Oysters and Sustainability at the NC Coastal Federation

Hi! My name is Natalie Ollis and I am part of the OBXFS Class of Fall 2020. This semester was unconventional to say the least. Unfortunately, due to COVID concerns, my internship was completely remote. Because of this, I was unable to take my own photos, but below I have included some photos from the organization websites that show what I have been working on.

Even though I was unable to work in person, I enjoyed every minute working for the North Carolina Coastal Federation under the mentorship of Leslie Vegas, coastal specialist. I worked on many projects independently while under her guidance. At the beginning of the internship, I learned all about oyster reefs, an example of a living shoreline and some of the Federation’s main projects. In connection to classwork, we learned about living shorelines in professor Dubbs’ ENEC 489 course and how they can help protect coastal areas from erosion and promote further oyster habitation which also increases water quality. The oysters used on the reefs created by the Coastal Federation are collected through recycling efforts.

My main job when working with the Coastal Federation was helping to expand the oyster shell recycling program that the Federation is sponsoring to replace the program that the state was unable to continue funding. In the early stages of this project, I researched other oyster shell recycling programs in the country, so we could take inspiration from what other organizations are doing. I also researched all the restaurants in the Outer Banks to determine who would possibly be able to participate in the recycling program and made a survey for interested restaurants to fill out. For the last stage of this project, I found and contacted all of the seafood distributors in the Outer Banks to ask if they sold oysters and if they would be willing to promote the program and become recycling sites. I also participated in discussions with other Coastal Federation members concerning signage and I was also able to write up “memorandum of understanding” documents for when organizations wanted to partner and become recycling sites.

NCCF Oyster Shell Recycling Site in Wanchese (www.nccoast.org)

Another major project I was able to participate in was helping Ocean Friendly Establishments, a joint program between Plastic Ocean Project and the NC Coastal Federation, create a business nomination checklist as well as a volunteer audit checklist. Ocean Friendly Establishments is a program created to promote the sustainability of local businesses as well as encourage other businesses to be more sustainable. Businesses must meet certain requirements to join the program, and there is a ranking system within the program based on different sustainability goals. I was able to create the checklists mentioned above for volunteers in the community to nominate new businesses and make sure current participants are keeping up with their goals. I enjoyed being able to create these lists independently, and they received very good feedback which made me very proud! My very last assignment for my internship is to make a form to give businesses who are a part of the program that no longer qualify in order to help them identify where they can improve if they would like to keep their status.

A list of Ocean Friendly Establishments (as of Fall 2020) to visit when you are here in the Outer Banks! (www.facebook.com/outerbanksofe)

I have enjoyed my internship so much! I learned a lot about how a non-profit organization operates, how a community organization can work to promote positive change, and how beneficial these programs and organizations can be to the local environment and economy. Without the work of the Coastal Federation, the local oyster and tourism industries would not be the same. Oyster reefs help provide suitable habitat for new oysters that help improve water quality which is very important to vacationers who also enjoy eating oysters at local restaurants. I was so happy to be a part of this organization, even if just for a semester, and I was able to improve my personal work skills, such as organization, time management, and professional communication, as well.

Before I started working, I was very worried that I would not enjoy it due to the position being remote, but Leslie, my mentor, was able to give me so many unique projects that I enjoyed! Originally, my main project was the oyster shell recycling program, but when she asked what all I was interested in and I told her that I want to go into sustainability consulting as a career, she also put me on the Ocean Friendly Establishments project. This was a perfect match and I loved brainstorming all the ways that a restaurant could be more eco-friendly for the volunteer checklists. Even though my internship is over, I hope to still be able to continue volunteering with them from time to time. I am also thankful for Corey Adams at CSI who set me up with my internship. I talked with him about my concerns with a remote internship and despite that being mostly unavoidable, he still matched me with an awesome internship that matched my interests. I will remember this experience forever and I have gained new valuable skills that I will be able to use later on in my career at UNC and beyond.

~Natalie Ollis, UNC Class of 2022

Getting Ready for the Home Stretch

This week did not start or end like it usually does. We had to plan and adapt for collecting more data for our research project. Initially, we only had one day to collect and analyze water quality data from the Nags Head wells. Since we already had two days of data collection about a month ago before and after a rain event, we wanted to keep the trend going.

