WILMINGTON, N.C. — The University of North Carolina Wilmington started offering a bachelor's degree in coastal engineering in 2019, which was the first of its kind in the country. The program is now growing exponentially and could play an important role in the Biden administration's environmental plan.

Dr. Ryan Mieras was one of the department's first hires, and he and his students are actively working on finding solutions to the environmental issues facing coastal communities. He says human perception of risk affects how people react to climate change, and those living on the coast are experiencing the impacts firsthand.

“When you don't see it everyday, when you're not impacted by it everyday, it's hard to understand what's going on,” Mieras said.

Rising sea levels and increasingly powerful storms are threatening the livelihoods of towns all up and down the North Carolina coast. Mieras said this is a problem that needs to be addressed now, not years from now when it's too late to change anything.

But he said until you can show people a visual representation of what's happening, it's hard to get policy behind it.

“Visually seeing something really starts to help people wrap their heads around what's going on,” said Mieras. “You have to make the problem accessible and visible.”

According to President-elect Biden's environmental plan, the administration hopes to invest $400 billion in research and development over the next ten years. That would involve a partnership between universities and the private sector that would result in a more sustainable future for everyone.

“I will tell you your dune needs to be this high,” said Mieras. “What they do with that I don't know and maybe that's a problem. Maybe we need to get better at communicating. I don't make the policy, but I can work directly with the people who do.”

The coastal engineering program at UNCW is already working on developing and testing new technologies, but money is an issue. Because coastal engineering is a relatively new field, technology hasn't caught up with it yet, and the devices that are available can be extremely expensive.

“I think the same sense of urgency needs to be taken when we're thinking about addressing climate change, sea level rise and how that's affecting our coastal communities,” said Mieras. “Because if we don't do it now then we're going to put it onto the next person and the next person, and the next person and at some point it will be two years later, and it will be too late.”

His goal is to inspire science-driven policy where decisions are made based on research instead of politics. Mieras invites everyone to follow along with his research by visiting his social media where he shares updates on the latest news from the coastal engineering program.