Marine Lab’s Grant Murray Takes an Interdisciplinary Approach to Coastal Issues

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Ghanaian community workshop on managing coastal resources. Credit: Grant Murray

For Grant Murray, associate professor of marine policy, joining the Duke University Marine Lab faculty in Beaufort, N.C., last August was a homecoming of sorts.

Murray, a widely cited scholar on community-based management of marine and coastal resources, graduated from Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment in 1997 with a Master of Environmental Management (MEM) degree before going on to earn his doctoral degree at the University of Michigan. He served on the faculty at Vancouver Island University as a Canada Research Chair until last year, when he returned to Beaufort to join the Duke Marine Lab faculty.

At the Marine Lab, he now teaches the marine policy class formerly taught by his MEM Masters Project advisor, Michael Orbach, professor of the practice emeritus of marine policy.

Murray’s research focuses on three topics related to the social-ecological dynamics of marine and coastal systems: understanding the values people place on seafood; the effect of protected areas on poverty reduction; and the role of local ecological knowledge in understanding coastal systems. He uses a combination of social and natural sciences in his research in Ghana and Tanzania, and with the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation on the west coast of Canada.

His commitment to interdisciplinary study was largely inspired by his time at the Nicholas School, particularly during his master’s project work with Orbach. That project focused on the social, economic, and environmental conflicts around the blue crab fishing industry in Georgia. Murray conducted extensive field work for the project, interviewing fishermen and community members, assessing basic environmental parameters, and examining the socioeconomic characteristics of the industry.

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Murray leads forest tour on Vancouver Island, Canada. Credit: Rick Rollins

The result of their research was a fisheries management plan which was later enacted by the Georgia legislature.

“I got to see the whole arc from problem, to research, to policy, to hopefully change for the better for the fishery,” Murray says. “It really sold me on this notion of interdisciplinarity and understanding both the biology and the sociology of a situation, and also the role that research can play in policy development.”

When Murray was a student in the Nicholas School, Orbach was the only social scientist on faculty at the Marine Lab. Now, Murray is one of three social scientists at the lab, and he plans to work closely with the other two – Lisa Campbell, Rachel Carson Associate Professor of Marine Affairs and Policy, and Xavier Basurto, assistant professor of sustainability science – as well as with natural scientists at the Marne Lab to address local coastal issues from an interdisciplinary approach.

His preparation for interdisciplinary study began as an undergraduate, Murray says, when he straddled both science and the humanities at Tufts University in Boston.

“I think it was a foreshadowing of my interdisciplinarity down the road,” he said. “I couldn’t decide which I liked better so I did both.” He graduated with a triple major in biology, environmental studies and English

His time in Boston also helped him develop a love for the coast. Murray was born in Winnipeg, Canada, and grew up in Minnesota – not the most likely starting place for a career in coastal resource management. But by the time he arrived at the Nicholas School for the first time in 1995, he knew that was the field for him.

“I actually got accepted in the resource policy and behavior track,” he says. “But when I learned about the coastal program I thought, ‘Oh yeah, that’s me.’ So I switched within the first week.”

Now that he’s back, Murray is excited to work with current MEM students.

“One of the things that attracted me here was to work with the Coastal Environmental Management program. There’s a growing demand for people trained in coastal marine systems, and I want to be part of making sure that program continues to be excellent,” he says.

Murray’s wife Liz also graduated from the MEM program in 1998, though the two didn’t get to know each other until they were both Ph.D. students at Michigan. She now works in STEM outreach and communication for K-12 students.

When he’s not working, Murray says his main focus is his daughter Maggie, 8, and his son Gus, 7. He is also an avid skier and likes to run, cook, and mountain bike.