Dr. Graham Worthy
Department Chair and Pegasus Professor of Biology,
Provost's Distinguished Research Professor, and Director of the Sustainable Coastal Systems Cluster
August 2016
Q: What does Sustainability mean to you?
A: The term “sustain” can mean “maintain", "support", or "endure”. Wikipedia defines sustainability as “a socio-ecological process characterized by the pursuit of a common ideal”. To me sustainability ultimately relates to the ability to continue societal activities while not being harmful to the environment or depleting natural resources.

In recent years, Florida’s coastal counties contributed over $584B in gross regional product, 80% of the state’s economy. More than 228,000 jobs are directly created by activities that use coastal resources and when indirect effects are considered the number rises to 440,000 and nearly 80% of residents live in coastal counties just a few feet above sea level.

Responsible sustainable management of Florida's coastal resource assets and ocean-based economy will depend on innovative inter-disciplinary scientific thinking in order to address complex environmental, economic and social problems. Coastal systems are functionally defined to include as far inland as the marine environment influences and as far offshore as the terrestrial environment impacts. Orlando’s afternoon sea-breeze thunderstorms are an example. By this definition Orlando is coastal and indeed virtually all of Florida is coastal. We can’t continue to think that the issues can be solved by looking at issues through a narrow lens. We need to view the coastal zone as a single integrated ecological-social-economic system.

Q: Describe the class you teach.
A: I teach Mammalogy (ZOO4480) and Animal Physiology (PCB4723). Mammalogy is a course that explores the diversity and biology of mammals from an evolutionary perspective. The course consists of a survey of living mammalian species and also discusses mammal origins, evolution, phylogeny, paleontology, physiology, behavior, and ecology. Animal Physiology covers the principles of vertebrate physiology to give students a better understanding of how animals function.

Q: What do you do at UCF to advance sustainability initiatives?
A: At UCF I’m a Pegasus Professor, Chair of the Department of Biology and lead of the Sustainable Coastal Systems initiative. This latter initiative grew out of a successful Faculty Cluster Initiative proposal and, with the recent addition of 6 new faculty hires and with three searches still underway, we will have over 40 faculty from 12 departments in 7 Colleges addressing coastal issues in Florida. This cluster has brought together biologists, chemists, medical researchers, and engineers with anthropologists, sociologists, political scientists, planners, emergency managers, and economists. This will allow us to integrate science with societal needs in order to achieve more effective environmental stewardship, environmental and hazard mitigation planning, and public policy development.

Q: How can students get involved in your work?
A: Students can get involved in the work of many of the members of the coastal cluster and I encourage them to go to the cluster website (http://www.ucf.edu/faculty/cluster/sustainable-coastal-systems/) to link up with them In addition there are many student organizations on campus which address these concerns and they are always looking for new energized members.

Q: What is your vision for sustainability?
A: The ultimate vision for my initiative is to create the preeminent interdisciplinary sustainable coastal systems program in the nation with the ultimate goal of linking ecological security with economic security.

Every day it seems we’re hearing about some new threat to our local environment and indeed a threat to our way of life. Cyanobacteria, harmful algal blooms, climate change, sea level rise, storm surge, coastal erosion, saltwater intrusion, water pollution, agricultural runoff, micro plastics, environmental estrogens, invasive species, emerging disease concerns (zika virus, dengue fever, chikungunya), and on and on. None of these problems can be solved by looking at things simplistically but I believe that if we work together as an integrated inter-disciplinary team remarkable things can be accomplished.