Main Menu

  • The UCI Mission and Staff

    Supporting Stewardship of Coastal Ecosystems

    Mission: To serve Monmouth University and the public interest 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. 

    inlet fishingThe 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 inter-departmental 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

    Tony MacDonald

    Tony MacDonald is the director of the Urban Coast Institute (UCI) at Monmouth University and 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 United States’ 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.

    Phone: 732-263-5392


    Jim NickelsJim 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.

    Phone: 732-263-5686

    Danica Simmons

    Danica Simmons joined the Urban Coast Institute staff in 2014 as the Administrative Assistant. Some of her responsibilities include serving as the liaison between various contracts and the University administration, UCI internal steering committee, and academic Schools and Departments. She also coordinates the UCI’s annual Ocean Future Symposium and Awards Luncheon and other UCI workshops, community and fundraising events, as requested. She enjoys reading, writing, and performing.

    Phone: 732-263-5662

    Karl VilacobaKarl Vilacoba is the Urban Coast Institute's Communications Director. Prior to joining the UCI, Karl worked for the North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority, where he oversaw a variety of public relations 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 eight years as a news reporter and editor at Greater Media Newspapers and 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.

    Phone: 732-571-3688 

    UCI Ocean Policy Fellow

    Gaffney medalVice Admiral Paul Gaffney, USN (Ret.), is an Ocean Policy Fellow with the Urban Coast Institute and President Emeritus of Monmouth University. He also served as President of the National Defense University. He is a former Chief of Naval Research and former Commander of Naval Meteorology and Oceanography. He was appointed as a Commissioner, U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy and served during its full term, chaired the Ocean Research Advisory Panel and currently Chairs the Ocean Exploration Advisory Board. Along with Professor Ausubel, he co-chaired the Decadal Review of the National Ocean Exploration Program. The National Academy of Engineering selected him as a Member and he serves on the National Academies Gulf Research Board.