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Educator Spotlight: Jennifer Fenwick


Jennifer Fenwick, an interpretation and education specialist with North Carolina State Parks, recently completed her N.C. Environmental Education Certification, a program of the Office of Environmental Education and Public Affairs in the Department of Environmental Quality. Fenwick conducts educational programs for school groups and the public and assists with special projects. Some of her programs include pond dipping, owl prowls, birding, moth nights, canoeing and butterfly and tree identification.

In her position with State Parks, Fenwick serves as the coordinator for Neighborhood Ecology Corps, a partnership between N.C. State Parks, the Center for Human-Earth Restoration, N.C. State University, Raleigh Parks, Raleigh Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources Department and the National Park Service. “My role is to take kids to various parks across the state, engaging them in activities that create a better understanding of the natural world and their place in it. We’ve canoed the serene swamps of Merchant’s Millpond State Park, learned about water quality by catching macroinvertebrates at Eno River State Park, fished and viewed eagles at the Jordan Lake State Recreation Area, “eaten clouds” off the summit of Mount Mitchell, witnessed the boisterous waters of Linville Gorge and my favorite, camped for the very first time while exploring the multi-state views of Grandfather Mountain State Park.”

Fenwick has been able to take teens from the Neighborhood Ecology Corps to the mountains, swamps, and coasts of North Carolina. The Neighborhood Ecology Corps is an afternoon middle school program focusing on nature and community. The program is designed to develop environmentally literate citizens and help students create a holistic view of their community. Activities include outdoor introductions to state parks, the ecology of the local community, and eco-restoration activities. This program is led by CHER (Center for Human-Earth Restoration) and offered at no cost to students or their families. “These trips increased their knowledge of our state's rich natural history along with equipping them with recreational skills in the outdoors. However, many of the participants stayed in the Neighborhood Ecology Corps program for a second and third year and needed something more advanced. From this group, the Outdoor Leadership Academy was born.” 

Fenwick’s community partnership project involved developing the Outdoor Leadership Academy which provided the Neighborhood Ecology Corps with an enhanced leadership experience through a week-long camp at Haw River and Hanging Rock State Parks. The students participated in interactive leadership discussions, increased their outdoor skills (camping, campfire cooking, canoe basics, orienteering, CPR certification, and learning the fundamentals of leading a hike), and spent ample time preparing and teaching a nature lesson. Through this camp, participants were empowered to become counselors for younger kids within the Neighborhood Ecology Corps program.

In addition, Fenwick has led a week-long overnight Outdoor Leadership Academy for the past two summers for the program participants and also she also serves as the coordinator for Wake Audubon’s Young Naturalist Club. “In North Carolina, there’s a gap in much of environmental education for kids who are ages 12-18 who are interested in the natural sciences. This club presents kids in Wake County opportunities to explore the state through visiting parks and learning from experts in the field." 

Fenwick says her favorite part of earning her certification was the workshops with experts in different fields. “I was impressed with the amount and breadth of workshops available to North Carolina educators. Reading a book is helpful but to learn from an expert in the field is invaluable.” When asked about the experience that stands out for her she says it was the HERP Project (Herpetology Education in Rural Places and Spaces), a project led by Catherine Matthews through UNCG's School of Education in partnership with Elon University and UNC Pembroke and supported by the National Science Foundation. “The HERP Project was by far the best workshop I’ve ever been to.” 

Fenwick says the certification has changed the way she views environmental issues. “Through the Methods of Teaching Environmental Education and other workshops I have attended through the certification program, I learned that environmental issues are best discussed when encountering the issues at hand. For example, water quality is more easily approached when participants are catching and identifying aquatic macroinvertebrates in a river. Through this fun activity and handling these small creatures, they learn that some need clean water to survive. As an extension, we begin to discuss water quality for humans. If you go straight into the environmental issues without having a shared experience, then discussion usually falls flat with people stating their ready-made responses. I am now more comfortable introducing environmental issues in my programs. Before it felt as if environmental issues were too polarizing/political. But I found that if you leave space for discussion and not just right and wrong answers, then the program is more enriching for everyone.”

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Educator Spotlight - Chelsea Sloggy


Chelsea Sloggy, a conservation education specialist with Union County Soil and Water Conservation District, recently completed the N.C. Environmental Education Certification Program.

Chelsea provides educational programming and information centered around natural resources conservation topics to the public in Union County. She notes that her job "looks different every day, but includes presentations at schools and libraries, information for landowners, professional development for students and adults alike, and so much more.” She is currently working to grow their N.C. Envirothon program and conservation contests for students as well as the environmental education opportunities they offer educators. 

Chelsea’s favorite part of earning her certification was networking with other educators and the opportunity to visit new places. “My favorite part of earning my certification has been meeting amazing people from across the state and being inspired by the work of people who share my passions. The EE certification program has taken me to places I may have never gotten the chance to see and introduced me to people who I now call good friends. I have met people who I now work closely on exciting projects with and get to share ideas and gain new knowledge alongside. I am extremely grateful for the new people and partnerships it has brought into my life!”

When asked what experience in the program stood out, Chelsea says it was participating in the Children and Nature Network’s Natural Leaders Legacy Camp. “This workshop opened my eyes to the importance of introducing our youth to the outdoors and the value of not only being an educator but a mentor. It was during this workshop that I realized that the knowledge and experiences that I had weren't worth much if I didn't share them with others. This experience opened my eyes to the possibilities that environmental education and nature hold for people from all walks of life, and made me realize that EE wasn't just an interest of mine but a passion.

For her community partnership project, Chelsea created environmental education resource boxes that can be checked out by educators. The boxes are aligned with the N.C. Envirothon curriculum and include a box for each of the Envirothon subjects including wildlife, aquatics, soils and forestry. “These resource boxes have everything an educator needs to help their students study natural resource topics through hands-on activities. I hope that these boxes will allow educators to more easily integrate environmental education into their lesson plans and programs and expose more children to the wonders of the natural world.”

Chelsea says participating in the program helped her become a more understanding, prepared and creative educator. “Throughout the program, I learned that environmental education can impact everyone, regardless of the walk of life they are coming from. But for a presentation or activity to make the greatest impact possible, you need to be the best educator that you possibly can. This means being prepared to give any participant the best program you can, whether they be young or old, from a rural area or an urban area, or they spend every day outside or rarely get to experience nature.”

