A reflection on the OBXFS fall semester program from Jerome Allen

There is a certain thrill to the sound of “lab work”. For me this semester, this thrill entailed the brackish smell of the Wanchese Harbor, the application and reapplication of sunscreen, the whip of wind, the revitalization from the taste of hummus,  and a candid view of oysters. For the OBXFS 2014 Capstone, our group studied the ecosystem services of oysters in a comparison between natural conditions and an oyster aquaculture facility. We carried out field work in an aquaculture facility in the Roanoke Sound. As someone who had never been exposed to lab work, I was hooked on the work we conducted. Collecting real-world data, speculating about the trends and patterns, and making connections to concepts outside of the classroom was a rewarding and empowering experience. There was also a high degree of liberty in choosing
            There was one time where a classmate and I had the chance to fully suit up in wet suits and snorkels to collect submerged aquatic vegetation, or plants that grow on the sound bed. During which, we made a collection of sound-related puns and recited lyrics from some of our favorite music artists. After collection, we were able to make conscious decision about the next steps in how were going to handle the vegetation. This, we separated by species and specific locations into aluminum packages. Though tedious, it provided a lot of time to ponder about pursuing academia further after undergrad. I decided that it surely wouldn’t hurt to replicate the fun times I had, and I imagined where research could take me.
            Along with this experience and others, the Field Site traveled all across the Outer Banks speaking with different experts on topics, such as sea turtle identification and seashell art. This made my experiences more interactive and comprehensive and I endlessly recommend the Field Site to anyone who inquires.​

Quinton’s internship with the North Carolina Coastal Reserve

My name is Quinton Grady and I’m a senior from Goldsboro, NC studying Environmental Studies at the University of North Caroina. This semester, I was lucky to be offered an internship working with the North Carolina Coastal Reserve. For background, the North Carolina Coastal Reserve (NCCR) is a division of the North Carolina National Estuarine Research Reserve. My mentor, Scott Crocker, is the NCCR Northern Sites Manager. There are three sites he manages: Kitty Hawk Woods–where his office is located and where i do the majority of my work–, Currituck Banks, and Buxton Woods. I have only visited Buxton once, and the other two sites I have accomplished alot of hands-on experience and research with. A usual day at the office is 8-5 and entails assisting Scott in  general tasks. A portion of the NCCR’s responsibility includes allowing hunters to utilize reserve property, with special restrictions and rules on top of North Carolina’s gameland rules. Since the start of hunting season, I’ve had around 5 hunters come in every day to gain a registration form and permit to hunt either or both Kitty Hawk Woods and Currituck Banks. This is actually a very important process, for the information I give them must coincide with the Coastal Reserve’s regulations to ensure that people are following rules and considering both safety and their environment the top priorities. Usual office work is included, from answering phone calls to keeping the office clean and accompanying Scott on trips and errands.

By far my favorite portion of my work with Scott is managing our various sites. It has taken my love for hiking and being in nature and expanded it even more. My largest task for the semester is compliling a photo journal of identified flora and fauna that I encounter amongst the site. Working on this project has been so fun, even on the days earlier in the semester when I was trudging through snakegrass in 90 degree heat. Working in the Kitty Hawk Woods’ maritime forest and the diverse salt marsh/maritime forest ecosystem of Currituck Banks has taught me alot about rare ecosystems, how to manage them, how to control invasive species, and how to be an environmental steward towards people and the living things around us. A hands-on approach to working has been a hugely informative and enjoyable experience with NCCR, and Scott is an incredibly fun and helpful mentor to work with. I honestly am going to be a little lost at the end of the month when I can’t go in to work on Mondays and Wednesdays anymore. Yet, the beauty of Kitty Hawk Woods and Currituck Banks will be there for me and anyone to enjoy. That is why this internship and environmental stewardship are important to me, to preserve these wonders for ourselves and our future generations.

Charlotte’s internship with Hornthal, Riley, Ellis & Maland, L.L.P.

Since I am interested in environmental law and policy and seriously considering law school after graduation, I was pleased to find out my internship would be working with a lawyer on a research project. My internship mentor, David Gadd, is a lawyer with Hornthal, Riley, Ellis & Maland, L.L.P. and tasked me with researching potential solutions to a wastewater treatment lagoon problem in Swan Quarter, NC. Although initially concerned about what my internship involving wastewater would be like, I have thoroughly enjoyed my internship and believe that it has given me a new perspective on environmental policy.

Swan Quarter is a small, rural, town near Lake Matamuskeet, about an hour and 15 minutes away from Manteo. Shortly after completion of the wastewater treatment facility within the town, large bubble appeared breaching the surface of the lagoons. While the bubbles appear relatively harmless and are a popular hangout spot for the local bird community, the North Carolina Division of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) has been expressing concern over the bubbles and made it clear that they want the bubbles to be fixed. David is the law council to the town’s Sanitary District Board of Directors and thought researching this problem would be both a valuable learning experience for me and helpful to the community, and so my internship began.

