Wow, what a difference a year makes! I state this, not dwelling on the challenges we face associated with COVID and the Delta variant but thinking about all the effort from our staff and faculty to keep our organization moving forward at all levels despite these challenges! Although the skies seemed stormy at times, we pushed through and had an exciting and productive summer…introducing our new Chancellor and the UNC System president to the Outer Banks campus (pictured left), running new youth summer camps, kick-starting several new research programs, and working closely with a group of undergraduate students from across the nation as part of an interdisciplinary Research Experience for Undergraduates program sponsored by the National Science Foundation. It was great to see the campus so busy this summer…again, despite the challenges that surrounded us!
We want to grow student opportunities here on ECU’s Outer Banks Campus. With that in mind, we could use your help building our scholarship fund that will make our semester-long academic experiences accessible to many more students across Pirate Nation. Consider a gift to our scholarship fund and help the next generation understand NC's unique coastal region and the importance these systems have across our modern society and through history! Thank you for your continued support of our great university and our program. We hope you will keep following the growth of Integrated Coastal Programs and the Coastal Studies Institute. As Sinatra said, the best is yet to come…
CSI Summer Camps Successfully Return
After a hiatus in 2020, the CSI summer camps were back and better than ever! CSI offered four fun-filled and educational weeks of camp during the Summer of 2021. Each of the four sessions offered were quick to fill to capacity with campers from all over the US. About one-third of the students attending each week were from the Outer Banks, while the remaining campers were visiting from other parts of North Carolina and still others came from as far as New Jersey, Georgia, and even Oregon!
Many of the campers were familiar faces, eager to return to Wanchese for another week (or two) of fun-filled learning. This year CSI offered two reenergized and revamped themes. Two sessions of Coastal Marine Biology and Ecology and two sessions of Oceanography and Marine Science Technology were offered. Jacob Hallac, pictured below, returned for his fourth summer and said he had learned more this summer than any previous year.
During the Coastal Marine Biology and Ecology weeks, the campers learned about coastal ecosystems starting with the smallest organisms and working their way up. In addition to CSI’s signature boat trip to a nearby island to explore estuarine ecosystems, there were lessons and activities that focused on water quality, biological sampling methods, and plankton. They learned about the scientific method from ECU Ph.D. student Andrew McMains, who also shared his career path and research on sheepshead and oyster leases. Dr. Jim Morley also taught the campers about the anatomy and adaptations of fish.
CSI utilized the help of its Coastal Environmental Educators Network (CEEN) partners by taking campers on field trips to the NC Coastal Federation Northeast Office, Jennette’s Pier, and Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge (ARNWR). At the Coastal Fed, Sara Hallas led a lesson about oysters and their ecosystems benefits, and Steve Warner chatted with the students about unique Outer Banks ecosystems and the history of the refuge before the students kayaked the Buffalo City paddling loop. While at the pier, the students used the seine net, measured water quality, and even sent their counselors down to the water’s surface in the sky-climber that descends from the deck CSI Research Hut at the end of the pier.
While the campers in the biology-themed camp ventured outside a bit more often, those who participated during the weeks of Oceanography and Marine Science Technology were not disappointed. The tech-themed camp included just as many thrilling activities, including programming and flying drones, testing out SCUBA equipment, and building and piloting ROVs. The campers also learned from ECU’s Dr. David Lagomasino and Dr. Sean Charles about their research using space lasers to measure changes in coastal vegetation and to gain valuable information about the bathymetry, or topography, of coastal seafloors. Dr. Mike Muglia and a representative from the National Renewable Energy Lab also took time from their days to share about their respective work and what might be on the horizon for renewable ocean energy.
My role under George was to learn as much as possible about different coastal disciplines. I got involved in as many different projects as possible and absorbed as much as I could along the way. One of my biggest takeaways was learning about the potential for North Carolina’s Blue Economy. The Blue Economy is defined as the sustainable use of ocean resources for renewable energy, economic growth, and improved livelihood.