She also says the way she thinks about environmental issues has been shaped through the certification program. “I now see issues from a much fuller perspective than I did before. When thinking about or discussing environmental issues, I consider more heavily how someone from a different background than my own might feel about or be impacted by those issues. The program has definitely broadened my horizons in this way, reminding me to bring people from all walks of life into the conversation about environmental issues. We all have something to learn from one another, and being mindful of this has helped to shape my programming, as well.”

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Educator Spotlight - Creeden Kowal


Creeden Kowal recently completed the N.C. Environmental Education Certification program. Creeden is the Education Coordinator for Swain Soil and Water Conservation District and works closely with teachers, other Soil & and Water Conservation Districts and agricultural/environmental agencies in Western North Carolina to deliver environmental education through hands-on activities.

Creeden says her favorite part of earning her certification was all the time she spent outdoors exploring new places and the networking with fellow educators. “The certification experience that stands out for me would be camping overnight at Purchase Knob during the Air Quality workshop. The sunset and sunrise were unforgettable.

For her community partnership project, Creeden converted a trailer to a mobile soil exhibit. The exhibit is a hands-on experience for children to learn about the importance of soil as a natural resource highlighting soil as an ecosystem, causes of soil erosion, best management practices and agricultural commodities in Western North Carolina.

Creeden feels the certification program provided her with valuable skills for teaching. “I had zero experience with teaching or leading groups and had never taken any education classes. The program gave me tons of ideas to incorporate into my programs and helped me feel more comfortable teaching all ages.”

She also describes ways participating in the program changed the way she thinks about environmental issues. “The certification program has a strong emphasis on understanding more so than calling people to action. I have definitely incorporated this into my teaching style allowing students to develop their own unique understanding of the environment and their role.”

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Educator Spotlight - Martha Bizzell


Martha Bizzell, a graduate student at North Carolina State University, recently completed her N.C. Environmental Education Certification. Martha is working on her Master’s in Elementary Education and has taught math and science in elementary and middle school. She also provides science and engineering education programs to schools as a nonformal educator. In her free time, Martha loves to visit state and national parks and enjoys painting.

Martha says her favorite part of earning her certification was "hands-down" meeting amazing instructors and classmates. “The environmental education community is a wonderful group of passionate people concerned for the sustainability of our world and the education of our future leaders and decision-makers.”

Two of the experiences that stand out for Martha was the Project Food, Land and People workshop and the Methods of Teaching Environmental Education at Haw River State Park for the excellent teaching skills of the facilitators. “These were two outstanding classes which covered a wealth of material in a memorable, inquiry-based and reflective manner.”

For her community partnership project, Martha created a tree identification trail at Fox Road Elementary School with an accompanying guide. “On the second day of school, the students noticed the plaques and begged for a tour! It will be used by the afternoon science club and during classes when the teachers need/want to take their students on a nature hike.”

Martha noted that the Methods of Teaching Environmental Education workshop also included new pedagogy in teaching that are skills and techniques also taught in her graduate education classes. “It is nice to see both programs on the same page. A positive trend, I believe, in education. 

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Celebrate Take A Child Outside Week September 24- September 30


The N.C. Office of Environmental Education and Public Affairs invites you to take part in a nationwide effort to connect children to the natural world. “Take a Child Outside” is designed to help children develop an appreciation for the outdoors by giving parents, grandparents, caregivers and teachers information on nature activities and places to visit.

Take a Child Outside Week is coordinated by the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences with participation by partner organizations throughout the U.S. and around the world. The program encourages all citizens to participate in outdoor activities and occurs annually from September 24 to September 30.

You can find ideas for outdoor activities to do with children of all ages on the NC Museum of Natural Sciences’ Take a Child Outside website. The program is designed to help break down obstacles that keep children from discovering the natural world, and to provide resources and recreational activities for exploring local habitats.

Organizations and agencies across the state including parks, nature and science centers, museums, aquariums, botanical gardens, and other environmental education centers are hosting events during the week. There are many opportunities to take children, grandchildren or students outdoors. Events include nature hikes, story walks, bird calling, hawk watching, fishing, spider sniffing and pond explorations. You can visit the North Carolina Environmental Education Calendar to search for Take a Child Outside activities being offered across the state.

And don’t worry if you are new to exploring the outdoors with children. The Kids in Parks program has installed a network of hiking trails throughout North Carolina that are designed to get kids and families outdoors for both their health and the health of our parks and public lands. Each of their TRACK Trails has a series of self-guided brochures children kids can use to learn about and connect with the resources that make that place unique, converting an ordinary hike into a fun-filled, discovery-packed adventure. Kids that complete TRACK Trails can register their adventures through the program’s website and earn prizes designed to make their next outdoor adventure more meaningful and keep them engaged in the program. For a complete list of TRACK Trail locations, and for more information about the program, please visit their website

Do you and your kids wish you had more opportunities to play outside when TACO week is over? Then consider signing them up to become a NC State Parks Junior Ranger! (Geared for kids ages 6-12). Earn unique park patches at each of the state parks by completing the self-led activity guide, attending park programs, and helping with a kid-friendly stewardship project. See if you can collect all 41 patches!  Or sign up for the quarterly Junior Ranger e-newsletter for fun activities and articles to stay on top of the latest with NC State Parks. Learn more about NC State Parks Junior Rangers on the website.

North Carolina has many environmental education centers and other public lands that are great places for children to explore September 24-30 (and year-round). So, whether it is at a national, state or local park; your neighborhood or your own backyard--Take a Child Outside!

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Educator Spotlight: Sandy Fowler


Sandy Fowler, a former middle school teacher, recently completed the N.C. Environmental Education Certification Program. Sandy has been teaching science for the last 15 years and last year she started an Envirothon Team 
at High Point Friends School that qualified for the N.C. State Competition. When she is not teaching Sandy loves to hike the Mountains to Sea Trail and she hopes one day to teach at an environmental center or park. 

Sandy says the N.C. Envirothon Leadership training was the certification experience that stands out for her. She says the training helped her understand the expectations and objectives of the competition and curriculum and therefore, helped her students become a successful team. 

