Full Moon Frenzy

This past week following Fall Break already feels like so long ago, even though it felt like everything happened in a blur. I suspect a similar sentiment will be amplified at the end of the semester; especially since we have entered the Final Countdown of our Capstone.

We hit the ground running with our second CAB meeting on Monday, right after internships. Dinner and dessert were provided, and a tour of the Coastal Federation and its nearby living shoreline, but the main course was definitely our group presentations. We split into three categories – Human Dimensions, Historical Data, and Field Data Collection – and presented on our group’s process, progress, and findings to a small group of CAB members, fielded questions and feedback, then rotated. The constructive feedback gave us valuable perspective on where we were at and, realistically, where we can improve and focus on for the remainder of the semester.

The results of our CAB meeting flowed into Tuesday, when we have our weekly afternoon Capstone sessions. The feedback from the night before had given everyone a reality check and inspired us to look at the bigger picture and definitively re-outline a game plan for the rest of the semester. After much discussion and reflection, some critical decisions had to be made on a broader scale, but this certainly helped to further navigate the best possible direction of the rest of our Capstone and overall semester. With only seven weeks left of the semester, outlined on the board, we kicked our project into higher gear.

The momentum of our Capstone game plan continued into Wednesday, which was dedicated to Capstone work. As a general workday with a plethora of tasks and limited hours, everyone coordinated and split up to tackle various necessary parts of the Capstone, including: Coding with NVivo; Transcribing interviews; Visiting the Health and Water Departments to request relevant historical/current data; and another round of water sampling and lab processing. It was quite productive, as Capstone days tend to go, but our activities did not end at 4:30pm this time.

As it so happens, Wednesday night was also the night of a Full Moon. Of course, this was the perfect opportunity to engage in a Night Sky Mapping Lab, and so that is exactly what we did as we found ourselves back at CSI at 7:00pm. After a brief introduction of the lab and equipment, we took a detour to Dunkin’ Donuts. Armed with adequate caffeine and sugary pastries, we continued into the night to various locations, testing various conditions at each site while stargazing a beautiful sky.


But the week was far from over. Paper presentations and a quiz dominated class time throughout Thursday. We left CSI that day with a game plan ready for sampling and processing throughout the predicted rainfall for the weekend, because science never sleeps.

On Friday, we spent the whole day with Dave Sybert, who also works at CSI as an education specialist. After a brief presentation on ecological restoration, we embarked on our second boat lab of the semester to experience more hands-on exploration of the coastal environment. The impending rain did not stop us from wading into the water and collecting various fish and crabs in the nets. 

In fact, I would even say we were well-prepared, and took advantage of the rain to take more water samples later that day!



A final post-rain sampling for the weekend took place early Saturday morning, after which another lab processing group stored and tested all the samples for nutrients and caffeine content. The latter process was recently added to our protocol – from four hours of processing the night before and almost eight hours on Saturday, we soon learned that caffeine analysis could be quite time-intensive. Nonetheless, we are excited to analyze our results in light of the overall Capstone project.

That night, several of us decided to embrace the Halloween spirit in a variety of costumes that showcase our unique, dynamic personalities.

As the beginnings of a new week approached, a group of us drove on Sunday to watch the sunset and bask in its warm glow. Golden Hour continued, as did the feeling of serendipity as we reflected on the beauty and energy of this place and the fact that we are all experiencing this semester together. 

A little more sand falling through the glass…

Greetings from the OBX!

The temperatures are dropping, the days are getting shorter, the crowds have left the beach, and we blinked and found ourselves halfway through the semester. If you’re wondering where the time has gone, so are we.

With Fall Break closing out this week, it seems appropriate to take a step back and look at what we’ve accomplished so far here at the Field Site.

But first, some quick hits:

  • As our interviews for our capstone research project have picked up, we learned from Linda how to use NVivo, a qualitative data analysis software that helps us comb through and analyze our interviews.
  • Only one day of class and two days of internships last week- happy Fall Break!
  • Many of us were able to vote early while traveling for Fall Break. Whether you partake in early voting or go on election day (Nov. 6), don’t forget to get out to the polls. Your voice matters!
  • Fall break arrived just in time for some much needed respite before the crunch time of the semester begins. Within the coming weeks, we are cracking down on our Capstone research project through conducting more interviews, obtaining more field data, and combing through existing historical data.
  • To jump right back into things, our second CAB (Community Advisory Board) meeting of the semester is taking place tonight at the Coastal Federation office in Wanchese. We will be updating our CAB members on our research thus far through mini presentations, and seek their ever-welcome advice and critiques.

When I think back over the time we’ve had together thus far, I think it can best be broken into 3 parts:

Getting Hooked (On this place and on each other)

Myself (Emma Szczesiul) and classmate Emma Karlok enjoy a relaxing afternoon fishing on Jennette’s Pier in Nags Head with Kat Bell and Jenn Allen in the background. 



