A Dopamine Pre-Thanksgiving Week

Howdy there people. Your host for the pre-Thanksgiving week OBX blog post is none other than Kurt… wait for it… Nelson.

As you may know by now, the beginning of each week and every other Wednesday is reserved for internships. Personally, I have been doing a lot of research on European energy policy, specifically Germany, and I’ve learned some interesting stuff (fun fact: approximately half of German renewable energy is owned by everyday citizens!). Everyone else is up to their regular (electric) internship duties too: Mark is installing doggy poop bag holders in Nags Head Woods, Emily Inkrote is still looking at dolphin fins, and Paris is making the OBX a safer place at court. God only knows what Cassandra has been doing though (Just kidding, she’s been working with sea turtle eggs).

On Tuesday, we had a super full day of classes and Capstone work that ended with our second to last CAB meeting. During the CAB meeting, we presented the human dimensions and scientific methods and preliminary results of our Capstone project. The presentation gave us a chance to make some preliminary observations and an excuse to begin compiling our thoughts. The CAB gave us some great advice at the end of the presentation and we can’t thank them enough for continuing to advise us over the semester.

Thursday was another full day of classes and meetings. We got to some fun stuff on Thursday though such as taking a hiking trip to Nags Head Woods where we learned about the ecology of maritime forests. It was nice to get out of the classroom and also educational to actually be able to see what we were learning about. After the trip to Nags Head Woods, Bill Smyth met with us over coffee and snacks in order to discuss public speaking. It was very helpful to get some feedback from him and now we can give a better Capstone presentation in December. Thank you Bill, you have been so kind, hospitable, and enlightening during our stay here on the Outer Banks!

Brett strikes a pose in Nags Head Woods while he listens to Lindsay teach us about maritime forests.

The final day of the week was also (you guessed it) another full day. Lindsay picked us up in the morning so that we could all go to the Manteo Division of Marine Fisheries Field Office. We were given a tour of the office and learned about how the division provides recommendations through scientific studies to policy makers. We also got to see a red drum get its otolith taken out, which is used to identify a fish’s age. Brett was very enthused to see the fish get cut open (not really though).

The red drum with its otolith removed.
A Division of Marine Fisheries biologist discusses significant fish in NC for fisheries management while I listen intently.

And finally, everyone celebrated Friendsgiving together at the Elizabeth II Guesthouse on Friday night by making a Thanksgiving-esque dinner. It was a scrumptious meal and helped us to prepare for our Thanksgiving meal next week.

The Friendsgiving Feast!

Thanks for reading and have a great Thanksgiving!

Dropping Temperatures, Rising Workload

Hello from the Outer Banks!

As the temperature is dropping, our workload is rising here in Manteo. With internship presentations coming up, a Community Advisory Board to impress, capstone research to complete, and birthdays to celebrate – there has been no time to waste! Even though we’ve been super busy, we were all still looking forward to our Ocracoke retreat…but it got canceled! (hopefully rescheduled) The weather is to blame here – and that completes the hat trick of altered retreats due to weather! Regardless of that bittersweet reality, there’s still much to report.

Marcia Cline’s “Sunset” size: 2 ft x 4 ft

Monday was an exciting day at my internship at the Dare County Arts Council. We got three new teachers signed up to teach Power of Art classes in 2018, I opened up some awesome new fused glass supplies, and I helped finish hanging a new exhibit in the gallery! The artist’s name is Marcia Cline, and she paints beautiful scenes from around the Outer Banks.

(from left) India, Amelia, Tara, Danielle, Bianca, Mark, and Saxophone-Brett pose behind the movie station

Monday was also Emily Pierce’s birthday. We welcomed her into the early-twenties club with Brett’s surprise saxophone solo (it was also national saxophone day) to the tune of happy birthday, a  sizable cookie-brownie cake, and a resourceful movie-watching area for her favorite movie ever: Mamma Mia! (we all still have ABBA stuck in our heads).

Steve Trowell discussed the CAMA/Dredge and Fill General Permit 7H.2700 in his presentation on living shoreline permitting






Tuesday brought the unfortunate news of the Ocracoke Retreat’s cancellation, but Steve Trowell from the NC Division of Coastal Management helped us through it with a fresh take on Living Shorelines. He elaborated on the intricacies of, advances in, and future goals for streamlining the permitting process for living shorelines in North Carolina.

