Growing up on the shores of Lake Constance in southern Germany, where natural beauty co-exists with a long history of human habitation, Dr. Nadine Heck has always been curious about how people interact with, manage, and conserve the natural landscapes around them. Even today, Nadine channels this curiosity into her work, though she has since moved from the alpine lake shores where she grew up to the Pacific and then Atlantic Oceans.

 Nadine, Assistant Professor in the ECU Department of Coastal Studies, is a geographer specializing in resource management and governance in marine and coastal areas. “I was drawn to coastal and marine issues because I grew up on the water and have been living close to lakes and the ocean ever since.” Specifically, her work examines how socio-economic and environmental contexts influence the use of marine and coastal ecosystems. In addition, she studies how different management and governance approaches shape conservation and natural resource management outcomes. She is particularly interested in studying these approaches within a social-ecological systems framework that explores the complex dynamics of human actions and their links to the natural environment. “Ultimately, my research aims to increase an understanding of the conditions that foster effective protection and sustainable use of marine ecosystems and resources.

Combining her love of travel and interest in coastal management issues, Nadine has studied marine and coastal management in diverse coastal and marine settings. At the University of Freiburg in Germany, built in the 15th century and nestled within the scenic beauty of the Black Forest, she studied Physical and Human Geography with an emphasis on natural resource management. She continued her studies in England where she completed a Master of Science in Geography at the University of Exeter and earned a PhD in Geography at the University of Leeds. During her doctoral research, Nadine discovered her interest in ocean management as she conducted her doctoral research on the management of marine protected areas in British Columbia, in the Pacific Northwest. During this time, she spent two years on Vancouver Island conducting field research, surrounded by lush coastal rainforests and diverse marine wildlife.

After her PhD, Nadine continued to study coastal management issues in different regions of the US and beyond. As a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Natural Resources at Cornell, she studied the social-ecological connections of fisheries in the Great Lakes and developed an understanding of human and ecological issues that are threatening the sustainability of fisheries.

Back on the West coast, Nadine joined the University of California, Santa Cruz as a postdoctoral researcher and then as a project scientist. Here, she embraced the inter-disciplinary nature of her work, and collaborated with colleagues from diverse disciplines on issues related to ocean space-use, including the expansion of aquaculture, and climate change adaptation in the context of fisheries, coastal water resources, and ecosystem service values such as flood protection from coral reefs and mangroves.

“I was drawn to coastal and marine issues because I grew up on the water and have been living close to lakes and the ocean ever since.” 

Reflecting on the importance of her research, Nadine states, “Humans depend on the ocean and coastal ecosystems for their well-being, health, and economic growth, yet there is an increasing threat to the health of the system and a rising gap between the declining health of the ocean and coastal systems and a growing demand for its benefits.” She maintains that pressure on natural resources caused by human development threatens the future of our planet including human impacts such as plastics pollution and climate change.

To pinpoint interdisciplinary management issues that lie at the interface of ecological, social, and institutional systems, Nadine combines geospatial methods, including geographic information systems (GIS), with quantitative and qualitative social science methods to study management issues at multiple scales ranging from local to global.

For Nadine, collecting and analyzing qualitative or quantitative data is a favorite aspect of the research process. “I enjoy the field work – collecting data, engaging with people, coastal communities, resource users, and resource managers,” she says. “It’s exciting to work with them, to discuss my findings, and to see my research actually applied. As I look at interdisciplinary management issues, I also constantly seek collaborations with colleagues in various disciplines – coastal engineers, economists, bio-geo chemists, and ecologists to study complex research questions that lie beyond the expertise of any single discipline.”

She also finds mentoring students and engaging them in her research to be highly rewarding and interesting, and she has worked with students from diverse backgrounds in her projects.

At the Coastal Studies Institute, Nadine looks forward to building her own lab, exploring coastal and marine issues in North Carolina and beyond, and collaborating with the diverse faculty. She notes that North Carolina is heavily affected by storms and other climate-driven impacts, and she is interested in studying how resource users and managers respond to these impacts– how have they changed or adapted their use and management of coastal and marine systems. What has worked or not worked and why? How vulnerable are commercial fishermen and other marine users to climate-related impacts and what helped them to adapt to coastal hazards?

While living on the West Coast, Nadine fell in love with ocean-related activities such as swimming, kayaking, and exploring hidden beaches. She embraces the chance to relocate to the Outer Banks and to experience the unique opportunity of living and working on a barrier island. Although she’ll miss the quintessential California beach town of Santa Cruz with its breathtaking views of Monterey Bay – she’s quite happy to continue living at the water’s edge, maintaining a coastal lifestyle.

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.