What to Expect in the Unexpected

When I arrived in the Outer Banks in August I had no idea what to expect. I am from Swansboro, North Carolina, so living in a coastal town isn’t a foreign concept to me. However, Manteo was still a very new place that I had never been to before. I had just returned home from Germany a week before I arrived in Manteo, so my research on the area was lacking as well. So, what should you expect during your first few weeks in the Outer Banks? Well, this was my experience:

The Friends of Elizabeth Guest House

When I arrived, I knew I would be living in the Friends of Elizabeth Guest House, but I figured that would be in a literal house as you might have in Chapel Hill. This house is not quite like that. The Friends of Elizabeth Two Guest House is pretty much a small dorm that is hall way style. You share a bathroom with one other person, and there are two living rooms and one big kitchen. There is a really awesome house director who makes sure everything runs smoothly. The house is always kept clean, and the tenants are reminded that the cleanliness of living spaces is important. The other students in the program live there as well as governmental employees of different ages. The house is roughly a ten-minute drive from the Coastal Studies Institute (CSI).

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The first walk I took on the beach, I was with a classmate, Julia. After walking for a while, we noticed a huge black figure up closer to the dunes. Continuing to walk closer, it was clearly a huge sea turtle, that we originally thought was a large statute. However, the closer we got to this huge statute, the more it began to smell. This was no statute at all, it was an enormous dead sea turtle. I had never seen this in my life, even on the beach where I grew up. Why was this here? Was no one going to do anything about it? I later came to find out that dead sea turtles often washed up on the beach here. Different organizations would mark the sea turtles depending on the area of the beach they washed up on, and later the town would decide if they wanted to bury the turtle or not.

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I have had many adventures while in Manteo that I would have never expected. However, these are the two things that I found might be helpful for a future student. Time goes by quickly, so make the most of it while you can!

The Outer Banks Center for Wildlife Education

My internship for the semester is with the Outer Banks Center for Wildlife Education and my mentor is the center director, Karen Clark. Not to start off this post bragging about how incredible of an experience my internship has been, but it literally could not have been better. Karen Clark has been really fun to work with and is simply a fascinating woman in many aspects. As a biologist for N.E.S.T., she has allowed me to become very involved with a wonderful program, which I discussed in my last blog post “Nest or N.E.S.T.?”.  At the Outer Banks Center for Wildlife Education, there is also a curator, Sharon Meade, who lightens up my day every time I intern. She is incredibly knowledgeable about the surrounding area’s ecology and history. I have learned so much from her while also having fun at the same time. At the front desk is Elaine Goodwin, who can identify all the local species and is also incredibly knowledgeable. Finally, there is Jane Brown and Sam Stolkes who are seasonal environmental educators. I have worked with the public and schools most frequently with Jane and Sam. Jane has been an absolute blessing to work with and was the person to really show me the ropes around the center.  Sam graduated from UNC a few years ago, and he is extremely knowledgeable about many aspects of the environment.

When I started my internship in September, the center still had quite a few people visiting it on a daily basis. This allowed for many educational classes and carts so I often interacted with the public. Discovery carts are quick educational classes that we present on carts for anyone interested in stopping by. On Mondays, I spent the day with Jane

feeding the fish, doing discovery carts, and giving educational classes. We often had classes or carts on Gyotaku, which is Japanese fish printing. All of the fake fish we would use for Gyotaku are fish that you can find in the sound beside the education center. On Wednesdays, I would assist the kayaking class with Sam or Jane. While on this tour, we would talk about the historical background of the area as well as the ecological aspects.

