In spring 2011, Northeastern launched the Urban Coastal Sustainability Initiative,  which will play a critical role in harnessing the university’s expertise in sustainability.

Because a majority of the world’s largest cities lie along a seacoast—from Boston to New York to Shanghai—and coastal waters are home to 90 percent of all marine species, urban sustainability is intimately linked with the health of our coastal environments.

It’s at that land-sea interface that Geoff Trussell, earth and environmental sciences department chair and leader of the initiative, sees the opportunity for Northeastern to be a global champion for urban coastal sustainability.

Under the initiative’s auspices, a dozen additional faculty members—in  fields spanning engineering, public policy,  law, and science—will be recruited;  five have been hired to date.

“We will look at how human activities at that critical boundary influence the sustainability of entire coastal ecosystems,”  says Trussell, who is also director of the university’s Marine Science Center in Nahant, Mass., where much of Northeastern’s science on coastal sustainability takes place (read more about the MSC here).

In addition to declining biodiversity due to pollution and overfishing, coastal cities share other kinds of challenges, including economic and security issues. Collaboration among Northeastern experts in these areas, as well as researchers at the marine laboratories around the globe,  will be critical, says Trussell.

One key partnership will be between scientists and policy experts. Professor Brian Helmuth, one of the faculty members recruited through the Urban Coastal Sustainability Initiative, will lead that effort. He joins the university in January with joint appointments in the College of Science and the College of Social Sciences and Humanities and will direct Northeastern’s efforts to integrate sustainable science and policy.

“Global change threatens urban coastal environments, but Northeastern’s leading science in this arena will guide intelligent policy and spawn sustainable commercial development that will benefit Massachusetts and the world beyond,” says J. Murray Gibson,  dean of the College of Science.

“The future is bright,” adds Trussell, “but there is a lot of work to be done.”

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