I also learned about how coastal communities could sustainably implement desalination systems, microgrids, and even electric ferries into their infrastructure. I watched a marine hydrokinetic kite be tested at NC State, taught young students about the fundamentals of renewable energy, designed a renewable energy interactive display, and so much more. From the start, George pushed me to learn as much as I could during my internship, and sometimes it feels like I learned more in these twelve weeks than the past two years combined.
Although George was my supervisor, I really worked for the entire NCROEP team, which includes Dr. Mike Muglia and Dr. Lindsay Dubbs. Under Mike, I learned about physical oceanography, the processing and collecting of wave spectra data, and even quantum mechanics. I found collecting and processing wave spectra data from local buoys to be particularly useful in improving my programming skills. I now know how to utilize an Application Programming Interface (API), characterize wave spectra data, and process Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth (CTD) measurements from the ocean.
With Lindsay, I got the opportunity to take various trips out into the field. I was able to participate in two trips to the Gulf Stream, where I learned how to operate a YSI meter, complete nitrogen fixation experiments, and how to prevent seasickness (the key is to eat salty things). I was also able to take biofouling samples from the CSI-maintained Spotter buoys at Jennette’s pier. These trips out into the field fortified my resolve in pursuing a career to study the coastal environment. Although getting seasick was not a lovely experience, the time I spent studying the coast outdoors was valuable in teaching me the importance of monitoring and protecting the environment.
Mike and Lindsay were also great to work with because they were clearly passionate and invested in what they were researching. Whenever we started talking about anything oceanography-related, it was like something switched on inside of Mike. He started talking faster and with this gusto that was very enjoyable to watch and learn from. Then, when Lindsay taught me about the importance of nitrogen-fixation, I could just tell she really cared about what she was talking about. She started from the atomic level and thoroughly worked up to the macroscopic level, demonstrating both her expertise and passion on the matter. Learning from the two was made easy and fun because no matter the question, they always took care in ensuring I understood what they were teaching me.
In summary, this internship experience allowed me to truly learn. It has given me a hands-on learning experience that I have deeply missed this past year and a half, and I will always cherish the time I have had here at CSI with the NCROEP team.
I spent the past 8 months at the Coastal Studies Institute (CSI) on the ECU Outer Banks Campus. As a first-year student in East Carolina University’s “Semester at the Coast Program” I took an in-person field-based course on oceanographic techniques. It was a highly engaging and captivating class and was taught by a spectacular professor, Dr. Mike Muglia, who refused to let any of his students call him “Doctor.”
At the end of the semester, I secured a summer internship at CSI through the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL), and Dr. Mike was my mentor. This summer, through my internship, I received hands-on experience working on projects surrounding coastal ocean observations and renewable energy.
The Outer Banks is an especially amazing and unique place to be doing coastal ocean research due to our proximity to the Gulf Stream. The immense amount of water flowing past Cape Hatteras in the Gulf Stream could be a huge renewable energy resource, and the group I worked with has been developing an underwater kite with Dr. Chris Vermillion’s team at NCSU to explore harvesting some of that energy.
Cape Hatteras is also one of the most energetic wave climates on the east coast, and CSI has waverider buoys along the Outer Banks measuring characteristics of the wave field such as wave height, period, and direction. Part of my internship involved helping the team to deploy one of those devices, then taking the data it provided and processing it through a program called MATLAB. We then began analyzing and comparing that information with the other waverider buoys across different regions of the Outer Banks and made a toolbox so that anyone who wants access to this information can have it without having to do so much of the work! This was done with a lot of help from CSI’s other intern, Vega Sproul, who is a brilliant NC state engineering student, and coding wizard Trip Taylor.
