More fun times in the OBX!

It’s a chilly November, but things are heating up here at the Outer Banks field site! We’ve shifted gears to focus on finals for our classes and start our products (the paper and podcast) for our Capstone project. We’re also starting to wrap up our internships!

Last Thursday, we did presentations about our internships, and I really enjoyed hearing about the work everyone’s been doing this semester! There are so many cool and interesting jobs for Environmental Studies majors, and it was great to hear and learn about some of them. It’s definitely made me more confident about graduating and finding a job!

We’ve been doing some fun things recently, too! This past Friday, we took a field trip to O’Neal’s Sea Harvest, which is a seafood wholesale business that includes a restaurant where customers can try the freshly caught seafood. I had a soft crab BLT, and it was delicious! Probably the tastiest thing I ate that week. I also had a chance to try their loaded shrimp baked potato and fried Mahi strips, which were excellent. I think that O’Neal’s may have been my favorite food experience of the semester so far (with the oyster roast at Johanna’s as a close runner-up)! 

Blue crabs waiting to be shipped. Yum!
So many shrimp heads!

We learned a lot about fisheries on the field trip, as well. Sara Mirabilio from the NC Sea Grant showed us around the seafood processing facility and taught us a lot about how fisheries are managed and regulated, as well as some fun facts about seafood! For example, I had no idea that soft crabs are not a separate species of crab, but are actually blue crabs that are harvested after molting, when they are still soft. In addition, they have to be sold live, and are refrigerated so that they stay in a state of stasis before being sold. Sara, thanks so much for showing us around the fish house and teaching us about it!

More fish!

This semester in the Outer Banks has been my favorite in college so far. I feel that I’ve learned much about living on the coast and gained a lot of extremely valuable experiences in the field of Environmental Studies. I’m so thankful to our teachers, internship mentors, CAB, and everyone else who’s worked to make this semester so successful and fun!

Field trips, finals, and lots of fish!

We’ve been been busy as ever out here on the Outer Banks as the semester winds down! Measurements have been taken, interviews conducted, and we are ready to tackle finals and finally see our Capstone project grow into a product we’re proud of.

Now that going to the beach is no longer our sole extra-curricular activity, we’re hunkering down with work. After months of collecting data, we now have a clear idea of how we’re going to write the paper, prepare the presentation, and put together the podcast that will debut in mid December. We’ve broken up into smaller groups based on deliverable and are working through our first stages of those final products.

In the podcast group, we’ve been working on shifting mindsets from the very methodical, detailed tasks of collecting data from the past few months to the creative work of making a podcast from scratch. We have a lot of goals, from trying to communicate the value of coastal waters to residents of Nags Head, share issues related to septic systems, and more — all in a few twenty-minute podcasts. It’s certainly no easy task. But I keep coming back to a saying from one of my high school history teachers — that you don’t truly understand something unless you can explain it to a fifth grader. Now, we’re expecting our podcast audience to be a bit older, but it’s still a valuable exercise in applying a semester’s worth of knowledge in a creative medium that is accessible, entertaining, and educational. It’s helped to show us just how much we’ve learned these past few months, too.

As Capstone amps up, our classes are winding down. It’s hard to believe our classes are already almost over after what feels like just a few weeks. But we’ve still found a way to apply what we’ve been learning in class to some of the conservation and coastal management centers throughout the Outer Banks.

Last week, we spent a windy Friday visiting the Buxton Woods Reserve and Chicamacomico Lifesaving Station. At Buxton Woods, we helped with trail maintenance  and learned about some of the state’s National Estuarine Research and Coastal Reserve systems. The land of the Reserve was meant to be converted into a golf course, but a group of community members worked together to preserve the land. This wasn’t the first field trip we took where the natural spaces wouldn’t exist without the activism of community members — it’s just one of the things I find special about the Outer Banks. We also visited the Chicamacomico Lifesaving Station for a glimpse into the life of the surfmen on the frontlines of the Graveyard of the Atlantic.

Some of the awesome wild mushrooms we saw on our hike in Buxton Woods!

