CoastLines ECU Integrated Coastal Programs Newsletter - Winter 2020

Corbett's Corner

I’m excited to start the new year with this winter issue of CoastLines. With every New Year comes new plans, expectations, and, of course, New Year’s resolutions - some personal, others focused more on the professional side. Yes, I’d like to lose 10 pounds, spend more time with family and friends, get in the water more, and maybe learn to play guitar. I certainly will get to some of those, but maybe not all (I’ve been talking about learning the guitar for years). It’s important to set goals and think about areas of growth. I spent some of the holiday break doing just that for our organization.

Integrated Coastal Programs (ICP) had a great 2019 - a year of growth for ECU’s Coastal Enterprise. The addition of five new tenure-track and two fixed-term faculty located full-time at the Coastal Campus has more than doubled our faculty in ICP and at the coast! This is an incredible move forward, but we aren’t going to rest on our laurels – it’s a brand-new year! If 2019 was our year of faculty growth, then 2020 will be the year to begin undergraduate and graduate student growth at the coast.

As this newsletter goes “to press”, we are welcoming the first ECU undergraduates to the Outer Banks Campus for the entire spring semester with a full load of coastal-focused experiential courses and the opportunity for independent research and internships. Partnering with several departments across campus, we have been able to create an interdisciplinary curriculum as part of the Undergraduate Semester Experience at the Coast. It has been a big push to make it happen and a product of great teamwork across ECU. This new programming is essentially creating a new living-learning community on the OBX, providing a unique educational experience for students that emphasizes collaboration, experiential learning, and problem solving. I am excited to see more young faces on the Outer Banks Campus and plan to work with many of you to begin growing the program.

We are currently developing new and innovative ways to expand student education at the coast. We want students to think about how they can “Put the COAST in their Curriculum” - giving them the chance to link their disciplinary interests with the transdisciplinary challenges that face our coastal systems. This includes expanding course offerings at the Outer Banks Campus, whether it is just a course-focused field trip, development of new courses that use our coastal assets, research or internships completed at the coast, or incorporation of the new Semester Experience at the Coast into current degree programs. There are many exciting choices and a great chance for new undergraduate programming across ECU. Spread the word about all the great educational opportunities at ECU’s Outer Banks Campus!

It’s a brand-new year, heck, it’s a new decade, and we have already set sail! This pirate ship is headed toward greatness. Climb aboard and be a part of the excitement as we expand opportunities for our students, staff, and faculty!

Happy New Year!

Reide Corbett


Growing up on the shores of Lake Constance in southern Germany, where natural beauty co-exists with a long history of human habitation, Dr. Nadine Heck has always been curious about how people interact with, manage, and conserve the natural landscapes around them. Even today, Nadine channels this curiosity into her work, though she has since moved from the alpine lake-shores where she grew up to the Pacific and then Atlantic Oceans.

Nadine is a geographer specializing in resource management and governance in marine and coastal areas. “I was drawn to coastal and marine issues because I grew up on the water and have been living close to lakes and the ocean ever since." Specifically, her work examines how socio-economic and environmental contexts influence the use of marine and coastal ecosystems. In addition, she studies how different management and governance approaches shape conservation and natural resource management outcomes. She is particularly interested in studying these approaches within a social-ecological systems framework that explores the complex dynamics of human actions and their links to the natural environment. “Ultimately, my research aims to increase an understanding of the conditions that foster effective protection and sustainable use of marine ecosystems and resources.

Combining her love to travel and interest in coastal management issues, Nadine has studied marine and coastal management in diverse coastal and marine settings. At the University of Freiburg in Germany, built in the 15th century and nestled within the scenic beauty of the Black Forest, she studied Physical and Human Geography with an emphasis on natural resource management. She continued her studies in England where she completed a Master of Science in Geography at the University of Exeter and earned a PhD in Geography at the University of Leeds. During her doctoral research, Nadine discovered her interest in ocean management as she conducted her doctoral research on the management of marine protected areas in British Columbia, in the Pacific Northwest. During this time, she spent two years on Vancouver Island conducting field research, surrounded by lush coastal rainforest and diverse marine wildlife.

