Since 2013, the Coastal Studies Institute has had the pleasure of hosting the UNC Institute for the Environment’s (UNC IE) Outer Banks Field Site (OBXFS). The semester-long program has brought eleven fresh faces to CSI this fall. These Chapel Hill students, who all hail from the eastern United States, share a passion for spending time in nature and a desire for learning experiences that allow them to explore coastal environments.

As a part of the OBXFS 2021 cohort, the eleven students are living in Manteo, taking classes together on the ECU Outer Banks Campus, and participating in a Capstone research project focused on change in barrier island maritime forests. For their Capstone, the students will explore environmental factors, vegetative communities, and residents’ values and perceptions of the Buxton Woods Coastal Reserve. They will collect ecological and environmental data and speak with residents to investigate the type, extent, rates, and reasons for change and variability within the resilient and protected coastal social-ecological system of Buxton Woods. By the end of the semester, the students will have produced a full report on their findings and will also present their research to the public.

The 2021 OBXFS Cohort has arrived and each one of them is looking forward to ample time outdoors studying the Outer Banks environments that surround them.

Before participating in the OBXFS program and until a few weeks ago, some of the students had not conducted research in the field before. “It was my first time doing fieldwork so it was an exciting experience that I was looking forward to. It was interesting to see the methods that went into finding the plots and collecting the data, and despite some of the challenges we faced such as bugs and being cold and wet, I enjoyed the experience. I learned a lot from [our leaders] in the few hours we were there, and I was impressed with how much knowledge they had of the area. Overall, it was a great experience, and I am looking forward to going back out again!” reflects Joseph Lopez-Hernandez.

In addition to their course work and Capstone project, field trips and internships with local organizations and businesses, as well as guidance from their Community Advisory Board, have and will continue to help the undergraduates become part of the local community and aid in the successful completion of their field site goals.

The 2021 OBXFS Cohort has arrived and each one of them is looking forward to ample time outdoors studying the Outer Banks environments that surround them.

The students hit the ground running as soon as they arrived on Roanoke Island. In just the first few weeks of being on the Outer Banks, they toured Jockey’s Ridge, traversed Nags Head Woods (fourth image), explored Pea and Hatteras Islands, enjoyed watersports activities and a boat ride to a small nearby island, and conducted fieldwork at Buxton Woods for their Capstone, all while beginning their coursework. Later this fall, the cohort will visit Drummond Lake and start to commit time toward their internships twice a week. Finally, despite their busy schedule, the students have still found time to explore on their own too.

Of her experience so far, Nathalie Uriarte-Ayala says, “I am enjoying the small-knit community within the classrooms. We are able to form close relationships which make it easier to collaborate in the field.”

And Rebekah Littauer adds, “I have had so many new experiences that I haven’t had before. I have loved getting to know my peers, being outside, and getting hands-on experience learning new skills. The Outer Banks has been a beautiful and enriching place to learn, and I am excited for the rest of the semester here.”

Littauer is not alone either. In fact, all the students believe the semester will be an adventure that is sure to enhance their undergraduate experience.

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.