Written by Emma Nani, Carolina Wetlands Association Intern
The University of North Carolina Wilmington hosts several summer camps for various ages through their program MarineQuest. This summer, I had the opportunity to apply and attend their two-week Ocean Career Exploration and Nautical Science (OCEANS) camp. Throughout my time at OCEANS, I felt as if I got a head start into my desired degree in marine science. The other campers and I were able to experience real field work scientists would be performing routinely while meeting professors, touring their labs, and exploring marine ecosystems.
The core focus of OCEANS is for students to experience all aspects of marine science: biology, technology, biotechnology, geology, and chemistry– in preparation for going into a marine science career. Every activity we did related to one of these fields of marine science. Some activities we did were more scientific, like testing local and foreign sponges for antibiotic properties or measuring the accuracy of fish DNA by using gel electrophoresis. We also were able to perform several animal dissections and examine phytoplankton caught in the Intercoastal Waterway. Other activities were focused on letting us explore the local community, like experiencing oceanography by boogie boarding on Wrightsville Beach and kayaking to an island searching for mineralized shark teeth. We even took a research vessel out into the open ocean to measure characteristics of the water and performing a trawl. Regardless of the activity, I gained knowledge and interest in all areas.
In the mornings, we traveled via bus to an outdoor site where we either ran experiments, simulations, or viewed wildlife. We traveled to a marsh, the Cape Fear River, the open ocean, and several other places. During the afternoon’s we traveled to UNCW’s Center for Marine Science (CMS) which contains state-of-the-art equipment used by scientists, students, and startup businesses. We met professors and toured the harmful algae laboratory and watched them execute routine lab procedures. Research laboratories, a running seawater system, greenhouse, and a pier with research vehicles are just some of the highlighted features at the CMS.
While at OCEANS, I also got the chance to renourish the environment and give back to the community. As part of a volunteer program with UNCW graduate students, the other campers and I helped bag oyster shells to send to St. James Plantation. Later in the week, we traveled to Southport where we used rebar to secure the oyster bags into the bank of the sound. Additionally, we helped with planting marsh grass along the shoreline. Both efforts help prevent sediment erosion from boat traffic and wind waves. The oysters will also filter water and the marsh grass will serve as a nursery habitat for birds, crabs, and small fish. The project allowed us to connect with some of the residents of St. James and witness how the service would impact the land in their community.
Our instructors told us several times that they didn’t get the opportunity to do such activities until they were in their junior or senior year of college. After hearing this, the campers and I realized our great fortune to have this opportunity while still in high school. Now that I’m back in Raleigh and getting ready to start my senior year of high school, I’m realizing just how much OCEANS was a great way to spend part of my summer learning about all the careers within marine science while meeting great people I’m sure to stay connected with in the future.
About the Author
Emma is senior at Leesville Road High School (Raleigh, NC) and is part of the school newspaper and orchestra. Her college goal is to study Marine Biology or Environmental Science.