After her PhD, Nadine continued to study coastal management issues in different regions of the US and beyond. As a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Natural Resources at Cornell, she studied social-ecological connections of fisheries in the Great Lakes and developed an understanding of human and ecological issues that are threatening the sustainability of fisheries.

Back on the West coast, Nadine joined the University of California, Santa Cruz as a postdoctoral researcher and then as a project scientist. Here, she embraced the inter-disciplinary nature of her work, and collaborated with colleagues from diverse disciplines on issues related to ocean space-use, including the expansion of aquaculture, and climate change adaptation in the context of fisheries, coastal water resources, and ecosystem service values such as flood protection from coral reefs and mangroves.

“I was drawn to coastal and marine issues because I grew up on the water and have been living close to lakes and the ocean ever since."

Reflecting on the importance of her research, Nadine states, “Humans depend on the ocean and coastal ecosystems for their well-being, health, and economic growth, yet there is an increasing threat to the health of the system and a rising gap between the declining health of the ocean and coastal systems and a growing demand for its benefits.” She maintains that pressure on natural resources caused by human development threatens the future of our planet including human impacts such as plastics pollution and climate change.

To pinpoint interdisciplinary management issues that lie at the interface of ecological, social, and institutional systems, Nadine combines geospatial methods, including geographic information systems (GIS), with quantitative and qualitative social science methods to study management issues at multiple scales ranging from local to global.

For Nadine, collecting and analyzing qualitative or quantitative data is a favorite aspect of the research process. “I enjoy the field work - collecting data, engaging with people, coastal communities, resource users, and resource managers,” she says. “It’s exciting to work with them, to discuss my findings, and to see my research actually applied. As I look at interdisciplinary management issues, I also constantly seek collaborations with colleagues in various disciplines – coastal engineers, economists, bio-geo chemists, and ecologists to study complex research questions that lie beyond the expertise of any single discipline.”

She also finds mentoring students, engaging them in her research, to be highly rewarding and interesting and she has worked with students from diverse backgrounds in her projects.

At the Coastal Studies Institute, Nadine looks forward to building her own lab, exploring coastal and marine issues in North Carolina and beyond, and collaborating with the diverse faculty. She notes that North Carolina is heavily affected by storms and other climate-driven impacts and she is interested to study how resource users and managers respond to these impacts– how have they changed or adapted their use and management of coastal and marine systems. What has worked or not worked and why? How vulnerable are commercial fisherman and other marine users to climate related impacts and what helped them to adapt to coastal hazards?

While living on the West coast, Nadine fell in love with ocean-related activities such as swimming, kayaking, and exploring hidden beaches. She embraces the chance to relocate to the Outer Banks and to experience the unique opportunity of living and working on a barrier island. Although she’ll miss the quintessential California beach town of Santa Cruz with its breathtaking views of Monterey Bay – she's quite happy to continue living at the water’s edge, maintaining a coastal lifestyle.


As a young man growing up in the coastal city of Chennai, India, Dr. Siddharth (Sid) Narayan demonstrated extreme courage. No, he didn’t tussle with a Bengal tiger, although the situation may have been as risky. In a place of nearly 12 million people, he bravely pedaled his bicycle through chaotic traffic, dodging cars, buses, motorbikes, rickshaws, and pedestrians, for the chance to spend time at the beach – to soak up the ambiance of the golden stretch of sand and splashing waves of the Bay of Bengal. The coast and the lush, tropical setting of his hometown appealed to him and he chose to stay in the area to attend SRM Institute of Science and Technology where he earned his undergraduate degree in civil engineering. Here, he was introduced to the coast not as a place to visit but as a topic to study and he made the decision to see as many of the world’s coastlines as possible.

In pursuit of this endeavor, and with a scholarship to further his education in coastal engineering and management, he bid a fond farewell to Chennai, and moved to Trondheim, Norway. The difference couldn’t have been more stark - sparse population, snow-capped mountains, verdant rolling fields, 12 hours of winter darkness, and 24 hours of summer sun. But the dramatic change of scenery grew on him, and a decade later he claims this ancient Nordic city is one of the most beautiful places he’s lived. Sid spent a year at Delft Technical University in the Netherlands, and a semester in Southampton, UK, to study coastal processes and adaptation with some of the foremost experts in the world on the subject. Graduation was followed by a brief stint conducting experimental research in fluid mechanics at the Indian Institute of Technology Madras in his home city. He then returned to the University of Southampton for a PhD in coastal engineering with a focus on coastal flooding. For the past four years, he has been at University of California, Santa Cruz, initially as a Postdoctoral Scholar and then as a Research Scientist.

