image: Buxton, NC, shoreline.

Buxton, NC. Credit: Kyle Little.

The Coastal Conference Returns to the Coast

The North Carolina Coastal Conference returns to the coast on November 13 and 14 at the Riverfront Convention Center in New Bern. Register here.

“We’re looking forward to gathering researchers, agency and business experts, community leaders, teachers, and students who are interested in coastal topics,” says Susan White, executive director of North Carolina Sea Grant.

North Carolina Sea Grant hosts the biennial conference with several partners, providing a vital platform for advancing the well-being of our state’s coastal regions. The 2024 conference will again feature a wide array of presentations that address pressing issues for our state’s coastal communities and ecosystems – as well as a special “Shape of the Coast” legal learning opportunity on the opening day.

Although “Shape of the Coast” is designed for lawyers and other legal professionals, it will be open to anyone attending on Day 1. The full agenda is to be determined.

“We are so excited to bring the Coastal Conference back to the coast this year,” says John Fear, North Carolina Sea Grant’s deputy director. “We anticipate strong engagement across all our university campuses – and beyond.”

Discussions will span from scientific research and STEM outreach to interdisciplinary approaches that bridge the arts, education, and humanities. Students, college and university educators, K-12 teachers, practitioners, and community members can submit presentation proposals for consideration.

Presenters can choose from the styles below or suggest their own types of session:

Brief presentation descriptions are due on May 20 through the eSeaGrant submission portal.

Learn more about how to submit a presentation

Learn how to become a sponsor.

More about the 2024 North Carolina Coastal Conference.

Check for updates on social media, too: #NCCoastConf.

— Dan DiNicola

Sea Grant Welcomes the New National Coordinator for the Community Engaged Internship Program 

Dynestie Robinson has joined Sea Grant as coordinator of the national Community Engaged Internship program. Robinson (right) will manage professional development opportunities, hands-on experiences, and funding resources for 40 undergraduate student interns from underrepresented and indigenous communities across the country.

“We are thrilled that Dynestie has joined us and will be working to increase and broaden student participation in Sea Grant and promote career pathways in marine science in North Carolina and across the nation,” says Frank López, North Carolina Sea Grant’s extension director.

Robinson’s background in community engagement includes her work with Passage Home, which provides intentional and accessible resources to move families toward generational self-sufficiency.

“Joining the Sea Grant team as the Community Engagement Internship coordinator holds special significance for me as a student who, at times, strayed from programs that lacked representation that mirrored my own,” Robinson says. “This role is a chance to create and foster inclusive space that encourages students from diverse backgrounds to explore and thrive in marine and coastal professions.”

Robinson will work out of North Carolina Sea Grant’s Raleigh office, while pursuing her doctorate in social work. “I’m looking forward to connecting students with coastal communities, creating meaningful professional development experiences, and contributing to a more inclusive and sustainable future.” 

Community Engaged Internships

image: NC’s new Knauss Fellows (left to right): Aaron Ramus, Madeleine “Mac”
Gagné, Sydney Mantell, Nico Fairbairn, Stephanie Murphy, and Claudia Deeg.

NC’s new Knauss Fellows (left to right): Aaron Ramus, Madeleine “Mac” Gagné, Sydney Mantell, Nico Fairbairn, Stephanie Murphy, and Claudia Deeg.

Knauss Fellows Begin Federal Service

The new class of the prestigious Sea Grant John A. Knauss Marine Policy Fellowship program began federal service in February, including six fellows from North Carolina.

Claudia Deeg serves in the Office of Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (RI). Deeg received her master’s in environmental management from Duke University. Her master’s research focused on the vulnerability of small-scale fishers, especially women, to climate change. “The Knauss Fellowship will provide me with the advanced skills and knowledge necessary to succeed in my career goal of advancing equitable ocean policy,” says Deeg.

Nicholas “Nico” Fairbairn serves in the Office of Senator Brian Schatz (HI). Fairbairn earned a master’s degree in environmental management from Duke University. Fairbairn is interested in applying an environmental justice lens to pressing marine issues. Fairbairn says being “equipped with a year’s experience in the House or Senate” through the Knauss Fellowship “will transform my capacity to serve the American people.”

Madeleine “Mac” Gagné serves in the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Resilience and Risk Management Directorate. Gagné is a doctoral student in computer science at NC State. Gagné’s interest in large-scale emergency communication led to work building a computational model that tailors hurricane evacuation communications to local communities. Gagné says the fellowship provides “the community outreach tools needed to actively tailor my modeling to the real-world needs of coastal cities.”

