UNC'S Outer Banks Field Site

An OBX Semester for UNC Undergraduate Students

The Outer Banks Field Site (OBXFS) is a semester-long, UNC-Chapel Hill undergraduate program hosted each fall by the Coastal Studies Institute. OBXFS offers 17 credit hours including three classes, a lab, a seminar,  individual internships, and a group capstone research project pertaining to a current issue of the North Carolina coast. 

During their time at the field site, students study the laws and policies pertaining to coastal management and participate in activities focused on understanding and critiquing the methods used to implement these tools. Sustainable Coastal Management (ENEC 474) offers the students a space to reflect on the challenges of management and the ways in which it should be used.

In Coastal Resource Economics (ENEC 485), students explore the facets of economic functions that guide coastal life. This class will enforce an understanding of basic economics through a coastal lens, giving the students an opportunity to understand the systems they see at work around them.

Finally, OBXFS students dive into the world of ecology in Ecological Processes in Environmental Systems: Coastal and Estuarine Ecology (ENEC 489). Through its hands-on lab section, this class provides the students with a space to discover the natural processes at work in the ecosystem they will study in. Within the classroom, the course aims to connect all the pieces of coastal ecosystems and leave students with an understanding of how and why coastal ecosystems function.

These three classes provide OBXFS students with many new tools that they can use while participating in the Capstone Research Project. For the last three years, students have been tasked with answering questions about the interactions between septic systems and water quality in the town of Nags Head, NC. The processes they discussed, tools they’ve acquired, and skills they’ve developed in their classes have helped them to do this.  These connections between classes and research are just one of the perks that come with being an OBXFS student. 

One of the most important resources students are provided with during their time at OBXFS is the Community Advisory Board (CAB). This group of local individuals provides guidance and critique to the students throughout their Capstone project. They are also an integral part of the students’ introduction to the Outer Banks Community. The CAB offers community insight, connection, and guidance that goes beyond what the instructors alone could offer. 

Each student’s individual internship allows them to acquire new skills and knowledge about the environment and the coast through work with a local non-profit, government, or research group. This opportunity to apply themselves to real-life work situations encompasses the spirit of the field site. While studying here, students not only take away knowledge but real-life experiences that will assist them in the future.

Combined, the semester-long program offers a broad and interdisciplinary experience with environmental decision-making, public policy, law, natural resource management, ecology, and city and regional planning on the coast. Such a targeted focus allows students to immerse themselves not strictly in academics but also in the community, providing a truly unique learning opportunity with the entire Outer Banks as their classroom.

OBXFS Yearly Capstone Project Reports

OBXFS Photos

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.