Corolla, critters, and kiddos!

I had the absolute pleasure of interning with the Outer Banks Center for Wildlife Education this semester. Located right next to the Currituck Banks Lighthouse in Corolla, this place has everything: a pond filled with neat invertebrates to examine, a sound-side public access point to the water, and an exhibit dedicated to Eastern North Carolina’s ecological composition and its hunting and fishing heritage. 

I work alongside a team of super-friendly, supportive women, including my mentor, Karen Clark. They have all taught me so much about how to be the best educator I can be! 

I participated in tons of different classes and projects this semester. I helped the Lead Educator, Sarah, teach classes to members of the general public each Wednesday. This included different classes each week, rotating among ones like crabbing, an educational walk through the maritime forest, and kayaking. We also would lead a school group from Water’s Edge Village School, a local charter school, in a pond scooping activity on Wednesdays. After scooping up critters from ponds and placing them into buckets, we’d help the students count, identify, and describe some of the creatures they found as they recorded this information into their field journals.

The Citizen Science Specialist, Marissa, and I would also conduct classes on Mondays. An ongoing project is Box Turtle Tracking, where we utilize radio telemetry equipment to track a resident box turtle that hangs out in the Currituck Banks Reserve. This project also acts as a citizen science project, with families being able to sign up to learn how to use the equipment and come along as we search for the turtle (affectionately named Turt Russel). This project is definitely one of my favorite parts of my internship. As the weather cooled down, it was much more enjoyable to tromp through the maritime forest and look under brush and trees for our elusive turtle.

Turtle selfies are a must after spending hours tracking this lil guy! We make sure to take a photo of how camouflaged he was, in addition to marking his location with GPS coordinates.

A map noting the various locations of where we have found the turtle shows where he moves throughout the reserve.  In addition to this project, we also marked and gathered information about any other turtles found within the reserve. All the information we collected acts as part of the ever-expanding database of knowledge scientists across North Carolina are compiling to better understand Eastern box turtles.

Holding on to a turtle we found while Marissa got the measurement equipment ready!

Other citizen science projects we worked on included Caterpillar Count and Shorebird Survey. Both of these projects are classes that anyone can sign up to participate in on the Center’s website. Caterpillar count looks as how arthropod presence on trees is being affected by climate change. We sampled several trees within a predetermined location by hitting a branch with a stick ten times and holding a white sheet underneath the branch to catch the bugs that fall off. We then would count the number and type of each arthropod and input this into a larger database that contains information about the trees and other environmental data.

Shorebird Survey was pretty much as it sounds— we would go out to a specified beach location with birder volunteers and, using a keen eye and binoculars, would count the number of each different species of shorebird seen within walking a mile of the starting location. I loved this project because it was a great reason to go for a stroll on the beach!

A beautiful day to count gulls and pelicans!

Each Monday when I wasn’t assisting with classes, I was working on creating an interactive bulletin board to go along with the existing photographs taken with motion-sense cameras for our Critter-Cam project. I created a maritime forest backdrop and placed silhouettes of various Eastern North Carolina maritime forest species within the scene. Each silhouette could be flipped over to learn about the animal and any of its unique adaptations. The board also provided information about maritime forests and about the ways to classify animals by the time of day in which they were active. This board was very fun to create, allowing me to be creative and use my artistic abilities.

The finished product! I’m really proud of all the work that went into creating this educational resource.

I have learned so much about making an environmental education program engaging and about how to be an effective instructor. I will take these skills with me far into the future as I continue to pursue a career in education! 

-Emma Josephine Karlok, OBXFS ’18

A busy week, to say the least

Tensions running high, sleeplessness, putting in lots of hard work in and outside of class— seems like a typical November for UNC students. This week, we really began to feel the effects of the semester winding down, and as temperatures drop and time seems to speed up, let’s take a look back at all we accomplished this week.

On Monday, we headed to Internships as usual, with many Seniors registering for classes and Juniors registering later on Wednesday. 

On Tuesday, after regular classes (Environmental Economics and Sustainable Coastal Management) in the morning, we had a visit from Dr. Lora Harris, self-proclaimed “carpet bagger” and “septic detector” coming to us from the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, Chesapeake Biological Laboratory. With Dr. Harris’ guidance, we spent a day and a half working on modeling and manipulating data. This first day was spent getting to know one another by participating in a trust-building exercise and to begin our thinking about how models are conceptualized. 

When Wednesday rolled around, we continued to work with Dr. Harris to create model inputs and examine how this changed the outputs. This modeling experience and the data produced will hopefully be a useful tool for our Capstone’s data analysis portion. That evening, we attended the Science on the Sound lecture, where Dr. Harris went more in depth about her projects in the Potomac River working with nitrogen measurements and relating these findings to septic systems.

Dr. Lora Harris, discussing her research at the Science on the Sound lecture series.


Rather than having Environmental Economics in the morning on Thursday, we took a trip down to a residential property in Nags Head to watch a septic field inspection done by Todd Krafft, environmental planner and septic health authority for the Town. Upon arriving in the resident’s backyard, Todd had already cleared away some earth from the less-dirty of two access points of the septic field. After removing the concrete covering, we were greeted by the all-too-characteristic, unpleasant odor associated with septic tanks and their failure. Todd explained mechanisms of filtration for these tanks, discussing the various ways that tanks can become functionally impaired and how to mitigate these problems.

Todd Krafft, pulling out the filter from a failed septic tank.

We proceeded with the rest of the day, including regularly scheduled Coastal Management class and Ecology class. That evening, we each got to present about our internships to each other and also to some members of the CAB and representatives from internships. Hearing about everyone’s internships was a great way to get updated on what everyone has been up to this semester—we’ve all accomplished some pretty neat things (that can be read about in more detail in the coming internship blog posts)!

We attended our final ecology class on Friday morning (how has the semester already flown by?!) and then we used the rest of the day to work on the Human Dimensions portion of our capstone. We working on creating a unified codebook for our coding process, coming up with a succinct list that can be used to analyze our interview transcripts.

With five weeks left here on this beautiful little sandbar we call home, here’s to soaking up all that’s left to learn and to creating a capstone project that reflects all our hard work!

-Emma Josephine Karlok, OBXFS’18