During the first few days on the OBX, we fished on Jennette’s Pier with our classmates and professors. We caught it, cleaned it, cooked it, and ate it! During these first few days and weeks, we learned more about our classmates and had great anticipation for what was to come. We found ourselves often saying, “We live here?! We go to school here?!” in disbelief.





Flash forward a month or so to our Corolla retreat where we are looking snazzy and settled in as a group.

Feeling Flustered (Together!)

This category is quite large… as we learned during our team building exercises during orientation, there are several stages to group development. We sometimes joke during intense research work sessions that we are “storming,” as it is one of the phases. Perhaps the best photo to represent this is this photo of me almost breaking a very expensive piece of lab equipment on our first day in the lab. Fun fact: this photo has made it into our hydrology research protocol as what NOT to do!

My face when I realized I almost broke the Quanti-Tray sealer, which we affectionally call the Panini Press. Also Conor, Lynn, and Marium looking at me in dismay (and laughter).

Feeling Content (Just not always with the weather…)

Hurricane Florence threw off our schedule and we’ve been working our way back ever since, but now that we are at the halfway point in the semester, it really does feel great to look back at what we’ve done. We’ve finalized our research plan, started conducting interviews and collecting field data, completed a good amount of classwork (some of which I need to complete after this blog post…) and have grown both individually and as a group.

The weather has also proved difficult with our sampling, as we are hoping to experience a storm event to research how it affects our water sampling locations (stormwater + septic systems = gross). So far there hasn’t been a rainstorm deemed gnarly enough, but we’re feeling hopeful.

I’d like to finish off this post with one of my favorite pictures which was taken the night before we evacuated for hurricane Florence. We went to our favorite sunset spot, at the North End of Roanoke Island, and enjoyed some time together before we left for an unknown amount of time.

Alex and Kat taking in the views on our last night in Manteo pre-Florence.

This also seems like an appropriate time to give a shoutout to our professors and the staff at CSI for making this experience so meaningful for us. You guys work so hard and do so much for us, and it has not gone without notice! Looking forward to finishing out the semester strong.

Cheers to the next half being as good as the first!

Emma Szczesiul

OBXFS ’18, UNC ’19

Climate Change, who is s/he?

Wednesdays here are always a treat, especially when they come bearing donut holes from Orange Blossom brought to you by Baxter Miller and Ryan Stancil. Let’s back up, who are they? Besides fashion and career goals— Baxter and Ryan were our guest lecturers for the day. They are ‘Creative Storytellers’, a term they coined after finding a way to combine their talents of journalism and business with their passion of photography and history to create a niche enterprise that tells stories of the North Carolina coast from the perspectives of locals.

Baxter and Ryan were at CSI for the opening of their new exhibit “Rising”. Rising is a collection of oral histories describing the changes that local residents of the coast have seen and endured as time passes here on the Outer Banks.

Courtesy of Baxter Miller’s Instagram. This photo is one that both Baxter and Ryan find encompasses all that Rising is because as the water rise and sand erodes, five birds remain planted in their place.

These stories described natural processes such as sea level rise and coastal erosion, but more importantly how they manifested in the everyday lives of natives of the Outer Banks, and how over time these processes have shaped not only the topography and ecology but also lifestyles and livelihoods. Though, after reading all, I noticed that no one had said the words ‘climate change’, at least not after one another.

These two insallations were two that I found to be some of the most powerful. The first on the left depicts all that’s left of the Hatteras Inlet Coast Guard Station on Ocracoke Island. To the right is a photograph of the eroding coastline, which has taken its toll on the Midgett Family Cemetery washing away at the graves of loved ones.
Courtesy of Baxter Miller

We had a panel discussion that night, and I then again held out, waiting to see if the phrase would be uttered. Once more, words like erosion, sea level rise, sea encroachment, and even ‘whatever you call it’ took its place. I understand the reason, the rising exhibit is not meant to be a political tool— but rather an object of discussion that portrays stories within the community to address a problem that manifests in various ways and is and will impact all, no matter their beliefs and political leanings. However, my frustration, I did come back from the discussion with two very important takeaways. The first, Outer Banks residents are champions of resilience, and like many of us when it comes to our homes are relentless to leaving. They understand that they may be crazy for not doing so because the water will come – (The Water Will Come was our summer reading book and if you’re reading this and haven’t picked it up, you should!)— but they also understand that they bought into this risk when they accepted or chose to live in OBX. The second takeaway, articulated so eloquently by Karen Willis Amspacher, was that more resources need to be allotted in our education system to teaching our youth of the impacts of the word that shall not be named. These youths have a right to this knowledge as they will be living the effects that my generation and those before me have created for them.

