A Busy Week in Paradise

With fall break behind us; our internships, the capstone project, and classes are ramping up and we are buckling down for the ride! 

Starting off the week with my internship with the Town of Nags Head, I sat in on the Shoreline Management Committee meeting where staff and citizens addressed possible options for the town’s estuarine shoreline. They discussed the impacts that rising sea levels could have on the soundside and even mentioned the construction of living shorelines. Seeing the relevance of our capstone project to the local community made me excited to invite them to our presentation in December.  After the fascinating meeting, I spent the rest of the day with the town’s water quality coordinator Todd to investigate an alleged violation. We also we talked about the town’s stormwater management and other issues facing the town.

Is that Bianca or Shontelle?

Our classes this week consisted mostly of presentations. For coastal ecology, we split up into groups to research the impacts that climate change will have on various ecosystems found in the Outer Banks and construct a concept map. My group presented on the impacts tidal marshes will experience. For coastal economics, we all presented on academic articles and mine was on ecosystem-based management and how to measure changes in the ecosystem’s wealth. The highlight of the presentations was definitely Bianca who presented on the economic impacts of biological invasions but assumed the persona of Shontelle, the group’s beloved plush toy shark, and detailed how she was going to wreak havoc on PeopleLandia.

Wednesday was our collection day for capstone so we split off into small groups and traveled throughout the Outer Banks.  Emily P., Tara, and I went down to Hatteras to collect methane flux samples. Of course, we made some detours to the lighthouse and spent some time on the beach. We made significant progress towards the capstone this week by processing all of the gas samples gathered so far and starting to combust the core samples.

Besides presentations on Tuesday and Thursday, we finally met Bryan Giemza, director of the Southern Historical Collection at UNC, in person and discussed the value of community archiving in regards to inclusiveness and telling the untold sides of history. He then treated us with an excerpt from a novel he is currently writing!

This view makes waking up at 6am worth it.
Measuring the diameter of ghost crab burrows.

We woke up early on Friday to head over to Jennette’s Pier in Nags Head to begin our lab on ghost crabs. We made transects along the beach and counted the number of ghost crab burrows because they’re a proxy for the determining the crab’s population. Altogether, we observed three sites along Nags Head’s beach with differing conditions. Some of the sites were a part of the town’s beach nourishment project back in 2012 and all the sites had differing levels of human activity such as beach driving or foot traffic. With the data we collected, we’re going to see if there are any trends with the degree of human influence and the abundance of ghost crab burrows.

Teamwork makes the dream work!

On Saturday morning, some of us headed over to Cape Hatteras National Seashore to take part in Make a Difference Day! Along with other volunteers of all ages, we planted over 3,000 sea oats! A few hours later, a few of us assisted the Dare County Arts Council in their silent auction benefit gala. The theme was a masquerade and we quickly took the opportunity to go all out and dress up.

This week was definitely the busiest so far in the program but we can’t complain when we are in the most gorgeous part of North Carolina!

Sea Turtles and Sunrises? Count Me In

Hey y’all it’s Danielle here ready to share a little peak into my internship this semester!

When Corey called me in August to discuss my internship he gave me the choice between two different opportunities. The first one sounded interesting, but once he said the words “National Park Service” and “baby sea turtles” I was sold on option number two. A fun fact about me is that I am obsessed with national parks (just got back from Shenandoah two days ago) so the idea of working for the Park Service sounded perfect.

When I got my first email from my mentor, Paul Doshkov, explaining that I had to report to work at 6am this internship suddenly seemed slightly less perfect. 6am!!! WHAT!!!! Little did I know that I would soon be reporting at 5:30am. Good thing sleep is for the weak.

Sea turtle patrol was the reason I had to report so early for the first few weeks of work. Turtle patrol consists of driving along the beach between the Bodie Island Lighthouse (ramp 1), and the beach just south of Rodanthe (ramp 30), excluding Pea Island. We were looking for turtle tracks leading from the ocean to the dunes, thus indicating that a nest had been laid. Unfortunately, despite the fact that many nests were still incubating when I started my internship, only one additional nest was laid between early September and late October, so I never actually got to see the turtle tracks myself. I did get to see, however, many amazing sunrises while driving along the beach so early.

Despite the lack of new nests, there has been plenty of work to do with the pre-existing nests. On my first day of work I was lucky enough to take part in an excavation. Approximately three to five days after a turtle nest hatches, the Park Service excavates the nest. This means that we dig out the nest and take inventory of hatched eggs, unhatched eggs, and live hatchlings still buried in the sand. On my first day we excavated a nest with 30 live hatchlings! Even cooler than the live hatchlings are the unhatched eggs, hear me out. We need to record what stage of development the eggs are in, therefore we have to rip open all of the unhatched eggs and examine the contents. It is so. cool. Turtle embryo goo shooting into your face is slightly less cool, but seeing a partially formed animal still in its early stages of development is fascinating. Also, just as a disclaimer, if the eggs have not hatched by this point they are not going to hatch, so we aren’t causing them any harm by opening them up.

