The Pentagon recently honored an environmental project, conducted in part by two Duke scientists from the Nicholas School of the Environment.

Patrick Halpin, associate professor of marine geospatial ecology, and Norman Christensen, research professor and founding dean of the Nicholas School, are two of 13 contributors to the Defense Coastal/Estuarine Research Program over the past five years. The Strategic Environmental Research Development Program, a subdivision of the Department of Defense, named the program Project of the Year for resource conservation and climate change.

DCERP intends to continue developing and enhancing training facilities at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune while sustaining costal and estuarine ecosystems and natural resources at its coastal North Carolina location.

“This is an ongoing, long-term project trying to develop ecosystem-based research approach at Camp Lejeune,” Halpin, one of the co-leaders of the DCERP Data Management Module, said. “We are working on a combination of research and practical application to try help the Department of Defense do a better job of sustainably managing their land.”

This is Halpin’s second award from the SERDP. He noted the distinctive characteristics of the land on which the Marine Corps base is established, such as the presence of sea turtles, coastal dunes and marsh areas, which DCERP seeks to understand and protect.

“DCERP is designed to conduct mission-relevant, basic and applied research in support of an ecosystem-based management approach,” according to the program’s official fact sheet. “The program’s primary goal is to enhance and sustain the military mission by developing an understanding of coastal and estuarine ecosystem composition, structure and function within the context of a military training environment.”

The projects aims to develop models to guide research, monitoring and feedback loops, according to its planning documents. Fulfilling these goals will help to identify ecosystem stressors at Camp Lejeune and their levels of impact and to develop management guidelines for the camp to sustain the ecosystem.

DCERP, which is funded by the Department of Defense, was chosen from all other SERDP-funded projects that reached completion this year, said John Hall, program manager for resource conservation and climate change at the SERDP.

“We looked at the whole body in terms of what is contributed in terms of scientific advancement,” said Hall. “It needs to advance science and provide useful information for natural resources.”

The process to determine which projects deserved awards involved a committee that reviewed all projects reaching completion at the time of consideration. Hall, along with the special committee at SERDP, determined which projects contributed the most in terms of scientific advancement and information on natural resources.

“In our world here, we want to make sure that we are addressing the problem,” Hall said. “As we looked at the last five or six years, [DCERP] has provided a lot of fundamental information for us to use at Camp Lejeune.”

Although the Project of the Year award was given to the recently completed findings of the DCERP, the project will extend into 2017. Halpin noted that the 10-year time period is unusual for an academic project, and the next phase will involve strategic planning regarding water systems.

“The military base will have more options and especially more informed management in the future,” Halpin said.