On the road to Wanchese, there’s a large modern building that appears to rise from the marsh. The Coastal Studies Institute (CSI) building is 90,000 square feet and a wonder of engineering. Locally, it has become an important part of Outer Banks life with schools and nonprofits taking advantage of its facilities. Beyond Dare County, it has developed a reputation in scientific circles for the cutting edge research of the resident scientists, and much of their research focuses on what’s happening along our coastlines.
Part of the North Carolina University system, the Institute is most closely associated with East Carolina University, although graduate students and researchers come from almost every state university, and their research is pretty amazing.
Dr. Reide Corbett has been mapping the sounds and estuaries of North Carolina, which may seem mundane on the surface, but when interviewed about his findings, the significance becomes apparent. Dr. Corbett is creating a digital map of the shoreline for the Albemarle-Pamlico estuarine system, (which is actually the title of his study) and the map is showing unseen levels of erosion in some regions. From his research results, a number of projects are moving forward designed to either slow the process or determine options to mitigate it.
Another ongoing project, which will certainly be noted in the future, is the Maritime Heritage Program that Dr. Nathan Richard is heading. Dr. Richard and his team are mapping the underwater archeological sites off the North Carolina coast.
As unique and cutting edge as their research, the structure itself definitely deserves a mention. It was designed as a green building including a unique cooling system. The Dare County Water Department piped their water along the roof, and the moving water is used as part of the cooling system. Also, it is not surrounded by typical manicured grounds with towering trees that require regular care and water. Instead, there are a series of rain gardens established that are made up of indigenous plant life.
The facility officially opened in 2013, although the Coastal Studies program had been a part of the Outer Banks since 2003. Before that staff was working from scattered facilities throughout Dare County.
From the outset, Dr. Nancy White, Director of UNC Coastal Studies Institute, felt the building should be a part of the Outer Banks community, and it is frequently used for nonprofit activities and meetings. For example, the Dare County Arts Council has held their Veteran’s Writing Project at the CSI during the month of November for the past two years.
The Institute has also been instrumental in working with area schools in implementing programs and field trips. Personnel have been involved in getting the word out about STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) programs. The STEM program is designed to strengthen the problem solving and communications skills of youth in these fields to enhance career opportunities.
There are also some undergraduate courses offered at CSI. The “Summester at the Coast” courses run mid May to mid June and are offered to students majoring in the sciences in the NC University system.