I was also able to work with George Bonner, Director of the North Carolina Renewable Ocean Energy Program (NCROEP), and Dr. Lindsay Dubbs, Associate Director of the NCROEP at CSI. With George and Vega, I went to the 4H Electric Congress event, a career fair for middle and high school students. We taught them about electromagnetic induction, the basis for almost all renewable energy, and how it can be applied in marine energy systems. We also explained the importance of the work we are doing at CSI. As part of that work, I went offshore multiple times, to deploy new wave measurement devices and help Dr. Dubbs with one of her research projects involving Sargassum, a type of macroalgae that provides vital habitat for a multitude of sea creatures.
I am excited to go back to East Carolina University's main campus this fall for my sophomore year. while continuing my work with the Coastal Studies Institute and the Engineering department at ECU where I will be working on a related Wave Energy Converter (WEC) project. I also hope to gain international research experience in the fall and apply for a Fulbright scholarship as I get a bit closer to graduating.
This internship has undoubtedly surpassed anything I could have imagined. Everyone that I have worked with this summer made it clear that they want nothing more than to see me succeed, and it was an amazing feeling to have a team to work with that feels more like a family than anything else.
Since 2013, the Coastal Studies Institute has had the pleasure of hosting the UNC Institute for the Environment’s (UNC IE) Outer Banks Field Site (OBXFS). The semester-long program has brought eleven fresh faces to CSI this fall. These Chapel Hill students, who all hail from the eastern United States, share a passion for spending time in nature and a desire for learning experiences that allow them to explore coastal environments.
As a part of the OBXFS 2021 cohort, the eleven students are living in Manteo, taking classes together on the ECU Outer Banks Campus, and participating in a Capstone research project focused on change in barrier island maritime forests. For their Capstone, the students will explore environmental factors, vegetative communities, and residents’ values and perceptions of the Buxton Woods Coastal Reserve. They will collect ecological and environmental data and speak with residents to investigate the type, extent, rates, and reasons for change and variability within the resilient and protected coastal social-ecological system of Buxton Woods. By the end of the semester, the students will have produced a full report on their findings and will also present their research to the public.
Before participating in the OBXFS program and until a few weeks ago, some of the students had not conducted research in the field before. “It was my first time doing fieldwork so it was an exciting experience that I was looking forward to. It was interesting to see the methods that went into finding the plots and collecting the data, and despite some of the challenges we faced such as bugs and being cold and wet, I enjoyed the experience. I learned a lot from [our leaders] in the few hours we were there, and I was impressed with how much knowledge they had of the area. Overall, it was a great experience, and I am looking forward to going back out again!” reflects Joseph Lopez-Hernandez.”
In addition to their course work and Capstone project, field trips and internships with local organizations and businesses, as well as guidance from their Community Advisory Board, have and will continue to help the undergraduates become part of the local community and aid in the successful completion of their field site goals.
The students hit the ground running as soon as they arrived on Roanoke Island. In just the first few weeks of being on the Outer Banks, they toured Jockey’s Ridge, traversed Nags Head Woods, explored Pea and Hatteras Islands, enjoyed watersports activities and a boat ride to a small nearby island, and conducted fieldwork at Buxton Woods for their Capstone, all while beginning their coursework. Later this fall, the cohort will visit Drummond Lake and start to commit time toward their internships twice a week. Finally, despite their busy schedule, the students have still found time to explore on their own too.
Of her experience so far, Nathalie Uriarte-Ayala says, “I am enjoying the small-knit community within the classrooms. We are able to form close relationships which make it easier to collaborate in the field.”
And Rebekah Littauer adds, “I have had so many new experiences that I haven’t had before. I have loved getting to know my peers, being outside, and getting hands-on experience learning new skills. The Outer Banks have been a beautiful and enriching place to learn, and I am excited for the rest of the semester here.”
Littauer is not alone either. In fact, all the students believe the semester will be an adventure that is sure to enhance their undergraduate experience.
Faculty Highlight: Dr. Teresa Ryan
Bridging the Gap
What comes to mind when you hear the word bridge? Do you think of a mechanism for connecting? Engineering? Maybe even water? In this case, Dr. Teresa Ryan is the bridge. And all the above references fit somewhere into her career too.
