From the Executive Director

Autumn 2021: A Season of Variety and Opportunity

Autumn is not just a transition but also a season of contrasts within itself.

The start of a new school year brings excitement and adjustments. September marks the end of summer vacations, even if many people this year remained at home or nearby as the pandemic continues. Cooler days encourage walks to enjoy neighborhoods, parks, and our amazing beaches, and maybe to watch and listen for birds in migration. No doubt Bland Simpson’s North Carolina: Land of Water, Land of Sky, which we excerpt in this issue, will inspire countless autumn day trips and longer sojourns into coastal environs.

Autumn also is the peak of hurricane season, bringing memories of storms from our recent and deeper past, amid new preparations for stronger and more frequent storms with climate change.

The change in season also means an online gathering of our North Carolina Sea Grant Advisory Board. We have a great mix of people who meet with us twice a year — and who connect with us throughout the year to offer perspectives on topics related to our research and outreach. Our current chair is Michael Piehler, director of the Institute for the Environment at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and head of sustainability programs for the campus. Over the years Michael has worked with communities and agencies to better understand nitrogen cycling and coastal ecosystems and has mentored a cadre of future leaders.

We also have several new board members who offer a wide variety of expertise. Ricky Moore is owner and chef at Saltbox Seafood Joint in Durham (and an author as well). Amanda Martin is the state’s chief resilience officer within NC Emergency Management. James Hargrove has a career in environmental science that is evolving into a career in aquaculture as owner of Middle Sound Mariculture in Wilmington. Todd Miller is the founder and longtime leader of the N.C. Coastal Federation, based in Carteret County and with offices along the coast.

Variety is also a key element in this issue of Coastwatch. But there is an underlying theme, too: Sea Grant’s support of graduate students, fellows, and early career researchers.

Start with our “Coastal Tidings” section and you will find announcements about state and national policy fellowships, and we celebrate a new study from former Sea Grant/Space Grant research fellow Melinda Martinez. Our cover story on groundbreaking rip current forecasts has its roots in graduate work by Greg Dusek and his ongoing partnership with ocean rescue expert Dave Elder.

Work by Carson Miller is featured in “Digging Up a Stormy Past,” a piece by Antonio Rodriguez of UNC’s Institute for Marine Science. Sienna Zuco, an undergraduate intern from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, helped local seafood businesses through a project with the N.C. Local Food Council, which we highlight in “New Links in the Sea-to-Table Chain.”

In “Currents,” Aaron Ramus of UNC Wilmington writes about his research on invasive seaweed, research we funded with our joint fellowship with the N.C. Coastal Reserve and National Estuarine Research Reserve. Kara Yopak credits her UNC Wilmington students as coauthors on research we highlight in our “Sea Science” piece, and “Hook, Line & Science” features several students as guest authors.

Of course, we could not publish this magazine without the writing and editing of our science communication interns Lauren Pharr, Carrie Clower, and Nan Pincus.

’Tis also a season for funding opportunities for future projects. Check out opportunities on our news and funding pages at now and through the end of the year. And we are completing the process for our next set of two-year “core” research grants, so watch for news on those projects in early 2022.

As always, I’d appreciate your comments on our current work and ideas for the future. Please email me at

Susan White, Executive Director, North Carolina Sea Grant

lead photo courtesy of NC State

from the Autumn 2021 issue of Coastwatch