For her community partnership project, Sandy worked with Kelsie Burgess, a stormwater specialist with the City of High Point, to create backpacks for the Piedmont Environmental Center in High Point and learning boxes for Salem Lake Park. Kelsie was the lead on the Salem Lake Park project while Sandy spearheaded the Piedmont Environmental Center project. “The Piedmont Environmental Center has already put their backpacks to use during a camp this month. They will loan them out to families and teachers to use while they are at the center. Salem Lake is starting up their educational program and will be using theirs to jump start that program, as well as loan them out to families and teachers. These learning packs make it easier for the public to gain a better understanding of the environment.”

Sandy says the certification program led to changes in her approach to teaching others. “Environmental education has been a tremendous help in my methods of teaching. I have always been a hands-on teacher. The workshops have provided me with countless activities and resources to incorporate into the classroom and outside. It has also increased my knowledge on many topics. I started the Envirothon Team and the team placed 6th in the region and competed in the state competition. This team will continue to work together to improve their knowledge and scores.” 

Sandy says she is also more mindful of her how her actions affect the environment. She feels the certification program needs to be heavily promoted among teachers. “It would be so beneficial to teachers, students, parents and schools if the majority of the teachers were certified. 

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Fall lunchtime lecture series promises some “spooky” surprises


The Office of Environmental Education and Public Affairs is offering several engaging and in some cases “spooky,” topics for their fall lunchtime speaker series.

With a nod to the season, October’s sessions include “Soring Talons of Death,” “Oddities from the Vault,” “Our Mysterious Night Flyers,” “Spooky Spiders” and “Howling Misconceptions.” Today's talk, “Ghosts Forest of the Sounds” with Marcelo Ardon Sayao of N.C. State University, will feature a unique citizen science project to investigate the changing shorelines of North Carolina.

Other presentations in the series include how to safely eat locally-caught fish, how living shorelines are helping control erosion, Raleigh’s efforts to “green” the Capital Boulevard corridor, the role of rivers in art and history and a tour of the Oakwood Cemetery featuring several of the cemetery’s conservation and green initiatives.

The guest lecture series is hosted by the Office of Environmental Education and Public Affairs in the Dept. of Environmental Quality and features professionals from a wide range of environmental and science backgrounds. These folks represent local and state agencies, college and universities, and other organizations throughout the state. The series is designed to provide professional development for employees and educators and to give attendees the opportunity to interact directly with experts in their respective fields.

The lectures are held from noon until 1 p.m. on Wednesdays in the Environmental Literacy Center located in the Nature Research Center.

Check out the entire schedule and the incredible lineup of experts the Office of Environmental Education and Public Affairs is excited to welcome this fall. We look forward to seeing you there!
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Educator Spotlight: Mandy Nix


Mandy Nix is a nonformal educator who had a very busy year. In addition to working in several seasonal positions, Mandy used her training and experiences to complete her N.C. Environmental Education Certification. She worked as an environmental education instructor at Mountain Trail Outdoor School in Hendersonville where she actively engaged 2nd to 8th-grade school groups in high adventure and discovery-based curricula throughout 1400 acres of southern Appalachian bogs, ponds, streams and forests. She taught a hands-on, “minds-on” natural science curriculum on native flora and fauna for the Nature Explorers Camp at the N.C. Botanical Garden. In September, Mandy will begin a year of service as an AmeriCorps member with Trout Unlimited. She will serve as a West Virginia Volunteer Restoration and Monitoring Organizer engaging volunteers from local communities in the restoration, monitoring and protection of the cold, clean water in our Appalachian waterways.

When asked about her favorite part of earning her certification, Mandy points to the teaching resources. “I’m laughably greedy about new curricula - books, educational posters and advanced field ID training - and the environmental education certification program left me breathless with such invaluable teaching resources. I’ve never felt more equipped to forge daily connections between communities and backyard flora/fauna.”

For her community partnership project, Mandy developed the Lemur S.C.O.U.T. Patch Program at the Duke Lemur Center to engage local youth, ages 6 to 12, in lemur science and conservation. The program gave the participants a toolkit of skills during the five-step program to “Study, Conserve, Observe, Understand and Teach.” The program also allowed her to create connections between the program and the Piedmont Girl Scouts and Y Guides.

Mandy says the program changed her approach to teaching others. “The program was hugely transformative for both my teaching and my perception of environmental education. It reinforced that we’re not teaching our communities to be scientists; we’re teaching them to be science lovers and science literate, thus empowering them to be intimate participants in conservation.”

She feels that the program further supported her views about the importance of working with communities and engaging youth early-on. “The certification program fortified my belief that conservation is rooted in deep, personal connections in and with nature. My own relationship with the natural world was born from sticky summers in the North Carolina Piedmont, where Kerr Lake was a quick hop-skip through the mixed hardwood and pine forests I called my backyard. But while I was lucky to have a childhood that kept dirt under my fingernails and between my toes, many lack my own experience and exposure. It’s important that I play an active role in growing that accessibility and engaging our communities in wild, green spaces. Moreover, those connections should begin early – with our youngest citizens.”

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Educator Spotlight: Cheryl Michalec


Cheryl Michalec, a 2nd grade teacher at Sandy Ridge Elementary School with Durham Public Schools, recently earned her N.C. Environmental Education Certification. Cheryl teaches reading, math, science, social studies and writing. Her school has a visual and performing arts focus and the students often enjoy the outdoor space on their campus and use art and writing to reflect on their experiences outdoors. 

Cheryl credits the certification program with helping her start an “encore” or post-retirement career. She says that there were two favorite parts of earning her certification. One was going on the educator treks offered by the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences. “My experiences on educator treks taught me so much about the beauty of our state. I could not believe that I grew up in North Carolina and had never seen the snow geese and swans migrating.” Her other favorite part was creating a pollinator garden at her school. “I loved planting the pollinator garden with our second grade students. They demonstrated amazing teamwork and commitment to providing a habitat for bees and butterflies. I cannot wait for them to come back this fall and see how it has grown.”

The trip Cheryl took to the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue & Rehabilitation Center at Topsail Beach was the experience that stood out for her. “I was inspired by the work of the turtle hospital and by Karen Beasley herself who took the time to speak with us. It is still difficult to believe the amazing experience. We saw a nesting mother, a nest boil and a Kemps Ridley hatchling that was still in a nest. To have seen one of these events would have been wonderful but all three in one trip just beats the odds.”

