Corbett's Corner

Spring is always a special time of year. Yes, the warming temperatures (air and ocean), blooming flowers, pollen…all the tell-tale signs of spring. However, within the University, Spring is also represented by Commencement! Participating in this ceremony each spring is truly a highlight. It is wonderful to see the enthusiasm, excitement, and confidence in the eyes of the graduates. Watching the connection between family and friends, congratulatory hugs and handshakes, and the smiles and tears of joy across so many parent’s faces.

Commencement is the culmination of all these students’ hard work, persistence, and grit. It is also about all the people behind that student who provided some guidance, a friendly ear and shoulder for support, or a push to get past the next exam, work shift, or other hurdle. I am always so proud to sit on the stage, representing our academic organization, and look out at the sea of purple, gold, and many colors of stoles and hoods worn by our faculty participating in this momentous event! This always puts some perspective on the importance of what we do, the significance of our work, and why faculty are so passionate in all they do.

ECU Commencement, Spring 2024

I am excited that the Outer Banks Campus and the broad efforts of Integrated Coastal Programs play an important role in ECU’s mission and are a growing part of many students’ academic journeys. We have significantly increased the number of students spending a full semester on our campus in Wanchese. We are helping shape the future of their lives, creating new opportunities inside and outside of our Institution. You can read about some of these incredible student opportunities in this edition of CoastLines!

Before I close, I want to thank all those who have provided financial support for our students and organization. These gifts truly make a difference in the programming we offer and the ability for students to spend time at the coast. Through your generous gifts, we were able to offer an academic scholarship to each student participating in this spring’s Semester Experience at the Coast. We also supported the activities of many of our K-12 programs during the last year…which has swelled back to pre-COVID numbers- over 3,000 students served through standards-based programs on our Outer Banks Campus! Thank you for helping make this possible.

2024 Scholarship Recipients

As always, I hope you will swing by campus if you are on the Outer Banks. We would love the opportunity to show you all the incredible work taking place on the coast!

Reide Corbett

Student Section

Semester Experience at the Coast: A Stepping Stone for Future Coastal Careers

The arrival of Spring on the Outer Banks each year brings a complete transformation to the area. Local towns seemingly come to life after a dull gray winter of seclusion. Likewise, the Spring semester on the ECU Outer Banks Campus offers rejuvenation and new opportunities to students looking to escape the hustle and bustle of Greenville.

The ECU Undergraduate Semester Experience at the Coast is offered annually on the ECU Outer Banks Campus. The program boasts of small class sizes, scenic views, and an opportunity to slow life’s busy pace; but more importantly, it allows students from all years and majors to pursue hands-on, interdisciplinary coastal studies and experiences through coursework, field trips, independent research, and internships.

This spring, fourteen students gathered at the coast. Classes they have opted to take include Environmental Anthropology with Dr. David Griffith, Biodiversity in North Carolina with Dr. Jim Morley, Survey of Coastal and Marine Resources with Dr. Sid Narayan, Society and the Sea Seminar with Dr. Nadine Heck, Oceanography with Dr. Qubin Qin, and Analysis Techniques & Methods of Coastal Ocean Research with Dr. Mike Muglia.

Students participating in the Seminar in Coastal Studies visited a different Outer Banks staple each Thursday. Above they are pictured at the Elizabethan Gardens.

Julie Kirn, the Semester Experience at the Coast coordinator, also leads the entire group on a field trip to an iconic Outer Banks site each week as part of the Seminar in Coastal Studies.

While some of the students had already decided to pursue a science or coastal-related degree, the program has opened new doors and considerations for others.

Rowan Evans, a junior Environmental Studies major, grew up in Ocean Isle, NC. He has his grandfather to thank for fostering his passion for marine life and coastal issues; and participating in the Semester Experience at the Coast was a no-brainer for him. While he expected to learn more about the coast while here, one thing he did not anticipate was the number of connections he would make while here. Meeting so many like-minded people has been one of his favorite things about the program.

Rowan Evans (right) enjoyed his semester at the coast with like-minded classmates.

“I have formed very close relationships with my classmates, roommates, and members of the CSI community. I [also] wasn’t expecting to gain so many career connections during my stay at the coast. I have made many beneficial relationships during my stay here, and I am eternally grateful for it.”

