About Us

For the Love of The Ocean

Michael Orbach

Santa Cruz, CA

Michael Orbach, Ph.D, is Professor Emeritus of Marine Affairs and Policy in the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University, which he joined in 1993 and served in leadership roles including Director of the Duke Marine Laboratory from 1998 to 2006, and is now a Research Professor with the Institute for Marine Science at the University of California at Santa Cruz, Affiliated Researcher with the Center for Ocean Solutions, Stanford University, and Senior Fellow, Center for the Blue Economy, Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey. Mike has been involved in all aspects of coastal and ocean policy, from fishing, to beach erosion, to offshore oil and gas, to marine and coastal watershed planning in the U.S. and North and South America, Europe, Asia and the Pacific.

In addition to his tenure at Duke Mike has been a social science advisor to NOAA, Associate Director of the Center for Coastal and Marine Studies at the University of California at Santa Cruz and professor of anthropology and senior scientist in the Center for Coastal and Marine Studies at East Carolina University. He has also held appointments on the Ocean Studies Board of the National Academies of Science and Engineering, Governor’s appointments (both Republican and Democrat) to the North Carolina Marine Fisheries Commission and Marine Science Council, and a number of other boards and commissions including serving as chair of the Board of Directors of the Surfrider Foundation from 2003-2006.

Professional Skills

  • Coastal and marine environmental policy and management
  • Social science in environmental policy
  • Facilitation of “bottom-up” public-private partnership policy-making

Professional Accomplishments

  • 1991, Praxis Award, (Society for Applied Anthropology, with Dr. Jeff Johnson, for the design and implementation of a restricted access system for the Florida Spiny Lobster Fishery that cut effort by two-thirds while maintaining the harvest levels)
  • 1997, author of “Hunters, Seamen and Entrepreneurs”, a (and the only) participant-observer ethnography of the U.S. high-seas tune seine fleet, University of California Press
  • 2002, Roger Revelle Memorial Lecture Speaker, National Academy of Science and Engineering, Washington, D.C.
  • 2006-7, President, Southern Association of Marine Laboratories (elected by Directors of marine laboratories from the Chesapeake Bay to the U.S. Mexican border)
  • 2008, National Associate, National research Council (elected by the staff of the National Research Council)
  • 2012, Outstanding Service Award, The Coastal Society (President 2006-8)

Specific Area of Interest

  • Climate change, coasts and oceans
  • Marine Fisheries policy and management
  • Science and offshore energy, renewable and non-renewable

Personal Connection to the Ocean

Mike is a lifelong surfer, sailor, fisherman, outrigger canoe paddler and kayaker.  He taught sailing for two decades and was an active ocean-racing sailor for three decades.  As Director of the Duke University Marine Lab, he set up programs to ensure that students at all levels had the opportunity to learn to surf, fish and sail while studying at the Marine Lab.  As Mike says, “you know the ocean much better when you are in it”