Ryan, an associate professor in the ECU Department of Engineering, has recently made a move to the Outer Banks to be a self-described “bridge” between the ECU Outer Banks Campus and the Department of Engineering based on the main campus. Specifically, Ryan will help facilitate fieldwork and research opportunities for current undergraduate and graduate engineering students as well as students enrolling in the new MS program in Coastal and Environmental Engineering under development as a collaboration between Integrated Coastal Programs and the Department of Engineering.
Enter Ryan and her research group. Through their field testing, they are working to provide hands-on, practical validation to improve the Navy’s models.
Not only does Ryan link the two ECU campuses and bridge the knowledge gap between acoustic models and real-world applications, but she also has a great passion for engaging students with exciting lessons and hands-on opportunities. In fact, that is what drew Ryan to ECU back in 2013.
Prior to taking her position at ECU, Ryan first worked in medical device development, but soon she felt the need for something more. She moved on to teaching high school science for several years, but she found herself missing the research side of the profession. So, she went back to graduate school to complete her Ph.D. at Catholic University of America. This eventually led Ryan to ECU and what she calls her “ideal combination” job. It is here at ECU that Ryan enjoys “a primary focus on teaching” with research still involved and loves creating “authentic research opportunities” for undergraduate students within the Department of Engineering.
“I am excited to bring my students to the Outer Banks more frequently now, and I am also looking forward to strengthening ties between Integrated Coastal Programs and the College of Engineering. With so much interdisciplinary work happening here on the coast, it is not hard to imagine many exciting new connections collaborations in the future.”
Underwater Soundscapes on an Oyster Farm
Louder and more complex soundscapes in marine habitats have been associated with healthy and diverse species communities. Two classic examples of this are coral reefs and natural oyster reefs- habitats where fish and invertebrates make an assortment of different noises associated with feeding and communication. Oyster farms are also a complex, human-created, habitat in estuaries. But the question remains: how do their soundscapes compare to the natural habitats that they displace? This summer, Ray Delvillar, an undergraduate biology major at ECU and participant in the Undergraduate Semester Experience at the Coast, sought to answer this question by conducting an independent research project with Dr. Jim Morley’s Fisheries Ecology Lab at CSI. Delvillar was uniquely qualified to conduct this research because he is an oyster farmer himself and oversees the demonstration oyster farm at the North Carolina Coastal Federation’s Northeast Office in Wanchese, NC.
At five different oyster farms in Pamlico Sound, Delvillar deployed a hydrophone to record the soundscape. Hydrophones were also placed at nearby control sites for comparison. He found that oyster farms were “louder” across the full range of the acoustic spectrum (from low to high-frequency noises) that suggests that the animal community becomes more diverse when an oyster farm is added to a habitat. Also, sounds made by fish were much more common on oyster farms. For example, on a farm near Engelhard, NC, sounds that are associated with courtship and spawning by silver perch and oyster toadfish were continuously heard, while the control site just a few hundred meters away was relatively quiet.
Hatch Date, Diet, and Habitat Use of Juvenile Sheepshead in Pamlico Sound
Within structured habitats of marine ecosystems, both natural and human-made, sheepshead is a common species of fish. Sheepshead occupy a unique niche among fishes, feeding on a huge diversity of invertebrates and plant matter like seagrass and algae. Little is known about sheepshead reproduction or about the ecology of early life stages. To fill some of these knowledge gaps regarding the life history of this species, Madeline Johnson is collecting juvenile sheepshead in multiple types of habitats within several regions of Pamlico Sound. Johnson is conducting this research for her graduate thesis in conjunction with the Fisheries Ecology Lab at CSI and Dr. Jim Morley from the ECU Department of Biology.