Aside from his coursework, Evans has thoroughly enjoyed his internship at the NC Aquarium on Roanoke Island. There he works with the Animal Husbandry team. He regularly assists with food prep and feedings, enclosure cleaning, and animal behavior monitoring. His experiences at the aquarium have led him to set a goal of continuing this line of work in the future.

Evans is an incredibly enthusiastic about the program and recognizes the many benefits of participating in it, stating, “This has been an unforgettable experience from the very beginning. I am blessed to have the opportunity to learn so many beneficial things from a surplus of amazing people. I am honored to be a student at the Coastal Studies Institute, and I wish it never had to end.”

Evans (right) and his fellow students made time for fun amidst their busy course schedules.

While Evans spent his entire life near the beach, Bree Pelletier grew up in inland but spent summers in New England. She believes that being up there, less than an hour from both the mountains and the ocean, kindled her intrigue of natural environments. Thus, she was drawn to the program particularly for the field experiences offered through the Seminar in Coastal Studies.

Pelletier’s background and experiences in the program differ from Evans’. She is a freshman studying Exercise Physiology and is enrolled in the coastal studies seminar and an internship here at the beach. The rest of her courses are online. Her internship as an education and horticulture intern the Elizabethan Gardens, and the places she’s visited on field trips has made her consider additional options as she furthers her studies and chooses a career.

At the Elizabethan Gardens, Pelletier’s duties vary day to day, but some of her favorite responsibilities include giving tours of the grounds, learning about ethonobotany- or the cultural ties between humans, plants, and animals-, and leading young children’s programs. Among her favorite field trips is a visit to the NC Coastal Federation where she learned about the benefits of oyster reefs, both environmentally and economically, to the area.

Bree Pelletier leads a painted lady butterfly release at the Elizabethan Gardens. As part of her internship, she led educational programs which included one about the importance of pollinator species.

From the program, Pelletier says she has gained friendships, a broader knowledge base, and a clearer vision for the future.

“Some students, like me, come solely for the experiences this program offers. I don’t have a coastal-related field of study, and I didn’t intend to change it. Yet, with so many different people and experiences here, it seems like the program truly does have something to offer everyone,” she shares.

Like Evans, she too appreciates the variety of people she has met and the connections she has made through the program.

Though the 2024 Semester Experience at the Coast recently ended, the friendships, connections, and experiences won’t soon fade from the students’ memories. Wherever they go in the years to come, many will surely say that their time at the coast was a stepping stone in their ongoing academic and future professional careers.

Internships Reimagined

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

It is a question most begin to hear at a relatively young age. For some, that answer is easy and hardly changes with age. Yet for others, the answer is uncertain and increasingly daunting as they approach milestones like high school and college graduations. In many cases, internships can serve as a guiding factor, if not a steppingstone, for students and their future careers. An internship can provide the hands-on experience needed to be competitive in a student’s field of choice, and it can help a student narrow their list of potential careers.

With such benefits in mind, the Coastal Studies Institute is excited to revamp its internship program! While CSI has always been able to arrange internships for students at local high schools and partner universities, CSI is now able to offer an expanded selection of internships to any student who meets the general eligibility requirements.

At the helm of the new and improved program is Julie Kirn. When asked about the benefits of taking an internship at CSI, she said, “Internships are one of the best ways a student can learn what daily work for a career they are interested in really looks like. They will learn important skills and make strong connections with leaders in coastal research here at CSI. Interns bring a lot to the team, even if they may not think so. Fresh faces and ideas can make a positive impact on the research we do here, and we are always excited to welcome a new cohort each season.”

Though the internships offered change seasonally, a student in the internship program can expect to participate in marine and coastal science research or education efforts while working directly with the faculty and staff at CSI. Teams are generally small, allowing participants to develop close relationships with their mentors; and the interdisciplinary nature of work at CSI will likely expose interns to a variety of ways to study and explore coastal issues. Past internships and projects have included ocean observing, coastal processes, ecology, social sciences, science journalism, and more. Whatever the topic may be, interns and mentors coordinate to create a fun, hands-on, educational work plan that meets the needs of both the student and the CSI team.

Both high school and undergraduate students are eligible for internships at CSI. Rising 9th-12th graders are eligible for high school Internships. Those wishing to apply for an Undergraduate Internship must have a high school diploma or equivalent and at least one semester of school remaining between the completion of the internship and their graduation.

CSI Family Programs Welcome Multi-generational Groups

Family programs at the Coastal Studies Institute are back in full swing for 2024 and are inviting curious minds of all ages to participate.

