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