For her community partnership project Cheryl received a grant from the Keep Durham Beautiful: Healthy Bee, Healthy Me program which provided plants, soil, mulch and expert advice she need to install the pollinator garden on the school’s campus. “It is a beautiful sight, and is already blooming and covered in bees and butterflies. In addition, we have a blue bird living right there in a house that a student painted. The garden has an abundance of life on the ground and in the air. The project made me more aware of the resources available in our community. The people from Master Gardener Program, Soil and Water and Keep Durham Beautiful in addition to our school community all worked together to make this an amazing project. Our students learned from experts and have access to extra resources.”

Cheryl feels that participating in the program changed her approach to teaching. “I feel that I am more relaxed teaching about the natural world. I do not feel as pressed to give the students facts and figures. I want them to become active observers and questioners. My focus is to give them some background on a topic and let them run with their new knowledge. For example, "Create Your Own Butterfly," has become one of my standard lessons.”

Cheryl says the program changed the way she thinks about environmental issues. “Making small changes of my own have been difficult, and I feel that I do care about the environment. So, reaching out to help others notice how they can make a positive impact is not going to be instantaneous. Working with children is an opportunity to build that relationship with the environment, and then I hope that when they see opportunities to care for the world around them, they will take them. My students were beginning to look around OUR community and thinking of what they could do.” 

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Educator Spotlight: Teresa Andrews


Teresa Andrews, a stormwater specialist in Randolph County, recently completed her N.C. Environmental Education Certification. Andrews is responsible for managing NPDES (
National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System) Phase II Permit Programs for several municipalities in the Piedmont. The Phase II Permit Programs require stormwater education for all ages and Teresa coordinates, plans and implements environmental education programs for the citizens in the communities where she works. In her personal time, she loves to fish, garden and quilt and has been a beekeeper for five years.

When asked about her favorite part of earning her certification, Teresa says she enjoyed the community partnership project and the workshops she attended. “The partnership project allowed me to utilize the skills that I gained throughout the certification and to create something that has a positive lasting impact on my community. All of the workshops I was able to attend were so creative and inspiring, whether through the materials and lesson plans I received or new ideas, they helped me become a better educator.”

For her community partnership project, Teresa built a pollinator garden in Fair Grove Park in the City of Thomasville. She partnered with the City of Thomasville Parks and Recreation Department, Watts Lawn and Garden, and Piedmont Environmental Center for the project’s location, materials, and native plants. “The Thomasville Parks and Recreation summer camp kids came out to the garden where we had a lesson on pollinators and why they are important and how creating habitat and food sources for our pollinators is very important, then the kids helped plant all of the native pollinator plants in the garden. This pollinator garden will reach many citizens of Thomasville, whether they are driving by the garden, or stop in the park and read the signage around the garden, I hope it educates people on the importance of pollinators, and encourages them to plant their own pollinator garden.”

Teresa says participating in the program led to changes in her approach to teaching. “I definitely learned different ways to teach different topics. Not being a formally trained teacher I think that the EE Certification program helped me figure out different ways to teach different types of audiences, which is extremely helpful for my position. Whether it's adults or children I feel confident in my ability to adapt a program to suit the needs of my audience.”

Teresa found the Basics of Environmental Education Independent Study helpful when considering environmental issues. “In the Basics of Environmental Education workshop, I found all of the articles to be very inspiring and their messages extremely important to environmental educators everywhere. The way that the articles discussed how to handle teaching about environmental issues and the different ideas of the goals of environmental education inspired me to focus my topics and remember to help maintain the difference between education and advocacy.”

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Educator Spotlight: Suzy Greene


Suzy Greene, a teacher at York Elementary School in Wake County, recently completed her N.C. Environmental Education Certification. Greene, who teaches 2nd grade, serves as the head coach for the school’s N.C. Science Olympiad Team and is the lead teacher for York’s after school service club, the CreekKeepers. Greene credits the certification program with increasing her knowledge base and enhancing her teaching.

Suzy says learning to correctly identify macroinvertebrates in creeks and streams was the experience in the certification program that stood out for her. “I knew nothing about these creatures before and never believed that I would gain enough experience or knowledge to be able to correctly identify them. After a few environmental education courses that got me in the creek working with experienced individuals, I can say that while I am no expert, my skills have vastly improved. Possessing this skill is very important as a leader of the CreekKeepers and this is probably the experience I am most grateful for.”

Suzy’s community partnership project was leading the York CreekKeepers as an after school service club. The club prides itself on committing to projects that help to increase the ecological knowledge of the immediate community and to do their part in making sure the little stream behind their school--a tributary of the Neuse River Basin--is in good health. The club's projects so far include monitoring their creek, composting in the school’s cafeteria, speaking to a local gardening club about ways they can help protect the watershed and holding a drug take-back event at the school in partnership with the Raleigh Police Department.

Suzy says she never thought about the distinction between environmentalism and environmental education before the certification program. “It helped me to understand that when addressing an audience, it is best to be prepared and knowledgeable about facts, allow for discussion and remain calm when faced with dissent. Offering avenues where further learning can take place is paramount when educating others about the environment.”

She says the program had an impact on her teaching. “I have become more motivated as an educator to increase the hands-on experiences in nature for those that I instruct. This I know will help them to become better environmental citizens.”

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Educator Spotlight: Erin Staib


Erin Staib, a park ranger at Cliffs of the Neuse State Park in Goldsboro, completed her N.C. Environmental Education Certification this summer. In addition to her law enforcement duties, Erin has lots of opportunities to create and teach educational programs and conduct natural resource management at the park. She also enjoys incorporating her hobbies beekeeping and paddle boarding into some of 
her programming.

For her community partnership project, Erin worked with the Arts Council of Wayne County to create a new arts festival with nature focus for Cliffs of the Neuse. “It was a rewarding experience creating a space for local art in the park and it helped connect people to parks who may not otherwise go out into nature often.”

Erin says the certification program led to changes in her approach to teaching others. “I realized it was more important to create a sense of wonder in my audience. Facts are great but you don’t have to be an expert on a subject to inspire someone.”