CSI Education and Outreach offers a variety of standards-based education programs for K-12 students throughout the school year, in addition to eight weeks of STEAM-oriented summer camp. K-12 programs and camp curriculums are influenced by one of the Institute’s research focus areas to cover marine biology and ecology, oceanography and coastal processes, marine and coastal resource management, and marine renewable energy. CSI also hosts a variety of public events like the monthly lecture series Science on the Sound, bi-monthly campus tours, Lifelong Learning Programs, and an annual Open House in the spring. While most these programs target school-aged students and adults separately, family programs were developed to provide a regularly offered opportunity for young students and adults to engage in fun, informative activities together.

Family program themes rotate every few months, offering a fresh lesson and activity on a coastal science topic on a weekday afternoon. Family programs kicked off during the summer of 2023 with Evening in the Estuary. This boat-based program invites families to spend an evening on the Croatan Sound, exploring a marsh island and learning about estuarine biology and ecology. Families in the program learn together by investigating plant and animal adaptations while beachcombing, seining for fish and invertebrates using different sampling methods, and discussing food webs and the interconnectedness of life in the estuary.

November and December brought Exploring Oyster Ecology, a hands-on lesson about oysters, their lifecycle, and their importance to estuarine ecosystems. It features a chance to examine oyster clumps from CSI’s backyard under a microscope, while measuring individual oyster growth, and interacting with different species that utilize oyster reefs as habitat. In addition, families have the opportunity to decorate an oyster-themed holiday ornament to commemorate the season.

Most recently, Maritime Mysteries introduced the field of maritime archeology by tasking students with discovering the identity of a mystery shipwreck. Clues were collected about the mystery wreck’s location, vessel type, and wreckage to reveal its identity. This program highlights the crucial role of underwater photography and videography in maritime archeology and demonstrates the challenges of studying submerged landscapes. One activity prompts participants to complete a blind drawing of multiple objects to simulate studying artifacts in low visibility.

Coastal Cultivators, a sustainable coastal landscaping and native plants focused program, is slated for May 15 and June 13, 2024. During the program, families will explore the native landscaping on CSI’s grounds, learn about native plant options for coastal landscapes, and decorate pots containing native plant seedlings that they can add to their own gardens.

Family programs will continue throughout the summer of 2024. The Evening in the Estuary boat program will return as temperatures warm up and the days get longer, with new programs to come in the fall as well.

Familiar faces and newcomers alike have made their way to CSI’s campus month after month to see what family programs are all about. They’ve found that programs are thoughtfully designed to encourage collaboration between young students and adults, as well as across family groups. Whether you’re solving puzzles together, sharing microscopes, or teaming up to wade with a seine net, new friends are sure to be made.

With a wide variety of marine and coastal science topics and activities on the docket for the future, Family Programs are a guaranteed good time for the whole family. Stay tuned on CSI’s social media channels and website for future themes, dates, and times. For more information and a calendar of upcoming events, please visit our website, or contact Lauren Kerlin at or 252-475-5451.

Faculty Highlight

Dr. Stu Hamilton

A Local Scientist with Global Projects

Imagine a research hub with a variety of ecosystems right outside the door. There are marshes, wetlands, beaches, and maritime forests. The surrounding bodies of water are warm or cold; salty, fresh, or brackish- a combination of the two. Talent abounds and the research options seem unlimited. According to Dr. Stu Hamilton, such is the Coastal Studies Institute on the Outer Banks in northeastern North Carolina.

In addition to being a CSI scientist since moving to the area in August 2022, Dr. Hamilton is also the chair of the ECU Department of Coastal Studies and a professor. By training, he is a geographic information systems (GIS) specialist, and he uses his expertise to study near-shore environments around the world.

Hamilton grew up on the coast in Crosby, England, outside of Liverpool, and enjoyed spending time on the water as a child. In graduate school, he was invited on a research trip to Ecuador. While there he noticed a significant loss of mangroves due to deforestation for pond development. It was through this trip, roughly two decades ago, that Hamilton recognized his GIS skills could be used to help solve environmental issues. Since then, the number of those in his field has increased. He has made connections all over the world and has incorporated a variety of remote sensing tools, including LIDAR data from satellites and remotely operated vehicles such as drones and the Z-Boat, into his work.