Core samples on-deck for processing


Wednesday became a field collection day (instead of an Ocracoke day) and everyone dispersed to various capstone gas sample collection sites. It was a cold and rainy day, but most groups found sampling success…most. Paris, Tara and Mark drove all the way to Hatteras only to find that the sample sites were flooded, so they came home empty handed 🙁  On the other hand, we devised an efficient system to process core samples, and it’s been going well!


Tara stares down the pins, Brett gets too excited about his turn, Kurt stays bitter about his score, and everyone else keeps having fun!



On Thursday we started working on a group code-book to use in analyzing our interviews for the human-dimension aspect of our capstone work. The code-book wasn’t finished that same day, but since everyone had worked really hard, we went out for a well-deserved night of group bowling!

Featuring Tara and Brett: a dramatized re-enactment of what it mentally felt like while finalizing a group code-book



On Friday, a few of us wrestled to the finish line and completed the code-book in a stressful but productive two hours.

It’s always an exciting time here with the OBXFS2017 crew – tune back in next week and see what we’re up to then…thanks for reading!



(Solar) Electric Outer Banks Avenue

Howdy there party people, I’m Kurt and the past few months I’ve been up to some real electric stuff. But really though, I’ve been working with Solar Services Inc., which is a solar installation group out of Virginia Beach. I have had the pleasure to work alongside many of the staff at Solar Services but Arthur Fichter, the sales representative of the organization, has primarily mentored me during my internship.

My internship is split into two intersecting parts: Outer Banks solar development and general research on the solar industry. Outer Banks solar development is the main goal of my internship but the research has assisted me in in promoting solar. In order to promote solar development on the Outer Banks, I have been reaching out to OBX town managers in order to discuss the possibility of installing affordable solar projects in their respective towns. Through this process, I have learned a lot about how towns make decisions but also about the ins and outs of installing solar.

My days every Monday and every other Wed vary greatly due to the two-pronged nature of my internship. Some days my internship is more research based and other days my internship is more about solar development. At the beginning of the semester, my internship was much more solar development based. During September, I got the chance to go to the Nags Head Town Hall where Arthur, Corey Adams (my research mentor), and I talked to the town planner and manager. We came up with two different potential solar projects for the town: one for a new construction and one for an existing building. After the meeting, Arthur and I took some rough measurements of the existing building so that the Solar Services design manager could begin a proposal for the town.

The following week, I drove up to Virginia Beach in order to learn from Will, the Solar Services design specialist, about how to design rooftop solar arrays and how to craft a solar estimate. It was an enlightening experience and one of the best days of my internship despite the two-hour drive. The proposal and estimate for Nags Head was finalized and sent in the week after my visit to Solar Services; although, the town will now need to vote on and finance the proposal, which will take at least a couple more months. Therefore, Arthur and I have begun speaking with other towns such as Manteo in order to promote more solar for the Outer Banks.

When I’m not driving to Virginia Beach or talking to OBX town officials, I am researching the global solar industry in order to supplement my knowledge for the solar development part of my internship. Topics I have touched on are US laws on net metering, European renewable energy, and current events surrounding the US solar industry. One topic I have covered extensively is the Suniva International Trade Commission case. For those who are unfamiliar, Suniva is a bankrupt US based PV cell and module manufacturer that is calling for tariffs on cheap imported PV cells and modules. The US solar industry is booming at the moment so the industry is predominantly opposed to the tariff recommendations of Suniva because these tariffs could ravage the US solar market. The ITC recently submitted recommendations to President Trump, which incorporated some tariff measures but nothing remotely close to the industry killing Suniva proposals.

Overall, I have very much enjoyed my internship and would like to thank Corey and Arthur for helping me along. I have been interested in the solar industry for quite sometime now and it is awesome to see how the industry works from the inside.

The Mystery of the Pappy’s Lane Shipwreck

For the past few months, I’ve been helping solve a mystery, one at the intersection of science and history: how a World War II gunboat ended up in the Pamlico Sound. As the outreach intern for the Pappy’s Lane shipwreck project at UNC CSI’s Maritime Heritage Program, I’ve been keeping the public informed about this detective story as Dr. Nathan Richards, head of the program and my mentor, gets one step closer and closer to uncovering the answer.