Sid’s early affinity for the coast is what spurred his interest in learning more about it. “I’ve always been fascinated by the coast,” he says. “There are so many moving parts that appeal to me. I like the fact that there are different angles to look at with any topic that you choose.”

Sid’s research centers on coastal hazards and coastal adaptation – how people adapt to hazards on the coastline. Recently, he has been focused on ecosystem-based adaptation – understanding how wetlands like marshes and mangroves or oyster reefs and coral reefs can be used to help prevent flooding and damage to people and property. “The objective is to work with the conservation side of the coin as well as the flood risk and adaptation side of the coin to see if there’s a sweet spot where coastlines can be preserved, and risk to people can be reduced,” he explains.

Whether conducting research on his own, with colleagues, or conservation non-government organizations, he appreciates being an academic for the balance between the flexibility to follow his passion while at the same time adhering to scientific rigor in whatever topic he researches. And the best moments occur when he can observe the application of his research - whether it involves effective coastal adaptation or the preservation of coastal ecosystems.

When considering the challenges of inter-disciplinary research, he says while he finds collaborating with colleagues in other disciplines to be insightful, it can sometimes lead to confusion. Through their education and work experience, scientists develop their own terminology and have particular ways of explaining concepts or ideas. “It can involve different words for different disciplines, and it has the potential to become somewhat of a communication barrier,” he says.

He favors the writing and publishing aspects of his research – sharing his findings in journals, governmental guidance documents, and multi-media outlets. "The process of framing a research question and finding a place to apply it, gets me excited.”

What has surprised him most about his research? That ecosystems can actually work in reducing flooding. And the way people adapt to changes in nature and climate. “I used to assume that if a place became too dangerous, people would leave, but they don’t. There are human angles we have yet to understand when evaluating adaptation strategies.”

The main challenge lies in keeping our natural coastlines and ecosystems in place while also keeping our coastal communities safe. “It involves solving two problems at the same time. In addressing the interactions between coastal engineering, ecology, and morphology, the goal is to generate non-conventional solutions which eventually become mainstream practice.”

The Coastal Studies Institute and northeastern North Carolina will benefit greatly from Sid’s expertise in hydrodynamic and inundation modelling and his desire to further the understanding of the role of nature-based solutions in reducing coastal risks. He will continue to investigate the interaction of humans and natural coastal ecosystems, with an emphasis on making science relevant and applicable to policy and decision-makers.

“The Outer Banks is the perfect place to do research,” he says. “It is situated right where everything is happening. There’s already a great group of people here actively involved in coastal research and I’m looking forward to becoming a part of that by continuing my research.”

He said so long to the quirky vibe and charm of Santa Cruz, and he’s already been smitten by the unique beauty of the Outer Banks. “The light seems different here. It’s more subtle and muted,” he says.

Sid’s happy for the opportunity to continue spending time at the beach. And he intends to pedal his bicycle there.


College elective courses don’t typically alter the trajectory of a person’s life, but in James (Jim) Morley’s case they did. While an undergrad at State University of New York at Cortland, needing to fulfill his electives requirement, he randomly chose a couple of marine biology courses. The topics of study piqued his interest: geology of the ocean; the chemical composition of water; marine mammals; fish; plants; biological habitats, etc. With research trips to the coast of Maine and the Caribbean thrown into the mix, he knew he had found his niche.

Graduating from SUNY at Cortland with a bachelor’s degree in biology, he furthered his education at North Carolina State University (NCSU), earning a Master of Science degree in Fisheries and Wildlife Science and continued on there to receive a PhD in Zoology.

Jim is a coastal ecologist. He is broadly interested in habitat use - how marine fish and marine invertebrates use habitat. And how habitat requirements, such as sea grass or oyster beds, for different species change throughout a species life history. The life history (or life cycle) of a species includes factors that affect survival of juveniles and also reproductive strategies of adults.