Recently, I have been working more with my canine discovery cart, school outreach programs, and N.E.S.T. volunteer trainings. As a part of my internship goals, I needed to create a discovery cart for the center. Since red wolves and coyotes have recently become a prominent topic in this area, I thought that is was appropriate to create a cart to educate individuals more about them. The cart includes fact sheets on the animals, readings that people can look at, a craft and game for children, and a coyote pelt. I have used this cart a few times since finalizing it and the outcome has been very good. I have done two school outreach programs at elementary schools in Currituck County with Sam. One was presenting Sea Turtles in Jeopardy and the other was an interactive Velcro Fishing program. Moreover, there are often N.E.S.T. trainings at the education center that I help Karen with. I still continue to work with N.E.S.T. as explained in my earlier N.E.S.T. blogpost and will throughout the rest of my time in the Outer Banks. Finally, I continue to feed the fish every time I intern, but now I work more with the chemistry of the aquarium. Sam has taught me how to find the salinity and dissolved oxygen concentrations of the aquariums.

If you are an upcoming student reading this and you have any interest in environmental education, this internship is the way to go. I have gained experience and knowledge that has broadened my education in ways that sitting in a classroom cannot.

Dare County Soil and Water Conservation District Internship

The Dare County Soil and Water Conservation District has been a great place to work for my internship this semester, despite not being sure who I am working for. The district is a county agency that is not even funded by the county but by the NC Coastal Federation and the State of North Carolina. Therefore I spent every Monday at the Coastal Federation offices in Wanchese and every other Wednesday at the Dare County satellite offices in Kitty Hawk. However the strange circumstances the that I operated under actually gave me a unique opportunity to get much more out of my time there than otherwise possible.

Each morning of my internship I headed in to my office for the day and settled in to work on my main project. Ann Daisey, my intrepid mentor for the semester and the only employee of the district, had me working on watershed restoration plan for the sound side beach at Jockey’s Ridge State Park. The only problem was that the plan itself, which she would submit the to EPA after I am long gone, was far to large a task for one intern a couple times a week. I therefore contributed what I could for the project, which was collecting and analyzing data for the watershed and getting the historical context for the area. This included collecting the bacterial data for the beach over the past 20 years, and then looking at the trends that cause the levels to rise so much as to cause a no swim advisory. In addition I collected historical aerial photographs to establish a baseline, created a stakeholder list for the whole watershed, and found zoning maps for the whole area.

The watershed restoration project wasn’t the only thing I did in my time with Ann. Spending much of my time at the Coastal Federation unexpectedly gave me look into the world of non-profits which I greatly appreciated. I even helped make the list of invitees to their economic development submit next year. In addition I helped out with another watershed project in southern shores, albeit in a much more reduced capacity. Some of the most interesting moments of my internship came from just being around the Coastal Federation and joining in on normal operations of the day. I helped educate some Manteo middle schoolers on water quality, and also helped bag oyster shells to be used in living shorelines projects. Little things like that, stuff that broke up the normal process of my main project, were some of the best parts of my time this semester.

We wear many hats at the Town of Nags Head

At first thought, local government is a boring, paperwork-filled nightmare highlighted bytownsealcolor-3 dull office phone ringtones and the incessant lull caused by a distant whirring copier.

Working at the Town of Nags Head has proved the exact opposite to be true.

Interning during my boss's birthday means getting a slice of the cake, too
Interning during my boss’s birthday means getting a slice of the cake, too

Armed with my laptop, clip-on phone case, pair of dark sunglasses, and a can-do attitude, I’ve taken to tackling the problems that most coastal communities shudder at the thought of: sea level rise, climate change, and future-proofing development. My task is relatively simple: ground-truth, analyze, and interpret any and all information that can help the town with these issues. My boss: an extremely dedicated, outgoing, knowledgeable principal planner by the name of Holly White. My partner in crime: Erika Munshi, always thinking of new approaches to the somewhat challenging obstacles we encounter in our office-going line of work. The semester has really flown by in Nags Head while we’ve aspired to be the best interns in the world, and bring a sense of “The Office” or “Parks and Rec” to the lively office of planning and development that literally sits on top of the protective shoulder of the Nags Head police department 1st floor of the town hall.