One of Dr. Hamilton’s longest running projects has focused on water quality in the lakes of central Africa, primarily Lake Victoria but also including Lakes Albert, George, and Edward. Aquaculture, specifically tilapia farming, has rapidly developed, with little regulation, in those areas. As operations have expand, water quality has deteriorated thus impacting the availability of clean drinking water, overall food security, and even ecological interactions further down the chain.

A view of aquaculture operations from the lake shore.

When Hamilton first began working with officials in Uganda, Tanzania, and Kenya, the countries bordering Lake Victoria, little was known about the geophysical characteristics of the area. By conducting surveys in the water, along the shoreline, and from above, Hamilton and collaborators sought to establish baseline measurements and delineations for the shoreline, the wetlands, and the bathymetry- or depth profiles- in the lakes. As these baselines were established over many years, Hamilton’s team then began to create water circulation models to predict how water might flow through each lake. The models also consider parameters of water quality, meaning that, as aquaculture operations in the lakes continue to expand, the models can highlight particular areas or factors of concern as they relate to both human and ecological health.

Maps showing bathymetry, or depth, in Lake Victoria, such as the one above, can be generated from Dr. Hamilton's studies.

Much closer to CSI, Dr. Hamilton is also working in partnership with Vesta as the corporation begins a carbon sequestration study in Duck, NC.

Vesta’s approach to combatting changing climate is to add carbon capturing olivine, a naturally occurring mineral, to sand. As it is washed into the ocean, it dissolves, reducing the acidity of the seawater and removing carbon dioxide permanently from the atmosphere. The ocean is widely acknowledged as a carbon sink, meaning it already captures more carbon from the atmosphere than it releases. So far, lab results have been promising, and the group is now expanding their research- and the ocean’s ability to sequester carbon- to include a mile-long study site along the Outer Banks beach.

So how does Dr. Hamilton fit in with this project? A sand and olivine berm will be built, and, using drones and drone boats, Hamilton will conduct multiple surveys of the site to assess the longevity of the berm, how it breaks apart, if and how it may create a plume in the water, and, finally, how the near shore bathymetry might change over time. This is just one piece of the ongoing project, but important, nonetheless. Should this project succeed, it could be a climate change mitigation strategy implemented all over the world.

Whether at “home” or abroad, Dr. Hamilton sees that his work can have implications for Outer Banks residents. Aquaculture is a growing industry in North Carolina, particularly when it comes to shellfish. The more we understand about water quality and expand the industry in a sustainable way, the more favorable it can be for both the economy and the environment.

Dr. Hamilton and colleagues prepare a fixed-wing drone for flight.

“The water quality here is a driving force of the entire economy. It impacts fisheries, both near shore and offshore, as well as tourism,” states Hamilton. “A clean, sustainable, water supply- if it’s economically viable- can provide great stimulus. But it can’t be an economic stimulus if it’s environmentally destroyed. It also can’t be environmentally pristine and then economically deficient. There’s got to be an [understood balance].”

Likewise, studies done in the Outer Banks’ own back yard, so to speak, are obviously valuable to the people who live, work, and vacation in the area. The more climate change impacts can be understood and mitigated, the more likely it becomes for the Outer Banks to continue as a tourism-based economy. Additionally, findings from locally based studies may prove helpful internationally, and vice versa.

Mitigation efforts may be local but “the fix”, as Hamilton puts it, is not necessarily local.

“If we reduce carbon in the atmosphere here, it won’t always reduce sea level here, too. It’s global sea level stability that needs to occur. It doesn’t really matter if it’s reduced in the Southern Ocean, we still benefit. Nor does it matter if it’s reduced here, if somewhere like Australia benefits. It’s a global problem with local solutions,” he states.

The ECU Outer Banks Campus and the surrounding area provide a fantastic place for Hamilton to perfect his research methods.

With his work spanning across continents, Hamilton is certainly taking the global approach. As a scientist whose work at every study area generally happens within a 1-mile radius of the shore, Dr. Hamilton is well pleased with his setup on the ECU Outer Banks Campus. When he is not in a distant land, he is excited to test research methods for all sorts of projects right here on Roanoke Island.

Research Focus

Exploring the Human Dimensions of Marine Renewable Energy

Dr. Linda D’Anna, now a research associate at the Coastal Studies Institute, was once a budding biologist; but while in graduate school, her interests took a turn toward the social science aspects of coastal issues.

