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.

The preceding story first appeared in the Spring 2024 edition of CoastLines.

Led by East Carolina University (ECU), The Coastal Studies Institute is a multi-institutional research and educational partnership of the UNC System including North Carolina State University, UNC-Chapel Hill, UNC Wilmington, and Elizabeth City State University.



Based at the Coastal Studies Institute (CSI), the North Carolina Renewable Ocean Energy Program (NCROEP) advances inter-disciplinary marine energy solutions across UNC System partner colleges of engineering at NC State University, UNC Charlotte, and NC A&T University.  Click on the links below for more information.




ECU's Integrated Coastal Programs (ECU ICP) is a leader in coastal and marine research, education, and engagement.   ECU ICP includes the Coastal Studies Institute, ECU's Department of Coastal Studies, and ECU Diving and Water Safety.


The faculty and staff at the Coastal Studies Institute come from a variety of backgrounds and disciplines, as well as departments and organizations including ECU Department of Biology, ECU Department of Coastal Studies, NC Sea Grant, the North Carolina Renewable Energy Program, and the UNC Institute for the Environment.


Tour the ECU Outer Banks Campus and learn about the research, education, and engagement projects of CSI and ECU Integrated Coastal Programs through our 360 virtual tour.


The ECU Outer Banks campus is home to the Coastal Studies Institute.
Located on Roanoke Island along the banks of the second largest estuary
in the United States, this coastal campus spans 213 acres of marshes, scrub wetlands, forested wetlands, and estuarine ecosystems.