Our day officially starts with an 8:30 AM briefing with Holly in the planning nerve center for the town: her office. We discuss any weekend work-related developments and proceed to outline the goals for the day. Then we break off and spend the midday hours conferencing with various municipalities, binging on office coffee, speaking with citizens, and visiting local landmarks as part of our ground-truthing duties.

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◀ An intern’s eye view of ground-truthing flood zone discrepancies





▶ Our analysis and ground-truthing incorporated into an official town presentation on flood zone changes



While Nags Head lacks the hustle and bustle of a large city like Charlotte or Raleigh, its charm and unique coastal demeanor make it a prime experience for a coastal planning intern. This past semester has allowed me to delve into local government as I never had before, and somewhat incited a passion of seeing positive change in citizens’ lives. From the heights of Jockey’s Ridge to the swamps of Nags Head Woods, a more diverse and gem-like multiplicity to publicly serve simply doesn’t exist on the NC coast.

Some seas may rise, and others may fall. The Nags Head Planning and Development department will do its best to prevent this.



One fish, two fish, no red fish, just blue fish

Well there are a lot more than two, but how many people would have guessed there were any blue catfish at all? Who even really thinks about what kind of catfish they’re dealing with when they find one in a river? I definitely didn’t, but thanks to my experiences this semester at the OBX field site, I definitely will in the future. My name is Thomas Hennessey, and for my semester-long internship, I’ve been able to work with Sara Mirabilio of North Carolina Sea Grant and Ladd Bayliss of North Carolina Coastal Federation to learn something about the invasive blue catfish crowding our waters, and do some pretty cool things along the way.

When I first heard about this internship opportunity, I knew it would be interesting since the topic hadn’t gotten much attention in this area before, but I wasn’t sure how we’d go about actually studying it. The best way, after some initial lit review on how blue catfish have impacted other areas, turned out to be the clunky and messy way, looking at Division of Marine Fisheries datasets that hadn’t been looked at in this way before. I had worked on projects similar to this one before, but never with the same level of interdisciplinary focus or data retrieval/analysis complexity. Luckily though, my mentors had, and were able to break down a long and complicated project into interesting and very unique workdays, with time split between the Sea Grant offices at CSI and the nice new Coastal Federation building down the road.

The main focus of the internship was on creating a Situation Assessment for the blue catfish population in the area. This basically came down to organizing DMF records for numbers of catfish (both young and old) and their lengths in a way that gave us a timeline for how the population changed since their arrival. One of the coolest parts of this was when I got to take a trip north to Edenton to see firsthand how this data is during one of the DMF Chowan River surveys. We stopped at a number of set locations and tossed a huge net behind our tiny boat, then trawled around for about 10 minutes before hauling the net back up to count/measure its contents. It was a long and sometimes painful process, but was a lot of fun and helped us feel a lot better about the data we were using.

The biggest highlight, though, was the opportunity to present what we had found during all those long data and policy analysis days to the public at a “Fish and Flights” dinner event last week. A good number of people were there for some really well prepared plates of blue catfish. (And I got some as well. Another great thing about this internship was knowing every day that I might be getting some really good food.) This presentation gave me some great experience in interpreting science for a general audience, which could certainly be in my future as I consider careers in environmental policy and ecosystem management. Thanks again to Corey Adams, my fantastic mentors, and the OBX field site for making this possible!

And as I’ve said in multiple presentations now: If you do a lot of fishing and catch a lot of these catfish, don’t hesitate to keep them! Our beautiful coastal ecosystem will be better for it.

Oysters and boat rides

On what was probably the last nice day of the year, we took a trip down the road into Wanchese and saw the Wanchese Seafood Company’s oyster aquaculture dock facility.

Oyster aquaculture is basically just growing oysters to harvest in captivity. The Company grows the native Crassostrea virginica oyster. This type of aquaculture is especially neat because the oysters filter water while feeding on plankton, which greatly improves water clarity. No other food or nutrients have to be added to the system, which makes it efficient and not very costly.

