A Wild Semester at the Center for Wildlife Education!

Hey, everyone! It’s Cassandra, here to tell you all about

An injured sanderling that was brought in to the Center

the best internship anyone’s every had here at the OBXFS, also known as an internship at the Outer Banks Center for Wildlife Education. By best, I mean that everyone I’ve worked with has been amazing, I’ve learned so much, and I’ve really never felt like what I’m doing is work. As well, just to point out how much I’ve enjoyed it, it’s generally an hour and fifteen minute drive from Manteo to the Center, and I can’t even complain about that!

Let me take a moment to talk about my internship mentor, Karen Clark. My first day interning, she invited me to sit in on a NEST sea turtle nest dig the next evening. Just like that. She always has great stories and great ideas, and is the most understanding, knowledgeable, and competent person I’ve ever met. She’s the Coordinator for the entire Center program, and also works with NEST and MMSN, the Marine Mammal Stranding Network, on top of who knows what else. Long story short, I’ve been incredibly lucky to have worked with her and to have been able to learn from her amazing experiences.

One of the storage shed’s resident tree frogs
Woody the woodchuck takes a beating during archery class

I’ve done a ton during my time here. At the start of my internship, we were still in summer programs, so I helped teach beginning archery for children and adults, an educational story time and crafts for young children and an interactive cart teaching people about seashells and other beach finds. I was also lucky enough to be able to participate in a lot of NEST activities, like checking turtle nests with volunteers and sitting in on nest digs. As the tourism season started winding down, some of our classes were rotated out, and I began helping run a kayaking trip, an educational maritime forest walk, and a “Sampling the Sound” class, where kids and their parents can use nets to catch fish, water insects, and other organisms living in the water here and learn more about them. I’ve also been able to help set up and collect wildlife cameras in the nearby maritime forest preserve, and then go through the photos to identify what sorts of critters have been living their lives in the area! Among the best photos I’ve seen are pictures of feral horses, coyotes, raccoons, and several resident white-tailed deer.

An injured box turtle I rushed to the vet
Baby sea turtles!
A very unhappy black rat

On top of helping out with classes and activities, I also was put in charge of designing a new educational board as my own personal project. I chose to focus on the habitat value of both ocean and sound shorelines, with an interactive and multi-media approach, using flip-up cards, fabrics, and 3-D animal cutouts to create the final product. Hopefully people will see it as a fun and interesting approach to learning more about the animals that call the marshes, dunes, and waters of the Outer Banks home!

A beautiful cottonmouth spotted on one of our kayaking trips!

Although I’ve really enjoyed and learned from all of the educational activities I’ve helped run and participate in, my favorite part of my internship here has been the wildlife. Anyone in my field site group will tell you I adore snakes, and there have been so many here! From cottonmouths on the lawn to black rats sunning themselves on the steps, I’ve been able to get a ton of great photos and just appreciate having them here. There are also resident tree frogs in the shed, and a gray fox that I’ve been lucky enough to glimpse on occasion. The grounds here are home to a great many raccoons, and you can see their tracks running across the mud by the boat ramp every morning. Being able to see and be a part of nature here while helping teach other people, especially children, more about the world we live in has been an eye-opening experience, and has definitely made me consider environmental education as a career path more strongly than I might have before.

~Spooky Week~

Greetings from Paris! This past week began with internships as usual. I’ve been interning at the Dare County District Attorney’s office doing legal research for one of the Assistant District Attorneys there. Through my internship, I’ve improved upon my ability to gather case evidence and I’ve been able to sit in on court proceedings and learn the ways in which our justice system handles trials.  I knew I was interested in law but it became even more interesting when I realized that sitting in court is like being in an episode of Judge Judy! I have been thoroughly enjoying my internship.

Tuesday was Halloween and nearly all of us very festively executed costumes. Among us that day was Scooby and the gang, Rosie the Riveter, Spooky Danielle and He-Man.


During Capstone class we continued with the process of conducting interviews, transcribing them and coding them. We have been writing our research paper in sections (introduction, methods, etc) and on Tuesday we reviewed feedback from our professors on one of those sections. We further divvied up editorial roles for polishing the final version of the paper. Lastly, we developed a weekly schedule for the 13 of us to analyze the many samples of aboveground biomass, below-ground biomass, and methane gas that we’ve collected from the field.

Wednesday was another internship day. Thursday was Kurt’s 22nd birthday, he was given two tiers of homemade carrot cake cupcakes from his classmates and homemade chocolate chip, toffee and cherry cookies from Lindsay, among other gifts.

Aaron McCall talking to us about the culverts installed in the canals.

Friday we got out of the classroom for our lesson on ecology. We visited the Wanchese Seafood Industrial Park and learned about the type of gear fishermen use to fish, crab and shrimp in the sound and ocean and the devices they are required to have on their nets to decrease by-catch. We then visited the Alligator River Wildlife Refuge to learn about how the Nature Conservancy has adaptively managed rainwater accumulation, saltwater intrusion and naturally-occurring fires on those lands over the years.