The bubbles (called whales) in the lagoon liner formed when the peat soil under the lagoon decomposed, releasing gases. While this gas would ordinarily float off into the atmosphere, it has been trapped under the liner with no way to escape. After a while, there was so much gas under the liner exerting force against the liner, the whales formed. Although the whales are harmless now, the whales increase the risk of leakage from the lagoon and can become a big problem if left unattended, which is why DENR wants the “whale problem” solved sooner rather than later.

I began my internship with researching the problem, why it occurred, and some possible solutions. I also looked at the permits issued by DENR and the Division of Water Quality to assess whether any permit violations may arise from any of the possible solutions. I have now turned much of my efforts into looking at grants and loans to fund this project.

This internship has been much more interesting and valuable than I initially would have thought and it has given me a new perspective on environmental regulations. Before this internship I always had the perspective that environmental regulations and policy should be very strict with harsh punishments for noncompliance. I viewed environmental regulations from the perspective of the regulators, and had little sympathy for the regulated. While this is still true to an extent, my internship has made me look at environmental regulations and policy from the perspective of a small, rural town with very limited funds. Strict environmental regulations have real consequences for small towns that are just trying to improve the lives of their citizens. Small, rural towns like Swan Quarter need a lot of financial assistance to be able to be environmentally friendly and serve their people. Although my wastewater treatment internship was not the most glamorous, I really enjoyed it and believe that it has been a really valuable experience.

Jerome’s internship with the North Carolina Coastal Federation

If you would’ve asked me a year ago, whether I would be having some of the most fruitful and challenging times of my life at the Outer Banks Field Site, I would say you have no idea what you were talking about, but as this semester has proven, I would have been completely wrong. My name is Jerome Allen and I am a Junior Environmental Studies and Dramatic Arts major. This semester at the Outer Banks Field Site has been a wildly colorful experience filled with huge maturity and learning curves. From soaring in the sky over the islands to engaging with local storytellers, the Field Site breathes in the history of the Outer Banks and has served as a great connector between the students and community. Going off that notion, here at the Field Site, we are required to dive into an internship and attune our learning in the classroom with real-world experiences, problem solving, and interactions. This semester, I chose to work with the North Carolina Coastal Federation (or the Federation, for short), a non-profit advocacy organization focused on improving water quality for our coast.

At the Federation, I have had the opportunities to engage with independent projects and work alongside Sara Hallas on environmental education. I want to tell a story about my work with local middle school children.

On a day in late October, complimented with low winds and the soothing noises of the Pamlico Sound, the Federation hosted over 200 middle school students, divided into classes of 20; all arriving to the Manteo Office for the Federation in hourly increments between 8 a.m. and 2 p.m. We had set up twelve stations and further separated the classes into groups of three to maximize the amount of independent and small-group learning with each station. The stations were about concepts such as salinity, biodiversity, and for my station, turbidity (the amount of suspended sediment in the water column). With coffee in one hand and a secchus disk in the other, I began my workshop by asking several questions such as: what is turbidity, why is it important, and how can we measure it. The students were equipped to answer the first two, and I taught them how to use a secchus disk in the Field to measure turbidity. The day ran smoothly and after leading seven workshops, I was charged with reflections and ideas.

I was mainly struck by the idea of passing on the significance of environmental conservation to the next generation. I want to uphold the notion that if children are instilled with great appreciation and understanding of environmental work, the field will expand and swell with great visionaries who can change the world for the better.

​The Federation has given me a myriad of lessons, but the importance of education has definitely molded my experience and will influence my future decision-making.

John’s internship with the National Park Service

Interning with the National Park Service

My internship for the National Park Service under the Cape Hatteras National Seashore’s Natural Resource Manager, Randy Swilling has provided me with experiences and opportunities I never would have expected to have in my time at UNC.  One of my main responsibilities during the first few weeks of my time with the National Park Service was going on “turtle patrols” which consisted of monitoring and maintaining the sea turtle nests located along a several mile stretch of the seashore. In some instances, this involved excavating recently hatched nests to conduct counts of the number of hatchlings that escaped the nest, the number of dead hatchlings, and the number of live hatchlings still present in the nest. These live hatchlings were retrieved from the nests and were later released into the sea during favorable conditions.

Another interesting aspect of my internship was having the opportunity to perform necropsies (an autopsy performed on an animal) on a Kemp’s ridley sea turtle and a bottlenose dolphin. These necropsies were performed to attempt to determine the cause of death for these animals, and whether or not human interaction played a role in their demise. In addition to making basic observations of the deceased animals’ conditions, we also examined their stomach contents to determine whether or not they had swallowed any man-made products, such as plastic bags or other plastics. This provided me with a chance to learn about the anatomy of the marine animals—an opportunity I am very grateful to have had.