Joey Daniels manages and owns the Company and was kind enough to show and explain to us how the process works. We met him at the dock where we first saw the flupsy, which is an oyster aquaculture nursery. It was a cool set up especially since it didn’t take up all that much space, yet yielded a very large number of little baby oysters. Once the oysters get to a decent enough size in the flupsy, they are put in cages and taken out into the Sound to the “farm.” Joey leases one of his plots of about 10 acres of underwater land from the State to grow his oysters. When we get out there, we see ropes that let Joey and his employees know where they have the different sized oysters and what used to be a 90-foot house boat, which is the platform on which they can do some of their work.

Just on those 10 acres, and not accounting for the large amount of dead ones from the storms and other things, Joey estimated he currently had about 3.8 million oysters. And the ones he raises, Bodie Island oysters as they’re fittingly called, are specifically for the half-shell market (which is pretty upscale, if you know anything about eating oysters).

Oyster roast

It was great that we got to get out on the water and learn a little bit about the water life, since we’ve been focused more on the land life with our work. It was also pretty fitting that we concluded this past week with a trip to an oyster aquaculture facility, as on Tuesday we got to experience eating oysters first-hand at Beth’s annual oyster roast. They weren’t the Bodie Island oysters but they still got happily got eaten up. I even tried one for the second time in my life. And as I told Corey, “it was good.” Being so close to fresh seafood definitely gives you a new perspective on it and the work that people do to get that food. Buy it as local and as close to home as you can, people!

National Park Service Internship

The National Park Service is usually not the first thing that comes to mind when one hears the word “government.”  This is most likely because the NPS and its 413 “areas” (including 58 National Parks) represents a retreat fimg_8161rom modern, hectic entities such as our ruling law making and enforcing body.  NPS sites provide the public with access to unique natural and historical places across the United States.  The northern Outer Banks is a hotspot for these sites, having three: the Wright Brother’s Memorial, Fort Raleigh, and my internship home, Cape Hatteras National Seashore (CHNS).

Every monday and every other wednesday morning, I travel over the Roanoke Sound via the Washington Baum Bridge before the sun rises and head to the CHNS headquarters on Bodie Island.  Upon arrival, I meet up with my mentors and wait for the sky to start showing color.  Once it is light enough to walk outside without tripping and running into things, we head for one of our trusty Chevy trucks.  While they only stall during the first few seconds of driving, and usually start, the loud, sputtering sound is eternal.  Trucks are not meant for driving on the beach.  Yet beach driving is a daily routine for the CHNS park service crew.  We patrol stretches of beach ranging from the northern tip of Bodie Island down to Buxton; always on the lookout for sea turtles (and nests), threatened shorebirds, stranded animals, and misbehaving beach-goers.  One thing I have learned in my few months on the job is that there is no typical day.  The day’s work is many times solely influenced by what we see.
img_8075 There really is no telling what will happen each time I shut off my 5 am alarm and head over to the beach.  One day, we may excavate a turtle nest, the next save a cormorant flapping around helplessly on the highway, another may be spent nicely explaining to the nice locals how we would appreciate if they nicely move off the section of this nice beach that they are not supposed to be on.  My internship is always varying and changing, however there is one rather constant component, my mentors.

Paul Doshkov is the head honcho of the Bodie Island division.  His laid back personality and dry humor do little to mask his immense knowledge of and respect for wildlife.  The ability to slice open a dolphin and assess its innards in mere minutes and ID little shorebirds from hundreds of feet away are just two of the many seasoned skills I have been lucky to witness.  Almost all the questions I think to ask on the job are thoroughly answered.  If it involves the CHNS, Paul knows about it.

Amber Rhodes is the other permanent worker at the division.  Amber loves sea turtles.  Amber knows sea turtles.  Amber may in fact be a sea turtle.  How else could a person know so much about a species while simultaneously caring about its young as if they were their own children?  In all seriousness, her passion is contagious.  She works with a doggedness that is quite rare and it’s obvious the job is not work to her, but a fun game that she enjoys playing over and over again.  The NPS is to Amber as the NFL is to a meathead.