Lauren’s leadership skills shined as she helped organize the extra day of sampling over the weekend before Monday. Many of the students were also willing to adapt by sacrificing a day usually reserved for internships to collect the water quality data right after a rain event. It took a lot of organizing and teamwork, but this field site group excels at selflessness and working extra hard for the betterment of the group.

Tuesday went normally as we met in our outdoor classroom for recitation for Andy’s and Linda’s class. We had a fun activity in Linda’s class where the class split into groups and controlled our own fishing fleet to help us understand fisheries management. However, it was every group for themselves and the fishery market collapsed from us buying too many boats and overfishing. Whoops! I think the class as a whole took away from the activity that is very important to have restrictions and regulations for commercial fishing to help sustain business as well as the ecosystem.

On Wednesday, we took samples and analyzed the water quality again for our second round of dry measurements. I enjoyed being able to sample rather than analyze in the lab again. I think it helps to take part in every aspect of the capstone to make it easier to understand and write our final report.

The script was completely changed for Thursday. Instead of meeting for our research project, Lindsay decided it was a great day to finally take our boat trip! We have been trying to do this ecology lab since the beginning of the semester, but the weather has never been on our side. So instead of our regularly scheduled programming, we got to take a boat ride on a beautiful day and measure water qualities at different depths. We explored three different locations around Roanoke island and took measurements at equal-interval depths to compare the locations with indicators such as temperature, salinity, and dissolved oxygen.

Lindsay and Corey made the day even better with their knowledge of the sound and harbor in Wanchese. They were able to answer every question about any boat on the dime and how they use the resources in the sound differently. I also learned of a wholesale fish market called O’neal’s in Wanchese, which I will be checking out in the very near future!


Our instructors were gracious in giving us Friday off for a mental health day. I think it came at a perfect time because our final exams, internships, and final project are all coming to an end soon. An extra day to recuperate was perfect for us to get ready for a busy end-of-semester schedule.

This week goes to show that the field site is able to adapt just like the island itself to stressors whether it be physically or mentally.

The students I have had the pleasure of meeting here have made the semester so much more enjoyable. Even with social distancing, we are still able to hang out and have a good time at the house. I thought it would be hard to relate to the other students because I am the only male, but I have not felt excluded in the slightest. I honestly never thought my final semester in college would be spent in the outer banks, but I can’t see how it could be even remotely better stuck inside with online class everyday.

Also, the instructors here are unlike any I have ever met. They actually let the students have a say in the day-to-day schedule. They could have easily told us that we could not do an extra sampling day this past week, but rather they really listen and respond to our considerations. Even with the pandemic still affecting all of us in some way, the instructors here have been so enthusiastic and help us in every step of the way towards our final project.


~ Todd Davis (Class of 2020)

Making the Best of It

This week, Lindsay made a comment that filled me with more emotions than any one phrase has in quite some time; “We are more than halfway through the semester.” I sat there, at the metal picnic table I’ve sat at all semester, and stared at her. Thankfully, my mask hid my astonished expression. 

The first rush of emotion was fear. There were many terrifying thoughts swirling through my mind. How were we, a group of ten students, going to finish collecting all our data for our capstone, analyze it, write a whole report on it, and finish our classes in less than two months. At that moment, it seemed close to impossible. 

Following the fear was sadness. I scanned the outdoor space we call our classroom, taking in all the faces around me, faces that, despite our masks, have become familiar. Each of the nine other people I have shared this experience with has made their own unique mark on my life. We will be leaving to walk down our own individual paths, yet again, in such a short amount of time. Although I know we all have exciting and bright futures waiting for us, as I heard Lindsay’s words, I realized I was not ready to let go of the present experience.

One of the best parts of living here is the countless opportunities to walk along the beach.

The last emotion I felt was a huge rush of excitement. The thought of all the crazy and cool stuff we will have the opportunity to do in the next few weeks brought a smile to my face. I feel as if there is an astronomical chance we will not find any significant scientific conclusions through the work we have done, but we get to try. That in itself is enough for me, we get to finally start putting together something to show everyone how hard we have worked this semester. And we have worked hard, every single one of the people here has put in extra time and effort they didn’t necessarily need to at some point or another.