“I loved doing bio fieldwork, but I while I was starting to work towards my dissertation on oyster restoration in North Carolina, I noticed there was not as much attention being focused on human dimensions of that process. So, I decided to do more work involving social science rather than natural science,” states D’Anna. Human dimensions examine the way people interact with and think about the natural environment, as well as the impact humans have on it.

Dr. Linda D'Anna

Her previous experiences in oyster restoration and a postdoctoral fellowship in marine social science focused on shellfish aquaculture helped shape her current research approach, and thus today she continues to expand her expertise and collaborations with others.

As a social scientist, D’Anna aims to understand people’s perceptions, experiences, and responses related to different situations, policies, and environments. Many of her current projects investigate the attitudes of stakeholder groups towards marine renewable energy development in the waters off the East Coast. Much of her work is funded by the North Carolina Renewable Ocean Energy Program (NCROEP) and the Atlantic Marine Energy Center (AMEC), both organizations of which CSI is a founding member.

From a project’s conception to the sharing of information with collaborators and the public, D’Anna helps identify research needs, formulate research questions, and determine appropriate methodologies. She gathers data from stakeholders by hosting focus groups and workshops, conducting interviews, and distributing surveys, then organizes the multitude of responses in a way that is accessible to a broader audience.

“It is important that information is packaged in a way that all people can understand the topic of marine renewable energy and its development here on the Outer Banks,” she shares.

One aspect of her NCROEP-funded work is to understand people’s ocean values in anticipation of potential future proposals for ocean energy device installations. For this research, D’Anna seeks to understand the place fit relationship, or how technology fits into spaces that people have attached meanings to, and the acceptability of marine renewable energy development by communities and stakeholders.

In other words, she wants to know if communities and stakeholders could seemingly make space for marine renewable energy developments within their pre-existing ideas, values, and uses of the ocean.

Currently, she is collaborating with Dr. Eric Wade, another NCROEP-funded researcher at CSI, to gauge awareness, attitudes, and perceived potential outcomes of marine energy development among North Carolina residents and visitors to the Outer Banks.

Drs. D'Anna (left, foreground) and Wade (second from left, background) share their collaborative research with visitors during the CSI 2024 Open House.

To achieve the goals of her studies, D’Anna utilizes many different social science data collection techniques ing interviews, surveys, and mixed methods like Q methodology- an approach which combines both qualitative and quantitative measures to understand a comprehensive, and often diverse, range of opinions and viewpoints within a group of people.

While D’Anna’s research doesn't have specific desired findings, she hopes that her work will contribute to a more comprehensive marine energy development process. By understanding the human side of this newer renewable energy sector early on, D'Anna believes it can inform and shape the development process to benefit a wide range of stakeholders.

“I am hoping that our work will demonstrate the need for marine renewable energy and how it can be developed in ways that are beneficial and accountable to coastal communities,” says D’Anna, “I also hope that it contributes to a development process that is as inclusive and equitable as possible.”

This is why for an AMEC project, D’Anna and her collaborators, Dr. Lindsay Dubbs and ECU Integrated Coastal Sciences Ph.D. student Jillian Eller, are utilizing stakeholder engagement techniques and efforts to better understand the varied stakeholder landscape, and to explore potential conflicts, collocation opportunities, and possible users of marine energy along the Atlantic Coast.

D'Anna is grateful for individuals’ willingness to participate in the research, emphasizing the depth of feelings people have for the ocean, and the care and passion which they bring to discussions about marine energy.

“I am still always surprised when someone is willing to give up their time to be interviewed and share their thoughts for a project, but I think it reflects how strongly people feel about the coast and ocean. It’s humbling and fulfilling to be trusted with what they are willing to share.”

She underscores the importance of including diverse perspectives in the development of marine energy technologies. She hopes to demonstrate that the human dimensions of marine energy are not just an afterthought, but a vital aspect that should shape technology development from the beginning.

D'Anna's research provides valuable insights into the complex landscape of marine renewable energy. By focusing on the human dimensions of this emerging technology, she and her colleagues aim to lay the groundwork for a more inclusive and sustainable future for marine energy development.


Special thanks to Nijah Pope for their contributions to the above story. Pope was a CSI photojournalism intern while participating in the 2023 Outer Banks Field Site.