Erin says she also thinks differently about environmental issues after completing the program. “If you want people to care about environmental issues you have to encourage them to invest in their community. One of the best ways to do this is to get kids outside early. They’ll notice what spaces are naturally wonderful and which spaces are not. They’ll gain an appreciation for nature and years from now, when they are running things, they’ll make better decisions than we did.”

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Collaboration + Good Coffee = Connected Science Learning Success - State Agencies Partner to Unite Formal and Informal Educators in North Carolina


The Department of Environmental Quality’s Office of Environmental Education and Public Affairs and the N.C. Public Schools Science Section have coauthored an article that touts the unique collaboration between the two agencies to unite formal and informal educators in the state. The article, Collaboration + Good Coffee = Connected Science Learning Success was published in the spring edition of the Connected Science Learning journal, a publication of the National Science Teachers Association and the Association of Science-Technology Centers. The journal highlights Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education experiences that bridge the gap between in-school and out-of-school settings. 

Beginning in 2011, the Office of Environmental Education and Public Affairs and the N.C. Department of Public Instruction (N.C. DPI) began hosting a meeting that allows educators from environmental education centers and science museums, as well as other informal science education providers, to meet directly with N.C. DPI science curriculum specialists and a panel of classroom teachers. The collaboration has encouraged in-school and out-of-school educators to share knowledge, engage students in learning opportunities and develop learning communities to advance science education in the state. The impacts of the collaboration are highlighted in the article about success stories from partnerships between classroom teachers, schools, school districts and informal science providers across the state.

The article also highlights the office’s efforts to provide teachers with access to professional development opportunities offered by informal educators and facilities throughout North Carolina. As one science teacher from Northwood High School in Chatham County put it, “All the coastal ecology that I know, I learned by going out into the coastal environment with informal educators and getting dirty. This allows me to bring a rich experience into the classroom when I can’t take the students to the coast.”

The agencies plan to continue their collaboration to support the outstanding formal and informal educators in the state and their efforts to improve science education for K–12 students.

Read the article

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Educator Spotlight: Marissa Blackburn


Marissa Blackburn, education program specialist at the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher, recently completed her N.C. Environmental Education Certification. Marissa says working toward her certification in environmental education has allowed her skills as an educator to grow, making her a more competitive candidate for employment in the field.

As an educator at the aquarium, Marissa presents public programs to visitors on a variety of marine topics through dive shows, live animal encounters, auditorium lectures and exhibit feedings. She coordinates both a year-round and a summer teen volunteer program in addition to a senior project program and a college education internship program. When she isn’t presenting a program or training or supervising and coordinating volunteers and interns, Marissa has the opportunity to interact one-on-one with visitors at the exhibits. 

Marissa says one of the highlights of her experiences in the certification program was taking seasonal birding workshops with Mike Campbe
ll, an outreach education specialist with the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission. “I think these were my favorite workshops because we were outside all day, learning field skills for identifying different species of birds. With each workshop I attended, my appreciation for birds grew greater. I am by no means a bird expert now, but I enjoy watching, listening to, and identifying birds when I can and teaching others to do the same. Plus, Mike’s ability to identify any species of bird based on its call is awe-inspiring!”

For her community partnership project, Marissa created a recycling program for the local Boys and Girls Club in Wilmington. She created lesson plans, developed a program manual and held a staff training for the program in addition to teaching lessons to children.

Marissa says participating in the program helped her become a more engaging and interactive educator. “Learning about methods and best practices in environmental education and applying these principles to my teaching has resulted in more impactful, memorable programs for my audiences. I have also been able to share methods, principles, and best practices with interns and volunteers I coordinate increasing further the impact of the certification program.”

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Educator Spotlight: Megan Chesser


Megan Chesser, teacher education specialist with the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences recently earned her North Carolina Environmental Education Certification. Chesser works on the Teacher Education Team at the museum, where she provides professional development workshops for educators of all kinds - in the field, at schools and at the museum. Her job allows her to take educators outside to learn about the many connections to the natural world, whether on their school grounds or in a new habitat or ecosystem they have never explored before.

Chesser’s favorite part of the program was the networking opportunities it provided to connect with so many like-minded people who are also dedicated to educating the next generation about the natural world. The experience that stands out most to her took place during one of her workshops at Haw River State Park. Several participants were informally surveying the plants and animals around the building during a break when they discovered a beautiful, abundant flower that looked like a dogwood that had them completely stumped.

“After scouring field guides, comparing notes and thoughts, cross-checking, and with everyone’s help, we were able to identify it as an invasive plant; Houttuynia cordata, a fishy smelling plant!” said Chesser. “The park didn’t even know it was there! This experience stands out because our relentless dedication to identification and education at the onset brought them together, and every time I see those colleagues we remind each other of the mystery we solved together!”

For her community partnership program, Chesser created a set of backpacks, each full of activities and resources, that could be checked out by members of the public visiting Walnut Creek Wetlands Center. She hopes the backpacks will be a tangible way for families with young children, youth, or even adults to actively engage in outdoor exploration and to build connections with the natural world. Chesser said of the project, “The fun activities in the backpack make it safe, approachable and entertaining to explore the outdoors for people with little experience.”

Chesser is excited to use her new EE Certification in her career educating teachers at the museum. She reflects, “If teachers are inspired themselves, they are more likely to create opportunities for their students to connect to the natural world, too!”
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Lunchtime Program Teaches Employees How to Compost at Home


The DEQ Office of Environmental Education and Public Affairs took their Lunchtime Discovery Series to the Archdale Building recently to show DEQ and other state employees the benefits of composting.  The workshop was held outside on the Halifax Mall where a small composting program has been in place since 2012.

The workshop was led by Corinne Law, Environmental Specialist with the DEQ’s Division of Waste Management. Corinne has been teaching backyard, community and farm-scale composting for over a decade including work in Haiti and Egypt. In 2016, she led Atlanta’s first comprehensive composting course before joining the Solid Waste Section in Raleigh. She’s been a presenter at the U.S. Composting Council’s annual conference and at Georgia Organics’ annual conference.

The workshop was well attended and the questions raised were thoughtful. A lot of people are nervous about composting or have tried and felt like they failed but the truth is the amount of effort required for backyard composting is minimal while the benefits are numerous!