Directly in the path of the Bonner Bridge extension project in Rodanthe, the Pappy’s Lane shipwreck has been an enigma for decades, with local oral history suggesting that it was a gravel barge that ran aground in the 1960s, but archaeological details suggest a very different original function.  With the support of the North Carolina Department of Transportation, Dr. Richards worked with nine graduate students in East Carolina University’s Program in Maritime Studies in a month-long field school in September to assess the site’s historical significance prior to the construction of the bridge.

An aerial view of the Pappy’s Lane shipwreck while the research team maps the site. The wreck sits in chest-high water just offshore of Rodanthe.

I started my internship during the field school, where my role was going to be helping John McCord, UNC CSI’s director of education and outreach, document the field school through photography and video. Unfortunately, the first three days of my internship were bad weather days, which kept us from going onto the wreck. During those days, I learned more about the methods that go into translating the data collected from the wreck into a tangible map of the site and discerning diagnostic details.

After all the hurricanes blew through, I finally got out to see the Pappy’s Lane wreck for myself and observe archeology in action while taking photos. Some graduate students continued snorkeling and recording details of the wreck on mylar sheets, which would later be taken back to the lab and pieced together to create a sitemap, while others helped Dr. Richards begin dredging a cross section of the wreck. I wrote about both of these processes for the UNC CSI blog, which I encourage you to check out if you want to learn more!

After the field school wrapped and the graduate students returned to Greenville, the project found a lead in identifying the wreck. Based on the dimensions of the hull and other details found while dredging, the team was able to narrow down the wreck to two classes of World War II gunboats, either Landing Craft Infantry (LCI) or Landing Craft Support (LCS) vessels. This re-discovery differed from what Dr. Richards originally thought the wreck was, a 19th or early 20th century boat. I wrote a press release about this development, which was sent out to multiple local news sources and published. The story was also picked up by regional newspapers like the News & Observer as well. It was exciting to see some of my writing get such a wide audience!

I also researched the two vessel classes for another blog post, each of which turned out to have a fascinating history during and after World War II.  These watercraft, each built to the same blueprints but with some modifications, were introduced late into the Pacific Theater of World War II and designed for amphibious warfare, specifically to land and support troops on enemy beaches. With a crew of 71 men, LCIs and LCSs supported landings in the Philippines, Borneo, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa. While most were either scrapped or stayed in the Pacific for minesweeping and other various duties once the war ended, many continued service in foreign fleets, such as France, Vietnam, and Japan. They served less than two years for the United States during World War II, but some spent over two decades in the South Vietnamese Navy, serving as its first real warships.

I recently went back to the site with Dr. Richards and John to capture images to create a 3D model of the wreck through photogrammetry. Photogrammetry uses photographs to make a point cloud in virtual space based on the camera’s calibration and pose, which software then connects to form a geometrical mesh and textures, giving you an accurate, detailed model of an object or area. The photographs are captured with a drone, which can be programmed to shoot the necessary angles automatically. Unfortunately, it was too windy to create a worthwhile 3D model, but I was still given a chance to fly the drone and take pictures, which was both terrifying and exciting.

I’ve really enjoyed the practical experience in science writing I’ve gotten through my internship. After graduation, I plan to go into science communication, so it’s great to work on a real project while simultaneously fostering my love for writing. The story of the Pappy’s Lane wreck has been intriguing to say the least, and I look forward to helping the research team get one step closer to solving its mystery and uncovering its history.


Guilty of Having a Good Time

My internship is at the Dare County District Attorney’s office. My mentor is Jennifer Karpowicz-Bland, one of two Assistant District Attorneys (ADAs) in this county. I’ve been working in the office with her, ADA Jeff Cruden, and legal assistants Lisa Weatherly and Sammy Jo Hinnant. Jennifer and Jeff try cases in district and superior court. District court is every Tuesday, Thursday and Friday and Superior court is one week a month. To prepare for these cases the ADAs have to gather evidence to convict the defendant. Most of this evidence comes from the scene of the crime, witness testimonies, materials gathered during warranted searches, and interviews with persons of interest. Some evidence, however, can be gathered from previous cases. This evidence can include past crimes the defendant has committed that are very similar to their current offense or crimes committed by others that are similar to the case at hand. My job as their intern is to gather this type of evidence to fortify their argument for conviction. 

