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

The Art of Interning

Hi! I’m Bianca, and this semester in the Outer Banks has taught me more than I ever expected. School is great, but my favorite part so far has been my internship.

I’m interning with the Dare County Arts Council (DCAC) under the executive director, Chris Swain. My primary project is to help relaunch the DCAC program, the Power of Art.

The Power of Art is a partnership between the arts council and five other organizations that serve adults and children with intellectual and developmental disorders, adults with memory loss, victims of domestic abuse, and veterans.

“The Power of Art is a program designed to serve special groups in need or with limited access to arts programming and education. Made possible by a grant from the Outer Banks Community Foundation, the Power of Art’s objective is to give those with disabilities and difficulties with self-expression the opportunity to create and make critical decisions through unique art programs.”       –DCAC Website

What I’m doing for the program is three main things: creating a system to document all the ongoings of the program, getting teachers signed up (including myself), and getting the word out about this program and the call for art teachers. I’m also setting up an event to get teachers together so they can all discuss their experiences, learn from each other, and get ideas for potential projects in the future.

The classes I’ll be teaching are in fused glass. I’ve worked in the medium for years, and I’m excited to share it with these members of the community. I’ll also be teaching, separate from the Power of Art, a fused glass workshop at the DCAC before I leave in December.

Another exciting thing from this internship was the opportunity to volunteer at the art council’s annual masquerade gala event; this year it was called Black Opal. A group of friends and fellow students donated their time with me, and in return we got to dress up and enjoy a black-tie (or fully costumed) night of live music, delicious catering, a hugely successful silent auction, and absolutely stunning decor.


One angle of the center table at the Black Opal Masquerade Gala

With all that said, my last and most potent remark has to be about the people I’ve met throughout this internship. They’re amazingly talented and committed people whose generosity and love of community has been apparent through every shared moment. I’m so humbled and impressed by this organization, how it functions, how it is so highly regarded by the town, and how professional it is all the while feeling like home.

I’d like to thank this field site and the DCAC for presenting me with these experiences, and I’m excited to stay in touch with this network of people long after I leave.


A Wild Semester at the Center for Wildlife Education!

Hey, everyone! It’s Cassandra, here to tell you all about

An injured sanderling that was brought in to the Center

the best internship anyone’s every had here at the OBXFS, also known as an internship at the Outer Banks Center for Wildlife Education. By best, I mean that everyone I’ve worked with has been amazing, I’ve learned so much, and I’ve really never felt like what I’m doing is work. As well, just to point out how much I’ve enjoyed it, it’s generally an hour and fifteen minute drive from Manteo to the Center, and I can’t even complain about that!

Let me take a moment to talk about my internship mentor, Karen Clark. My first day interning, she invited me to sit in on a NEST sea turtle nest dig the next evening. Just like that. She always has great stories and great ideas, and is the most understanding, knowledgeable, and competent person I’ve ever met. She’s the Coordinator for the entire Center program, and also works with NEST and MMSN, the Marine Mammal Stranding Network, on top of who knows what else. Long story short, I’ve been incredibly lucky to have worked with her and to have been able to learn from her amazing experiences.

One of the storage shed’s resident tree frogs
Woody the woodchuck takes a beating during archery class

I’ve done a ton during my time here. At the start of my internship, we were still in summer programs, so I helped teach beginning archery for children and adults, an educational story time and crafts for young children and an interactive cart teaching people about seashells and other beach finds. I was also lucky enough to be able to participate in a lot of NEST activities, like checking turtle nests with volunteers and sitting in on nest digs. As the tourism season started winding down, some of our classes were rotated out, and I began helping run a kayaking trip, an educational maritime forest walk, and a “Sampling the Sound” class, where kids and their parents can use nets to catch fish, water insects, and other organisms living in the water here and learn more about them. I’ve also been able to help set up and collect wildlife cameras in the nearby maritime forest preserve, and then go through the photos to identify what sorts of critters have been living their lives in the area! Among the best photos I’ve seen are pictures of feral horses, coyotes, raccoons, and several resident white-tailed deer.

An injured box turtle I rushed to the vet
Baby sea turtles!
A very unhappy black rat

On top of helping out with classes and activities, I also was put in charge of designing a new educational board as my own personal project. I chose to focus on the habitat value of both ocean and sound shorelines, with an interactive and multi-media approach, using flip-up cards, fabrics, and 3-D animal cutouts to create the final product. Hopefully people will see it as a fun and interesting approach to learning more about the animals that call the marshes, dunes, and waters of the Outer Banks home!