Courtesy of Baxter Miller. Panelist Ben Cahoon (Mayor of Nags Head), Lauren Salter (long-time resident of Down East), Ernie (long-time resident of Hatteras Island), Karen Willis Amspacher (descendant of those who left Diamond City and long-time resident of Harker’s Island)

Marium Konsouh



Diving into field work. Literally.

This week started off like most others. Everyone attended their internships on Monday and classes on Tuesday (Coastal Resource Economics, Sustainable Coastal Management and Capstone). The Capstone session on Tuesday was very interesting. This was the point where we had most of the project figured out, teams were divided and we we’re planning on field sampling and interviewing on Friday. But before that, we have two more days to discuss…

Wednesday was a standard internship day for most. Thursday was an interesting, yet, kind of a long day. We came into class 30 minutes earlier than usual to kick-start the eventful day. Linda and Lindsay showed great concern for our tired brains by bringing in black coffee, pumpkin spiced coffee, cookies, doughnuts, and clementines. Side note: the cookies were not only gluten free, they were also dairy free, soy free and peanut free. Linda and Lindsay always do such a good job when it comes to catering to people’s dietary restrictions for any event.

We had our usual Coastal Resource Economics class that morning. Following that class, we were privileged to have a guest speaker, Dr. Bryan Giemza, Director of the Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, UNC Chapel Hill. Dr. Giemza has a background in environmental law but has since transitioned to working with archives at the library. He gave a presentation on sustainable archives and talked a bit about why people might choose to archive their resource(s) at the library. He mentioned things like: discoverability, safekeeping, and prestige.

We followed his presentation with two hands-on activities. (I) We read an excerpt from an interview and tried to interpret the meaning, the interviewee’s feelings, etc. Then we listened to the audio of that interview to see if we still felt the same way about the interview. I feel that the message was this:

Listening to someone talk can be very different from how we read their words on paper. When we conduct our interviews for our Capstone, it’s important that we listen with awareness so that we can correctly interpret what we hear. It’s also important to note that, what you read doesn’t always encompass an individual’s full range of emotions about a particular topic. Emotion can be more easily conveyed through conversation, than through text.

(II) Dr. Giemza had us explore the “Southern Oral History Program” webpage. Through the main splashpage (https://sohp.org/) you can access the interview database. Each student went into the database and typed in something that they thought was relevant to our Capstone. This exercise was cool because it really illustrated the scope of available topics that I didn’t necessarily think would exist in this database.

Lunch this day was catered by Freshfit Cafe of Nags Head. This is one of my favorite places to eat. They have a wide variety of vegetarian and vegan options. They really have something that will cater to almost anyone’s tastes and diet. I had the chickpea wrap. Yum! Also, their portobello mushroom burger is delicious, as well. Check it out next time you’re in the area!

Ecology class (Ecological Processes in Environmental Systems) was the last thing on the agenda for Thursday. Thankfully, Lindsay took us outside for class. Otherwise, I’m sure everyone was about ready to fall asleep inside. Class was jam-packed with paper presentations and nutrient cycling information.

Friday-the BIG day.
Friday was our first day of field work and interviewing. The students that decided to conduct the hydrological field work portion of the Capstone did that while the students that decided to conduct interviews for the human dimensions’ aspect of the project worked on that. I decided to go out into the field to collect water samples with a few other students and Lindsay. We gathered everything that we thought we would need in the field-we gathered some items that we didn’t end up needing and we didn’t bring some items that we later wished we had. Today was our first day of field sampling, so we were still learning…trial and error!

We sampled 3 surface water locations (ditches), 2 groundwater locations (wells) and the ocean-all of which were in Nags Head.

Some students put on boots and waders in order to get into the ditches to collect water samples in bottles and to obtain measurement using our YSI meters. The YSI meters gave us readings for salinity, conductivity, temperature and dissolved oxygen (DO). Some of the ditches had frogs, tadpoles, small fish, or even aquatic vegetation, like duckweed.

(pictured left to right: Harris Kopp and Emma Szczesiul)

Sampling from the groundwater wells was interesting because we had to use a bailer to pump the groundwater out.

(pictured left to right: Lindsay Dubbs and Emma Szczesiul)

Sampling the ocean was by far the most challenging due to all of the wave action. A few students ended up pretty wet by the end of it but poor Danesha Byron ended up soaked from head to toe after being knocked over twice by two waves!

(pictured left to right: Alex Kellogg, Danesha Byron, Emma Szczesiul and Emma Karlok)

(pictured left to right: Alex Kellogg, Emma Szczesiul, Danesha Byron, and Emma Karlok)

After collecting all of our field samples, we headed back to the lab. We prepped the samples to be tested for E. coli, enterococcus, and total coliform. We had to incubate the samples for 24 hours before reading them. We also filtered portions of our samples (see image below) and froze them so that we can test for nutrients at a later date.