Forty open mesh traps containing a layer of oyster shell have been set out in the sound and are checked monthly. When the traps are lifted from the bottom, sheepshead tend to shelter inside them, allowing for their collection while minimizing impacts to other species. Based on these collections, the distribution of juvenile sheepshead can be examined along with their habitat preferences. Johnson will also be dissecting each fish and removing their otoliths, or “ear bones,” which can determine birth dates. Diets of juvenile sheepshead will also be examined by measuring stomach contents. Results from this research will inform fisheries management of this poorly understood species and further efforts towards valuing different estuarine habitats.
Administrative Support Associate
Katy is a native to the Outer Banks. Together, her husband, two daughters, and two labs live in Wanchese. Katy’s favorite thing to do is be on the water. A huge offshore fishing fanatic, she will jump at every opportunity given to go. Her favorite meal of the day is lunch…she will ask you what you are doing/having for lunch every day by 10 am.
- Job Description: Assisting with planning and organizing events, scheduling travel, assisting with the day-to-day operations of CSI.
- The coolest thing about working at CSI: Getting to see and learn about all the different research projects that take place here.
- Favorite OBX restaurant: Colington Cafe. I highly recommend the Filet Oscar!
Kurt grew up in southern Queensland Australia and joined the Australian Navy straight out of high school where he served as part of the patrol boat fleet dealing with Australia’s border patrol operations. Not long after finishing with the Navy, he met his now wife and eventually made the decision to relocate to the US where he has been living for the last 10 years. In 2015 he began his journey in the horticulture world, working at a container production and retail plant nursery in Greenville, NC where he served as logistics manager and head greenhouse grower. Since then, he has also completed his A.S. in Horticultural Science Management from NCSU's Agricultural Institute.
Kurt’s main hobbies are plants, fishing, music, and lifting weights. He enjoys working in his gardens at home with a focus on pollinator-friendly plants. Outside of plants and horticulture, he enjoys all things fishing. He spent several years doing mostly land-based game fishing from piers, jetties, and rock headlands in Australia, so it has been a fun and interesting transition for him to learn the ropes here in Eastern NC. When he is not fishing or gardening, one can usually find Kurt lifting weights or attending concerts and music festivals (pre-covid) with a love for all things heavy metal and hard rock.
- Job description: My main role is to maintain and beautify the grounds of the Coastal Studies Institute/ECU OBX Campus with a focus on native vegetation and coastal plantings. I also preserve the integrity and function of the Stormwater Control Measures on site, while implementing the use of sustainable practices throughout the campus.
- The coolest thing about working at CSI: The serenity. How’s the serenity? (Guess that Australian movie reference.)
- One person from history to dine with: Sir Joseph Banks- famed botanist and naturalist with a lengthy list of distinctions including his work advocating and advising the settlement of Australia and his work at Kew, Royal Botanic Gardens.
University Programs Associate
Originally from the Outer Banks, Alex attended East Carolina University as an undergrad studying history, philosophy, and classics. After ECU, she traveled to Tallahassee where she received an MA in philosophy from Florida State University. Alex’s graduate research largely focused on epistemology, folk psychology, and experimental methodology. After returning to the Outer Banks in 2020, Alex is delighted to be back in Pirate Nation. As a graduate of East Carolina, she is passionate about continuing to extend the Pirate community in her home county of Dare and beyond. In her spare time, you can catch Alex surfing, lifting, fishing, or teaching yoga.
- Job description: I help organize and coordinate all levels of programs offered at the Coastal Studies Institute. While my main focus is on the ECU Semester Experience at the Coast undergraduate residential program, I also work with the outreach team to help organize summer camps, K-12 programming, and internships for students of various levels.
- The coolest thing about working at CSI: As an ECU alum, it is super exciting to be back at ECU, but this time in my home community.
- Something most don't know about me: I can do a Rubik’s cube in under a minute (or at least, that’s my best time).
Semester Experience at the Coast
Live. Learn. Discover.