With the increasing temperature of the ocean, changing salinity patterns of waterways in marine systems, and urbanization of the coast, Jim is studying how these changes are affecting marine populations in terms of their habitat requirements. “I research how climate change and ocean warming has influenced species distribution and other aspects of their life history, such as their timing of migration,” he says. The data he analyzes results in forecasts of climate impacts and provides insight in understanding changes to habitat structure.

“A large part of what makes my research rewarding,” he says, “is the interest from policy makers and people who make management decisions.” He finds it gratifying to have the opportunity to apply his work to the management process, contributing to the protection and viability of sustainable resources.

Jim works with large data sets, so when conducting modeling it can be a challenge deciding what data are available for use. He’s found that although there are increasingly more extensive data sets available, there are still notable shortcomings - the models are only as good as the data plugged into them. It is arduous work but pulling together large data sets and integrating data that provides useful results gives him a sense of accomplishment. And though he finds the computer and modeling work necessary and productive, it’s being out in the field that he really enjoys.

While conducting graduate research on bluefish, Jim recalls he and his team stumbling upon large aggregations of sheepshead. This species with its funny name and large buck teeth, illustrates the adage: You are What You Eat. The sheepshead uses its sharp teeth to scrape and crush shrimp and crabs, which infuses a sweet flavor into its flesh, making it taste like – you guessed it – shrimp and crabs (should one choose to sample the subject of their research). Still intrigued by the aggregation of sheepshead they had observed, Jim and his colleagues recently revisited the area hoping to collect samples. “We met with success and determined that all the fish were in spawning condition,” he says. As a result, this project has grown into a larger investigation of this species, with collaborators from both UNC Chapel Hill and NCSU.

An oyster aquaculture research project revealed another surprising discovery. “We collected solid results demonstrating that fish and invertebrate densities on oyster aquaculture farms are a lot higher than on adjacent controls. This finding indicates the possibility of some level of habitat enhancement from an oyster farm.”

Jim sees climate change and all that it encompasses – changes in ocean chemistry and temperature, sea level rise, higher salinity conditions in estuaries, and reshuffling eco systems along the coast – as the biggest threat to our planet. Climate change and structural modifications to the coast are altering the geographic location of species as well as influencing their productivity. This upheaval affects the success rates of various species. Jim’s research is a great help to fishery and resource management programs. By alerting resource managers to these trends, adjustments can be made to guidelines and policies.

And though he finds the computer and modeling work necessary and productive, it’s being out in the field that he really enjoys.

“Coastal Studies Institute on the Outer Banks is the perfect venue to continue my research,” Jim says. “The Pamlico Sound is a hugely important nursery system and at the moment there is a lack of fisheries research going on there, when compared to other major coastal systems across the U.S.” He anticipates working towards filling that knowledge gap.

Jim and his family relocated from the lovely coastal town of Beaufort, NC. Without having to move a great distance, they are happy to continue living on the coast and pursuing their favorite pastimes - enjoying the outdoors, spending time on the beach, and exploring sandbars in their boat.


Saturday, February 29, 2020, 1:00 PM – 4:00 PM

Happy Leap Day! How will you spend your extra day? Take the leap and attend CSI’s Open House to:

• Celebrate “Leap Day” wisely

• Meet with faculty and staff

• Discover the latest research

• Engage in stimulating conversation

• Broaden your horizons

• Share your insights

• Snap a marsh selfie

• Enhance your understanding

• Satisfy your curiosity

• Enjoy a coastal respite


Never Underestimate the Importance of a Stringy, Brown Mass

Sargassum, not to be confused with sarcasm, is a genus of large brown seaweed (a type of algae). Adornment of berry or grape-like structures (pneumatocysts) filled with air, add buoyancy to the plant, allowing it to spend its life in enviable fashion – floating along on the surface of the ocean. Granted the stringy, brown mass may be off-putting in appearance, it does serve an important purpose. While seemingly enjoying a life of leisure, great mats of the plants serve as vital feeding and breeding grounds for marine life and can stretch for miles. Fish, sea turtles, marine birds, crabs, shrimp, and more set sail on this floating habitat. In addition, it provides a nursery area for a variety of species, including mahi, tuna, and marlin. Even in its death, this indomitable plant continues to give of itself. Upon losing its buoyancy, it falls to the floor of the sea, providing energy in the form of carbon to fishes and invertebrates, making it an important part of the deep-sea food web.

