DURHAM, N.C. – At three upcoming public meetings, researchers from the Duke University Marine Lab in Beaufort, N.C., will present the results of a two-year study documenting community views on recent development and land-use change in North Carolina’s historic Down East region.

The study, “Change in Coastal Communities: Perspectives from Down East,” gauged public opinion on the pace of development in the region, trends in land ownership, and attitudes concerning the area’s natural and cultural resources. Opinions are captured in a survey of Down East residents and landowners, and in a documentary film based on interviews with a wide range of stakeholders

Survey results and the documentary film will be presented and discussed with the public from 7:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m, Monday, Sept. 28, at Atlantic Elementary School, Thursday, Oct. 1, at Smyrna Elementary School, and Tuesday, Oct. 6, at Harkers Island Elementary School.

Attendees will have a chance to discuss and respond to the research, with a focus on how to move forward into the future.

Lead investigator Lisa M. Campbell stresses the meetings are designed to be open and interactive. “Our objective isn’t to tell local stakeholders what to do,” she says, “but to give them information that can help them determine for themselves how to accommodate development while protecting resources critical to local ecosystems, economies, and quality of life.”

Down East refers to a rural section of Carteret County stretching from North River Bridge and the community of Bettie southward to Harkers Island and northward to Cedar Island.

Campbell and her colleagues initiated the project, with funding from North Carolina Sea Grant, to document community views and attitudes on issues associated with change in the region, for example, those relating to working waterfronts or storm water run-off. Having a better understanding of community views on these issues can help inform policy debates about them, she says.

The research team surveyed a random sample of 20 percent of Down East’s population, including full-time residents, part-time residents, and non-resident property owners. Surveys were conducted both by mail and door to door. The overall cumulative response rate was 51 percent.

“Surveys often get low response rates. A 30 percent response rate would be normal. I think that our higher response rate indicates how important these issues are to Down East communities,” Campbell says.

Results from the survey, which are available at www.ml.duke.edu/coastalcommunities, show areas of both agreement and disagreement among respondents. For example, almost everyone agrees that Down East has environmental and cultural resources worth protecting, but there is less agreement on how this protection should occur.

More than half of survey respondents said they feel the pace of real estate development in Down East is moving too fast, but most see both positive and negative impacts of the increased development and tourism. Only 18 percent believe increased real estate development will have just negative impacts on the quality of life Down East.

Maintaining environmental quality was identified by 37 percent of survey respondents as the most important issue currently facing Down East communities today, while 25 percent say the top issue is creating new jobs.

While the survey provides an overview of peoples’ views, the documentary films captures local voices and explores important issues in greater depth. Based on 70 interviews, the documentary will be screened at the public meetings

Campbell is optimistic about how the results will be received and used locally. She says, “Given the importance of these issues and the media attention they’ve received in the past, we hope residents will be enthusiastic about this work and see it as a meaningful for their own lives.”

She notes that the results of the study, though focused on Carteret County, are applicable to coastal communities experiencing rapid land-use change throughout the Southeast.

“Almost half of the nation’s population lives in coastal counties now, and the population is expected to rise by about 25 million more people over the next 15 years,” Campbell says. “Tourism, migration to the coast by year-round or seasonal retirees and people with second homes, and associated development is significantly changing the character, economies, cultures and environments of many coastal communities.”

Campbell is the Rachel Carson Associate Professor of Marine Affairs and Policy at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment. She is based at the Duke Marine Lab. Her research focuses on coastal conservation and development, and the impacts they have on human communities and natural resources.

Campbell’s co-investigators were: Michael Orbach, professor of the practice of marine affairs and policy at the Duke Marine Lab; Zoë Meletis, assistant professor at the University of Northern British Columbia and a former PhD student at the Duke Marine Lab; Gabe Cumming and Carla Norwood, post-doctoral fellows at Duke; Noëlle Boucquey, a PhD student at the Marine Lab; and Joshua Stoll, a Master of Environmental Management student at the Nicholas School.