I have done research on several cases, one being the death of a woman who overdosed on fentanyl-laced heroin. To fortify the ADA’s argument to convict her drug dealer of second-degree murder, I researched similar cases that had similar outcomes. The same forms of evidence that these cases needed and provided in order to show, without a reasonable doubt, that the defendant committed the crime, are the same forms of evidence that the ADAs in this office must also show. When a jury sees that the facts of the current case are analogous to the facts of a previous cases, the judge convicts the defendant in an analogous way. 

In addition to legal research, I have been able to attend court processions for district and superior court. District court handles a lot of DWI, DWLR (driving while licensed revoked), drug possession and drug trafficking cases. When the defendant or defense attorney appeals their conviction by a district court judge the case goes to superior court and the defendant has a trial by jury. I have seen the process of selecting an impartial jury, hearing witnesses testify and answer questions from the State and defense attorneys, and hearing the final verdict and sentencing from the judge.

Over the course of this internship I have learned a lot about how to try criminal cases. I’ve picked up legal terminology and I’ve become more proficient at using LexisNexis, a database of court cases. My initial interest in law and my decision to pursue a law degree have been validated by how much I’ve enjoyed this immersion into the work of an attorney.

Being in the Room Where It Happens

Not everybody likes government but I sure do! For that reason, I was beyond ecstatic to be paired up with the Town of Nags Head’s Planning Department for my internship this semester. Nags Head is a popular tourist destination that has a year-round population of 3,000 but supports 40,000 visitors during the summer time. 

Holly White, the principal planner for the Town, was my mentor and has been compared to Leslie Knope from Parks and Recreation by previous students and I agree. She engaged me in the entire legislative process at a local level and all with a welcoming smile.

Definitely my favorite part of my internship was sitting in on meetings ranging from the monthly Board of Commissioners meeting to internal staff meetings. The meetings typically centered around stormwater management, estuarine shoreline protection strategies, and many more. The presentation that stuck with me was Dr. Rick Luettich, director of the UNC Institute of Marine Sciences, presenting to the Board of Commissioners on the underlying models used to create the recently revised FEMA flood maps. Flood insurance is a contentious issue in the area so the discussion after the presentation was interesting!

When I was not sitting on meetings, I assisted in data collection and analysis for the Planning Department’s latest focus: the Unified Development Ordinance. The Town recently adopted their Comprehensive Plan which clarified the Town’s vision and will serve as a guide for future development in the town. The next step in the planning process is to revise the Town’s regulations and codes to reflect the Comprehensive Plan, also known as the Unified Development Ordinance. To assist in this lengthy endeavor, I inventoried the Town’s commercial property and described characteristics such as lot coverage, building heights, amount of parking, etc. This inventory was exported to ArcGIS and will allow Holly and the staff to look at differences between various parts of the town and guide future regulations.

The commercial inventory was my main project but I also worked on two smaller projects. I created a manual for oceanfront property owners looking to relocate sand from their property back onto the beach. I also researched how municipalities are implementing living shoreline projects through incentives. Most of the living shoreline projects we’ve studied this semester were built with assistance from nonprofits but Holly and I were interested how municipalities throughout the nation were head starting these projects.

In the beginning of November, I was privileged to attend the annual Albemarle-Pamlico Ecosystem Symposium hosted at NC State University. The symposium is organized by the Albemarle-Pamlico National Estuary Partnership, a coalition of local governments, nonprofits, and scientists within the watersheds that drain in the Albemarle and Pamlico sounds. Holly is the Co-Chair of the Policy Board and moderated a panel on the importance of partnerships in addressing local environmental issues. I attended fascinating sessions and met a lot of professionals in the industry that I want to break into. I will definitely be attending another APNEP symposium in the future!

Overall, my time with the Town of Nags Head has been enlightening in a professional sense. It has reaffirmed my passion to go into public service and work in government in some capacity. A special thanks to Holly, Andy, Kelly, and Todd who lent advice, their knowledge, and time.

