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 director, said.
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 inhabitants.
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 4th.
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.