The reasons to compost are the same as the rewards and almost everyone can relate to at least one of them. Backyard composting:

  • Diverts organic material from landfills where it decomposes anaerobically and creates methane. Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas that is a precursor to ozone.
  • Reduces a family’s carbon footprint by reducing the material hauled to a landfill.
  • Creates aggregates in soil which increases the pore space in clay soils and binds together sandy soils. This allows for better transfer of air, water, and nutrients.
  • Creates a valuable soil amendment that builds healthy soil by increasing soil biology and healthy plants by returning nutrients to the soil. Compost also buffers pH which affects nutrient availability and can eliminate the need for chemical fertilizers.
  • Conserves water, mitigates erosion, and deters garden pests.
  • Offers a hands-on learning opportunity for children (and adults!) that teaches environmental stewardship. 

There are a thousand ways to compost and the important thing is to find the way that works for you and your household. It may be vermiculture (composting with worms), an enclosed tumbler, or an open pile. It may even be a collection service that picks up your food scraps and composts them for you! Either way, it’s well worth the effort. Send your backyard composting questions to Corinne at For more information and composting tips, click here.
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Educator Spotlight: Christine Brown


Christine Brown is an environmental educator for Asheville GreenWorks where she focuses on urban forestry, water quality, pollinators and waste reduction through recycling and composting. GreenWorks’ clean and green programs add service learning opportunities for students with tree and pollinator garden plantings and river/roadside cleanups. Through a partnership with Land of Sky Regional Council, Brown coordinates the Recycling Education Vehicle that promotes waste reduction education in four counties including Madison, Buncombe, Henderson and Transylvania County.

Brown recently earned her N.C. Environmental Education Certificate, which she feels helped her become a better educator by introducing her to different curricula and adding “more tools to her belt” for working with children at GreenWorks. Before completing the program, she had a science background but was not fully confident in her teaching abilities. Environmental education certification gave her the knowledge and skills to design a lesson plan and teach children of all ages.

Brown’s favorite part of the program were the outdoor experiences at local state parks and educational state forests. “I would not have been aware of some state parks if it was not for the certification, including ones in my area. I especially enjoyed the tree and wildflower identification hikes at Holmes Educational State Forest,” said Brown. Another favorite feature of the program was meeting other educators from across the state, which was a great networking opportunity and a way to foster new partnerships and collaborations.

For her community partnership project, Brown partnered with the N.C. Arboretum to install one of their ecoExplore HotSpots at the North Asheville Library. She designed and planted a pollinator garden as well as installed a bird feeder and bird bath. The HotSpot will provide a space for children to explore and take pictures of nature for the citizen-science program, iNaturalist. It also beautifies an urban area while providing habitat for native pollinators.

Reflecting on her time completing the program, the experience that stands out most to Brown was a field trip to Mt. Mitchell and the guided hike with Dr. Daniel from Montreat College. “He did a teaching exercise called ‘Rotation Station’ that I will never forget and will use for the rest of my teaching career,” said Brown. “He started the field trip by teaching a group of people in the front facts about a plant, rock or something interesting he saw. That group became a ‘station’ and had to stay behind and teach the others in the hike. Dr. Daniel would continue to assign ‘stations’ to the next people in front until the entire group was constantly rotating between stations. I enjoyed this exercise because the back of the line soon became the front and I will always remember my station because I taught it to others.”

To learn more about Asheville Greenworks, visit For more information about the N.C. Environmental Education Certification Program, visit
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Environmental Educator Spotlight: Deanna Alfaro


Deanna Alfaro recently completed her North Carolina Environmental Education Certification. Deanna currently teaches nature programs at White Deer Nature Center in Garner and at the Clayton Community Center, and credits the program with expanding her knowledge base and increasing her available library of environmental education resources. "It has given me many more resources to tap into for future programs." She also enjoyed the trainings, notably the "Investigating Your Environment' workshop provided by the North Carolina Forest Service.

For her community partnership project, Deanna partnered with the Town of Garner Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources, coordinating volunteers to turn several large sewer main access portals in White Deer Park into very attractive public works of art that educate visitors about native animal tracks. You can see Deanna's work along the South Garner Greenway/White Deer Loop trail on the west side of the park. As you can see below, it made quite a difference!


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Summer Lunchtime Speaker Series Kicks Off June 7


What do bees, bears, crime and chocolate have in common? They are all part of the environmental education summer lunchtime speaker series which kicks off on June 7! Come prepared to explore one of North Carolina’s unique ecosystems as Larry Earley, photographer and author of Looking for Longleaf, speaks on the “Saga of the Longleaf Pine.”

The upcoming series will include a variety of interesting presentations, including Dr. Walt Wolfram from N.C. State University discussing how dialects define us as North Carolinians; Justin Maness from Bee Downtown on the honey bee decline and rise of urban beekeeping; Bill Lea, nature photographer and bear advocate who has been photographing black bears in the wild for two decades and Hallot Parson, co-owner of Escazu Artisan Chocolates on getting the cacao bean from the farm to his Raleigh chocolate shop.

The guest lecture series is hosted by the Office of Environmental Education and Public Affairs in the Department of Environmental Quality and features professionals from a wide range of environmental and science backgrounds representing local and state agencies, college and universities, and other organizations throughout the state. The series is designed to provide professional development for employees and educators and to give attendees the opportunity to interact directly with experts in their respective fields.

The lectures are held from noon until 1 p.m. on Wednesdays in the Environmental Literacy Center located in the Nature Research Center.

These are just a handful of the many experts the Office of Environmental Education is excited to welcome throughout the summer. Click here for the full Lunchtime Discovery lineup. We look forward to seeing you there!

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Educator Spotlight: Julia Soto


As a nonformal educator, Julia Soto uses her spare time to educate her community about the environment around them. Soto is a volunteer/docent with the Central Carolinas Master Naturalist Program who recently earned her N.C. Environmental Education Certificate. As her day job, she is a childcare subsidy caseworker.

Soto’s favorite part of the program was that it allowed her to travel. “I loved traveling to all of the beautiful places around the state where the workshops were held and the sheer joy of discovery as I moved through the program,” said Soto. “It brought back all the excitement I used to experience when I was a child playing in the woods.”

