Monday, July 24, 2017

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.”

Monday, July 17, 2017

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.”

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

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

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

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.”

Monday, June 26, 2017

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!”

Friday, June 23, 2017

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.

Monday, June 19, 2017

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

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

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!


Monday, June 5, 2017

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!

Thursday, May 25, 2017

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’ 100th Anniversary, 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.”

Thursday, May 18, 2017

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:

Monday, May 8, 2017

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.”

Thursday, April 27, 2017

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.”

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

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.

Friday, April 7, 2017

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.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

The Department of Environmental Quality Encourages You to Celebrate Earth Day throughout the month of April!


Earth Day is Saturday, April 22, but you can celebrate all month long at many of the environmental education events in North Carolina. Lots of fun, family-oriented activities are planned that incorporate music, games and outdoor recreation. These opportunities are a great way to enjoy the outdoors and discover more about your local environment. To help you find events in your area on Earth Day and through April, the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality’s Office of Environmental Education and Public Affairs compiles an online calendar on their website, Events can also be searched by city and zip code. 

Nature hikes, birding, stream clean-ups, festivals and more await those who want to explore and learn about North Carolina’s unique environment. The public can also follow and share events, environmental education news and interesting nature stories on Twitter and Facebook by following and using the hashtag #NCEarthDay. Many of these Earth Day events are also part of the N.C. Science Festival, which runs from April 7 until April 23. For more information about N.C. Science Festival events near you, see

Department of Environmental Quality employees will be volunteering their time on Earth Day as well. The Office of Environmental Education and Public Affairs is coordinating an Earth Day volunteer event on Friday, April 21. Raleigh area employees will be working in the morning with ecology and botany students at Fred J. Carnage GT/Magnet School to spruce up the school grounds and removing invasive plant species in the afternoon at Walnut Creek Wetland Center. 

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Educator Spotlight: Rhonda Sturgill

Sturgill puts out a residual fire on the base of a 
longleaf pine tree with sandy soil after a control burn.
Rhonda Sturgill, a conservation planner for The Nature Conservancy, recently completed the N.C. Environmental Education Certification Program. As a conservation planner, Sturgill is focused on purchasing conservation easements and ecological significant tracts for The Nature Conservancy. She also helps implement prescribed burns on her organization’s lands.  

Sturgill says her favorite part of earning her certificate was meeting people and learning about their experiences in the environmental field. “I now have a greater appreciation for the challenges everyone faces in their work with the public, natural resources, and environmental education,” said Sturgill.

“I enjoyed attending workshops but my favorite part of the program was visiting different sites across North Carolina,” continued Sturgill. “It gave me a greater appreciation for our state’s natural diversity.”

For her community partnership project, Sturgill taught a group of Alternative Spring Break college students from Michigan about the fire-adapted longleaf pine ecosystem. The students, who were mostly non-environmental majors, participated in several hands-on activities and Sturgill led them in planting 14,000 longleaf pine seedlings. Sturgill said the most rewarding part of this project was hearing some of the students later say that connecting with nature was a life-changing experience for them.

Since starting the process to earn her environmental education program certificate, Sturgill has also completed her Masters in Environmental Management. Rhonda reflected on her experience in the certification program, “The environmental field is extremely broad, but by working together we can achieve a greater outreach effort and accomplish more.”

Thursday, March 30, 2017

DEQ Partners with NCSU to Offer Environmental Education Credits

The N.C. Department of Environmental Quality is working with N.C. State University to prepare a new generation of environmental educators.

Beginning this 2017-2018 academic year, the N.C. State College of Natural Resources will partner with the N.C. State College of Education to offer two courses in environmental education--Environmental Education Teaching Methods and Environmental Education in Practice.

Taught by Kathryn Stevenson, assistant professor in the Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism Management, and Gail Jones, professor of science education in the College of Education, the courses will boost students’ knowledge of natural science concepts and enhance communication and outreach skills.  As part a partnership with the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality’s Office of Environmental Education and Public Affairs, students will also earn hours toward their North Carolina environmental education certification in addition to the course credit hours.

A core team at NCSU had been working on the idea of an environmental education curriculum for a few years, including Gail Jones and Sarah Carrier from the College of Education and Kathryn Stevenson and Renee Strnad from College of Natural Resources. Now their work is paying off.