All of this brought me to one singular goal for the remainder of my time here. Since August, I have had awesome experiences and have gotten a lot out of being here. However, for these last two months I want to make a conscious effort to make the best of my time here. The days following Lindsay’s terrifying, but true, statement brought many opportunities to do just that. 

Heidi and I spent a day near Cedar Island, as part of our internships, assisting a PhD. student with some field work.

This past Wednesday was an internship day. I have been interning with the Public Engagement and Outreach Department at CSI as a science journalism intern, all semester. I’ve enjoyed my time in this role immensely, however I was exhausted when I woke up and not exactly excited to go into work. (This is a dangerous thing to say because my mentor may very well read this) However, as I begrudgingly climbed into my car to make the eight minute trek from the guest house to CSI, I remembered what internship days met; I was spending the day with Heidi and Meagan.

We are all efficient and focused workers, but we find time to have fun too. My favorite conversations have been over our lunch as we discuss the existence of intelligent extraterrestrial life, conspiracy theories, comical YouTube videos, and so much more. I walked into CSI that day knowing I would have more of those conversations and I was going to create even more great memories connected to CSI and OBXFS. 

On Thursday, I was still very tired. (I am not exactly sure why I had absolutely no energy this week, but it is a common theme that has thankfully come to an end this weekend.) Class started that day at 9:30 AM. I woke up at 9:25 AM to Bri, whom I drive to CSI everyday, pounding on my door yelling for me to wake up. In quite the panic I got ready in seven minutes and drove us to class as fast as I safely could. 

During that drive, I have never been happier that Bri is the chaotic sweetheart that she is. All the way to class she bombarded me with jokes about our current situation. During class, I took in the beautiful sound side views that have been the backdrop of our academic work. I let myself reflect on how lucky our little group is to be here at this exact moment. We, unlike many people in school right now, get to study in person, interact with our classmates and professors, and do real work. No number of days that start off rocky could ever overshadow the gift we have been given by getting to be here. 

Collecting water samples, for our capstone, in the rain is actually kind of fun.

On the way home I found myself feeling even luckier to have the people I have to share this time with. There are people who may have reacted with anger towards my inability to be on time that morning. Bri found a way to make the best of the situation. She filled the morning with humor and was entirely relaxed the whole time. Like every other student here, she was selfless and I was reminded that I wouldn’t want to be here with any other group of people. 

Friday brought with it another field trip day filled with excitement and interesting lessons about the Outer Banks. We learned about the economic and community shaping dynamics of bridges and other infrastructure, the ecology of the northern side of the Outer Banks, and how coastal management decisions affect the future. We stopped at the Hatteras Lighthouse and discussed the decision to move it, along with the implications of that undertaking. At the Chicamacomico Life-Saving Station we learned about the history of the area and how it has informed the current lifestyles now present.

This field trip gave me the opportunity to observe on how important our instructors are to the experience of this place. Lindsay, Linda, and Andy have demonstrated a desire for every student to learn and enjoy the semester that is more obvious than any other professor I have interacted with in the past. During lunch on Friday, Andy sat with Natalie, Heidi, and I and talked about our lives, experiences at UNC, and peppered in academic and life advice wherever he could. It was clear through the entire conversation that he really cared. I noticed, throughout the day, that Lindsay was always ready with water, snacks, and general questions aimed at making sure everyone was ready to move forward and having a good time. I’m sure part of this is her mothering instincts, but I know we all feel cared for and comfortable when she is around. Linda spent the day providing humor at just the right times, she always ensures the group’s spirits remain high. 

Andy gave a short talk about the economic impacts of infrastructure, like bridges, in front of the Herbert C. Bonner bridge. This bridge sits over Oregon Inlet and is the only way to get into Hatteras by car.

I spent the weekend working on assignments and tasks for the upcoming week all while finding time to enjoy the people around me. I found myself on a six hour Netflix binge with Todd and Janis on Saturday night. We shared countless jokes, great conversations, and created new memories that will definitely remain some of my favorites when I look back on this time.

Our tour guide at the Chicamacomico Life-Saving Station told us many amazing stories about the beginnings of life-saving on the Outer Banks.

In short, all of us who have experienced OBXFS this semester could not be more fortunate to be here. We don’t have much time left, but we have so many more opportunities to make the best of this place. We all have each other’s backs, maybe more than any other field site in the past due to the circumstances we find ourselves currently in. Everyone works hard, and even though we have a lot more to accomplish, I know we can do it and do it well.   