Sydney Mantell serves in the NOAA Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research’s Office of Communications. Mantell received her master’s in environmental management from Duke University and takes a particular interest in promoting equity within environmental education, marine resource use, and climate change mitigation. “The Knauss Fellowship will allow me to take a deep dive into one or several specialized marine issues and develop expertise from the nation’s leaders,” says Mantell.

Stephanie Murphy serves in the U.S. Department of State’s Office of Marine Conservation. Murphy earned a master’s in environmental management from Duke University. There, she studied the drivers of fisheries conflict in the Barents Sea. “Evolving resource needs put a new strain on our ocean and challenge how we sustainably and equitably manage marine resources,” says Murphy. “The Knauss Fellowship will provide me a unique opportunity to learn the nuances of these challenges.”

Aaron Ramus serves in the NOAA National Weather Service’s National Centers for Environmental Prediction’s Ocean Prediction Center and National Data Buoy Center. Ramus earned his doctorate in marine biology at UNC Wilmington and served as a STEM Policy Fellow with the NC Department of Environmental Quality. Ramus says the fellowship provides “an opportunity to be involved with the processes through which national policies and important decisions affecting our marine resources are made.”

— Carrie Clower

Sea Grant fellowships

image: ECU’s Alex Manda.

ECU’s Alex Manda (right) will lead one of nine new research projects for North Carolina Sea Grant. Credit: Matt Smith.

North Carolina Sea Grant Launches Nine New Research Projects

Research teams across the state will soon begin work on North Carolina Sea Grant’s new core projects. Scientists are applying innovative approaches to coastal resilience, species and habitat preservation, changing ecosystem dynamics, community education, and more.

“We are excited about the interdisciplinary nature of these research efforts,” says Susan White, executive director of North Carolina Sea Grant. “These projects reach across multiple public and private partnerships that will positively impact NC’s coastal communities and ecosystems.”

The projects include lead researchers from NC State University, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, East Carolina University, and the University of North Carolina Wilmington. Partners include the North Carolina Coastal Federation, North Carolina Cooperative Extension, Tier I county school systems, and the communities of Topsail Beach, Surf City, and North Topsail Beach.

NOAA funds these projects through the National Sea Grant College Program, along with matching funds from the state and the campuses leading the research. Pending federal appropriations, the following studies will begin soon:

Employing Proven Restoration Approaches to Recover and Expand Essential Seagrass Habitat in NC
Joel Fodrie, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, principal investigator

Evaluating the Influence of Sediment Microbial Community Composition and Salinity on Smooth Cordgrass (Sporabolus alterniflorus) Seedling Survival and Growth
Rachel Gittman, East Carolina University, principal investigator

Investigating Drivers and Processes of Soil Salinization and Saltwater Intrusion in Coastal Agricultural Communities of Eastern North Carolina
Alex Manda, East Carolina University, principal investigator

Understanding the Long-Term Effects of Community Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies on North Carolina Barrier Island Futures through Collaborative Science
Laura Moore, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, principal investigator

Building Resilience in Oyster Aquaculture in the Face of Recurring Mortality Events
Tal Ben-Horin, North Carolina State University, principal investigator

Estimating Natural Mortality and Recruitment for Reef Fish Species in the Southeast
Jeff Buckel, North Carolina State University, principal investigator

Estimating Predation Pressure on North Carolina Blue Crabs in a Changing Estuary
Janet Nye, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, principal investigator

Anthropogenic Impacts in Oysters of North Carolina: Metal and Microplastic Contamination
Stephen Skrabal, University of North Carolina Wilmington, principal investigator

Community READY: Building a More Resilient Coast through Education and Change led by Youth
Kathryn Stevenson, North Carolina State University, principal investigator

For updates, follow North Carolina Sea Grant’s Twitter and Facebook feeds.  

— Ruthie Froning  

image: Sarah Mehdaova.
North Carolina Sea Grant Welcomes a New Coastal Public Health Specialist

Sarah Mehdaova, a public health professional with experience in disaster response and health education, has joined the North Carolina Sea Grant’s extension team. As a coastal public health specialist, Mehdaova connects communities with researchers and agency experts.

“We are fortunate that Sarah has joined us,” says Frank López, North Carolina Sea Grant’s extension director. “Our state has urgent and long-term needs in public health. Sea Grant is now better equipped to support coastal communities on several of those topics.”

Mehdaova (right) brings to the team her experience as a COVID-19 lead at CDC Foundation in Tumwater, Washington, where she ensured the distribution of approved vaccines and monitored emergency management programs on heat waves, flooding, and medication preparedness.

“I am curious to learn more from my colleagues, and bring my public health lens to the program,” Mehdaova says. “I look forward to effective community engagement and linking up with important stakeholders to continue impactful efforts for Sea Grant.”