When hurricanes Jose and Maria were off the coast things started to get a little rough. For one, the tide was too high to drive on the beach so we had to hike over the dunes. You never really notice just how far it is from the road to the beach until you have to walk through thorns and cacti while wearing jeans in 80 degree weather. Good times. While the dune hiking was a slight inconvenience, it wasn’t the end of the world. The bigger issue was the sand accretion caused by the storm surge. One of the nests was buried 124cm below the beach surface! To put this in perspective, a transponder ball is buried next to all of the nests so that we can use a GPS device to locate them. The amount of sand accretion was so extreme that the tracking device couldn’t even register the transponder ball. Our nest excavation that day may have resembled the set of the movie “Holes” just a little bit. Even more upsetting is the fact that the storms caused the level of the water table to rise to such a degree that multiple nests were entirely dead due to the eggs drowning. Luckily, since the storms have passed we have had two successful nest hatchings in the past week. Heck yeah.

I could probably write for a really long time about my internship but I suppose I’ll cut it off here. Overall, I really value the time I have spent working with the Park Service. I get to be in the field every single day. I get to watch the sun rise over the Atlantic. I get to work with amazing baby sea turtles, and the humans aren’t so bad either. I love it.


Capstone Progress

Despite some hurdles early in the semester, last week we finally made significant progress in our capstone project on living shorelines. We started off the week meeting with our community advisory board at the Dare County Arts Council, where we discussed the challenges and successes in our research so far over tacos and Lindsay’s homemade tres leches cake. We were able to report a successful day in the field the previous Friday and that interviews for our qualitative research were starting to roll in. Toward the end of the meeting, we updated everyone on our individual internships and heard news from Chapel Hill and other field sites from the Institute for the Environment Associate Director Tony Reevy.

On Wednesday, almost all of us loaded up in the van and drove to Hatteras Village to collect samples from Durant’s Point and a property in Frisco. While Bianca and Emily P. stayed behind at the Coastal Studies Institute to process samples from previous collections, we took a short boat ride from Oden’s Dock to the living shoreline. We spent the afternoon taking samples of the above and below ground biomass in the shoreline and a reference marsh, luckily without seriously cracking any core tubes. We’ve become an efficient team out in the field, so we finished a little early and ate lunch on the soundside beach on Durant’s Point. Before returning to CSI, we stopped at a property in Frisco to put gas chambers in place for sampling at a later date and collected a couple more soil cores. We reunited with Bianca and Emily P. when we returned to UNC CSI, who had a productive day on Roanoke Island, and began processing the samples we collected. Luckily, our lab work went much smoother that afternoon than the previous day, which had left the soil core extraction team exhausted. 

On Friday, we all brushed up on our writing skills with an all-day science writing workshop. A central part of our capstone project will be the report we write, so it was great to get more direction and advice on how to translate our research into something the general public can easily relate to and understand. We all came prepared to the workshop with articles about the methods and purpose behind our capstone project, which were edited as a group. It was a good exercise in considering the audience you write for. Most of us are used to working with scientific writing, so branching out into the simple, concise language used in journalism was a challenge.

With the semester about halfway over, work on our capstone is going to really start rolling. We’ve got more sites up and down the Outer Banks to sample, interviews to transcribe, and data to analyze in the upcoming weeks. I’m excited to see where our research takes us next!

Capstone and Cake

Amelia here! Another fun-filled week of internships, birthday celebrations, and capstone data collection at the Outer Banks Field Site. Starting out the week right, Tara turned 22 October 2nd, and as per usual, we went all out. Surprising new talents came out as people danced, filmed, and produced a music video (true masterpiece) for Tara’s special day to Taylor Swift’s “22.” And of course there’s the sensation that was her lemon cake:

Following these festivities, people volunteered at Bluegrass Festival throughout the week, with most of the town seeming to converge on Festival Park Wednesday through Saturday to listen bluegrass bands perform, eat food, and have a good time. October 6th marked the first Friday of the month (25 days until Halloween!), so downtown Manteo livened up for First Friday. On the first Friday of every month downtown Manteo has a street festival from 6 to 8pm, featuring live music and artisans and deals in local restaurants and businesses. It’s definitely worth checking out if you haven’t already!

However, the main highlight from Friday was splitting up into groups and collecting core samples and gas flux readings at Jockey’s Ridge and Edenton, NC. As part of the Edenton group, we decided to make a day out of the hour and fifteen minute trip: arriving, collecting all the samples necessary and exploring downtown Edenton. Arriving at the living shoreline in Edenton, we split up into groups to take core samples from the high and low marsh and get gas flux samples in fifteen minute increments.

Despite some setbacks – all part of the scientific process of course – it felt great to get out in the field, tromp around in our extremely fashionable waders, and make additional progress in the natural science portion of our capstone project. After completing the school related part of the trip, we went downtown. There we got dinner at Governor’s Pub, 10/10 would suggest the pizza, and found some great deals in a local consignment shop.

Meandering down to the waterfront we unexpectedly also got a history lesson, learning that one of the earliest organised women’s political actions occurred there in 1774, with the creation of The Edenton Tea Party by Penelope Barker. The plaque describing the event was placed in front of a picturesque colonial house, with a back porch you can sit on and look out on the sound. Delving into our marine ecology knowledge, thanks to our weekly classes, we noticed a cypress tree completely inundated with water, featuring the distinctive cypress knees for support. It was quite the trip.

Well that sums up a broad recap of the week: highlighting the accrued knowledge, experiences, and skills generated from our field site. With the semester flying by much too quickly, here’s to commemorating the support and instruction and interesting anecdotes we get from our teachers, internship mentors and fellow students every week!