After another busy week of classes, internships, and Capstone, we took another field trip to O’Neals Seafood and the fish house in our very own Wanchese Harbor. Sara, a fisheries specialist with North Carolina Sea Grant, gave us an awesome run-down of fishery management on North Carolina’s coast, and we even got to see the behind-the-scenes workings of how the fish we had eaten for lunch got from the ocean and sound to our plates.

The heads of the shrimp brought into the Wanchese Harbor.
Me posing with a crab straight from the basket and still alive!

I’m so grateful that our field trips on the Outer Banks have opened up our experiences to a space far greater than our classrooms. Even when we’re busy, getting out into the community is a helpful way to step back and take a look at the greater picture of what we’re learning here.

Sarah’s Internship at the Nags Head Planning Department

My internship this semester has been with the Planning Department in Nags Head. My mentor, Holly White, has made the experience so hands-on, and I have felt like an actual employee every time I go in. Here is where I go to work every Monday and every other Wednesday: the beautiful Nags Head Town Hall!

Nags Head Town Hall

I have attended a few Board of Commissioner Meetings in this building:

The Town of Nags Head Board Room – Home of Board of Commissioners Meetings

I have gotten to see first-hand the struggles that town planners go through during these meetings, as well as how the government-process works in a local scale. One of the meetings got particularly heated, with many town citizens coming to speak against ADUs (Accessory Dwelling Units). These are smaller, independent residential dwelling units located on the same lot as a standalone, detached single-family home. They are designed to allow for expanded/alternative housing options; not to build larger spaces. However, citizens vehemently argued against ADUs, saying that what these add-ons really do is add extra rental space, and more population density. The ordinance did not pass.

My main job at the planning department this semester has been to make a “progress report” or “Toolbox” for the Septic Health Initiative, the Town’s long-term strategy for protecting water quality while allowing the continued use of on-site wastewater systems. The Septic Health Initiative has 4 major program areas; septic tank pumping and inspection, low-interest loans, education, and water quality monitoring. The Town offers free inspections for non-innovative systems, and a $30 credit to property owner’s water bills if they have their systems pumped. Additionally, the town offers lower-interest loans for repair and replacement of septic systems.

This is an info-graphic that the Town of Nags Head has on their Septic Health Initiative website. An example of the education aspect of the program!

I identified knowledge gaps between the Planning Department and the citizens of Nags Head about septic maintenance and operation knowledge using the 2018 Capstone Report. After identifying 3 major knowledge gaps, I did an intensive literature review on how other municipalities around the world are educating their citizens on septic maintenance, and how they are enforcing and incentivizing septic maintenance. The 3 major knowledge gaps that were identified were:

  1. Most property owners are not aware of how septic systems work.
  2. Many participants did not know where to find reliable information about septic systems and health.
  3. Many participants were not aware of the government aid that is available to them.

After the literature review, I determined that the most common methods to educate community members is through workshops and seminars. An annual/semiannual workshop about septic maintenance for homeowners, as well as education on repairs and pumping, could be extremely beneficial to the town. Additionally, a few towns in my literature review conducted surveys/interviews to gauge the current septic health knowledge of their residents. I think this would be a good way to understand the baseline knowledge of the town’s citizens. Other methods for educating the public include media releases, handout materials, fundraisers, creating databases, and encouraging public participation. I believe that the Town could benefit from utilizing a combination of the methods from the literature review to improve the overall septic health of the town.


The library in the Nags Head Town Hall – I did a lot of work here!

Additionally, I looked at the Town of Nags Head Comprehensive Plan (2017), the Vulnerability, Consequences, Adaptation, and Planning Scenarios (VCAPS 2017), and Decentralized Wastewater Management Plan (2005), to centralize the future goals of the town regarding wastewater and ground/surface water management. The centralized location of these goals can save the town time when trying to write new goals and assess their current goals. I also recommended future goals of the water quality monitoring program after meeting with George Wood.

I also did a small side project throughout my time at the Planning Department with the Low Impact Development Manual. My job was to photograph some of the low impact/protective designs that have been utilized in the Outer Banks. See below for some of my photos!

Rain garden at the aquarium in Manteo


Pervious concrete at the Coastal Federation


Overall, I have thoroughly enjoyed my time at the Nags Head Planning Department. They have really welcomed me and made me feel like one of their employees. I was even invited to attend their employee appreciation luncheon next week! I have enjoyed my internship so much, that it played a big role in my decision to get my Masters in Public Administration this coming year.