For her community partnership project, Soto helped her daughter’s Girl Scout troop plan an Earth Day Celebration at a local park as part of their Bronze Award Project. In celebration of Girl Scouts’ 100thAnniversary, girls from all over the county came together to plant 100 pine trees at the park. Soto found it very rewarding to see how excited the girls were about the tree planting.

Looking back at the program, the moment that stands out to Soto was an event she may never have experienced otherwise. “I attended the sea turtle workshop on the coast,” reflected Soto. “The park ranger was checking one of the nests and found a hatchling straggling behind. The experience of watching that lone little hatchling make its way to the sea was something I’ll always remember.”
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Educator Spotlight: Tori Carle


Tori Carle poses with "plarn" hair.

A recycling education specialist with the City of Greensboro’s Field Operations, Tori Carle is positive that obtaining her N.C. Environmental Education Certification has helped her career advancement. Not only did it help her find a job, but it also has improved her confidence in planning and executing programs at that job, where she works with schools, businesses and residents to increase recycling participation and decrease contamination.

Carle’s favorite part of the N.C. Environmental Education Certification Program was the opportunity it provided to network with other environmental educators at the various workshops. “I’m also a super nerd, so I love learning and teaching new things that I have learned to others is always fun,” added Carle.

For her community partnership project, Carle created Operation Bed Roll, a program that has helped spread the word about the non-recyclability of plastic film in residential recycling containers. Operation Bed Roll is a collaboration between Greensboro’s Field Operations and Police departments to keep non-recyclable materials out of our landfills – and help some of our neediest residents have a safe place to sleep. Operation Bed Roll aims to transform thousands of plastic grocery bags into “plarn,” or plastic bag yarn used to create crocheted sleeping mats that provide an insulated barrier for those who sleep on the ground. Carle trains residents how to make the plarn and Greensboro police officers will distribute the mats to the homeless throughout the winter. The Interactive Resource Center, a non-profit that helps people experiencing homelessness, helped us set a goal of 200 bed rolls per winter.

“Greensboro residents have shown up to share love with our neediest residents by crafting plastic bag yarn into more than 243 bed rolls and counting,” said Carle. “That’s about 170,100 plastic bags kept out of city streets, landfills and recycling! Residents have also learned where to properly recycle plastic bags – at retail store collection bins. The plan fever has spread so much that other communities have started their own Operation Bed Roll.”

What stands out most to Carle from completing the program is how helpful it is for anyone working in an environmental education position. “Getting educators free resources for our programs has been a huge help in every environmental education job I’ve had,” Carle reflected.

For more information about Operation Bed Roll, click here:
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Educator Spotlight: Jessica Metz-Bugg


Jessica Metz-Bugg is a fourth-generation teacher with a specific interest in multicultural education who recently completed the N.C. Environmental Education Certification Program. Metz-Bugg started her teaching career in the Cherokee Central School System, where most students are members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. She initially taught fourth and fifth grade, then added to her certification and started teaching sixth grade science.

Metz-Bugg already has great experience with environmental education. In 2013, she started an after-school garden club for sixth and seventh grade students, which partners with community organizations and tribal members to create traditional food and pollinator gardens. In 2014, she became the Education Project Coordinator for Seeking Paths in Nature, an educational partnership between Great Smoky Mountains National park and Cherokee Middle School. In this role, she created a middle school curriculum which integrated Cherokee culture and National Park resources. She planned and led field trips to multiple National Park service sites across the Southeast, presented in-class and in-park programs for K-12 students, provided professional development for park rangers and educators, and presented information about the project at conferences across the country to help build interest and sustainability for the program. She has since switched back to a formal educator role and is teaching 4-6 grade science and math at New Kituwah Academy, a Cherokee language immersion school, where she enjoys learning about and integrating Native American culture into her lessons to empower her students as she helps them to explore, understand and connect to the world around them.

Metz-Bugg says her favorite part of earning her certification was the networking and brainstorming opportunities that arose from the program. “I have met and developed close working relationships with some truly amazing people in the field of environmental education,” said Metz-Bugg. “The ideas and collaborations that have come from meeting people during this process have been invaluable and will continue to influence me personally and professionally for years to come. There have been so many favorite parts, but truly the people are what have made the greatest and most lasting impact.”

For her community partnership project, Metz-Bugg created educational garden space on the campus of Cherokee Central Schools. Starting with just two beds, a few kids and a handful of donated seeds the project has grown to twenty-two beds managed by school staff, students, and community volunteers. The space includes a pollinator garden and traditional Cherokee plants for various uses and vegetables. This garden is unique in that it focuses on plants related to Cherokee culture. Through the garden, students of Cherokee Central Schools learn cultural information about foods, traditions, folklore, and crafts related to plants. However, she is also integrating that traditional knowledge with modern information on plant science, non-native foods and nutrition. Part of being an educator for Native American students in the 21st century is teaching the traditional knowledge, but also teaching the science that supports it and help students connect in ways that fit into the student’s life and identity. This garden is always working on helping students understand this larger idea.

Reflecting on the program, the experience that stands out most for Metz-Bugg is her trip with the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences to the Land of the Long Leaf Pine. “Experiencing an ecosystem so drastically different from anything I knew and learning both the history and science side-by-side made the information so meaningful and engaging,” she said. “Seeing carnivorous plants in the wild for the first time was one of the coolest things ever! I had also never been to the ocean in the winter and it was a deeply calming and restorative experience. This trip really had it all.”

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Educator Spotlight: Wendy Green Foley


Wendy Green Foley, the Zoo Snooze coordinator and community education specialist at the North Carolina Zoo, has completed the N.C. Environmental Education Certification Program and is eager to put her new knowledge to use. By completing this certification, Foley says she has built a knowledge base for future careers.

As a zookeeper for 15 years, Foley has had many experiences that led to her wanting to share her passion with others as an educator. “I have worked with everything from invertebrates to reptiles to vampire bats to owls to ocelots to polar bears to beluga whales and even a 3,000-pound walrus named E.T.,” said Foley. “I have walked 300-pound big cats on a leash, trained a camel for a movie, and helped hand raise a baby siamang. The list goes on and on. I want to show others how incredible our natural world is. So, my zookeeper talks to the public got longer and longer...and that is when I realized that I should consider the education field. I have been an educator at the zoo for almost three years and I LOVE it!”

