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Ecological Study at Camp Lejeune Earns Department of Defense Award

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. – A six-year interdisciplinary ecological research program sponsored by DoD’s Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program (SERDP), has earned an award for its work helping the DoD manage its coastal installations in more effective and sustainable ways. 

The Defense Coastal/Estuarine Research Program (DCERP), led by RTI International and hosted at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, N.C., produced important new scientific findings and ecosystem-based management tools that will help the military evaluate training and management options in concert with the important goal of protecting the environmental health of the coastal ecosystems. 

The research program is a collaborative effort of environmental researchers from RTI, seven universities, three federal agencies and two small businesses. The DCERP team was awarded the SERDP 2012 Project of the Year Award in the area of Resource Conservation and Climate Change.

Throughout the program, begun in 2006, RTI provided overall technical management and integration among the research partners and developed the data management system. The DCERP team studied the ecosystems at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune to gain a greater understanding of how man-made (nutrients, sediment) and natural stressors (drought, storms) impact the installation land and waters. 

Camp Lejeune is the largest Marine Corps training installation on the East Coast and home to a dynamic and diverse set of coastal ecosystems. The installation’s 156,000 acres include mostly undeveloped barrier island, upland pine forests and coastal salt marshes that support a wide variety of birds and other wildlife. In addition, the installation encompasses the majority of the New River Estuary and includes a portion of the Intracoastal Waterway. 

The program has helped installation managers better understand the effects of military training activities on Base ecosystems, most notably the amphibious assault training areas on Onslow Beach and associated areas adjoining the Intracoastal Waterway. Researchers provided recommendations to reduce marsh shoreline erosion, improve water quality in the New River, and support use of various forestry management practices to meet installation restoration goals. The Department of Defense expects to transition the program’s ecosystem-based management approach to other military installations in similar ecological settings.

“This program has served as a model for ecosystem-based management by bringing together multiple organizations and scientific disciplines to ensure the research is linked to practical installation management questions,” said Patricia Cunningham, Ph.D., an environmental biologist at RTI and principal investigator for the program.

Overall, the researchers found that the military training and land use on the installation have not had a significant impact on the ecosystems at the current level of training. However, due to increased development at Camp Lejeune to accommodate the training of additional Marines, the program team recommended continued surveillance of both land and water quality impacts.

“The Marine Corps have been a strong partner in this program,” Cunningham said. “The natural resources staff want to do everything they can to protect these ecologically and economically important ecosystems. The Marines at Camp Lejeune must train in a variety of landscapes they may encounter under actual combat conditions—and that training can happen only if the unique ecosystems across the installation that support this training can be sustained into the future.”

The DCERP team researchers included experts from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's Institute of Marine Sciences, North Carolina State University, Duke University, the College of William and Mary's Virginia Institute of Marine Science, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, the University of South Carolina, and the University of Connecticut; as well as scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Laboratory, the U.S. Geological Survey, and the US Army Corps of Engineers. Two private companies, Atmospheric Research and Analyses and Porter Scientific, also provided technical support to the program.

As a result of the program’s success, the RTI DCERP team competed for and has been awarded a $10 million, five-year follow-on contract at Camp Lejeune to continue studying the carbon cycle and climate change impacts and to develop additional tools to help installation managers make sustainable, ecosystem-based decisions. 

For more information about the program, please visit https://dcerp.rti.org/.