North Carolina Renewable Ocean Energy Program (NCROEP) News

NREL Team & HERO WEC Make Another OBX Visit

Good waves aren’t just for surfers on the Outer Banks. They’re preferred by some engineers, too.

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s (NREL’s) hydraulic and electric reverse osmosis (HERO) wave energy converter (WEC) was once again deployed in the shallow waters off Jennette’s Pier on March 14. Met with a calm and beautiful day followed by a few days of good waves, a team from CSI collaborated with NREL engineers to set the hexagonal device in place and then left it to work its magic.

The raft-looking HERO WEC, initially a proof of concept for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Waves to Water Prize, is designed to produce desalinated water using energy from waves. The WEC uses either a hydraulic or electric power conversion system to desalinate seawater.

A simple illustration created at NREL depicts how the HERO WEC operates in both of its configurations.

During the first of two deployments this Spring, the hydraulic system was put to the test. Using the simple up-and-down motion of waves to create pressure, the device pumps ocean water through a hose and into a land-based reverse osmosis (RO) system, which then removes salt and other impurities from the seawater. Over the six-day deployment, the HERO WEC produced more than 300 gallons (or approximately 1300 liters) of freshwater. That’s enough water to fill about 2,575 water bottles.

“It’s always a pleasure to accomplish a challenging ocean deployment and recovery with the CSI and NREL teams. We always learn a lot from each other and continue to expand our rewarding collaborations,” states Dr. Mike Muglia, head of the Oceanography & Marine Hydrokinetic Energy Lab at CSI.

Due to an impending storm and in need of minor repairs, the HERO WEC was removed from the water on March 20. The WEC was successfully redeployed in the electric configuration on April 18th. The electric system uses the motion of the waves to engage an onboard rotary generator to create electricity. The electricity then travels through a subsea cable to charge a small battery system to power an onshore pump that draws water from the ocean and pushes it through the same reverse osmosis desalination system mentioned above.

Unfortunately, the pumps were turned off overnight on the 18th to allow the batteries to charge before replacing the desalination unit’s filters and membranes. Wave conditions that night were greater than expected, leading to a faster battery charge completion. Since the pumps were not on when this happened, the WEC no longer had a sufficient electrical load which caused it to move significantly more than if the pumps had been on.

Ultimately the WEC reached its limit numerous times causing the winch line to eventually snap. While this sounds catastrophic, the NREL data collection system was able to capture the motion and forces that the WEC endured, giving the NREL team valuable data for future iterations.

In the video above, the drive train- connected to the generator on the left and winch on the right- spins as waves pass below the device.

“After deploying the electric configuration in August 2022, we upgraded the system to convert and store energy more efficiently,” said Scott Jenne, NREL’s marine energy systems engineering and techno-economic lead and principal investigator for the wave-powered desalination project. “The upgrades added to the system proved very effective, but now the team is focused on making the system more robust”.

Moving forward the NREL team will continue to work closely with the CSI team to take the lessons learned from these deployments, along with CSI’s invaluable ocean experience, to design a second generation prototype that can survive much more extreme conditions.

But why is NREL pursuing this work in the first place, and why did they decide to test in Outer Banks’ waters?

As impacts from climate change are increasingly felt all over the world, efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and diversify the U.S. energy portfolio are in high demand. Wind and solar are well-known and tested renewable energy sources, but many also see the ocean as an untapped power source. NREL, CSI’s North Carolina Renewable Ocean Energy Program, and other public and private organizations recognize the potential in marine energy and are developing and testing new technologies to harness the power of the ocean. While the sector is still many years away from producing grid-scale energy, researchers and engineers are on a path to create devices for small-scale applications.

The HERO WEC is just one such example, and the NREL team has found that the northeastern NC coastal environment offers a well-rounded assortment of resources for this rather nascent technology. Not only is the area easily accessible and offers a suitable wave field, but there are also enough calm days between swells for deployments and on-the-water maintenance to occur. As it turns out, other sites with this combination of beneficial factors are much harder to come by than one might first think.

NREL’s partnership with the Coastal Studies Institute stems from their shared interest in marine energy development and CSI’s extensive deployment experience. CSI leads the North Carolina Renewable Ocean Energy Program (NCROEP) and is a founding member of the Atlantic Marine Energy Center (AMEC) under which Jennette’s Pier is a federally designated marine energy test site.