Stevenson says environmental education is an important topic for students at the College of Natural Resources and College of Education to study.

“Many students majoring in natural sciences see the need for communication and education, but have a hard time finding that training within the university. Additionally, many jobs in conservation, parks and recreation require an environmental education certification, and we saw this as an opportunity to offer courses that would let students work toward this certification. Likewise, environmental education and science education are a great fit, but there haven’t historically been many opportunities for pre-service teachers to get training in things like taking students outside while they’re enrolled here. This program offers wonderful professional development opportunities for teachers,” said Stevenson.

Gail Jones, alumni distinguished professor of Science Education, noted the benefits of the course for teachers.

“This new course offers a unique opportunity for students in the sciences to develop teaching skills that will pay off in their future careers,” Jones said.

Lisa Tolley, program manager for the Office of Environmental Education and Public Affairs, has seen the benefits of incorporating environmental education in teacher preparation programs.

“UNCG’s School of Education provides credits for environmental education certification as part of their coursework,” Tolley said. “Those teachers come out the program with resources and training that allows them to teach science outdoors and to connect students to real-world opportunities in STEM.” 

Tolley says by offering environmental education courses, NCSU will prepare their educators to provide hands-on experiential science, something that has been shown to increase student academic achievement and engagement with science concepts and careers.  

She agrees with Stevenson that these courses will provide CNR students with curriculum resources and communication tools that will be helpful for furthering their careers.

“We look forward to working with NCSU students and to providing opportunity for professional growth,” Tolley said.

For more information about the new courses and to view the full interview with Dr. Stevenson, visit the N.C. State Colleges of Natural Resources News at:

To learn more about North Carolina’s Environmental Education Certification Program, visit the N.C.  Department of Environmental Quality’s Office of Environmental Education and Public Affairs at:

Friday, March 10, 2017

CTNC AmeriCorps Member Completes NC Environmental Education Certification

Nina Quaratella, a Conservation Trust for North Carolina AmeriCorps member serving with the N.C. Coastal Federation recently completed the N.C. Environmental Education Certification Program.

As the coastal community engagement specialist for N.C. Coastal Federation, Quaratella plans and conducts education programs with a focus on underserved communities. Her programs are focused on coastal topics such as oysters, salt marshes and stormwater runoff and Quaratella enjoys working at the coast. “I am very grateful that I am able to teach students about the coast since the coast as always been a huge part of my life.”

Quaratella says her favorite part of earning her certification was the instructional workshops. “I really enjoyed learning about different topics from agriculture to wetlands to forestry. The activities that I was taught were very adaptable to different topics and age ranges and I have translated some activities to the federation’s education materials. I also like playing outside like a kid!”

For the community partnership project required for certification, Quaratella worked on a project that coincided with her AmeriCorps term. She and several other members of her AmeriCorps cohort designed a trail building and environmental education event at Tar River Land Conservancy near Durham. “The volunteer day was a great turn-out we had our fellow CTNC AmeriCorps members and a Girl Scout Troop working on building a trail to help the conservancy open a new conservation area for public use.” Girl Scouts were taught about Leave No Trace principles that Quaratella hopes they will carry with them as they continue learning more about environmental leadership and becoming environmental stewards.

Quaratella says the program changed the way she approached teaching. “The EE Certification program has definitely improved my teaching abilities. I have learned how to better engage a diverse range of audiences.” She also found a new appreciation for the agricultural field and how it is connected to environmental conditions. “I have never really had any exposure to agriculture and food production in school or in my current or previous work experiences. The Food, Land and People Workshop helped me to understand that food production is completely dependent on the balance of the environment. It also helped me to understand that coastal work which I am most involved with has an indirect impact on agriculture.”

In addition to her work with education and outreach Quaratella also assists with the Coastal Federation’s restoration efforts. When she isn’t at work, Quaratella enjoys going to the beach, hiking, traveling, reading and cooking.

For more information about the Conservation Trust for North Carolina’s AmeriCorps program in environmental education and outreach, visit their website at For more information about the NC Environmental Education Certification Program, visit the Office of Environmental Education and Public Affairs’ website at