Tess Mackey, Virginia Sea Grant Correspondent
As a Suffolk, VA, resident, Ben Willis experienced the direct impact of environmental resource management policies. While his family preferred to use grasses and native plantings to control shoreline erosion along their property, it was cost-prohibitive, and in his case, plantings would have been less effective than traditional, hard shoreline measures. Still, watching his family and others in this waterfront community implement shoreline erosion control sparked his interest in conservation.
“It’s a vicious cycle,” says Willis. “As we lose [aquatic vegetation], we lose the natural processes that prevent erosion and keep the Bay clean.”
Now, as a student in the Virginia Coastal Policy Clinic, the second-year William & Mary Law student is looking forward to working more directly with coastal policy issues. Willis will write a white paper for the Clinic analyzing the impact of sea level rise on the Chesapeake Bay Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL).
TMDLs establish pollution limits for the Bay to be considered fishable and swimmable. Excess nutrients can lead to algal blooms that deplete oxygen levels, resulting in localized dead zones that cannot support organisms or underwater grasses and reduce the Bay’s productivity. As sea level rise alters the Bay’s temperature and salinity, the nutrient TMDLs may need to change as well.
Willis’s research will be focused on the impact of these changes on water quality standards and the science and policy decisions surrounding the corresponding load reductions.
He believes that this semester will prepare him for a career in maritime and environmental law, because he says, “A lot of maritime law, like the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, is closely tied to pollution control.”
Willis completed his undergraduate studies at Hampden-Sydney College with a dual major in history and Spanish.