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.”