Oysters and boat rides

On what was probably the last nice day of the year, we took a trip down the road into Wanchese and saw the Wanchese Seafood Company’s oyster aquaculture dock facility.

Oyster aquaculture is basically just growing oysters to harvest in captivity. The Company grows the native Crassostrea virginica oyster. This type of aquaculture is especially neat because the oysters filter water while feeding on plankton, which greatly improves water clarity. No other food or nutrients have to be added to the system, which makes it efficient and not very costly.

Joey Daniels manages and owns the Company and was kind enough to show and explain to us how the process works. We met him at the dock where we first saw the flupsy, which is an oyster aquaculture nursery. It was a cool set up especially since it didn’t take up all that much space, yet yielded a very large number of little baby oysters. Once the oysters get to a decent enough size in the flupsy, they are put in cages and taken out into the Sound to the “farm.” Joey leases one of his plots of about 10 acres of underwater land from the State to grow his oysters. When we get out there, we see ropes that let Joey and his employees know where they have the different sized oysters and what used to be a 90-foot house boat, which is the platform on which they can do some of their work.

Just on those 10 acres, and not accounting for the large amount of dead ones from the storms and other things, Joey estimated he currently had about 3.8 million oysters. And the ones he raises, Bodie Island oysters as they’re fittingly called, are specifically for the half-shell market (which is pretty upscale, if you know anything about eating oysters).

Oyster roast

It was great that we got to get out on the water and learn a little bit about the water life, since we’ve been focused more on the land life with our work. It was also pretty fitting that we concluded this past week with a trip to an oyster aquaculture facility, as on Tuesday we got to experience eating oysters first-hand at Beth’s annual oyster roast. They weren’t the Bodie Island oysters but they still got happily got eaten up. I even tried one for the second time in my life. And as I told Corey, “it was good.” Being so close to fresh seafood definitely gives you a new perspective on it and the work that people do to get that food. Buy it as local and as close to home as you can, people!

Into the (Nags Head) Woods

While “Into the Woods” is a creepy Disney movie about a witch, Nags Head Woods isn’t anything like that. There have been reports of a pack of coyotes stalking trail-goers. But that’s largely uncorroborated.

My name is Julia Maron, I’m a sophomore Environmental Studies major and Public Policy minor, and I got to spend this fall interning with Aaron McCall at The Nature Conservancy’s Nags Head Woods ecological preserve. Aaron is the Northeast Regional Steward and oversees basically the entire eastern area of the state.

I had heard of The Nature Conservancy (TNC) before coming down here but I didn’t know that on the Outer Banks, which you think of as all beach (tell me you don’t only think of it as all beach), there would be 1,400 acres of maritime forest and swamps. And by the looks of the visitor’s log, a lot of other people didn’t know the Woods existed as either.

Unlike almost all of the other internships, my time spent at the Woods wasn’t focused on one overarching project, which was fine by me. I got to learn about stewardship, which is “the recognition of our collective responsibility to retain the quality and abundance of our land, air, water and biodiversity, and to manage this natural capital in a way that conserved all of its values, be they environmental, economic, social or cultural.” Basically, it’s important to know that we have certain environmental spaces and resources that we can and should use, but we have to use them in a responsible way.

With woods comes pine straw and leaves and with the Outer Banks comes storms and hurricanes. So naturally, sometimes the trails get covered with such debris and it is my dutiful task to make sure the trails are clear and walkable. As much as I loved doing this, I realized that it’s important especially to the people who visit the Woods. If you can’t walk easily, then it won’t be as enjoyable and people won’t visit as often. So yes, trail maintenance is important. Can I put “handy with a rake” on my resume? All I can say is that I got to explore all of the trails pretty thoroughly and spending time outside can be better than sitting in an office all day (no offense to those who work in offices, specifically the planning department of the Town of Nags Head).

*Disclaimer: One would STRONGLY advise visiting the Woods sometime after November, when mosquitoes the size of a quarter have gone to wherever they go. If not, coat yourself in bug spray, wear long sleeves and pants, and bring mosquito net hats. I can give you my personal one, if you’d like. Very handy.

Walking trails sometimes leads to running in to critters, some of which scare you half to death. Especially when you take Fergie, Aaron’s dog, with you and she doesn’t see the black rat snake in front of her. And you’re too scared to get close to it to see if it’s venomous, so you don’t know it’s only a black rat snake until you take a picture and show it to Aaron when you get back.

As I mentioned before, when I wasn’t raking, I did some Excel work, mainly inputting the Woods’ visitor’s log into a format where the total number of visitors could be gathered for each month. These numbers are useful because they get sent to The Nature Conservancy’s main office and can help the Woods get grants and different things, since TNC is a nonprofit. Additionally, bow hunting season for deer started September 10th in the Woods, and Aaron is in charge of collecting hunting licenses and information, so that too was put into Excel.