“Recent testing of the HERO WEC provides a tremendous opportunity to build on lessons learned for testing of marine energy technologies,” says NCROEP Director George Bonner. “Through our role with the Atlantic Marine Energy Center, we are excited about additional resources to support open ocean testing as well as taking advantage of the unique advantages Jennette’s Pier provides for education and stakeholder input as we advance responsible blue economy solutions.”

“We rely on CSI’s oceanographic and on-water expertise for these deployments,” said Jenne. “Operating in the ocean environment is challenging, and CSI can help us predict and overcome those challenges in ways that ultimately benefit NREL’s wave energy research.”

The CSI-NREL partnership is mutually beneficial and allows members of both teams to learn more about marine renewable energy device deployment logistics while forging a path forward together. Additionally, to foster further technological development, the NREL research teams publicly provide the information and data gathered through the HERO WEC project.

Teams Turn Heads at '24 NC Renewable Energy Challenge

Anyone present at the 2024 North Carolina Renewable Energy Challenge would have seen young minds spinning as fast as the turbines the students themselves had manufactured. On March 23, 2024, over one hundred students, mentors, parents, and volunteers gathered at the Coastal Studies Institute for the annual event. The goal of the day? Learn about the alternative renewable energy sources including wind and ocean currents, all while having fun as the student teams competed against one another.

Teams gathered for a Welcome Kickoff before the day's activities began.

The North Carolina Renewable Energy Challenge is held each year on the ECU Outer Banks Campus in partnership with KidWind and Jennette’s Pier. Participating teams must engineer a renewable energy device, such as a wind or underwater turbine, and compete against each other to create the most efficient design. In addition to creating their machines, teams are also asked to demonstrate their renewable energy knowledge before a panel of judges and gather extra points by participating in smaller activities known as Instant Challenges.

2024 was the biggest event yet, with 18 teams participating on competition day. Teams came from eight different NC counties from as far away as Boone and Wilmington. There was a great showing of teams from northeastern NC as well, with teams from Dare, Currituck, Tyrrell, and Pasquotank counties. Six teams were comprised of high school students, while the remaining teams bridged grades 4-8.

A team from Tyrrell Elementary School watches as their turbine spins in the wind tunnel.

Two high school teams rose the challenge in the Underwater Currents division. Not only did they need to build a working turbine, but it also needed to be waterproof. Both teams were successful in their endeavors, and each produced measurable power as the blades of their devices were spun by the 1 meter per second current produced in the CSI wave tank (retrofitted to become a recirculating flume).

The Academy of Green Tech team from Fayetteville, NC poses in front of the retrofitted wave tank with their underwater turbine.

The remaining sixteen teams, four in the high school division and twelve in Grades 4-8, rotated their way through the Wind Turbine testing area. Each team had three chances for their device to produce as much energy as possible in the wind tunnel. Each team’s turbine performance was a crucial part of the final score.

Teams moved excitedly from station to station between 9AM and 12PM. Once all Instant Challenges, testing, and judging sessions were complete, all gathered for a pizza lunch and keynote address from Dr. Andrea Copping, an oceanographer from the Pacific Northwest National Lab. There she studies the environmental impacts associated with marine renewable energy devices and technology. As Dr. Copping spoke, event organizers tallied the final scores.

Top left: Students participate in the Wave Energy Converter Instant Challenge. Top right: A team describes their turbine before the panel of judges. Bottom left: Students participate in the Sail Car Instant Challenge. Bottom right: Dr. Andrea Copping delivers the keynote address.

The Unicorns from First Flight High School narrowly took home first place in the Underwater Currents division over the Academy of Green Tech from Douglas Byrd High School.

Underwater Currents, High School division winners: The Unicorns (left) and the Academy of Green Tech (right).

The first and second prize winners of the High School Division, The Sea Turtles (below, left) and The M+M’s (below, right), respectively, were both from the Center of Applied Science and Technology in Wilmington, NC.

Wind Energy, High School division winners: The Sea Turtles (left) and The M+M's (right).

A team from First Flight Middle School, with the same name, took home the winning prize in the Grades 4-8 Division. Team Windy’s from the Water’s Edge Village School was the runner up.

Wind Energy, Grades 4-8 division winners: First Flight Middle School (left) and Windy's (right).

The winning wind teams received invitations to the KidWind Worlds event happening in May in Minneapolis, MN. Since there is not an advanced stage of the underwater currents division, those teams were invited to come back to CSI and test updated devices at any point during the year.

