By Stephanie Caddell
During the Fall 2021 semester, I had the pleasure of traveling to Morehead City, NC, and taking my classes at the UNC Institute of Marine Sciences. This semester, I was lucky enough to take classes with accomplished UNC Marine Sciences faculty and work with faculty from other partnering universities and organizations. I am also surrounded with 16 other accomplished Environmental Science, Marine Science, and Biology students with interests similar to my own.
Classes and Learning Opportunities
When I first arrived in Morehead City, myself and a few other scuba divers took a week-long diving class to learn the requirements of a scientific diver! We learned how to set quadrats and take measurements underwater as well as how to identify some of the species that are often found in the coastal waters of North Carolina.
After our week of underwater adventures, we started our academic endeavors! This semester, all of the field site students took two classroom courses, Human Impacts on Estuarine Processes and Estuarine and Coastal Marine Ecology, with professors right here at IMS. We also took a seminar series with different specialists from around the country. Although we considered these classes our “classroom courses”, they were far from traditional. We had the opportunity to go on field trips on a weekly basis. Some of these included visits to local oyster reefs, the nearby beaches to examine erosion and beach critters, the IMS Shark Tagging trip, a kayak trip down one of the local creeks, and some oyster reef and wetlands restoration projects managed by the North Carolina Coastal Federation.
Capstone and Independent Research
In addition to the classes we take at IMS, we had the opportunity to conduct a large group research project that serves as the capstone requirement for all Environmental Science majors. We also each select a research mentor before the semester begins for an independent research project from either IMS or one of the nearby research centers such as Duke University Marine Lab, NOAA Beaufort Lab, NC State University CMAST, the NC Coastal Federation and others.
This semester our research project was conducted on North Core Banks examining the ecological significance of a series of ponds created by Hurricane Dorian in 2019. Two of my classmates and I focused on the fish species found in these ponds and discovered plenty of neat pelagic species! One week we had the opportunity to camp out on Core Banks! At the end of the project we present our findings to the National Park service, which shows that our research truly has an impact.
For our independent research projects, we each chose topics that were interesting to us as individuals and spent our Fridays investigating our research questions. Some projects were more heavily focused on field work and others on data analysis. My project focused on habitat restoration and the importance of understanding the experimental design of restoration studies so that we can learn how to improve restoration practices in the future. At the end of the semester, everyone gets to present their findings to the rest of the class, our professors, and our advisors.
Other Fun Adventures
Outside of our classroom time and our hard work on research, there is plenty of time for exploring North Carolina’s beautiful coast. We spent lots of time swimming in the ocean, mini golfing, having picnics on the beach, and hosting seashell craft nights! Our research experiences, field trips, weekend adventures, and stunning sunsets truly made this semester one to remember. I am truly thankful to all the people who made this semester a blast!
For more information about all of the UNC environmental field sites please visit: https://ie.unc.edu/education/field-sites/