Mike Orbach

Chair, Public Involvement / Citizens’ Affairs Subcommittee

Mike Orbach is Professor Emeritus of Marine Affairs and Policy in the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University.  He joined the Duke Marine Laboratory in 1993, and was Director of the Marine Laboratory from 1998 to 2006 and Director of the Coastal Environmental Management Program from 1993 to 2014.  He is now living in Santa Cruz, CA, where he has appointments with the University of California at Santa Cruz; Stanford University; and the Middlebury Institute for International Studies.

Mike was a formal advisor to both the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy and the Pew Ocean Commission, has served on the Ocean Studies Board -- and is a National Associate -- of the National Research Council, and has held numerous elected and appointed positions on Boards and Commissions both public and private, including the North Carolina Marine Fisheries Commission, Chairman of the North Carolina Marine Science Council, President of the Coastal Society, President of the Southern Association of Marine Laboratories, and Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Surfrider Foundation.  He currently serves on the Board of Directors of the National Sea Grant College Program, the Ocean Conservancy, and is a member of the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority Science and Engineering Board that is overseeing the development of the 2017 Louisiana Coastal Master Plan.

How have you have been involved with APNEP, present or past? 

I was one of the original members of the Albemarle-Pamlico Estuarine Study Technical Committee, and chaired the Public Involvement Subcommittee.  I was in this position throughout the program, and afterwards was a founding Board member of the Partnership for the Sounds. During my years with APNEP, the first Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan (CCMP, published 1994) was produced.

Tell us how your work, organization, or research has contributed to our collective mission of identifying, protecting, and restoring the significant resources of the Albemarle-Pamlico system.

I have performed research and been involved in coastal and marine policy on all coasts of the U.S. and in Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean, Southeast Asia, Europe, Alaska and the Pacific, and has published widely on social science and policy in coastal and marine environments. Topics related to the Albemarle-Pamlico system include sea level rise and climate change, fisheries management, and coastal policy and management.

During my years with APNEP, I was also a member of the NC Marine Fisheries Commission and Chair of the Governor’s Marine Science Council (under both Governors Martin and Hunt). The APNEP activity was incredibly useful in ‘connecting the dots’ of coastal and marine conservation in North Carolina!

What does it mean to you to be an APNEP partner?  Describe how your involvement has enhanced or benefitted your work, organization, or research.

The APNEP program is a fabulous example of watershed-wide planning!  I often lectured to my students about the program, and use it as an example in talks I give around the world.  It took about 15 years after the first CCMP was completed, but virtually all of the 150-some recommendations in the final CCMP have been implemented, and most are in the multiple-generational revisions and improvements.

Share your elevator pitch! If you had 1 minute to convince someone about the importance of investing in (or providing other types of support for) research, monitoring, education, conservation, restoration, etc. of the A-P system, what would you say?

The lesson of the APNEP program is that producing science is only about 20% of the effort required for conservation outcomes. The other 80% is communication, education, outreach, facilitation, consensus-building and yes, ADVOCACY!  Conservation is a social and, ultimately, political process. APNEP is a great example of the fact that if one realizes this nature of the process and actively engages, great things can happen!

Tell us an interesting fact or story about the A-P watershed and estuarine system that may not be common knowledge.

  1. Most ‘new’ inlets in the Outer Banks resulting from storms are created from the sound, not the ocean side; it is water trying to get OUT after the storm that punches the hole!
  2. Even after all of the work of the APNEP program, continual education and outreach is necessary to keep our conservation and development program effective and adaptive.  This will be especially true in the era of climate change and sea level rise, which will create situations we have never faced before!

Is there anything else you would like to share about your involvement with APNEP?

Wonderful people, across both Republican and Democratic administrations.  It is a testament to the fact that conservation and environment need not be partisan issues, and that economic development and environmental conservation can work hand in hand.

Learn more about Dr. Orbach on the Duke University Marine Lab website.