Foley says one of her favorite part of earning her certification was learning about topics outside of her animal world. “I loved traveling across the state visiting other facilities and was in awe of the parks, reserves, museums and nature areas we have access to. But, my favorite thing was meeting all the different people who wanted to teach their passions to others. Incredible people doing incredible things!” said Foley.

For her community partnership project, Foley worked with the Asheboro YMCA Community Garden. The garden produces about 400 pounds of food each year to help the local community, but was having issues with insects and pests eating the plants. With help from kids in the after-school program, the North Carolina Zoo and YMCA staff, Foley built and installed multiple bird and bat boxes in the area around the garden. She also facilitated a program about animals we can find in our own backyards that can help our gardens grow, where she discussed snakes, owls, bees, birds and bats. After the kids helped install the boxes, they were rewarded with a fresh-from-the-ground carrot for all their hard work.

After working at a zoo for so long, Foley now feels equipped to do many other jobs, including working as an environmental educator at a nature center, city park or other similar sites. Earning her certification helped Foley expand her focus beyond just animals. “I now look to the bigger picture first. How that bigger picture trickles down and effects the other parts of this big moving entity.”
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DEQ to launch new high school curriculum focused on air quality


By Lexi Rudolph

The N.C. Department of Environmental Quality’s Division of Air Quality is launching a new high school curriculum focused on air quality in North Carolina.

The It’s Our Air! program will officially launch April 26 in a ceremony at the Nature Research Center in downtown Raleigh.

It’s Our Air! is a free curriculum that includes a series of engaging activities and videos focused on air quality for the state’s high school-level earth and environmental science teachers. The program is designed to help students develop a better understanding of the science and technology that helps us explain, monitor, predict and protect air quality.

It’s Our Air!supports the state’s Environmental Literacy Plan for K-12 schools. The plan’s goal is to ensure North Carolina high school graduates can make informed decisions about issues that affect our natural resources. It’s Our Air! supports this goal by providing high school students with real world, hands-on environmental science activities aligned with the State Essential Standards for Science. The Office of Environmental Education will also incorporate the program into the state environmental education certification. As an instructional environmental education certification workshop, It’s Our Air! training will provide new content for teachers and non-formal educators, in addition to credit hours toward environmental education certification completion.

The It’s Our Air!launch and awards ceremony will be from 9-11 a.m. April 26 in the William G. Ross Jr. Environmental Conference Center, 121 West Jones St., Raleigh. People who participate will hear from a host of dignitaries, including DEQ Secretary Michael Regan and DAQ Director Michael Abraczinskas. The event will be used to recognize educators and team members who developed It’s Our Air! as well as meteorologists who share the air quality forecasts with North Carolinians.

To learn more about the curriculum, visit or contact or 919-707-8400 with questions.

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The Hunt for the Great White Shark


 By Dee Lupton
Deputy Director, N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries

Great White Shark - these three words spark fear and excitement whether you are a beachgoer, fishermen, marine biologist, or someone who follows Global Shark Tracker to see where white sharks tagged by OCEARCH are located – the most famous being Mary Lee.

Recently, I got to go out on an OCEARCH expedition to see how great white shark tracking is done.

OCEARCH is a non-profit group that generates scientific data through tracking (telemetry) and biological studies of keystone marine species, such as great white and tiger sharks. When Chris Fischer, OCEARCH founding chairman and expedition leader spoke at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences in January, he contacted the Division of Marine Fisheries to discuss possible locations for a base of operations in North Carolina and the types of permits that would be needed. Kathy Rawls, the division’s Fisheries Management Section chief, and I jumped at an invitation to join OCEARCH’s Lowcountry Expedition based out of Hilton Head, S.C.

The excitement and anticipation leading up to the trip is difficult to describe. The phrase that kept going through my mind is, ‘This is Cool’. Anyone my age who grew up watching ‘The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau’, can quote every line in the movie ‘Jaws’, and pursued a career in marine biology, understands the feeling. 

The trip began with transit, via Zodiac, from shore to the OCEARCH vessel, anchored in Port Royal Sound. It was exhilarating and reminiscent of TV nature documentaries showing scientists bobbing up and down on the sea as they go to their area to study. Once on the vessel, we were greeted by OCEARCH staff, given a safety briefing, and toured the vessel. 

The OCEARCH team explained their techniques used to catch a white shark (Carcharodon carcharias). The overall health of the shark is paramount. They use veteran OCEARCH fishermen to catch the sharks with chumming, handlines and circle hooks. When a shark is caught, the OCEARCH vessel lowers a hydraulically operated platform into the water. Sharks are carefully moved to the platform and then a saltwater hose is placed in the shark’s mouth to continuously pump saltwater through the shark’s gills so it can breathe. The platform allows scientists to measure, identify the sex, tag (acoustic and satellite), and take blood and fin clip samples while the shark remains on the platform. Total time the shark is out of water on the platform is 15 minutes.

The goal of OCEARCH is to provide a venue for a team of collaborating scientists to tag mature white sharks and gather data on the ecology, physiology, and behavior of white sharks in the Atlantic Ocean. White sharks are the ocean’s apex predator. They help keep the ocean in balance and play a significant role in maintaining a healthy ecosystem. Policy managers use the scientific information gained through research to help manage and conserve these fish.

The most inspiring part of the day was to see young undergraduate and graduate students participating in these research projects. Their enthusiasm was rejuvenating. It reminded me why I entered the field of marine biology in the first place.

By the end of the expedition on March 15, the Lowcountry Expedition had tagged two white sharks (Hilton, a mature male; and Savannah, an immature female) and two tiger sharks (Weimar, a mature male; and Beaufort, an immature male). Hilton and Weimar were tagged on the same day.

“It’s very unusual for us to see tiger sharks and white sharks at the same place,” Fischer said. “We’re probably in an area here where two worlds are colliding. Tiger sharks like warmer temperatures and white sharks like cooler temperatures.”

Although OCEARCH did not catch and tag a shark on the day we joined the Lowcountry Expedition, the experience is one that will never be forgotten. Not many people will ever be able to say that they once participated in an organized white shark tagging research project. I hope that one day OCEARCH will consider an Expedition off North Carolina.

I think “Graveyard of the Atlantic Expedition” has a nice ring to it.

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