I was not sure where I wanted to take this post when I sat down to write it, but now that I’ve reached the end, I’ve realized I simply wanted to convey that OBXFS is a great place to be. This past week has allowed me to come to that realization more conclusively. I wanted to give a glimpse into life here to encourage anyone who may find themselves on this page and consider coming to this program to do so. My semester here happened to fall during a pandemic and as a result it would be a lie to say we got the full experience of this place, still, I have never found myself in an academic or social environment quite like this one. 

In conclusion, thank you to my amazing classmates who have now become my amazing friends, and thank you to our incredible instructors for not only teaching us new things and caring about us as they do, but for dealing with our antics in general. I can’t wait to finish this experience with all of you.  

While we have kayaked in many places now, the Buffalo City paddle in Alligator River was one of the most unique areas.

Justice on the Outer Banks

My name is Caroline Pharr, I am a Senior at UNC Chapel Hill majoring in Environmental Studies and minoring in Public Policy. During my Fall 2020 semester, I am studying at the OBX Field Site, at the Coastal Studies Institute in Skyco, North Carolina. Part of my study program is an internship that began on August 24th. 

Outside of the Dare County Justice Center

I am interning at the Dare County Justice Center, in the Assistant District Attorney’s Office in Manteo, North Carolina. My internship mentor is Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Karpowicz Bland, a graduate of UNC Chapel Hill and UNC law school.

During my time interning with Assistant District Attorney Bland I have been able to  experience working in criminal justice while getting an insight for the demands of the position.  Assistant District Attorney Bland is dedicated to her role as a prosecutor and to serving in the Dare County Court system. While working and learning from the office, I have a greater understanding of how criminal justice law is practiced, and a profound appreciation for the work that the people in this office perform everyday for the Dare County community. 

Caroline Pharr leaving to go to her internship 

This Fall Semester has been like no other, being that we are taking classes and working on internships during a global pandemic. At the Dare County Justice Center, court is in session and social distancing measures are in place. When I go to my internship, I walk through the front doors with my mask on, and before I can walk through the metal detector, I have to stop and get my temperature checked. These safety measures are to help protect the public from the spread of COVID-19 .

Officer Jack Palmer in the lobby of the Dare County Justice CenterOfficer Jack Palmer in the lobby of the Dare County Justice Center

Additional safety measures include reduced seating in the courtroom, mandatory masks while inside the courtroom, and the District Attorney Office is closed to the public.  

While working in the District Attorney Office everyday is different, in the morning I could be analyzing a new case file, then that afternoon I would be doing research on legal statutes and precedents.  Many of the cases that I have been working on are related to drug crimes. While at my internship, I have been learning about the  issues that are problematic in the Dare County community. Drug related crimes are some of the most prevalent issues on the docket at the Justice Center.  These are issues that are not just happening in Dare County, but State and Nation wide as well. 

As part of my internship, my mentor assigned me as a research project on a new North Carolina law called HB 474/SB 375 Death by Distribution. This new law has been in effect as of December 2019, which would make it a felony to sell certain controlled substances to someone who dies by ingesting them. My task for this research project is to write a report about how this law is being used in North Carolina, what qualifies a person to be tried by the new law, and how it will affect the Dare County community. 

Dare County is my home. Having the opportunity to be able to work at the Assistant District Attorney’s Office with my mentor has not just helped me understand how I want to work in law, but has also shown me about the issues that are hurting my community that I had not understood the full extent of before.  

In environmental studies, we study the relationship between people and the planet, how the needs of people need to be met and balanced with the resources of our planet. We study how good public policy that protects the health and safety of people is also good for the environment. 

“Plans to protect air and water, wilderness and wildlife are in fact plans to protect man.”

                                                                                                                                  —Stewart Udall

Protection of our beaches and waters are an integral part to a healthy community, as is protecting the health of the community is an integral part of protecting our coastal ecosystems.  As someone who is passionate about the environment and protecting it, having the experience working in legal and policy enforcement at the Justice Center has given me an insight that I would not have been able to experience if not for this program. Environment health and public health are not separate.  They can only be as strong as their weakest link.  

~ Caroline Pharr (Class of 2021)