UNCW Scientists Work with Hurst Family to Protect Hewletts Creek

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Researchers in the Benthic Ecology Lab at UNCW’s Center of Marine Science are studying the health of sensitive coastal estuaries, including Hewletts Creek, and the impact development and storm water runoff have on water quality and coastal habitats.

This research will help communities develop strategies to better protect the fragile ecosystem in Hewletts Creek and other tidal creeks. Troy Alphin, a senior research associate with the Center of Marine Science, and Byron Toothman, a doctoral student in the Department of Biology and Marine Biology working with the North Carolina Coastal Reserve and the National Estuarine Research Reserve (NERR), are both working toward similar goals but from different perspectives.

The NERR focuses on monitoring the water quality and habitat within the reserve system to provide vital baseline data to recreational users, researchers and resource managers. The Benthic Ecology Lab focuses on quantifying ecosystem services provided by critical species such as oysters and how impacts in these tidal creek systems may serve as models for other coastal estuaries.

Scientists are tracking how land use changes may correlate with changes to the tidal creeks, examining oyster beds to monitor the health of the creek and recording what flows into the creeks through several strategically placed monitoring stations. The research was recently featured on UNC-TV.

Bill Hurst, who is profiled in the UNC-TV story is a longtime friend of the UNCW. He is the son of founding UNCW (then Wilmington College) faculty member Adrian Hurst, whose portrait hangs in Friday Hall, a center of research and education for the Department of Biology and Marine Biology.  Bill and Adrian Hurst helped UNCW’s Department of Biology and Marine Biology establish a nearly 30-acre estuarine research sanctuary just south of Hewletts Creek in the late 1980s to support both student and faculty efforts to protect and understand our tidal creek systems.

“Mr. Hurst and his sisters, Patsy and Margaret, have allowed us to access their property (part of which is now the UNCW research lease) for many years,” said Christopher Finelli, associate professor and chair of the UNCW Department of Biology and Marine Biology. “Their help is critical to our continued access to this important field site. It is great to see both Mr. Hurst and UNCW researchers and students highlighted in this way.”