Bailey’s internship with Manteo’s Town Planner!

This semester I got to see what a town planner does! My mentor was Melissa Dickerson, a super woman who keeps Manteo running.

My first week with Melissa was right after Hurricane Dorian. I went with her to a county meeting with FEMA. I had no idea how coastal towns received aid money after natural disasters so this was a super eye-opening first day to say the least. The downtown boardwalk area had some damage so I tagged along while Melissa showed FEMA workers the areas that needed repair.

During my time here, I helped out with the Plan Update Working Group, a group made up of community members whose primary goal is to review and update the Town’s 20 year plan. More specifically, I helped out with the Working Group’s Wayfinding Sub-committee. Before this semester, I didn’t realize how important wayfinding is to towns. I helped out by making powerpoints and transcribing meeting minutes. One of the first powerpoints I helped make was a presentation on the signage posted along the three bridges that connect to Manteo. These pictures are good examples of what the sub-committee is reviewing.

I got to meet a lot of the people working in Town Hall and was even able to sit through a couple Board of Commissioners meetings. It was an amazing experience to see first-hand how local government is run. I’m so thankful for the people in Town Hall that always took the time to explain things to me and introduce me to other people. I can’t make this post without saying how great a mentor Melissa was! She always gave me work that exposed me to new things and was so much fun to work with.  The opportunities given to me this semester have exceeded even my highest expectations and I’m so glad I got to be apart of this program.

Picturing the News – CriShaun’s Internship with the OBX Voice

For my internship through the OBX Field Site I’ve been working alongside the OBX voice as a photographer. The OBX Voice is a local news outlet that works to inform the people of the NC coast of everything going on in the Outer Banks, from local elections to impending storms.

Under the guidance of my mentor, Mark Jurkowitz, I’ve traveled all throughout the Outer Banks photographing for various stories. I’ve been able to attend town meetings, court proceedings, and even had the chance to travel to Hatteras following Hurricane Dorian to take pictues of relief efforts.


Through my work with the Voice, I’ve had the opportunity to improve my photography skills as well as my information gathering skills. This has been important to me as I feel that these skills are vital toward pursuing a future as an environmental photographer and journalist.

In addition to the skills that I’ve been developing, I’ve also had the pleasure of meeting various people and gaining insight to the different ways of life here on the coast. I’ve seen areas that I otherwise would have never visited and helped deliver a vital resource (information) to the people of the OBX.


Overall, this experience has been extremely worthwhile. I’ve enjoyed my time working with Mark and am appreciative of the opportunities I’ve been given. I look forward to my remaining internship days and can’t wait to apply what I’ve learned to future experiences.

Rachel’s semester doing independent research on disaster preparedness

This past semester I have been working with Dr.Kimberly Rogers to develop an independent research project studying how the use of social media has changed the landscape of disaster preparedness on Roanoke Island. My main research question is: How has social media changed the landscape of disaster preparedness knowledge in Manteo and Wanchese, NC over the past 10 years? The goal of this study is to understand how people in Manteo and Wanchese use social media to prepare for disasters (i.e. hurricanes) and how this influences their perception of risk.

This is a two semester project, and I am currently developing an online survey to distribute to residents of Manteo and Wanchese. I am also incorporating a geospatial component and will use ArcGIS to analyze how Roanoke Island’s vulnerability to storm and flood events have changed over time, and use survey responses to create a time series that correlates this vulnerability to social media use.

Planning the Coast – Emily’s Internship with Kill Devil Hills

Hello, blog! My name is Emily Galvin, and my internship this semester was with the Planning Department of the Town of Kill Devil Hills. The office oversees a number of the workings of Kill Devil Hills, from participating in public forums to issuing building permits and designing public parks. 

Local governments like Kill Devil Hills have the unique position of meeting the concerns of local residents and also ensuring the coordination with federal and state policies. On my very first day on the job, my mentor, Meredith, and I attended a FEMA meeting with all of the other towns on the Outer Banks to begin assessing the damage of Hurricane Dorian. I was immediately impressed with the way these towns react to storms like this one and are prepared to meet with federal agencies in the aftermath. 