A beautiful cottonmouth spotted on one of our kayaking trips!

Although I’ve really enjoyed and learned from all of the educational activities I’ve helped run and participate in, my favorite part of my internship here has been the wildlife. Anyone in my field site group will tell you I adore snakes, and there have been so many here! From cottonmouths on the lawn to black rats sunning themselves on the steps, I’ve been able to get a ton of great photos and just appreciate having them here. There are also resident tree frogs in the shed, and a gray fox that I’ve been lucky enough to glimpse on occasion. The grounds here are home to a great many raccoons, and you can see their tracks running across the mud by the boat ramp every morning. Being able to see and be a part of nature here while helping teach other people, especially children, more about the world we live in has been an eye-opening experience, and has definitely made me consider environmental education as a career path more strongly than I might have before.

Sea Turtles and Sunrises? Count Me In

Hey y’all it’s Danielle here ready to share a little peak into my internship this semester!

When Corey called me in August to discuss my internship he gave me the choice between two different opportunities. The first one sounded interesting, but once he said the words “National Park Service” and “baby sea turtles” I was sold on option number two. A fun fact about me is that I am obsessed with national parks (just got back from Shenandoah two days ago) so the idea of working for the Park Service sounded perfect.

When I got my first email from my mentor, Paul Doshkov, explaining that I had to report to work at 6am this internship suddenly seemed slightly less perfect. 6am!!! WHAT!!!! Little did I know that I would soon be reporting at 5:30am. Good thing sleep is for the weak.

Sea turtle patrol was the reason I had to report so early for the first few weeks of work. Turtle patrol consists of driving along the beach between the Bodie Island Lighthouse (ramp 1), and the beach just south of Rodanthe (ramp 30), excluding Pea Island. We were looking for turtle tracks leading from the ocean to the dunes, thus indicating that a nest had been laid. Unfortunately, despite the fact that many nests were still incubating when I started my internship, only one additional nest was laid between early September and late October, so I never actually got to see the turtle tracks myself. I did get to see, however, many amazing sunrises while driving along the beach so early.

Despite the lack of new nests, there has been plenty of work to do with the pre-existing nests. On my first day of work I was lucky enough to take part in an excavation. Approximately three to five days after a turtle nest hatches, the Park Service excavates the nest. This means that we dig out the nest and take inventory of hatched eggs, unhatched eggs, and live hatchlings still buried in the sand. On my first day we excavated a nest with 30 live hatchlings! Even cooler than the live hatchlings are the unhatched eggs, hear me out. We need to record what stage of development the eggs are in, therefore we have to rip open all of the unhatched eggs and examine the contents. It is so. cool. Turtle embryo goo shooting into your face is slightly less cool, but seeing a partially formed animal still in its early stages of development is fascinating. Also, just as a disclaimer, if the eggs have not hatched by this point they are not going to hatch, so we aren’t causing them any harm by opening them up.

When hurricanes Jose and Maria were off the coast things started to get a little rough. For one, the tide was too high to drive on the beach so we had to hike over the dunes. You never really notice just how far it is from the road to the beach until you have to walk through thorns and cacti while wearing jeans in 80 degree weather. Good times. While the dune hiking was a slight inconvenience, it wasn’t the end of the world. The bigger issue was the sand accretion caused by the storm surge. One of the nests was buried 124cm below the beach surface! To put this in perspective, a transponder ball is buried next to all of the nests so that we can use a GPS device to locate them. The amount of sand accretion was so extreme that the tracking device couldn’t even register the transponder ball. Our nest excavation that day may have resembled the set of the movie “Holes” just a little bit. Even more upsetting is the fact that the storms caused the level of the water table to rise to such a degree that multiple nests were entirely dead due to the eggs drowning. Luckily, since the storms have passed we have had two successful nest hatchings in the past week. Heck yeah.

I could probably write for a really long time about my internship but I suppose I’ll cut it off here. Overall, I really value the time I have spent working with the Park Service. I get to be in the field every single day. I get to watch the sun rise over the Atlantic. I get to work with amazing baby sea turtles, and the humans aren’t so bad either. I love it.


