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Postcard from the Field: Claire Bradley ’22 – OBX Field Site

February 28, 2020 people on boat

Name: Claire Bradley

Major: Environmental Studies

Expected graduation date: 2022

Why did you want to go to the Outer Banks?

I was interested in the Outer Banks field site because it offered so many opportunities in one. I was also excited to be with a small group for the semester because it allowed us to do so much more than in a normal semester at Chapel Hill. In addition to getting to know some great people, because the group was small, we traveled a fair amount and went on so many unique field trips. I had never been to the Outer Banks before so it was a great way to experience them!

people on boat

What specifically did you do in the Outer Banks?

The program consisted of a variety of experiences that were both in and out of the classroom. 1.5 days a week we would have an internship that we were placed in based on our interests. I worked with the North Carolina Coastal Federation, a nonprofit working on coastal resiliency. With them I did research on beneficial use of dredge material and created a paper that could be presented to the county government to encourage the use of this technique in the surrounding areas.

1.5 days a week we would work on our research project. Our project was the 2nd year in a 3-year study looking at septic interactions with groundwater and surface water due to sea-level rise and a variety of other factors. This research project had three questions to answer and was composed of qualitative and quantitative aspects. On the qualitative side we did interviews with stakeholders from around the area to gauge their perspectives on the issue. On the quantitative side, we sampled water level weekly over the course of 1-2 months to be able to map the water table through GIS. We also took water quality samples to explore the extent to which these interactions were occurring in different areas of Nags Head.

women on beach

The last two days of the week were spent taking classes at the Coastal Studies Institute. The group of 12 of us stuck together on those classroom days. If we had a lab or a field trip that would usually mean some sort of travel! We spent a night in the Northern Outer Banks, did a ghost crab density lab at sunrise on the beach, took many pontoon boat rides to get familiarized with the water as well as to take water samples. Of course a lot of time outside of the academic setting was spent at the beach with friends!

What has been the most impactful experience you had while at the Outer Banks?

The most impactful experience I had while at the Outer Banks was immersing myself in a very different community. The Outer Banks are completely different than Chapel Hill or where I am from. They are in a fairly rural area, so the year-round population is low. In addition, they are completely different in summer and winter due to the tourism industry—we got to see a little bit of both! People that reside there long-term are so passionate about the area and are invested in keeping it from changing in the future.

horses on beach

What is the biggest lesson you’ve taken away from your experience in the Outer Banks? 

One of the biggest takeaways from my semester at the Outer Banks was that the problems climate change is creating for coastal communities are not years down the line but are happening right now. They are multi-faceted, and they are threatening the way of life people have. Unfortunately, there is by no means, an “easy fix.” The problems need to be addressed from multiple perspectives, but with urgency so that those areas can remain habitable.

turtle on beach

beach shell

Do you have any advice for other students who are considering going to the Outer Banks Field Site? 

If you are considering it, just apply! I applied on a whim really not knowing much about it or even if I wanted to do it. When I heard back and looked into it more, I thought, “what’s not to like about living at the beach with other environmentally-focused people doing really cool things?” It honestly is a once-in-a-lifetime experience so take advantage of it!

people smiling

If you would like to learn more or apply to the OBX field site, visit