In my job, I spent time editing the Town’s CAMA Land Use Plan based on comments from the State, which is a major project that coastal municipalities must undertake to best prepare their town and residents for the realities of living on the coast. I learned a lot about how governments plan for resiliency – and, in many cases, how these local governments learn to design their own plans in ways not prescribed at the State level. 

Throughout my internship, I was impressed by how engaged citizens were in the decision-making process of local government and town planning. Since coming to the Outer Banks, I’ve been lucky to have been exposed to the way that members of a small community look out for each other and have a stake in the places that matter to them.

I was able to review videos from a town council meeting, and in it I could see the difficulty of local government — the balance of meeting the needs of the town residents and complying with existing ordinances. A few times, I met with residents and business owners throughout Kill Devil Hills about pieces of their land that did not comply with Town Code, and most of them were positively committed to making the changes to comply. This was a common mission in local governments, I learned, working with local individuals during one afternoon and federal agencies in another.

I learned a great deal about the careful balance of being a local government, and I’m sure this will shape the way I see the places I live in the future. A big thank you to the Town of Kill Devil Hills for having me. 

Statistics, Services and Success

How do we assign values to the environment and its services? Can we assign value to ecosystems? What factors influence people’s decisions to pay a certain amount for nature? 

These were all questions I had at the end of August when I embarked on my internship with Professor Andy Keeler. Three months later, and this research project on ecosystem services valuation has added statistical software experience, a couple hundred miles to my car and nearly a dozen questions to the list above. I’m bummed that the semester is coming to an end, because this project has become one of the best parts of the school year. It’s been no cake walk, but the challenge has made the project all the more worthwhile and relevant for further research. 

To start off, Andy assigned me two books to read. Yes, two entire books! At first I was overwhelmed and thought I had signed myself up for the wrong position, but that quickly changed when I realized a book can be read almost anywhere and doesn’t need to be confined to an office cubicle. 

Multitasking at its finest- sunbathing and reading about economic markets!

After reading Nature’s Services by Gretchen Daily, I was inspired to really dig into valuation techniques used by economists to attribute market values to ecosystem services. More specifically, I chose to look at how different individual attributes, such as ethnicity and income, influence how people make value choices towards the environment. In other words, I predicted that white people from higher income households would be willing to pay more money to protect, conserve or enhance the environment compared to nonwhite populations and those with lower income.

The next step was to start modeling. Andy and I were super excited to use Stanford’s inVEST software, that claims to give ecosystem service values as outputs in GIS. Sounds perfect for my project right?  Well, after a painful process of trying to learn how to use ArcGIS on YouTube, as well as understanding the different variables required by inVEST, all I ended up getting was a blank map and no numbers. Even though the model ended up being a dead end for my project, the software was a good starting point to work with and more relevant for research not focused on calculating willingness to pay. 

The next stage of my project was familiarizing myself with two surveys that I ended up using for my statistical analysis. One deals with NC hemlock trees, and the other looks at harmful algal blooms in Lake Erie. Both surveys were kindly supplied by ECU economics professor, Dr. Gregory Howard. I ended up driving to ECU to meet and discuss how to interpret the survey results and input it into statistical software. 

Here’s where the really fun part begins. After a long spring semester of econometrics and Stata, I vowed to never touch the software again. Low and behold I’ve spent the past month maneuvering it, yet again, along with another program called JMP. Even crazier, this project has made me finally appreciate statistics and I’ll be taking applied econometrics next semester! 

My old friend, Stata.

Now, since we’re giving our internship presentations later this week, I’m not going to reveal my “results” quite yet. However, I can divulge the stuff I’ve learned, from a less quantitative perspective. First off, I learned that Andy is working in the coolest field there is. Having him as a mentor for this project and hearing his experiences in this field of economics has been eye-opening to the kind of opportunities I will have after college. For the longest time I thought I was beginning to make-up the term “ecological economics” because so many people told me it was too abstract to build a career, or even degree, off of. When I got my majors switched to Environmental Studies and Economics, the advisor told me it was “the weirdest combination he had ever seen in all his years of advising.” Thankfully, my doubts have dissipated; I think I’ve found my niche in academia.

