Coasts and Climate Change – Don Wright’s Perspective
Many Australian coastal colleagues know Don Wright either personally or through his publications. I have been privileged to have been a colleague since the early 1907s when we teamed up to study estuarine morphodynamics and mangrove biogeomorphology on the Ord River system. This project was sponsored by the US Office of Naval Research who funded the Coastal Studies Institute (CSI) at Louisiana State University (LSU). It was the association with CSI that I came to know Don. Both of us undertook our postgraduate (PhD) studies at LSU as did Andy Short. CSI was a common thread in our professional lives providing us and many others with outstanding opportunities to learn about and research the world’s coasts.
Don was already very familiar with Australia before he joined CSI. He came to Geography at Sydney University in the mid-60s from the US and undertook a master’s degree. His thesis work was on the Shoalhaven delta and the adjoining Seven Mile Beach. The Ord project came after he completed his very exciting PhD on the dynamics of flows out of the Mississippi River into the Gulf of Mexico. It was a fantastic coup for Sydney to get Don back to Australia in 1974 where he formed the Coastal Studies Unit (CSU). Here I again continued to work with him even when attached to other universities. Most significantly during the eight years at Sydney he inspired many students in field studies of beach systems. This included his partnership with Andy in the development of the Australian beach model. In 1982 he returned to the US to take on a leadership role at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science.
Don now resides in Florida. He has been extremely active in bringing together colleagues from various US universities and beyond for the purpose of communicating coastal science more broadly. This like-minded group in the south-eastern section of the US saw the urgent need to explain coastal science in the new climate era—what they termed “Tomorrow’s Coasts”. It is inspirational advocacy undertaken in a very critical political and ideological environment. He invited me to participate in one of the publications and it has again been a privilege to work with Don in his endeavours (see Chapters 19 and 21 in Wright and Reid Nichols eds, Tomorrow’s Coasts: Complex and Permanent, 2019, Springer).
On 28 September last year, Hurricane Ian struck the Florida coast around Cape Coral and Fort Myers. Impacts were devastating: 150 dead and thousands rendered homeless. It has been a huge struggle to get adequate regulatory plans in place in the aftermath of this storm. The Government of Florida is not really appreciative of climate change and implications on property in vulnerable areas like Fort Myers. Don continues to confront the deniers and offer his expertise to help understand what the future will be like. In January he gave a talk to a community group in Citrus County and kindly agreed for me to share it widely. This talk brilliantly captures his insights; it is attached to this blog (see here) – please take time to read it and you will see why I admire Don so much for what he has accomplished and what he is striving to achieve.
Words by Prof Bruce Thom. Please respect the author’s thoughts and reference appropriately: (c) ACS, 2023. For correspondence about this blog post please email email@example.com