López says Mehdaova will develop the public health focus for North Carolina Sea Grant.

“Sarah also will have a more specific role of improving communications during disasters for communities in North Carolina,” he explains, “especially for residents whose second language is English.”

— Annie Grant

image: The NC Stream Watch online mapping tool is interactive and allows users to add their own observations of local streams, marked by the stars across the map.

The NC Stream Watch online mapping tool allows users to add their own observations of local streams, marked by the stars.

Sea Grant, DEQ, and Partners Announce NC Stream Watch Educator Cohort

The North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality’s (DEQ) Division of Water Resources announces an exciting new chapter for the NC Stream Watch education program. The new effort, which includes an inaugural class of Stream Watch educators, is in partnership with the North Carolina Water Resources Research Institute (WRRI), North Carolina Sea Grant and the nonprofit Environmental Educators of North Carolina (EENC).

The class is the first in a new education-oriented program by NC Stream Watch, a program that began in 1989 to increase public awareness of water resource management and support volunteers. The 2024 cohort consists of 10 formal and informal educators, representing 10 cities across North Carolina and various grade levels from kindergarten through eighth grade.

“There’s no better way to learn about the value of water than by engaging directly with it,” said Lauren Daniel, coordinator for NC Stream Watch and water education program coordinator for DEQ’s Division of Water Resources. “We hope the place-based activities we’ve designed will make the learning process directly relevant and more meaningful for teachers and their students, and will increase their understanding of water resources, the hydrosphere and ecosystems.”

In the six-month program, cohort members will attend monthly webinars that bolster their understanding of water resource management. They will also be provided with a North Carolina science standards-aligned curriculum for teaching about water quality, quantity and the importance of conservation.

They will also become familiar with the NC Stream Watch online mapping tool, which can be used to help students understand stream health.

“Each of the lessons we’ve developed can be taught in the classroom, outside, or stream-side,” said Michelle Pearce, the programming lead for EENC. “Each educator in our cohort will receive a printed curriculum guide, as well as materials for their students to conduct their own hands-on investigations in a creek or water body near their school.”

As part of their participation, cohort members will provide feedback on the alignment of the K-8 Stream Watch lesson plans to the new state science standards. Participants will also be encouraged to use their training and experiences as credit for the NC Environmental Education Certification program, which is managed by the DEQ Office of Environmental Education and Public Affairs.

NC Stream Watch began in 1989 as a free, self-guided educational program with three key goals: to encourage volunteer groups to adopt streams to protect; increase public awareness of and involvement in water resources management; and promote cooperative activities among volunteer groups.

“For over 30 years, NC Stream Watch has sought to educate community members of all ages about the value of the water around them,” said Christy Perrin, WRRI and NC Sea Grant sustainable waters and communities coordinator. “We hope the addition of the educator cohort will give teachers the confidence and understanding to cultivate the next generation of water stewards.”

— Carrie Clower

image: Cambria Miller.Sea Grant and APNEP Name New Joint Fellow

Cambria Miller, a master’s student in biology at East Carolina University, is the recipient of the 2024 joint fellowship from North Carolina Sea Grant and the Albemarle-Pamlico National Estuary Partnership (APNEP). Miller will investigate the spread of blue catfish and its impacts in the Albemarle Sound.

“Cambria Miller’s research is poised to provide seminal knowledge on the impact of blue catfish on our native species,” says John Fear, deputy director of North Carolina Sea Grant and the North Carolina Water Resources Research Institute.  

“I am grateful and honored to receive this funding,” says Miller (right).

The joint fellowship, now in its eighth year, supports graduate students from institutions based in North Carolina who conduct applied research within the North Carolina portion of the APNEP region. That region covers most of the Albemarle-Pamlico watershed, including the Neuse, Tar-Pamlico, Pasquotank, Chowan, lower Roanoke river basins, as well as parts of the White Oak river basin.

Tim Ellis, APNEP’s quantitative ecologist, says Miller’s research strongly aligns with APNEP’s commitment to protecting and restoring a healthy estuarine system.

“APNEP is a strong partner in the development and implementation of North Carolina’s Aquatic Nuisance Species Management Plan,” Ellis says. “Blue catfish is a high-priority species under that plan because of the negative impacts it can have on ecosystem integrity.”

Blue catfish numbers are rapidly increasing in the Albemarle Sound estuary, Ellis explains, “but little is known about their interactions with native species and habitats, or what role they may have in deteriorating water quality.” 

James Morley, a biologist at ECU, will serve as Miller’s faculty advisor for her research.

Read more about this and other Sea Grant fellowships and funding opportunities.

Learn more about the Albemarle-Pamlico National Estuary Partnership.

from the Spring 2024 issue