Sargassum is prevalent in the Gulf Stream. One of the most fascinating phenomena in nature, the Gulf Stream is a warm and swift Atlantic Ocean current that originates in the Gulf of Mexico, stretches to the tip of Florida, and follows the eastern coastlines of the United States and Canada. It is an essential resource for North Carolina’s offshore fisheries due to its incredible biodiversity and pockets of productivity in an otherwise barren environment. The Stream is a major driver of global climate and an important vehicle for nutrient cycling and nitrogen fixation in the open ocean, or pelagic, environment because of the Sargassum communities found in its waters.

Nitrogen is a macro-nutrient required by all living things; however, atmospheric nitrogen needs to be “fixed” through a series of steps to become biologically available to organisms. Because it is the limiting nutrient in the pelagic environment, any process that delivers biologically available nitrogen to the system could increase primary productivity which cascades up the food chain. The microorganisms that live on Sargassum, known as the epiphytic community, are suspected to play a critical yet vastly underestimated role in the nitrogen fixation process.

The Gulf Stream is also a significant potential source of renewable power generation. The North Carolina Renewable Ocean Energy Program (NCROEP), a Coastal Studies Institute-led research initiative that attracts state and outside funding, conducts interdisciplinary research, development, and testing of hydro-kinetic energy harvesting strategies, with an emphasis on Gulf Stream power assessment and device siting.

What impact, if any, would measures and devices needed to harness the power of the Gulf Stream for grid-scale renewable energy have on the surrounding environment and offshore ecosystem?

Enter CSI research scientist and NCROEP Associate Director, Dr. Lindsay Dubbs, and UNC-Chapel Hill graduate student, Claire Johnson. Their team of scientists, students, interns and volunteer researchers is part of an ongoing study specifically interested in examining nutrient cycling and primary productivity within Sargassum and surrounding communities. They hope to better understand just how much nitrogen is being added to the environment by the epiphytic and planktonic communities associated with the Gulf Stream’s Sargassum patches. Their work involves a series of measurements and experimental procedures conducted in the field, lab, and through geospatial analysis.

This and additional research conducted within the NCROEP Environmental and Regulatory Assessment is essential to minimizing and mitigating any potential impacts that marine hydro-kinetic devices may have on offshore ecosystems. While utility-scale wave and current energy installations do not yet exist, ocean energy extraction has gained increasing attention as a viable component of the energy mix of the future. The Sargassum nutrient cycling and productivity research being conducted by CSI will be the most recent and thorough study ever conducted on this type of fixation, therefore providing valuable and novel insights to guide the future of renewable ocean energy development through the NCROEP.


Science on the Sound Lecture Series

February 20, 2020, 6:00 PM

Join us for an evening lecture with Marissa Liverman, Citizen Science and Conservation Specialist at the Outer Banks Center for Wildlife Education.

Come learn more about our flying furry friends and how you can dispel the many myths surrounding them. Bats are battling many conservation issues with the largest one being white-nose syndrome which has caused mass mortality of cave-hibernating bats in North America including in North Carolina. Liverman will discuss how the North Carolina Wildlife Resource Commission monitors bat populations across the state along with how you can be a bat steward here on the Outer Banks and help bats easily in your own backyards.

This program will be streamed live at https://www.youtube.com/unccsi and the online viewing audience will be able to ask the presenter questions via an online chat room.

2020 Summer Camps at The Coastal Studies Institute


Do you have a student who loves science and the coast? Enroll them in CSI's 2020 Summer Camps! The Coastal Studies Institute is offering eleven summer camp experiences for students 9-16 years old. These day camps combine STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math) concepts with fun, hands-on activities to keep campers engaged and actively learning while having a great summer experience. Students will snorkel, kayak, collect species data by seining, trawling and hook-and-line fishing, study plankton in the lab, engineer ocean exploring equipment, and experience many other fun educational activities. Camp begins at 9:00 am and ends at 3:30 at the Coastal Studies Institute on the ECU Outer Banks Campus. CSI’s 2020 Summer Camp registration opens March 1st, 2020. For more information, and how to register, please visit the link below.