Retreat to Corolla

Despite Maria’s best efforts to deter our plans, we had a successful (albeit slightly abbreviated) retreat to Corolla this past week. Our trip started bright and early on Thursday morning with an 8am departure from CSI. First stop: The Currituck Center for Wildlife Education. Here, we watched a short film about the history of Currituck and learned about the duck hunting and decoy making industry. As someone who isn’t native to North Carolina, let alone the Outer Banks, it’s always interesting to discover more about the area. After checking out the various exhibits at the wildlife center, we made our way over to the Currituck Beach Lighthouse. Our tour started with what must have been the most thorough explanation ever of the lighthouse’s history by Megan Agresto. It was phenomenal. After receiving a textbook’s worth of education in under an hour, we were ready to climb. Although I’m partial to the Bodie Island Lighthouse since my internship is based right next to it, the Currituck Lighthouse is definitely one worth visiting. The view from the top allowed for a nice opportunity to get oriented with a new part of the OBX.

After our climb we took a brief lunch break before meeting up with CAB member Hadley Twiddy for a walk along the pier behind her waterfront business, Coastal Explorations. Hadley talked to us about her stretch of coastline, pointing out different marsh plants along the way. The real star of the show, however, was Hadley’s trusty sidekick June Bug, a golden lab with quite the love for running through water and mud alike.

After our talk with Hadley we checked into our accommodation for the night, the Pine Island Sanctuary Guest House, where we were greeted by Chandler Sawyer, local waterfowl historian and hunter. Chandler described both the history of the area as well as plans for the future. Interestingly, he told us that renovation plans for the sanctuary included raised boardwalks between buildings to account for flooding issues that may occur as a result of sea level rise. In my experience it is rare to see people practically planning for environmental issues which will result from climate change so it was refreshing (if not somewhat upsetting that this is what the planet is coming to) to find someone who was taking these issues seriously.

The remainder of the night consisted of tacos, sunset walks to the water’s edge, and card games; pretty ideal if you ask me.

Friday came with another early start that was made slightly more bearable by the promise of seeing wild horses. As the sun rose we all piled into the back of a pickup truck and journeyed our way through Corolla on a wild horse tour. Despite the lack of actual horse sightings (there were two), the tour was a fun time. We were able to see the unique area that is Corolla (psh who needs roads?) and made it all the way to the Virginia border.

After the tour and a brief stop back at the guest house to pick up our bags we met up with another CAB member, Matt Price, for a tour of the Duck Waterfront Shops, of which he is a co-owner. Matt showed us around and explained the ways in which he and his business partner are actively trying to prevent the shoreline from eroding. He also shared insight on what it was like to grow up in the area and how the property has changed over time. As someone who is concerned with conservation, I found it interesting to hear about development from the perspective of the property owner, a viewpoint which I do not often consider. Once we finished up our tour Matt treated us to lunch at a restaurant on the property. If there is one way to make a group of college kids instantly love you it’s to take them out to eat (thanks again Matt, feel free to bring some French fries to the next CAB meeting).

Our last stop of the trip was at the Field Research Facility where we met up with yet another CAB member, Heidi Wadman, for a discussion and a tour. Heidi described to us the various undertakings of the FRF, showed us some of the machinery, and accompanied us on a walk to the end of the (really insanely long) pier.

And that’s a wrap! Thank you once again to all of the people we met along the way during our retreat. We would not have learned nearly as much without the help of all of you. To anyone reading this that hasn’t visited all of these places yet, what are you waiting for?

The First Birthday and a Trip to the Dismal Swamp

This week was quite eventful. We started the week with internships on Monday during which some people got to sit in on a court case, help recover baby sea turtle nests, or participate in discussion about zoning and town planning. On Tuesday we had a full day of classes, including a class outside learning about different marsh systems. Towards the end of the week, we had our first birthday at the field site, shoutout to Emily Inkrote, and we made a trip to the Great Dismal Swamp with a few special guests.

Emily Inkrote turned twenty on Thursday, so of course we had to celebrate. Since it was the first birthday in the program, we had to go all out to celebrate. We made dozens of signs to hang around the house and at her desk, we decorated her car with lots of streamers and balloons, and we made a giant cookie cake. Everybody had a great time putting together a surprise for Emily and at the end of the day we made our weekly trip to Food Dudes Kitchen where we indulged in taco Thursday.

Decorating a cake for the festivities

On Friday, we made the journey to the Great Dismal Swamp in Virginia to take a scenic kayak tour with Bland Simpson and Rachel Willis from UNC. Another Rachel from the community garden we spend time at joined us as well with her husband. Our trip lasted about five hours and took us through a really interesting ecosystem. It was a good end to the week.