This weekend, Danielle ran the New York City Marathon. We all gave her lots of encouragement and music suggestions for entertainment during her 26.1 mile journey. India even dressed up as her for Halloween. Be sure to congratulate Danielle when you see her around!

Next week we’ll be traveling to Ocracoke for more experiential learning so stay tuned!

PARCS and Checks: The Manteo Way

Hi, I’m Tara (actual, real-life April Ludgate for all you Parks and Rec fans), and this semester I interned with the Town of Manteo, which could practically double for Pawnee, Indiana, give or take a Sound. All jokes aside, the Town does really great work, and I’ve had a great time there this semester. Here’s a quick look into my Mondays:

I took this picture one afternoon, and it was included in the Facebook post I wrote advertising the Land Use Plan Survey, which was published on the Town’s Facebook page.

The short bike ride between the guest house and Town Hall is one of my favorite parts of the day. As I navigate the quaint houses snuggled together on the skirts of downtown, I can hear the laughter as I bike behind the school, and feel the sun on my face. The day is young, and promises to be filled with the friendly faces I have grown accustomed to in my two months interning with Melissa Dickerson of the planning department, nestled into a back room of  Town Hall.  Tom the orange tabby is the first to greet me after I emerge from the bathroom, my first stop after locking up my bike (I’m still not convinced this is necessary, but I always do it anyways). After a quick scratch behind the ears, it’s go time. As I make my way back towards my computer, a stop along the way is mandatory—Kasey, the Town accountant, always has a bowl full of dum-dum suckers perched on her desk, and every day, I check to see if she has my favorite kind. Which, of course, she never does. “Try the peach tea! It’s good!” Starting the day with a little sweetness can’t hurt, so I take a peach tea sucker and a lemonade too, wish both Kasey and Kim a good morning, and continue on my way. My mentor, Melissa Dickerson, Town Planner, and real-life Leslie Knope, is already seated at her computer, juggling the many responsibilities her appointed position brings her. Between dealing with the public, chasing after vice principals, answering to the commissioners, humoring the mayor, and taking care of her one-year-old son, her plate is always full.

Included in the Land Use Plan Survey was a question investigating public opinion regarding potential uses for several vacant properties around Town. This graph represents the variety of answers we received, and the bars are colored according to category.

Unless anything unusually exciting or pertinent is happening that day (PARC meetings, department-head meetings, project biddings, construction project check-ins, drive-arounds…never a dull moment!) that requires a field trip, a majority of my time has been spent working on the Town’s Land Use Plan Survey, which will collect and analyze public input in preparation for an updated Land Use Plan, something that will hopefully take the Town of Manteo into the future. My current mission is data analysis—it’s been my job to analyze data collected from Survey Monkey and arrange it in an easily-digestible manner to be presented to the Commissioners later this month. Not only have I been recording public suggestion, and how popular those prepositions are, I have also been coding and categorizing the data to be presented in a variety of charts, over which I have complete jurisdiction. During a semester that has been quite stressful dealing with the uncertainties of the Capstone, it’s been nice being assigned a project composed of easily accomplished, albeit intensely time-consuming tasks. In a few short weeks, my time in Town Hall will be over, and I can honestly say I’ll miss all the friendly faces I have come to admire during my short tenure with the Town of Manteo. To Melissa, Kermit, Steve, Kasey, Kim, Becky, and James, I thank you for all your time and attention–Pawnee has nothing on Manteo.

Finding my Porpoise

Hey there! I’m Emily I, here with an update about my internship this semester.

Seeing dolphins at the beach has long been one of my favorite parts of visiting the Outer Banks. I have a distinct memory of my first time swimming in the ocean at Pea Island and watching in awe as a pod of dolphins splashed through the water near shore. My excitement was understandably off the charts when Corey called me at the end of the summer to tell me that I’d be interning with the Outer Banks Center For Dolphin Research (OBXCDR).

The hype only grew when on the first day of internships, some of my classmates were dressing up in their office-wear while I donned a Carolina T-shirt and headed for the docks. My first meeting with my mentor, Jess Taylor, the founder of the OBX Center for Dolphin Research, was on our opportunistic sighting vessel, a 19 foot pontoon boat belonging to the Nags Head Dolphin Watch. I would soon log hours on this boat, assisting Jess and Captain John of the Nags Head Dolphin Watch in educating tourists of all ages on the Outer Banks dolphins! We set sail, weather permitting, in search of the countless dolphins inhabiting Roanoke Sound. When we spotted a group, we would approach them carefully as to not disturb their behavior and watch them splash and play and feed in the shallow water. Along with educating visitors on dolphin behavior and conservation, I assisted Jess with the research component of the trips. Upon sighting dolphins, we use a technique called photo-identification to record which dolphins were spotted. Photos are taken of each dolphins dorsal fin, which usually contains small cuts and markings that are used to identify the dolphin. I began to recognize some dolphins that showed up consistently, like Double Scoop, named for the two “scoops” visible on her dorsal fin. Double Scoop also had a calf a few summers ago that has shown up consistently this season, adorably named Little Scoop.

