James Luken, professor of biology at Coastal Carolina University, will give a public lecture, titled "Tourists in Paradise: Making the Nature Connection in Coastal Carolina," on Thursday, Oct. 11 at 8 p.m. in the Wall Auditorium on campus. The free event is the 2007 installment of Coastal's annual Distinguished Teacher-Scholar Lecturer Series, sponsored by HTC Inc.
Luken, who earned a Ph.D. in botany from Duke University, will present his research on the universal human need to interact with nature. His talk will also address how South Carolinians can maximize their access to abundant natural environments and adopt new approaches to real estate development that achieve landscape conditions which are conducive to a high quality of life.
Luken asserts that, despite the precipitous loss of farm and forest acreage to development in the state, South Carolina still maintains a high national rating in terms of total "biological wealth." Research indicates that humans derive a whole range of health and psychological benefits from our emotional response to natural environments, according to Luken, and that the most favorable set of natural conditions includes open-forested areas with little underbrush and access to water.
"Modern residential development does it all wrong, however," says Luken, by clear cutting lots and then establishing "mitigation" areas between neighborhoods with dense understories of vegetation that close in rather than open up the landscape. "Mitigation and land use planning tend to separate humans and nature rather than bring them together," he says. "Development can occur in lockstep with preserving the environment if people would commit to an integrative approach to landscape and environment."
In addition, Luken believes that the nature preserves that already exist in the region could be made more accessible and could be better marketed. They could also be better used in educational programs at local schools, he says.
Prior to joining the Coastal faculty in 2001, Luken was director of the environmental science program at Northern Kentucky University, where he was named Outstanding Professor. He is the co-author, with CCU biology professor Richard Moore, of the book "101 Wild Things
Along the Grand Strand." Luken served as chair of Coastal's Department of Biology for four years and has written numerous articles on invasive species, rare plants, wetlands and environmental management.