FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Nov. 8, 2011
Contact: Ken or Kate Gooderham, ASBPA executive directors -- (239) 489-2616
Harry Simmons, ASBPA president -- (910) 200-7867
Is our country's coastal expertise eroding?
Our shorelines are only as strong as the knowledge and funding that keeps them healthy.
Is America losing its coastal engineering edge? If so, what is driving this?
Earlier this year, the American Shore & Beach Preservation Association (ASBPA) addressed the Coastal Engineering Research Board (CERB) -- which advises the Chief of Engineers for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers -- on the perception of a growing gap between coastal engineering expertise in this country vs. that found overseas. Based on a long history of work with the CERB -- the association helped to create the board's predecessor back in the 1930s -- ASBPA wanted to bring this vital concern to the board's attention and offer its resources to help identify and implement solutions to this problem.
Its findings were:
- Presently, the U.S. is a world leader in coastal engineering. It is the future of coastal engineering that is a concern and the focus of ASBPA’s study.
- Coastal engineering and science rely on three legs for success: The Corps, the private sector and academia. Each brings unique skills to the table, and each has faced major and unique challenges in recent years.
- Significantly reduced funding for coastal research is an issue, both in total amount and overall consistency. Fewer dollars mean fewer projects, which is how engineers learn and expand their talents through the hands-on approach. Inconsistent year-to-year funding means projects have trouble amassing the dollars needed to start and finish in a timely manner and researchers often scramble to cobble together financial support.
- Some U.S.-trained engineers are heading overseas, lured by better funding, bigger projects and the chance to challenge themselves professionally. This "brain drain" skims talent from this country's engineering, research and academic outlets.
- Age is a factor in the potential future decline, both in the private sector (where established coastal experts retire and are not replaced by up-and-coming engineers) and in the Corps (where many of the pre-eminent engineers in coastal districts are nearing retirement, without a "next generation" in position to keep the skill level consistent). Retirement also threatens the distribution of talent among the many Corps districts, with many in danger of losing highly skilled coastal experts having no in-house replacements.
- The current federal contract model often cuts out the smaller coastal engineering firms (who can have more practical and extensive experience in coastal management) in favor of "one-stop shops" where a number of federal engineering needs can be fulfilled in one place -- but where any coastal management background may be diluted or given less sway.
- Fewer dollars for applied coastal research means less practical experience for new engineers entering the field. They may be strong in modeling, but they may lack the hands-on experience that only comes from field work.
- The number of graduating coastal engineers is dwindling, tied to a drop in funding which precipitates a drop in faculty to teach the next generation. Fewer teachers = fewer courses = fewer experienced graduates.
Why does a decline in this country's coastal expertise matter?
- The U.S. has historically been the global leader in coastal engineering and science, with the Corps of Engineers carrying the torch.
- Keeping U.S. coastal firms (and other companies that rely on them) strong keeps jobs and money here -- not allowing it to be taken overseas when foreign firms win major U.S. contracts.
- Keeping the Corps as a pre-eminent organization at the forefront of coastal engineering is critical for the U.S. and coastal engineering as a whole.
- Coastal engineering is a constantly evolving field, and a static knowledge base does not serve our nation's shorelines well. If U.S. researchers can't use their skills to develop the next generation of coastal solutions (or continue to enhance their understanding of the dynamic forces at work along the coast), our beaches and shorelines will suffer.
- A drop in funding not only hurts knowledge, it weakens our coastal defenses. If projects can't be done in a timely and thorough fashion, the resources necessary to protect habitat, property and infrastructure won't be there when we need it. Every major (and even minor) storms reminds us how vitally important that is.
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ABOUT ASBPA: Founded in 1926, the ASBPA promotes the integration of science, policies and actions that maintain, protect and enhance the coasts of America. For more information on ASBPA, go to www.asbpa.org, facebook or www.twitter.com/asbpa.