I also assisted in filling out data sheets for each dolphin sighting, which contained environmental variables like air and water temperature and salinity. This helps the OBXCDR keep track of dolphin behavior and how it related to certain environmental characteristics. In addition to dolphin watch trips, Jess has invited me on dedicated survey days, where we head out in a small boat with just a few researches, scanning the sound for dolphins in a more methodical way. As is the nature of the OBX, many of these surveys have been cancelled due to wind and storms, but the surveys that have proceeded have been very successful. I have yet to board a boat out here and NOT see at least a few dolphins!

While not out on the boat soaking up the sun (and sometimes storms) and watching dolphins, another component of my internship is focused on research. Jess has noticed, in her experience with dolphins in Roanoke Sound, that certain dolphins appear with barnacles attached to their dorsal fins. These barnacles, called xenobalanus globicipitus, are picked up by dolphins while they are in the ocean and carried into the sound. Not much is known about these barnacles and when or why they attach to dolphins, though they do not seem to cause any discomfort or harm to their carriers. I am examining past photos from dolphin surveys for the presence of this barnacle, hoping that we will be able to gain some knowledge about dolphin behavior and use of the sound from the seasonality of barnacle presence. Dolphins tend to show up in the sound throughout the summer and head to the ocean in the fall. As dolphin watch season comes to a close, I am focusing more on my research project and paper and learning all there is to know about the bottlenose dolphins of the Outer Banks!

As a shameless plug and sidenote; This weekend I will be manning a dolphin outreach booth at the 8th annual Outer Banks Shrimp Cookoff, where local chefs will compete to create the best shrimp dish. The best part (aside from my duty of taste-testing all of the shrimp) is that all proceeds from this super fun event will benefit the Center for Dolphin Research! Check out the event website for more info!





Creating a Shoreline Protection Feature- Fall 2017 Internship Post

Hi! I’m Emily Pierce and I’ve been interning at the Coastal Studies Institute with Dr. Lindsay Dubbs this semester. I had a lot of freedom when deciding the focus of my internship and eventually deciding to take on a project with the Pine Island Audubon Sanctuary here on the Outer Banks with the help of the director there Robert Fearn.

My goal was to use natural vegetation from the Pine Island shoreline and create some sort of experimental shoreline protection feature to help prevent erosion at a lower cost than most popular shoreline protection strategies. Because the Pine Island Shoreline is on the

A view of the Pine Island Shoreline

Albermarle Sound with shallow waters and changing wind patterns, the main cause of erosion is the frequently changing water level; in order to target this problem, the first step was to plan and research protection measures that can move with the changing water level.

After a lot of literature review and consultation with Lindsay, I decided to model my project after a floating breakwater structure, but mine would be made out of bundles of natural vegetation like cordgrass. Because there was such little precedent on using bundled vegetation for erosion protection, I also wanted to conduct floatation and decomposition experiments to get an idea of how feasible and long lasting a protection measure like this would be.

A test bundle off the dock at the Coastal Studies Institue

With some help from Lindsay, Lab technicians Claire and Ted, and my peers I was able tocollect cordgrass from Pine Island on several occasions to be used for creating bundles and testing floatation and decomposition over time. The Vegetation was bundled into rolls about 30 centimeters in diameter and 3 meters long using natural twine. Test bundles

Machetes were used to cut large cordgrass stems from Pine Island
Photo by Brett Wells



were placed into the water off the dock at the Coastal Studies to start the floatation study. It became clear that the bundles wouldn’t be able to float for extended periods once being waterlogged, so we decided to add two pool noodles as core for each bundle.

Bundles were placed at two locations on Pine Island, one receiving north eastern winds and the other receiving south western winds, on October 23rd. Bundles were placed using steel stakes and secured with rope so they were able to float. In order to measure the success of the protection measure PVC pipe was also placed in front of and behind the bundles to be used a reference point for measuring sediment accretion. The distance between the bundles and the shoreline was also measured to help provide a reference for determining success of the bundles in preventing erosion.

Samples for the decomposition study placed in a shaker bath simulating water movement of the natural sound system

When the bundles were placed at Pine Island, water was also collected from the sound to be used in the decomposition study. In order to determine how long the grass can function and what it produces as it decomposes, subsamples of cordgrass in sound water, just sound water, and distilled water were placed in separate glass containers and subjected to environmental conditions using an incubator. Small amounts from each sample are being filtered periodically to get data on total organic carbon and chlorophyll A.

While its likely that I won’t be able to make far reaching conclusion on the success of using vegetation bundles as a shoreline protection measure before the semester ends, my project does represent a unique approach that could provide some interesting information for the future of shoreline protection.

I’d like to extend a big thanks to Lindsay for not only hoping to guide me through this project, but also for introducing me to joys of field research and the beauty of an imperfect process from start to finish. While it of course comes with frustration, working on something that has little prior research or application is absolutely an exciting experience that I’m ever grateful for.