North Carolina Sea Grant
Coastwatch Currents

Coastwatch Currents

January 12, 2021 | Dave Shaw

Flooding from Hurricane Florence closed a four-mile section of U.S. 70 in Kinston, N.C., the author's hometown. Credit: NCDOT

Flooding from Hurricane Florence closed a four-mile section of U.S. 70 in Kinston, N.C., the author’s hometown. Credit: NCDOT


Reagan Perry is a first-year student at North Carolina State University. She intends to major in biology and pursue a career in healthcare.

When I started working with Dr. Susan White and North Carolina Sea Grant, I had no idea what the research world even looked like. I am a freshman studying biology at NC State, and I wanted to make the most of my first semester. Dr. White quickly introduced me to library resources, such as Web of Science, which allows access articles and research done by professionals. As I began my scientific literature review, I found that when scanning these databases for articles, I could find myself straying from my original intention.

Try it yourself. A literature review allows you to understand information already documented and proven in your intended field of study. Dr. White helped me stay on course by encouraging me to come up with two to three questions to guide my research.

Reagan Perry, with a couple of NC State icons.

Reagan Perry, with a couple of NC State icons.

I decided to focus on harmful algal blooms (HABs) and their connection to agriculture in floodplain regions. HABs deplete oxygen supplies in bodies of water and create an uninhabitable environment for lots of marine life. This also led me to the second aspect of my literature review: finding connections between HABs and human health in coastal North Carolina.

This topic is of a particular interest to me because I am from Kinston, North Carolina, which is a small city prone to frequent floods due to its location on the Neuse River. Through this process, I found that Confined Animal Feeding Operations and crop agriculture do contribute to harmful algal blooms in the ocean and rivers, especially after hurricanes. This occurs because of the runoff of fertilizers from these farming operations that flow through a watershed, from creeks to river to sound and eventually to the ocean. These fertilizers contain nitrogen, which is a large component of HABs.

This was not shocking, but I was able to learn a lot more about how this process occurs and the trends of the data that has been collected. It also was interesting to see that my own hometown and local cities are included in such large and important reports. (Links to the main publications I reviewed are provided at the end of this post.)

As I looked through various scientific publications, I found that reading the articles/reports is a fairly easy task, but it was difficult for me to select ones that connected best to my area of interest. A pattern I began to notice was that the same people seemed to be included or at least referenced in almost all of the articles I read. One researcher’s name I continuously saw was Dr. Hans Paerl of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. I found it incredible that one person could have such a major impact in one area of research. NC Sea Grant has worked with Dr. Paerl by funding some of his research over the years, as has the NC Water Resources Research Institute.

Throughout this entire process, I have felt so supported and encouraged by Dr. White and the rest of the N.C. Sea Grant staff that I have spoken to. I was very nervous to start this process, because I had never done anything like this before or worked so closely with an expert in the field. But, over the Fall 2020 semester, I have gained skills and confidence in my ability to navigate large databases to pinpoint relevant information.

One of the first tasks Dr. White gave me was to watch library research tutorials through the NC State website. NC State and the entire UNC System has so many helpful resources that I knew nothing about.

I have also had the opportunity to attend online conferences to hear from other researchers and graduate students who work in the marine and coastal research space. The Duke Marine Medicine Symposium was a highlight of the whole semester for me. I was able to hear incredible speakers, such as Sea Grant’s own, Dr. White, and a veterinarian and orthopedic oncologist at Duke, Dr. Will Eward. Hearing them speak really reminded me that I have a long way to go in my educational journey, but it also encouraged me for my future. All the presenters were passionate about their topic, so it made me excited to find my own unique passion as I continue my journey in research and internships while completing an undergraduate degree.

To any undergraduate reading this, my word of advice to you would be to not be afraid to reach out and ask for help finding an internship or research position. Educators and scientists want to help you learn, especially if you are interested in their own line of work. My experience so far with N.C. Sea Grant has been nothing but positive, and I am so glad I decided to pursue this in my first semester of college. Next semester I hope to have more opportunities for face-to-face interaction with researchers at NC State, such as Dr. White. I look forward to continuing my coursework so that I can further grow my understanding of the issues N.C. Sea Grant analyzes and presents to the public.

Publications I Reviewed

The Potential Impact of Flooding on Confined Animal Feeding Operations in Eastern North Carolina

Recent Increases of Rainfall and Flooding from Tropical Cyclones (TCs) in North Carolina (USA): Implications for Organic Matter and Nutrient Cycling in Coastal Watersheds

Spatiotemporal Variability of Wet Atmospheric Nitrogen Deposition to the Neuse River Estuary, North Carolina


Read Hans Paerl’s “Science Needs You” in Coastwatch.




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