Director of Marine Operations at the New Jersey Marine Sciences Consortium.

Photo of Aliya-Satku, UCI Administrative Assistant
Aliya Satku is the Urban Coast Institute’s administrative assistant. Aliya joined the UCI with over 20 years of experience in office administration, sales and customer service for organizations including the Renew Jersey Stronger Program, YMCA of Monmouth County and Ray Catena Motor Corp. Aliya enjoys photography, documentaries, health and wellness topics, and a happy cup of coffee. She loves being a global citizen of this beautiful planet earth and has full faith that humanity is going to get it right. Originally from Debar, Macedonia, she now resides in Howell.

Photo of Karl Vilacoba, UCI Communications Director
Karl Vilacoba is the Urban Coast Institute’s Communications Director and the communications lead/project manager for the Mid-Atlantic Ocean Data Portal. Prior to joining the UCI, Karl worked for the North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority, where he oversaw a variety of public outreach efforts and served as managing editor of InTransition, a national transportation magazine published in partnership with the New Jersey Institute of Technology. Karl previously spent a decade as a news reporter and editor for newspapers in the Jersey Shore area and at USA Today’s Manhattan Bureau. A lifelong Shore resident, Karl also served for several years as a member of the Lake Como Unified Planning & Zoning Board and the borough’s Environmental Commission.