“I am continuously impressed by the devices the teams make. It seems like each year they produce more and more energy. It’s so inspiring to watch veteran teams improve upon previous years’ ideas, and it’s so much fun to watch new teams get excited about renewable energy. The event always seems to spark something in all attendees whether they be competing, volunteering, or viewing. It’s a great opportunity to learn from one another!”, says Parker Murphy, one of the Challenge organizers.

Though seemingly chaotic with so many excited students running from room to room, it’s safe to say the event was a great success, and everyone was blown away.


CSI wishes to extend a special thank you to partners- Jennette’s Pier and KidWind-, sponsors- Avangrid and the NC Renewable Ocean Energy Program-, and the countless volunteers, all without whom the event could not occur.

Annual NCROEP Symposium

NCROEP held its annual research Symposium in early April. Faculty and students from partner universities including ECU, NCSU, UNC-Charlotte, NC A&T attended and gave updates about their ongoing NCROEP-funded projects. Keynote speakers at the two-day event included Dr. Ryan Coe (Sandia National Laboratories) and Dr. Tim Mundon (Oscilla Power). Dr. Michael Dickey (NCSU; pictured center) was the 2024 EDGE Award winner for his innovative research in developing novel materials for marine energy applications.

2024 Marine Energy Collegiate Competition

Students from UNC Charlotte’s 2024 Marine Energy Collegiate Competition recently shared their design with clean energy stakeholders across North and South Carolina at the Discovery Place Science Museum in Charlotte. The team will represent the NCROEP and AMEC at the Ocean Renewable Energy Conference in Portland, Oregon in May 2024.

Photo: UNC Charlotte Marine Energy Collegiate Competition Team sharing progress with Jennifer Mundt (NC Commerce Assistant Secretary of Clean Energy Economic Development) and George Bonner (NCROEP Director).


CSI is contributing to the NSF Innovation Type-1 Award development engine, CLEANcarolinas. George Bonner leads an emerging technology thrust for marine energy focus as part of the program focused on fostering clean energy innovation and use-inspired research and development across NC and SC.

Photo: CLEANcarolinas partners with NC Commerce Secretary Michelle Baker at NCTOWERS meeting in Charlotte, NC in February 2024.

Fresh Faces

Introducing Taz Lancaster

Taz Lancaster joined the Coastal Studies Institute team in May to help NCROEP take its marine energy testing program to the next level. In his new role, Taz will support CSI/ NCROEP's role in the Atlantic Marine Energy Center and its mission to advance marine energy and power the Blue Economy.

Taz brings a wealth of leadership, marine operations, and safety experience to the table, having spent over 25 years with Suffolk Fire & Rescue where he played a key role in building their Maritime Incident Response Team. His passion for renewable energy, education, and research makes him a fantastic addition to our team.

Community Calendar

Family Programs

Family Programs continue this Spring and Summer. Coastal Cultivators will be offered on May 15 and June 13, each starting at 3:30 PM; and Evening in the Estuary is scheduled for July 18, August 22, and September 19, each beginning at 4 PM.

ECU Outer Banks Campus Tours

Guided tours of the ECU Outer Banks Campus and Coastal Studies Institute are now offered on the second and fourth Wednesdays of each month from 1:00- 2:00 PM in May, and from 10:00- 11:00 AM in June, July, and August. Visitors will be guided through the main Research Education & Administration building to get an overview of our unique academic programs, education and outreach initiatives, campus, and diverse research laboratories and their current projects. The cost of the tour is $5 per person and pre-registration is required.

Science on the Sound

The last Science on the Sound of the season will occur on May 23 at 6 PM. This installment will feature Alex Hodges- a Clinical Professor in the Department of Advanced Nursing Practice and Education at ECU- and her presentation entitled Ready for Change: Building Effective Climate Readiness.

Science on the Sound is a free lecture series hosted on ECU Outer Banks Campus and the public is encouraged to attend. The programs are also always live-streamed on our YouTube channel. Science on the Sound programming will resume in August after a brief summer hiatus.

Summer Camps

The Coastal Studies Institute will once again offer summer day camps in 2024. The camps are for students ages 10-15. Camps will be held Monday- Friday, June 10- August 9, excluding the week of July 4. The registration fee is $375. A few seats are still available for Sustainable Seas, an oceanography and coastal engineering camp, on July 15-19. There is also an option to be added to any session’s waitlist.

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