As the 24 hour incubation period arrived, it was time to check the bacteria samples…on a Saturday.

We went into the lab on Saturday to read our samples and document the results. Let’s just say, I don’t think we we’re really all that surprised by what we discovered.

If you would like to find out more about what we found in the water this week and what we will find in the water of many more samples to come, then join us for our community Capstone presentation December 13, 2018 at 2pm at CSI! I’ll see you there!

-Autumn Pollard, class of 2020

Horsin’ around

This week was our first full week back since evacuating for Hurricane Florence, and it sure feels good to be back. In short, our week started off with internships on Monday, class and Capstone session on Tuesday, a guest lecturer on Wednesday, and finally an overnight field trip on Thursday and Friday!

On Wednesday Dr. Alex Manda came to the Coastal Studies Institute (CSI) to speak to us about his research on groundwater and marine inundation. First, he walked us through an exercise which helped us all understand the groundwater table, and how exactly water runs through the ground right under our feet. The picture below shows the model we used to visualize how water moves through wells, layers of sediment, and aquifers.

After finishing our activity, we heard more about Dr. Manda’s research, and what exactly they discovered in their groundwater inundation research. Groundwater inundation in short is how much land may be out of commission due to sea-level and the water table rising. Dr. Manda and his team wanted to know if there would be more inundation, land out of commission, from groundwater or marine waters, specifically the Atlantic Ocean. His main conclusion was that the groundwater inundation may be more significant than the marine inundation due to the area covered by groundwater inundation being greater than that covered by marine inundation. If you would like to read more on his study it is titled, “Relative role and extent of marine and groundwater inundation on a dune‐dominated barrier island under sea‐level rise scenarios”.

The next morning we all woke up bright and early to leave for our overnight trip to Corolla! The day started off with with a hike at the Currituck Banks Coastal Estuarine Reserve with Kate Jones. We walked through the 300 acres of Maritime forest and it was breathtakingly beautiful. Maritime forests are forests impacted by the ocean, and so we could hear waves crashing in the distance all throughout our hike. Here’s a picture of a baby snapping turtle we saw during our hike!


After the hike we drove straight to the Currituck Lighthouse, where we climbed over 200 stairs to make it to the top. The views were beautiful and we all had fun at the top overlooking both the Ocean and the Sound.

Next, we had a tour at the Outer Banks Center for Wildlife Education. Our guide Sharon Meade informed all of us of the rich history of Corolla and of course the wildlife as well. The education center was extremely informative and we all learned about how much hunting has influenced Corolla. Duck hunting was a delicacy for Northerners, so much so that multiple hunting clubs arose and brought people and money to Currituck County. Later in this post I discuss the lovely home we got to stay in, which used to be a very popular Duck hunting club, and still is today.

Just a quick walk down the road and we were at our next stop, the Coastal Exploration Dock, where we met Hadley Twiddy. Hadley attended UNC Chapel Hill and was one of the first students to ever participate in the Outer Banks field site. She now lives in Corolla and was able to talk with us more about Corolla’s history, the Sound and Marsh ecology, and what it is like to be a permanent resident in a town made up of mostly tourists. Hadley also had an adorable dog named Junebug who we all enjoyed playing with.

After our conversation with Hadley we drove to the Pine Island Sanctuary, where we met our host Robbie Fearn. Robbie works for Audubon, a non-profit environmental organization dedicated to conservation.  Audubon now manages 2,600 acres of the Sanctuary with the goal of providing wildlife and birds with a safe, undeveloped, place to live. We helped Robbie clear some invasive species, olive trees, and then were treated to a lovely Italian dinner made by our professors Linda and Andy. After dinner the group settled in for a night full laughs and card games.

The next morning, we woke up early enough to see a beautiful sunrise, and then were off to see the wild horses. The tour with Brad was extremely fun, he horsed around a lot, but made us all laugh throughout the tour. The wild Spanish Mustangs all originated from Spain, and made it to the Outer Banks after swimming ashore from shipwrecks. The horses are free to roam around citizen’s yards as often as they want. There was one donkey named “Earl” however, Earl is unique due to the fact that officials are strict about letting other animals interact with the horses. This is to ensure the bloodline remains the same.

The first picture is Earl!

After the horse tour we were off to our final destination, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Field Research Facility. Heidi Wadman gave us a tour of the Facility after presenting her research to us. Heidi studies storms, from hurricanes to nor’easters to excessive rainfall she covered it all. She specifically focuses on how storms are or are not changing over the years, and what that means for coastal environments.

After our 1/3 mile walk out to the end of the pier and back it was time to return to CSI! This overnight trip was definitely one of my favorite experiences so far and I hope you enjoyed my post!

  • Elizabeth Kendrick