No, I am not an expert in ecosystem service valuation methods and literature, nor am I even remotely qualified to complete advanced statistical analyses on large data sets, but I do know that this is what sets my curiosity on fire. I have found something that I can run with not only in my academics and career, but also from an advocate’s standpoint. Knowing that there are potentially gaps in how people view and value the environment because of something like ethnicity and income is not only concerning from a researchers perspective. Yes, they’re important gaps we need to understand and interpret, but more importantly they’re gaps we need to address. I think acquiring all of this knowledge and results the past few months has given me a responsibility to address these gaps, not only to make ecosystem service values more accurate and robust, but also to help people have a better connection with and understanding of nature. I know that’s not something I’m going to achieve today, but here’s hoping I can work towards my goal within my career and own personal contributions to society. This realization is ultimately what made this internship a success.

Hayley’s semester with The North Carolina Coastal Federation!

Hello, I’m Hayley and for the past few months I’ve been interning with the North Carolina Coastal Federation. I’ve had the pleasure of working alongside the staff of the Coastal Federation, but worked more closely with my mentor Leslie Vegas. Leslie Vegas works on the Ocean Friendly Establishments project and this was my primary project that I worked on with my time at my internship. When I first got to my internship, I learned about the different plant-based plastics. I got to see all of the products within the eco-products brand and was also educated about the downsides to plant-based plastics. This led me to one of my first projects in my internship. I made an infographic that outlined the differences between plant-based plastics and PET plastics, which is one of the most common forms of plastic. 

The infographic outlined the differences in production, environmental health and disposal. The purpose of this infographic is to be distributed and shown to restaurants and businesses that are being recruited to join the Ocean Friendly Establishments program in order to educate them on plastics. I also wrote a small paper about the differences between these plastics in order to emphasize that plant-based plastics can also be harmful to the environment, and that instead of searching for alternatives, it is more environmentally friendly to reduce plastic consumption overall. 

Another task I completed was creating infographics that communicated the harmful impacts of different single-use plastics. The three I completed were plastic bags, plastic straws and styrofoam. These are also intended to be shown to businesses to communicate the harms of plastics, in order to encourage a reduction in their business. Not only did I complete infographics for the Ocean Friendly Establishments program, I also went with Leslie to visit two locations for the program. One place we went was Jack Browns which is a burger restaurant near the beach. We delivered to them their certification and checked that they met the standards. We also went to Moms sweet shop to deliver to them paperwork to join the program. 

In addition to working on the OFE project, I also worked some on the NC Oyster Trail, and researched oyster trails in other states in order to learn about what we can do similarly in North Carolina. Additionally, I made a newsletter about plastics at my time at my internship. 

Overall, I learned so much from my time with the NC Coastal Federation and I would like to thank Leslie for being a wonderful mentor and providing me with experience. 

Avery’s Semester with Dare County Soil & Water

Hi! I’m Avery and this semester I interned with Dare County’s Soil and Water Conservation District. The District does a lot of important work for Dare County, including providing community assistance programs for low-impact development and agriculture, determining best practices about stormwater management and conservation, and providing educational outreach about conservation for the community. With the help of my excellent mentor Ann, I worked on several outreach projects this semester during my internship! 

The first outreach project we did was at the Secotan farmer’s market. I created a game about ecosystem services (the wheel in the pictures), and Ann and I told customers at the market about the importance of stormwater management, as well as distributed outreach materials. Ann’s son Lewis came with us as well, and I think he had a blast drawing pictures and playing with the other kids at the market!

For my second outreach project, I partnered with Dare County’s 4H program and the Coastal Federation to create a series of three after school programs called Wonderful Wetlands. In the first two sessions, we played games and learned about the water cycle and the ecological importance of wetland ecosystems! So far, there is still one session left (coming up this Wednesday, 11/13!), and we’ll be learning about low-impact development. A big thanks to Paige Fuselier at 4H and Sara Hallas at the Coastal Fed for making these programs possible!

The final project I’ll be working on is creating a few posters for the Soil & Water District, to be used at outreach events in the future. I want to focus on what the District does and the many available community assistance programs, as well as how to apply for them! 

Altogether, this internship was a great experience and it presented many opportunities to give back to the community through education! I’m very thankful to Ann for making the experience so valuable and for teaching me so much!