Quinton’s internship with the North Carolina Coastal Reserve

My name is Quinton Grady and I’m a senior from Goldsboro, NC studying Environmental Studies at the University of North Caroina. This semester, I was lucky to be offered an internship working with the North Carolina Coastal Reserve. For background, the North Carolina Coastal Reserve (NCCR) is a division of the North Carolina National Estuarine Research Reserve. My mentor, Scott Crocker, is the NCCR Northern Sites Manager. There are three sites he manages: Kitty Hawk Woods–where his office is located and where i do the majority of my work–, Currituck Banks, and Buxton Woods. I have only visited Buxton once, and the other two sites I have accomplished alot of hands-on experience and research with. A usual day at the office is 8-5 and entails assisting Scott in  general tasks. A portion of the NCCR’s responsibility includes allowing hunters to utilize reserve property, with special restrictions and rules on top of North Carolina’s gameland rules. Since the start of hunting season, I’ve had around 5 hunters come in every day to gain a registration form and permit to hunt either or both Kitty Hawk Woods and Currituck Banks. This is actually a very important process, for the information I give them must coincide with the Coastal Reserve’s regulations to ensure that people are following rules and considering both safety and their environment the top priorities. Usual office work is included, from answering phone calls to keeping the office clean and accompanying Scott on trips and errands.

By far my favorite portion of my work with Scott is managing our various sites. It has taken my love for hiking and being in nature and expanded it even more. My largest task for the semester is compliling a photo journal of identified flora and fauna that I encounter amongst the site. Working on this project has been so fun, even on the days earlier in the semester when I was trudging through snakegrass in 90 degree heat. Working in the Kitty Hawk Woods’ maritime forest and the diverse salt marsh/maritime forest ecosystem of Currituck Banks has taught me alot about rare ecosystems, how to manage them, how to control invasive species, and how to be an environmental steward towards people and the living things around us. A hands-on approach to working has been a hugely informative and enjoyable experience with NCCR, and Scott is an incredibly fun and helpful mentor to work with. I honestly am going to be a little lost at the end of the month when I can’t go in to work on Mondays and Wednesdays anymore. Yet, the beauty of Kitty Hawk Woods and Currituck Banks will be there for me and anyone to enjoy. That is why this internship and environmental stewardship are important to me, to preserve these wonders for ourselves and our future generations.

Charlotte’s internship with Hornthal, Riley, Ellis & Maland, L.L.P.

Since I am interested in environmental law and policy and seriously considering law school after graduation, I was pleased to find out my internship would be working with a lawyer on a research project. My internship mentor, David Gadd, is a lawyer with Hornthal, Riley, Ellis & Maland, L.L.P. and tasked me with researching potential solutions to a wastewater treatment lagoon problem in Swan Quarter, NC. Although initially concerned about what my internship involving wastewater would be like, I have thoroughly enjoyed my internship and believe that it has given me a new perspective on environmental policy.

Swan Quarter is a small, rural, town near Lake Matamuskeet, about an hour and 15 minutes away from Manteo. Shortly after completion of the wastewater treatment facility within the town, large bubble appeared breaching the surface of the lagoons. While the bubbles appear relatively harmless and are a popular hangout spot for the local bird community, the North Carolina Division of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) has been expressing concern over the bubbles and made it clear that they want the bubbles to be fixed. David is the law council to the town’s Sanitary District Board of Directors and thought researching this problem would be both a valuable learning experience for me and helpful to the community, and so my internship began.

The bubbles (called whales) in the lagoon liner formed when the peat soil under the lagoon decomposed, releasing gases. While this gas would ordinarily float off into the atmosphere, it has been trapped under the liner with no way to escape. After a while, there was so much gas under the liner exerting force against the liner, the whales formed. Although the whales are harmless now, the whales increase the risk of leakage from the lagoon and can become a big problem if left unattended, which is why DENR wants the “whale problem” solved sooner rather than later.

I began my internship with researching the problem, why it occurred, and some possible solutions. I also looked at the permits issued by DENR and the Division of Water Quality to assess whether any permit violations may arise from any of the possible solutions. I have now turned much of my efforts into looking at grants and loans to fund this project.