Stuff I Do in Nags Head Woods

Hey there! I’m Mark, comin’ atcha with and update about my internship this semester.

Since august I have been interning at the Nags Head Woods Ecological Preserve under the supervision of Aaron McCall and Jennifer Gilbreath. I can’t thank them enough for all of their support and guidance over the last few months and for making my time there enjoyable and for never letting me have a dull moment.

My time at the conservancy varies based on what needs to be done that day. Sometimes it involves dealing with invasive plant species, spending most of the day pulling and spraying. Other days I’m doing trail maintenance or planting game cameras throughout the preserve. For the most part though every day starts the same. I walk up the deck, say hi to Fergie the dog who’s normally just hanging around either outside or just inside the door, then take my place behind the desk and be there for visitors as they come in. Sometimes, if it’s early in the month, I’ll enter visitor log data for a few minutes while Aaron and Jennifer take care of their morning to do’s. Then for the most part I’ll head outside to work on the various things that need to be done.

Normally this means grooming trails or general maintenance tasks. So far this semester I have re-mulched the butterfly garden on the ADA trail, done some invasive plant management, hauled miscellaneous garbage to the dump because apparently some people consider Nags Head Woods their own personal dump, set game cameras, and most recently cleared the Town trail of pine cones for the upcoming Nags Head marathon. Currently I’m in the process of retrieving our dock that has floated away ever since someone so kindly cut the wire that holds it in place.

What I like the most about this internship is the time I get to spend outside. Nags Head Woods is a beautiful ecological preserve and I consider myself lucky to get to spend as much time as I do there.

Vegetation Monitoring

Hello all! I’m here to provide a brief snapshot into the work I’ve been doing with the N.C. Coastal Reserve, with the fantastic Kate Jones and Rachel Veal.

The Coastal Reserve office I intern at manages the Currituck Banks Reserve, the Kitty Hawk Woods Reserve, and the Buxton Woods Reserve. Each of these protected areas have their own allure, with Kitty Hawk Woods and Buxton Woods featuring some great hiking trails. Currituck Banks Reserve has a boardwalk trail that goes out into the Currituck Sound, that has an unadulterated vegetated shoreline. Migrating birds frequent all three of these areas, so it makes sense why birders flock here to get a sight of specific birds.

Now that you have a general outline of the managed areas, now for what I do…In addition to trail maintenance days and re-planting the rain garden at the Currituck Banks Reserve, our main focus has centered on replicating vegetation sampling transects done in the late 1980s; with the goal of pinpointing changes in plant species composition and habitats, and ascertaining possible causes for these transitions. Using VegBank, we isolated previously conducted plots within the reserves geographical area. This database provides data taken at the site, including the plant species present and the coordinates of the plot. Using their listed coordinates, we went out to find the plots we chose to replicate. As a side note, this task proved harder than expected because, back in the day, they had to determine the coordinates by hand. This increases the margin of error, so following the GPS to the stated coordinates did not always mean reaching the right place. In addition, the people designing the Carolina Vegetation Survey protocol suggested leaving a small piece of rebar, sticking out of the ground, as an indicator of a plots location. As one would imagine, thirty years’ worth of organic plant debris completely conceals a small piece of metal, initially placed there inconspicuously, to avoid tampering by others.

However, we did find the rebar at one of the plots – a truly exciting moment – and for the others, we went to the coordinates and then chose a 10x10m area based on a set of criteria. After measuring the area of the plot, and marking its corners, we designated five quadrats by randomly throwing a 1x1m square to intensively survey. This includes listing the 
different plant species there, how many of each kind there are, what percentage of the quadrat they comprise, and assigning them into one of five vertical strata classes based on their height. Following this, we conducted a residual survey of the rest of the plot – the area not included in the quadrats – using the same procedure, but only listing plants that were not in the quadrats.

A lot can change in thirty years, and a couple of the sites had fewer or none of the species listed originally. This could simply represent plant succession, but a lot of larger trees were absent. However, there was never a shortage of Loblolly Pines. Hopefully by replicating these surveys, now on a yearly basis, it will enable using indicator species to monitor saltwater intrusion – a large threat to coastal ecosystems. With the rise in sea level, the continual increase in development and freshwater use, and storm over wash, plant community compositions can drastically change. Researching the salinity tolerance of maritime forest and wetland species makes up another part of my job. Monitoring the plants present tells a lot about the abiotic conditions of the ecosystem.