Additionally, I had the pleasure of working with three seasonal employees (Rob, John, and Katie).  Meeting and working with these people was a grand (Canyon National Park) experience.  All came from different places, with different backgrounds, and brought different personalities.  But each and every person carried out their job in a professional and efficient manner.  It was extremely valuable to be a part of such a cohesive and efficient working environment.  My internship was a beneficial balance of knowledge on wildlife and a successful work environment with perspective-changing relationships thrown in for good measure.  I will be able to use what I have learned at CHNS for the rest of my days whether those are spent chasing down sea turtles and gutting dolphins, or not.

Saturday Morning Cartoons? More Like Saturday Morning Trash Pickup!

Group photo in downtown Manteo.

The Town of Manteo held a litter pick up day named after Rodney “Crow” Murray. Hundreds of people showed up to enjoy coffee and doughnuts before setting out in the crisp fall weather. People were divided into groups to cover different areas of the town.




Our group led by Jaye Massecar (Friends of Elizabeth II Operations Director) picked up along back roads, the cemetery, the highway, and in front of the elementary school. We found a lot of cigarette butts, candy wrappers, and beer cans. It was interesting to see the different kinds of trash and where it was mainly located which was along the highway. Jaye told us that a lot of people tend to throw trash out their car windows. It is important to do litter pickups especially in a town like this where sewer ditches need to be cleared when heavy rains come to prevent excessive flooding.

We were able to fill five trash bags by the end of the day. However, as a whole, the town manage to collect a truck full of garbage!

A lot of people found really interesting items in the ditches:  birdhouse, a duck decoy, and children toys. I found what appears to be a jewel placed on a pet collar.

The morning ended with pizza provided by the town to thank those that all showed up. It’s always a good day to help the community look clean and beautiful!



To Preserve, To Prosper, To Pet Cats!

Do not worry I will totally explain the cat thing, but my internship for the OBXFS 2016 was with the Town of Manteo. Located conveniently down the street from the Elizabeth Friends II house, I was able to walk to my internship every Monday and Wednesday (so do not worry if you have a car or not!).

My mentor was the wonderful Erin Burke who taught me all things related to being a town planner in a small town. The first day of my internship, Erin took me along to learn the history of the town and to meet people who have lived in Manteo for years! It is a very close-knit community and I was so happy that I was able to be apart of it.

My main task was to develop a unified recycling program for the Town of Manteo. This required me to draft a proposal bid to submit to the Board of Commissioners for approval to place the bid in the local paper. The bid is to advertise to contractors that the Town of Manteo is in need of supplies and labor for a recycling program.

However, when I was not working on the new recycling program, I was helping to refurbish an old playground. A lot of the equipment was rusted and out of date, so children could no longer safely play. When the project was completed, it was heartwarming to see the kids rush to play after school.

I also attended meetings hosted by DOT, Government Education TV, and FEMA to get a first-hand look into the inner workings of local and regional government.

Now the moment you have all been waiting for!

Along with my internship, I made a new friend: TOM the town cat. His name stands for the Town of Manteo (GET IT??). He came to the town hall to live several years ago and never left. He lives in my office and demands belly rubs throughout the day. He was definitely an added plus to my time working for the Town of Manteo.

The staff in Manteo is amazing and helpful. The knowledge I gained here definitely helped me pick a career path after I graduate. I look forward to trying my hand at being a town planner just like my mentor!

Into the (Nags Head) Woods

While “Into the Woods” is a creepy Disney movie about a witch, Nags Head Woods isn’t anything like that. There have been reports of a pack of coyotes stalking trail-goers. But that’s largely uncorroborated.

My name is Julia Maron, I’m a sophomore Environmental Studies major and Public Policy minor, and I got to spend this fall interning with Aaron McCall at The Nature Conservancy’s Nags Head Woods ecological preserve. Aaron is the Northeast Regional Steward and oversees basically the entire eastern area of the state.