This internship has been much more interesting and valuable than I initially would have thought and it has given me a new perspective on environmental regulations. Before this internship I always had the perspective that environmental regulations and policy should be very strict with harsh punishments for noncompliance. I viewed environmental regulations from the perspective of the regulators, and had little sympathy for the regulated. While this is still true to an extent, my internship has made me look at environmental regulations and policy from the perspective of a small, rural town with very limited funds. Strict environmental regulations have real consequences for small towns that are just trying to improve the lives of their citizens. Small, rural towns like Swan Quarter need a lot of financial assistance to be able to be environmentally friendly and serve their people. Although my wastewater treatment internship was not the most glamorous, I really enjoyed it and believe that it has been a really valuable experience.

Jerome’s internship with the North Carolina Coastal Federation

If you would’ve asked me a year ago, whether I would be having some of the most fruitful and challenging times of my life at the Outer Banks Field Site, I would say you have no idea what you were talking about, but as this semester has proven, I would have been completely wrong. My name is Jerome Allen and I am a Junior Environmental Studies and Dramatic Arts major. This semester at the Outer Banks Field Site has been a wildly colorful experience filled with huge maturity and learning curves. From soaring in the sky over the islands to engaging with local storytellers, the Field Site breathes in the history of the Outer Banks and has served as a great connector between the students and community. Going off that notion, here at the Field Site, we are required to dive into an internship and attune our learning in the classroom with real-world experiences, problem solving, and interactions. This semester, I chose to work with the North Carolina Coastal Federation (or the Federation, for short), a non-profit advocacy organization focused on improving water quality for our coast.

At the Federation, I have had the opportunities to engage with independent projects and work alongside Sara Hallas on environmental education. I want to tell a story about my work with local middle school children.

On a day in late October, complimented with low winds and the soothing noises of the Pamlico Sound, the Federation hosted over 200 middle school students, divided into classes of 20; all arriving to the Manteo Office for the Federation in hourly increments between 8 a.m. and 2 p.m. We had set up twelve stations and further separated the classes into groups of three to maximize the amount of independent and small-group learning with each station. The stations were about concepts such as salinity, biodiversity, and for my station, turbidity (the amount of suspended sediment in the water column). With coffee in one hand and a secchus disk in the other, I began my workshop by asking several questions such as: what is turbidity, why is it important, and how can we measure it. The students were equipped to answer the first two, and I taught them how to use a secchus disk in the Field to measure turbidity. The day ran smoothly and after leading seven workshops, I was charged with reflections and ideas.

I was mainly struck by the idea of passing on the significance of environmental conservation to the next generation. I want to uphold the notion that if children are instilled with great appreciation and understanding of environmental work, the field will expand and swell with great visionaries who can change the world for the better.

​The Federation has given me a myriad of lessons, but the importance of education has definitely molded my experience and will influence my future decision-making.

John’s internship with the National Park Service

Interning with the National Park Service

My internship for the National Park Service under the Cape Hatteras National Seashore’s Natural Resource Manager, Randy Swilling has provided me with experiences and opportunities I never would have expected to have in my time at UNC.  One of my main responsibilities during the first few weeks of my time with the National Park Service was going on “turtle patrols” which consisted of monitoring and maintaining the sea turtle nests located along a several mile stretch of the seashore. In some instances, this involved excavating recently hatched nests to conduct counts of the number of hatchlings that escaped the nest, the number of dead hatchlings, and the number of live hatchlings still present in the nest. These live hatchlings were retrieved from the nests and were later released into the sea during favorable conditions.

Another interesting aspect of my internship was having the opportunity to perform necropsies (an autopsy performed on an animal) on a Kemp’s ridley sea turtle and a bottlenose dolphin. These necropsies were performed to attempt to determine the cause of death for these animals, and whether or not human interaction played a role in their demise. In addition to making basic observations of the deceased animals’ conditions, we also examined their stomach contents to determine whether or not they had swallowed any man-made products, such as plastic bags or other plastics. This provided me with a chance to learn about the anatomy of the marine animals—an opportunity I am very grateful to have had.

Overall, my internship has given me a lot of insight into the wildlife of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, and the Outer Banks. I’ve lived near the Outer Banks for the past eleven years and never realized how much of the area’s natural wonder I hadn’t experienced until I began working for the National Park Service. After my internship ends, I hope to continue to learning about the wildlife of the Outer Banks and the measures that are being taken to protect it.