Overall, my internship has given me a lot of insight into the wildlife of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, and the Outer Banks. I’ve lived near the Outer Banks for the past eleven years and never realized how much of the area’s natural wonder I hadn’t experienced until I began working for the National Park Service. After my internship ends, I hope to continue to learning about the wildlife of the Outer Banks and the measures that are being taken to protect it.

Michaela’s internship at the NC Aquarium on Roanoke Island

The first day of my internship with the husbandry staff at the Roanoke Island Aquarium I was already feeding sharks. They just handed me a dead fish, a pole and pointed out which shark to feed. That experience sums up my internship pretty well; you just go for it and act like you know what you’re doing. At first, I was a nervous wreck. What if I made an animal sick? What if I forgot their vitamins? What if I messed up the water quality? But eventually learned to relax and enjoy the opportunity thanks to many wonderful mentors. I’ve found a new love for marine life, a desire to get dive certified, and best of all a career I want to pursue.

A typical day starts with the touch tank, holding Cow Nose rays, Atlantic Sting Rays, 3 Bamboo Sharks, a Guitar fish, a Horseshoe Crab, and a few other species of small fish. I maintain the log-book, tracking temperature, flow pressure, salinity, and PH. After cleaning out their excrement I prep food and, my favorite part of the morning, hand feed the cow nose rays before broadcasting the rest of their food. In the wild, cow nose rays are born with a tape-worm, and the cow nose rays in the touch tank are juveniles from the wild. Therefore, they need a bit more food than the others. It still amazes me that they’ll eat right out of my hand. They’ve become so accustomed to me that I’ve implemented a ray training program, to make barbing them and veterinary checks easier and less stressful for the animals. After working with the rays, I move on to more food prep. I weigh out shark food, cut up squid and fish, and bag more food. The majority of my day is spent handling frozen, thawed, or bloody fish. After lunch, I get to feed the sharks along with a few other husbandry staff members. My mentor has taught me to identify Spotlight vs. Big Girl vs. Denty Dennis and the other sharks. After this routine, my day can vary from working on projects – building an otter enrichment tool or a baby gator cover to keep them from climbing out – to working with the resident screech owl or even cleaning out the trenches at the bottom of the tanks (by far the dirtiest and smelliest job).

At 5 pm, I leave the aquarium pretty beat, and definitely stinky, but fulfilled. I absolutely love what I do there, and Mondays and Wednesdays are often the highlight of my week. Between the animals, the staff I work with, and all the experiences I’ve been given, I’ve had an amazing time at my internship. I had always thought I’d want to be a zookeeper or work with animals, but this has broadened my horizons and I’ve found that I really would like to pursue work at an aquarium post-graduation.


Michaela Meredith

Junior Environmental Studies major

NC Roanoke Island Aquarium – husbandry staff intern

Dakota’s research internship on fracking in NC

My name is Dakota Koenigsberg and I’m a senior at UNC studying Environmental Studies and Economics.  This semester, at the Coastal Studies Institute, I’ve been conducting research on hydraulic fracturing regulation in North Carolina under the supervision of Dr. Andrew Keeler.  Specifically, I’ve analyzed the draft rules developed by the Mining and Energy Commission (MEC), comparing my findings to the regulatory experience of the Marcellus Shale states (PA, OH, NY, and WV).  My aim is to explore all potential areas of regulation, while ensuring to include the positions of all stakeholders, including the natural gas industry and environmental groups.  The final product of my internship, a research paper, will provide an objective, well-organized, and comprehensible resource to educate legislators and the general public alike on fracking in our state.

Towards the end of November, I’ll be serving as a panelist at a League of Women Voters program where I’ll be informing their members of the proposed regulatory framework for fracking in North Carolina.  I’ll also be meeting with Mr. James Womack of North Carolina’s MEC to discuss the draft rules and, in particular, the commission’s rationale for including or excluding certain provisions in the rules.

My research is expansive, but here are three notable findings:

  • North Carolina is conforming to the existing trend of requiring chemical disclosure for fracking fluids, but providing exemptions for trade secrets.  Trade secrets allow fracking operators to hide the most concerning of chemical additives as confidential business information.
  • The MEC opted to not write an air quality regulation into the draft rules.  The EPA’s green-completion rule will come into effect next year, but many of the exploratory and wildcat wells that are likely to be drilled in North Carolina will be exempt from this requirement.
  • The current severance tax rate in North Carolina (0.05 cents per thousand cubic feet) is by far the lowest of any state with a severance tax.  MEC’s draft rules show their intention to revise this tax rate, but if it isn’t increased substantially, the vast majority of revenue from natural gas extraction will accrue to the industry, leaving little revenue to the state.

I’ll continue to pursue this topic next semester for an honors thesis project, which will synthesize my existing research to form policy recommendations.