Nags Head Woods sits between Jockey’s Ridge and Run Hill sand dunes, which causes it to be shielded from harsh ocean winds. It has forested dunes, interdune ponds, marshes, wetlands and a whole lot of diverse plant and animal life. The most interesting part of my internship has definitely been capturing creatures that use the woods on wildlife cameras. At the beginning of the semester, I asked Aaron if there had been coyote sightings in the Woods, since that would relate to our Capstone project. As you may or may not know, coyotes are now officially found in all 100 counties of North Carolina, and have been increasingly seen up and down the Outer Banks. A lot of residents have been complaining about them as well, so I thought I’d see if I could find any. TNC had some wildlife cameras that they’d used before and I thought it would be super neat if I could put some out to try and catch some sneaky canids on camera.

When I went out to check the cameras, I took my laptop and popped the SD card out from the camera to see if there were new pictures. Honestly, it was kind of exciting when you saw any amount of pictures, even when you realized that there were 174 just of a squirrel (I think he just wanted to have a photo shoot). I had 2 cameras out for 3 weeks that never had any pictures on them, which was a little frustrating. But hey, it was even better when you got some clear shots of does, bucks, raccoons and even a possum. And sometimes you got a super cool picture of a young buck only 3 hours before you went out and pulled the camera.

All in all, interning at The Nags Head Woods was a great experience that has made me realize what I enjoy doing and what I only kind of enjoy doing. I’m appreciative that I’ve had this great opportunity and hopefully I can build on this experience in the future.

Oh, and this internship has also reaffirmed that I absolutely hate mosquitoes.

The Great Swamp Swamp

Dismal (adjective) – depressing; dreary.

We’re ready.

Such a fitting description of the weather on Friday morning at 8:15, as we faced a 2 hour drive north into southeastern Virginia. Our agenda for the day was meeting author, professor and musician Bland Simpson at The Great Dismal Swamp for a few hours of kayaking and exploring, with lunch thrown in there somewhere.

But first, a little background about this place that is literally named “The Great Swamp Swamp.” It has a really interesting history, as Bland so knowledgeably explained to us. The Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge used to be a habitat that covered over a million acres and became a formally protected resource when the Union Camp Corporation donated about 49,000 acres to The Nature Conservancy in 1973. A year later, that land plus more was designated a National Wildlife Refuge, which comes with perks.

Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge

Now, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service manages 112,000 acres in attempts to preserve the ecosystems within the refuge. Pretty neat. I’d definitely never been to a swamp before and had unrealistic ideas of what it was supposed to look like (I was thinking along the lines of a Shrek swamp and that was not really the case).

What’s also cool about this wildlife refuge is that Lake Drummond sits in the middle of it all. It’s roughly about 2.5 miles by 2.9 miles and you can only get to it by the feeder ditch that we kayaked up. As we completed the ~2 mile paddle up the narrow canal, we got to listen to Bland recount interesting facts that he had gathered about the swamp while writing The Great Dismal. A native to Elizabeth County, NC, Bland is practically an expert on mysteries, geography and culture of eastern North Carolina. He is an author, a professor in the English Department at UNC Chapel Hill (go Heels!), a member of the NC Coastal Federation, and to top it all off, a pianist for The Red Clay Ramblers. Oh, and he performed Off-Broadway. So really, what hasn’t Bland done?

Side note: as we were paddling, I had to name drop to him. I said “Bland, I think you’re good friends with my grandmother, Margaret Maron.”

The lunch spot, with time for a little frisbee.

He said, “Oh yes, I’m very good friends with your grandmother actually. In fact, she asked me if I would introduce her at the North Carolina Literary Hall of Fame induction ceremony on October 16.”

My grandmother is an author as well, most famously known for her Deborah Knott series, which are also based in North Carolina, similar to Bland’s books. So if you’re looking for something new to read, I can’t help but highly recommend her books. (And she’s getting inducted into a Hall of Fame. Like, c’mon.)

After a quick paddle up the canal, we got to a bit of land in between the ditch and Lake Drummond. Surprisingly, it looked like a park, set up with picnic tables, 2 restrooms and a ramp to take out and put in boats on either side of the land. Between the canal and the lake, there is a dam that

Great Dismal Swamp feeder ditch entrance

controls water flow and can be opened and closed based on water levels in both parts of the refuge. As we finished refueling our bodies and resting our arms, we loaded back into the kayaks, ready to make it to the lake. A little more paddling and we came to the edge of where the canal meets the lake. We gathered around Bland as he read a ballad: The Lake of the Dismal Swamp, Thomas Moore. It was kind of creepy and quite fitting for the day and where we were.

Creepy story


The weather actually couldn’t have been more perfect, on the contrary to what I said earlier. It was cloudy and there was a, dare I say “cool,” breeze the entire time we were out. Way better than scorching sun and stagnant humidity. When Bland finished reading, we had some time to check out Lake Drummond. Not quite enough time, or energy for that matter, to paddle all the way around it but I did manage to find a cool tree sticking out of the water.

The trip was a success and we all returned more knowledgeable of a new ecosystem and wildlife refuge just a couple hours away from us, along with insight into a man rooted in North Carolina and involved in the environment.

(Personally, I think this picture is a good embodiment of The Great Dismal Swamp.