Having the opportunity to explore and learn about marshes, estuarine systems, and maritime forests has been amazing. I have always enjoyed horticulture, and knowing the medicinal uses of plants, and my coastal plant identification skills have vastly improved since starting my internship. Writing down the same Latin names on data sheets numerous times definitely helps; and they also always take the time to point them out. I am very grateful for the knowledge gained, the time spent tromping around in the woods, and the great conversation.


Shello from Wanchese

The northeast office of the North Carolina Coastal Federation is where I have been interning this semester.  The organization as a whole promotes a healthy coastal environment that supports thriving coastal communities.  The northeast office in particular focuses on issues specifically in this region and educating local students.  Beyond the region, there are staff that also look more broadly at oysters in North Carolina, including my mentor, Erin Fleckenstein, who is also the manager of the Northeast Regional Office.  As an intern under her direction, my focus was on oyster mariculture in the state.

I was tasked with researching the environmental effects and dependencies of oyster growing and making a fact sheet that could communicate the key information about oysters.  I also worked on building a database of oyster growers and oyster-focused restaurants that the Coastal Federation is in relationship with so that they can better organize with them in the future.  I used this database to start profiling oyster growers and farmers for “On the Half Shell“, the Coastal Federations’ quarterly publication on oysters in the state.  I also assisted with another ongoing oyster project by researching the strategies for monitoring water quality for ensuring the safety of grown oysters in different states.  Below is a photo of me sitting in my work area of the Northeast office, where I worked on these projects.

In addition to the previously mentioned projects, I engaged in some office wide activities.  Because my internship days were on Mondays, I was able to attend the weekly staff meetings and get a better sense for what all of the office was doing and give some input on that coordination.  I also sat in on one of the meetings to refine and establish goals for the next year.  In addition to those events in the office, I joined the Northeast office in traveling to Raleigh to attend the 2017 Albemarle-Pamlico Ecosystem Symposium.  There I had the opportunity to hear about the latest research and efforts related to monitoring and managing environmental issues in this unique region.

The Art of Interning

Hi! I’m Bianca, and this semester in the Outer Banks has taught me more than I ever expected. School is great, but my favorite part so far has been my internship.

I’m interning with the Dare County Arts Council (DCAC) under the executive director, Chris Swain. My primary project is to help relaunch the DCAC program, the Power of Art.

The Power of Art is a partnership between the arts council and five other organizations that serve adults and children with intellectual and developmental disorders, adults with memory loss, victims of domestic abuse, and veterans.

“The Power of Art is a program designed to serve special groups in need or with limited access to arts programming and education. Made possible by a grant from the Outer Banks Community Foundation, the Power of Art’s objective is to give those with disabilities and difficulties with self-expression the opportunity to create and make critical decisions through unique art programs.”       –DCAC Website

What I’m doing for the program is three main things: creating a system to document all the ongoings of the program, getting teachers signed up (including myself), and getting the word out about this program and the call for art teachers. I’m also setting up an event to get teachers together so they can all discuss their experiences, learn from each other, and get ideas for potential projects in the future.

The classes I’ll be teaching are in fused glass. I’ve worked in the medium for years, and I’m excited to share it with these members of the community. I’ll also be teaching, separate from the Power of Art, a fused glass workshop at the DCAC before I leave in December.

Another exciting thing from this internship was the opportunity to volunteer at the art council’s annual masquerade gala event; this year it was called Black Opal. A group of friends and fellow students donated their time with me, and in return we got to dress up and enjoy a black-tie (or fully costumed) night of live music, delicious catering, a hugely successful silent auction, and absolutely stunning decor.


One angle of the center table at the Black Opal Masquerade Gala

With all that said, my last and most potent remark has to be about the people I’ve met throughout this internship. They’re amazingly talented and committed people whose generosity and love of community has been apparent through every shared moment. I’m so humbled and impressed by this organization, how it functions, how it is so highly regarded by the town, and how professional it is all the while feeling like home.

I’d like to thank this field site and the DCAC for presenting me with these experiences, and I’m excited to stay in touch with this network of people long after I leave.