These are the goals of the students that attend East Carolina’s Undergraduate Semester Experience at the Coast. Each spring, students are presented with a unique opportunity to learn in an exceptional coastal landscape. Hosted at the Coastal Studies Institute on ECU’s Outer Banks campus, the semester-long experience does not stop with acquiring knowledge. The program aims to fuel discovery – the discovery of all that the beautiful scenery of Eastern North Carolina has to offer, and, most importantly, the discovery of each student’s passion.
During the program, students can expect to experience small class sizes that allow for strong faculty-student interaction. But perhaps the greatest thing about the semester experience is the ability for students to conduct research in the field. What is the field? Well, on the Outer Banks, field sites are not just engaging, but stunning as well. Undergraduates may find themselves on the beach near Jennette’s Pier, in the sounds of the Albemarle-Pamlico Estuarine System, or miles offshore collecting data from the Gulf Stream. Here, at the Coastal Studies Institute, learning extends well beyond the classroom. Students are also presented with the chance to partner with local organizations to participate in internships related to their desired field. These partnerships allow students to gain professional experience specific to their own coastal-related interests.
When asked about their time studying at the Coastal Studies Institute, alumni of the program spoke with nothing but positivity. Josh Tutt calls the program “the best college experience I have ever had.” Cora McQuaid highlights the connection she made with her classmates, “The group I came in with was such a fun and interesting group of people from environmental science majors to management, engineering, and even interior design.” Marco Agostini, a member of the first ever undergraduate cohort at CSI, says that his time here at the coast “introduced [him] to . . . a field that [he] hopes to make a career out of.” Based on student testimony, it is safe to say the undergraduate experience was an exciting, unique, and a highlight of their time at ECU.
Although past semesters have resulted in remarkable success for the program, ECU’s Integrated Coastal Programs is hoping to continue to expand its horizons. Alex Nolte, a new hire at the Coastal Studies Institute as the University Program Associate, has set her eyes on helping the program achieve this goal. “I am excited to be part of such an amazing and innovative institution,” says Nolte. “As an alumna of ECU and an Outer Banks native, my goal in this new position is to leave a lasting impact on the students and staff of Pirate Nation, as well as the entire Outer Banks community.” Nolte has been taking steps to increase enrollment for the Semester Experience at the Coast program set to take place in the spring of 2022. “I am traveling to Greenville to visit classrooms, engage with advisors, and hold interest meetings on main campus. In the next few months, I will also be traveling across the region to talk to perspective Pirates about the opportunities at ECU’s Outer Banks Campus.” The entire staff at CSI is excited about the imminent growth of the semester-long program. In addition to the goal of having more students on campus in the spring, the team hopes to expand the experience into a year-long program in the future.
Registration for the spring semester begins at the end of October, which means that ECU students will be back on the Outer Banks campus before we know it! While the prospect of undergraduate research is always exciting, the potential for the expansion of the program in the coming years only adds to the fervor. The Semester Experience at the Coast brings together the best elements of Eastern North Carolina and combines it with a faculty and staff that are ready to work together to create an engaging environment for undergraduate students. The college experience is undoubtedly about learning, growing, and finding a career path that makes you excited to get out of bed each morning. And here on the Outer Banks at CSI, we aim to achieve just that by changing the lives of Pirates, one discovery at a time.
New Podcast Alert!
Genevieve “GG” Guerry and Kyra Hagge, ICS Ph.D. students and The Coastal Society (TCS) ECU Chapter President and Vice President, respectively, have teamed up with three other TCS members from Duke University to produce a new podcast called “All Swell?”. The podcast “dives into current ocean and coastal issues, their potential solutions, and the people leading the way toward a more resilient future.”
In the inaugural episode, GG and Kyra introduce themselves and the idea of interdisciplinary science and its role in research. They also highlight the ECU Chapter of The Coastal Society and the Coastal Studies Institute on the ECU Outer Banks Campus. The podcast is sponsored by the American Shorelines Podcast Network and The Coastal Society and can be found on Spotify, Anchor, and Apple or Google Podcasts.