Whether old or young, visitor or year-round
resident, Hatteras Island is full of opportunities to learn new things.
As one of the most unique barrier islands located off the coast of the
continental U.S., Hatteras Island is a powerful example of how
environmental factors can greatly and daily affect the lives of both
humans and non-humans living on the island. Hatteras Island Ocean
Center, founded by Eric Kaplan in 2013, is a non-profit operation based
out of Hatteras village which gives the public the opportunity to learn
about the island’s unique ecosystem in a hands-on way.
The center is home to an interactive museum, for
instance, which gives a comprehensive look at the island’s ecosystem.
Interactive panels tell the history of the island, including the
Chicamacomico Life-Saving Station, while a large display case
identifies the variety of shells that can be found on the beaches. Just
around the corner, a live feed of turtle recovery at the STAR center is
displayed along with incredible drone footage of the island’s
topography. Admission is free to all, but this is not the only avenue
to learning that the center provides.
Through a junior internship program, college
courses/internship, and various outdoor programs, the center teaches
people of all ages the importance of living a sustainable lifestyle and
maintaining our delicate ecosystem.
“We want to do everything we can to preserve and
protect this unique environment.” Amy Thompson, the Ocean Center’s
The junior internship program, for students in
grades 6-12, is geared towards getting local kids invested in the care
and protection of their surrounding natural environment. The
internship focuses on how to live a sustainable lifestyle to the
benefit of creatures both big and small which roam the island. Junior
intern responsibilities include collecting data, connecting with the
public, and spreading knowledge about the delicate island ecosystem
that we live in. With the junior internship program, students get the
unique opportunity to direct their own experiments, learn public
speaking skills, practice arts and crafts. Though the center currently
has help from one junior intern, they would certainly love to get more
kids involved in the future.
The center also offers an internship and
subsequent course credit for college students through Hampden Sydney
College. College interns commit to 12 weeks of running programs and
performing their own individualized research as part of an experiential
learning initiative. This year, interns are exploring a wide range of
topics from social media outreach to seashell identification and waste
reduction. One intern, in particular, is even working with the National
Park Service to continue research on turtle sense technology, which
provides more accurate data on when sea turtle hatchlings will emerge
from their nests. In this way, interns get to pair with local entities
to spread the word about protecting the environment, while also
learning something themselves.
Another responsibility the interns have is to
lead experiential learning programs all summer long alongside Amy.
These programs provide unique learning opportunities for all ages that
are sure to meet every interest.
The Kayak Nature Tour, for instance, offers an
exciting chance to explore the backroad canals of Hatteras village via
tandem kayaks. The center offers tours both in the morning and evening
for $40 a person. This guided journey through Hatteras’ wetlands gives
participants the opportunity to witness some breath-taking wildlife and
to explore some of the more remote parts of the island like a small
uninhabited island behind the center. This tour is a fun way to get
active, and you are guaranteed to see something different every time.
Birding in the Barrier Islands is the newest
program out of the Ocean Center which gives bird enthusiasts as well as
amateurs the chance to identify Hatteras Island’s wide variety bird
species. For the first time, the center was able to purchase spotting
scopes through funding from the Carolina bird club, which allows
watchers to get a close-up view of the island’s unique bird species.
Ocean Center staff are working on getting the chance to meet close to
ramp 44 to see nesting species such as piping plovers and American
oystercatchers. The best part is it’s free.
Ocean Detectives is another program out of the
Ocean Center which helps ocean lovers discover the science behind
Hatteras Island’s majestic views. In order to understand what makes the
island go round, participants learn to identify shells, sea creatures,
and plants, and their natural interactions with one another. The
program is $10 per person.
If you have a particular affinity for sea turtles
and their nesting practices on the island, Sea Turtle Patrol gives
participants the opportunity to get a close and personal look at a sea
turtle’s nesting and hatching process. Using a mock turtle nest,
interns walk participants through the life cycle of local Loggerhead,
Kemps Ridley, and Green turtle populations in prime nesting season. It
is $10 per person.
For those who are ready to get their hands dirty,
Marsh Madness is a fun chance to explore a unique ecosystem on Hatteras
Island, home to creatures such as the blue crab. Participants have the
opportunity to fish for crabs and operate a drone in order to get a
bird’s eye view of the island. It is free to all and a great chance to
witness some breathtaking views of the island and its non-human
Perhaps the most popular program, however, is
Campfires, Crabs, & Constellations in which participants huddle
around a fire built on the beach by Ocean Center interns. Participants
can enjoy s’mores, look for ghost crabs, spot constellations, and hear
about local island folklore. This program provides a relaxed
environment in which to learn more about both the island’s history and
ghost crab physiology.
Ocean Center staff have plans to make it into the
parade with golf cart and turtle costume and cookout and beach
clean-up. Showing of Plastic Ocean documentary during the week of July
Though the center has undergone lots of changes
throughout the years, including demolishing a building left condemned
after Hurricane Matthew, its dedication to experiential education has
not changed. They are excited to continue educating the public through
their internships and programs and have made it their goal to employ
even more innovative ways of teaching the public about how to protect
the incredible source of life all around us.
To keep up with all the exciting learning opportunities available through the Ocean Center visit www.hioceancenter.org or follow them on Instagram @hioceancenter.