A view from the kayak

Boat Days are Better than Field Trips

Week of 9/11-9/15/17

Hey, y’all! This is Cassandra, writing to tell you all about how miserable (read: exciting), exhausting (as in exhilarating), and completely dreadful (meaning absolutely and positively amazing) the second real week of classes here at the OBX Field Site has been! I’m going to start off by giving props to Corey Adams, our internship coordinator, for setting me up with the most amazing program I could have asked for; I’m at the Outer Banks Center for Wildlife Education, which means on Monday I got to set up wildlife cameras, learn about sea turtle strandings, and help create a trail for the Center’s new herping expedition! If that isn’t cool enough, some of my other duties include story time and teaching kids archery.

My internship mentor invited me to come to a sea turtle nest dig on my second day!

Tuesdays and Thursdays are when we take “actual” classes, all of which have so far been both interesting and relevant in terms of this area and environmental topics in general. Since we are only in the second week, much of the material has been introductory, but I’m definitely already learning a lot, and having such a small class size means that we are all able to get clarification when we need to, which is great compared to many of the huge lectures I’ve taken in the past. However, this Wednesday we had our first intensive Capstone day, and by intensive, I mean INTENSIVE. It’s really incredible to me how much a group of people can get done in a single day when we all work together. Right now, we’re working in two different directions: learning how to conduct qualitative interviews and write an interview guide on one side, and planning our ecological sampling methods and testing them out to see what will work best for our sampling sites on the other. We started off with an interview workshop, then took a mini field trip to the living shoreline at Festival Island Park, where we tried out different potential sampling methods and ate our lunches on the boardwalk. Finally, we returned to CSI for a second interview workshop, and left for the evening with a far better understanding of how our interviews are going to work and what we need to do now.

As you can see, we all rocked our waders and enjoyed the break between interview workshops to go to Roanoke Island’s Festival Island Park for sampling practice.

In the spirit of ending the week on an especially high note, this Friday we took a boat trip around the Roanoke Sound in order to practice different water measurement and sampling methods, as well as to get a firsthand look at an oyster aquaculture facility in the area. We definitely learned a lot about different measurement methods and tools, how much water quality can vary, and how to handle some extremely expensive equipment, but I think it’s safe to say that our educational drive momentarily disappeared when we encountered a pod of dolphins, not once, but twice! There was also time built in to explore an island near CSI and take a dip in the Sound. The day was a blast, and our professors and faculty know exactly how to plan a trip that’s a lot of fun while still giving us research skills and educating us along the way!

I have high hopes for the rest of the semester, but this week was a winner. I’m so grateful to have been accepted into this program and can’t wait to see what we do next!

Spotting dolphins in the Sound!
Some of the equipment we used to test water parameters including salinity, turbidity, and oxygen content.

Manteo to CSI (and Jennette’s)


For the first two weeks of our semester, we were on an orientation schedule in which classes did not meet regularly and we were guided through trips and presentations that acquainted us with our surroundings and our course of study and also encouraged us to take time to explore the area ourselves.  Here are several of the elements of orientation that were most meaningful to me.

First Day Activities

Solar Eclipse

Our very first day at the Coastal Studies Institute coincided with the solar eclipse.  We all got eclipse glasses and were able to watch from the front patio of the building.  We observed as the sky changed shade to a deeper blue, the vegetation cast crescent-shaped shadows, and our own shadows on the concrete started to look a bit fuzzy.  Supposedly we viewed over ninety percent of the sun being covered by the moon, though that meant we still had to keep our glasses on the whole time and it never really got close to darkness.

Solar Eclipse Gazing
Students watching the solar eclipse in front of CSI on our first day of orientation

Jennette’s Pier

Shortly after the peak of the eclipse we drove out to Jennette’s Pier where we participated in a class called “Catch it, Clean it, Cook it”.  We learned how to fish from the pier and fish that we caught that were big enough to eat were saved for preparation and consumption on site.  I caught two fish that were not suitable for eating and threw them back in the water.  India was lucky enough to catch two sizable atlantic spadefish.  Since then, some groups of students have taken trips back to the beach next to Jennette’s Pier to catch ghost crabs after dark and to watch a world-class professional surfing competition.

Adding raw shrimp as bait
Waiting for a pull on the line

Cleaning a fish I did not catch

Roanoke Island Exploration

Scavenger Hunt

One of our tasks during orientation was to do a photo scavenger hunt that prompted us to familiarize ourselves with the human ecology of the area.  A unique part of my experience at the field site is that I do not have a car.  Because I wanted to work on this project independently, most of my photos were taken on a kick scooter trip I took around Manteo.  We were prompted to find evidence of development pressure; my response is below.