I had heard of The Nature Conservancy (TNC) before coming down here but I didn’t know that on the Outer Banks, which you think of as all beach (tell me you don’t only think of it as all beach), there would be 1,400 acres of maritime forest and swamps. And by the looks of the visitor’s log, a lot of other people didn’t know the Woods existed as either.

Unlike almost all of the other internships, my time spent at the Woods wasn’t focused on one overarching project, which was fine by me. I got to learn about stewardship, which is “the recognition of our collective responsibility to retain the quality and abundance of our land, air, water and biodiversity, and to manage this natural capital in a way that conserved all of its values, be they environmental, economic, social or cultural.” Basically, it’s important to know that we have certain environmental spaces and resources that we can and should use, but we have to use them in a responsible way.

With woods comes pine straw and leaves and with the Outer Banks comes storms and hurricanes. So naturally, sometimes the trails get covered with such debris and it is my dutiful task to make sure the trails are clear and walkable. As much as I loved doing this, I realized that it’s important especially to the people who visit the Woods. If you can’t walk easily, then it won’t be as enjoyable and people won’t visit as often. So yes, trail maintenance is important. Can I put “handy with a rake” on my resume? All I can say is that I got to explore all of the trails pretty thoroughly and spending time outside can be better than sitting in an office all day (no offense to those who work in offices, specifically the planning department of the Town of Nags Head).

*Disclaimer: One would STRONGLY advise visiting the Woods sometime after November, when mosquitoes the size of a quarter have gone to wherever they go. If not, coat yourself in bug spray, wear long sleeves and pants, and bring mosquito net hats. I can give you my personal one, if you’d like. Very handy.

Walking trails sometimes leads to running in to critters, some of which scare you half to death. Especially when you take Fergie, Aaron’s dog, with you and she doesn’t see the black rat snake in front of her. And you’re too scared to get close to it to see if it’s venomous, so you don’t know it’s only a black rat snake until you take a picture and show it to Aaron when you get back.

As I mentioned before, when I wasn’t raking, I did some Excel work, mainly inputting the Woods’ visitor’s log into a format where the total number of visitors could be gathered for each month. These numbers are useful because they get sent to The Nature Conservancy’s main office and can help the Woods get grants and different things, since TNC is a nonprofit. Additionally, bow hunting season for deer started September 10th in the Woods, and Aaron is in charge of collecting hunting licenses and information, so that too was put into Excel.

Nags Head Woods sits between Jockey’s Ridge and Run Hill sand dunes, which causes it to be shielded from harsh ocean winds. It has forested dunes, interdune ponds, marshes, wetlands and a whole lot of diverse plant and animal life. The most interesting part of my internship has definitely been capturing creatures that use the woods on wildlife cameras. At the beginning of the semester, I asked Aaron if there had been coyote sightings in the Woods, since that would relate to our Capstone project. As you may or may not know, coyotes are now officially found in all 100 counties of North Carolina, and have been increasingly seen up and down the Outer Banks. A lot of residents have been complaining about them as well, so I thought I’d see if I could find any. TNC had some wildlife cameras that they’d used before and I thought it would be super neat if I could put some out to try and catch some sneaky canids on camera.

When I went out to check the cameras, I took my laptop and popped the SD card out from the camera to see if there were new pictures. Honestly, it was kind of exciting when you saw any amount of pictures, even when you realized that there were 174 just of a squirrel (I think he just wanted to have a photo shoot). I had 2 cameras out for 3 weeks that never had any pictures on them, which was a little frustrating. But hey, it was even better when you got some clear shots of does, bucks, raccoons and even a possum. And sometimes you got a super cool picture of a young buck only 3 hours before you went out and pulled the camera.

All in all, interning at The Nags Head Woods was a great experience that has made me realize what I enjoy doing and what I only kind of enjoy doing. I’m appreciative that I’ve had this great opportunity and hopefully I can build on this experience in the future.

Oh, and this internship has also reaffirmed that I absolutely hate mosquitoes.