Michaela’s internship at the NC Aquarium on Roanoke Island

The first day of my internship with the husbandry staff at the Roanoke Island Aquarium I was already feeding sharks. They just handed me a dead fish, a pole and pointed out which shark to feed. That experience sums up my internship pretty well; you just go for it and act like you know what you’re doing. At first, I was a nervous wreck. What if I made an animal sick? What if I forgot their vitamins? What if I messed up the water quality? But eventually learned to relax and enjoy the opportunity thanks to many wonderful mentors. I’ve found a new love for marine life, a desire to get dive certified, and best of all a career I want to pursue.

A typical day starts with the touch tank, holding Cow Nose rays, Atlantic Sting Rays, 3 Bamboo Sharks, a Guitar fish, a Horseshoe Crab, and a few other species of small fish. I maintain the log-book, tracking temperature, flow pressure, salinity, and PH. After cleaning out their excrement I prep food and, my favorite part of the morning, hand feed the cow nose rays before broadcasting the rest of their food. In the wild, cow nose rays are born with a tape-worm, and the cow nose rays in the touch tank are juveniles from the wild. Therefore, they need a bit more food than the others. It still amazes me that they’ll eat right out of my hand. They’ve become so accustomed to me that I’ve implemented a ray training program, to make barbing them and veterinary checks easier and less stressful for the animals. After working with the rays, I move on to more food prep. I weigh out shark food, cut up squid and fish, and bag more food. The majority of my day is spent handling frozen, thawed, or bloody fish. After lunch, I get to feed the sharks along with a few other husbandry staff members. My mentor has taught me to identify Spotlight vs. Big Girl vs. Denty Dennis and the other sharks. After this routine, my day can vary from working on projects – building an otter enrichment tool or a baby gator cover to keep them from climbing out – to working with the resident screech owl or even cleaning out the trenches at the bottom of the tanks (by far the dirtiest and smelliest job).

At 5 pm, I leave the aquarium pretty beat, and definitely stinky, but fulfilled. I absolutely love what I do there, and Mondays and Wednesdays are often the highlight of my week. Between the animals, the staff I work with, and all the experiences I’ve been given, I’ve had an amazing time at my internship. I had always thought I’d want to be a zookeeper or work with animals, but this has broadened my horizons and I’ve found that I really would like to pursue work at an aquarium post-graduation.


Michaela Meredith

Junior Environmental Studies major

NC Roanoke Island Aquarium – husbandry staff intern

Dakota’s research internship on fracking in NC

My name is Dakota Koenigsberg and I’m a senior at UNC studying Environmental Studies and Economics.  This semester, at the Coastal Studies Institute, I’ve been conducting research on hydraulic fracturing regulation in North Carolina under the supervision of Dr. Andrew Keeler.  Specifically, I’ve analyzed the draft rules developed by the Mining and Energy Commission (MEC), comparing my findings to the regulatory experience of the Marcellus Shale states (PA, OH, NY, and WV).  My aim is to explore all potential areas of regulation, while ensuring to include the positions of all stakeholders, including the natural gas industry and environmental groups.  The final product of my internship, a research paper, will provide an objective, well-organized, and comprehensible resource to educate legislators and the general public alike on fracking in our state.

Towards the end of November, I’ll be serving as a panelist at a League of Women Voters program where I’ll be informing their members of the proposed regulatory framework for fracking in North Carolina.  I’ll also be meeting with Mr. James Womack of North Carolina’s MEC to discuss the draft rules and, in particular, the commission’s rationale for including or excluding certain provisions in the rules.

My research is expansive, but here are three notable findings:

  • North Carolina is conforming to the existing trend of requiring chemical disclosure for fracking fluids, but providing exemptions for trade secrets.  Trade secrets allow fracking operators to hide the most concerning of chemical additives as confidential business information.
  • The MEC opted to not write an air quality regulation into the draft rules.  The EPA’s green-completion rule will come into effect next year, but many of the exploratory and wildcat wells that are likely to be drilled in North Carolina will be exempt from this requirement.
  • The current severance tax rate in North Carolina (0.05 cents per thousand cubic feet) is by far the lowest of any state with a severance tax.  MEC’s draft rules show their intention to revise this tax rate, but if it isn’t increased substantially, the vast majority of revenue from natural gas extraction will accrue to the industry, leaving little revenue to the state.

I’ll continue to pursue this topic next semester for an honors thesis project, which will synthesize my existing research to form policy recommendations.