New development with a recently installed bulkhead near the end of Scuppernong Road

New Route

As previously mentioned, I do not have a car this semester and while it is easy to hitch a ride with a classmate in the mornings to the Coastal Studies Institute or elsewhere at other times, I sometimes do want to travel on my own or get in a little exercise on the commute.  Until this year, it was not feasible for students to bike to CSI due to the lack of an adequate shoulder past the Highway 64 Bypass.  Now a path is finally completed that runs from the Dare County Government Complex to CSI entirely on trails and back roads.  Back in Chapel Hill last semester, Lindsay brought up this exciting development and I was eager to check it out as soon as possible.  Even before I arrived in Manteo, I looked online for a map to see where the trail was and how I could navigate it.  There were no maps or directions on the Dare County website or popular map sites like Google Maps or TrailLink  I could not even find any mention of the trail in local news or public records online.  Fortunately, Tara had already scouted out the trail early in the first week, I think with the help of one of our instructors, and she was able to show me the way.  Still, I wish there was more publicly available information about this wonderful trail so that it could be used by people who need to commute to CSI as well as fitness and nature enthusiasts.  I decided to make a map of the route from the Friends of Elizabeth II Guesthouse, where we live, to the Coastal Studies Institute.  It is relatively simple right now and mainly includes the turns and landmarks, but I have taken photos along the route as well and would like to include them eventually.  I hope to also submit the data I have collected and will continue to collect for inclusion in the trail databases I had previously searched unsuccessfully.


An image of the map I created of the route between the Coastal Studies Institute and the guesthouse

A Week of Firsts

With orientation solidly in the rear view, the thirteen field site students faced the perpetually daunting task of getting back to class after a hot summer and a long labor day weekend. Tuesday brought plentiful classroom time, reminding us all that while the beach is only a quick trip across the bridge away, we are, in fact, here for school! That Tuesday night we attended our very first (and significantly less terrifying than originally expected) CAB meeting, which Mark discussed in his previous post. I personally had interesting dinner conversations with Heidi Wadman from the Army Corps of Engineers, and Mathew Price, a coastal developer. After a very full first day, everyone headed home eager to face the next first of the week–internships!

The Emilys enjoying a beautiful post-CAB meeting sunset

Wednesday morning rolled around and it was time for the squad to split up, all heading our separate ways. From excavating sea turtle nests and completing dolphin surveys to attending town board meetings, it’s safe to say that everyone had a unique first day on the job! More to come on those internships later as each of us will be explaining our adventures in individual posts. Thursday brought in a new day of classes along with beautiful weather. [Specifics on the material covered in class?] With the afternoon free, we spent our free time volunteering at the Dare County Animal Shelter, working on our plot at the community garden, and taking some much appreciated nap and Netflix time. Coming back together later that evening, a couple of us took on (an Andy Keeler favorite and an Outer Banks classic) Food Dudes Taco Thursday. Fried avocado tacos and coconut shrimp tacos were both fan favorites of the evening as we headed off to bed before a sure-to-be-exciting first Friday of field work.

Friday morning was our first day of field work for our capstone project! We set our sights on two living shoreline projects for various tests which included soil cores, biomass analysis, salinity measurements, and measures of other ecological variables. As it turns out, trial and error is a huge part of scientific field work… our soil cores didn’t come out quite as well as originally anticipated, but we still gathered valuable data and knowledge to make our next attempt at data collection go more.. smoothly. We also got to visit two living shoreline projects and see the concept in action, in addition to showing off some super fancy waders. (modeled below)

Making observations about the living shoreline at Jockey’s Ridge
Stellar display of the utility of waders and waterproof research equipment

As always, Friday night provided the perfect time for some group shenanigans! We started the night with chips and salsa on the porch because the weather was absolutely beautiful. Afterwards, we piled in our cars and made our way to Mutiny Bay where we proceeded to played a mean round of mini golf. Mark was the winner, but Emily P. was a close second; unfortunately, Kurt lost. Bianca got so many hole-in-ones that she ~won~ a stuffed shark named Chantel. We really bonded over our sporty endeavor and decided to go to sonic to refuel. Overall, the night was full of wholesome fun and laughter.

First Day of Classes

This past week marked our first real week of classes. After a hardly deserved but much appreciated three day weekend of lazy beach days and thankfully not contracting norovirus, we met Tuesday morning at CSI for Econ, Coastal Management, and to decide on topics for our capstone research project.

Posing for a group selfie before the presentation at the CAB meeting. George looking extra dapper as always.

Tuesday night was our first community advisory board meeting. We met at the NC Coastal Federation building for dinner and a brief presentation on our experience on the outer banks thus far. Paris, Brett, Emily P., and Bianca all bravely took one for the team and gave the presentation. As Kurt would say, it was electric. After the presentation we mingled with the advisory board members over a dinner of stuffed portabellas and asparagus, kindly arranged by Lindsay to meet as many of our group’s varying dietary restrictions as possible.

Sunset over the sound behind CSI. On the Kurt scale of “toof” to “dopamine”, this sunset was a solid “big for the program”.

After dinner we left the Coastal Federation and went back into Manteo to enjoy the rest of our Tuesday evening. Here at the OBXFS we have taken a liking to several evening and night time activities. Sunsets at CSI, beach fires, and as Kurt would say just boolin’ at the

Amelia, Brett, Danielle, and Emily P. practice poor fire safety as they leave a most certainly flammable cardboard box of graham crackers way too close to the fire.

guest house have been the staple of many a night. Overall I think our first day of classes was a success.