Donal O'Brien Jr.  Sanctuary and Audubon Center

Meet Emily Pierce, University of North Carolina ‘19

Emily never expected to be out in the field leading a research project as a sophomore at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.

“I had to design my research project, from the first sketches to the final draft, so it involved a great deal of critical thinking before I even started,” she said. “Building my research project, I found myself out in the field bundling cord grasses for many days.”

Emily’s research focused on discovering low-tech solutions to big environmental problems, and these solutions may help communities along the entire east coast : “How can we save our coastal regions using affordable methods instead of large multi-million-dollar restoration projects? Is it even possible to engage the public to save our marshes using low-tech solutions? People rely on these marshes so it is really a way of life for many along the coast” said Emily. 

For several weeks, Emily and her professor, Lindsay Dubbs, worked in the field placing the cord grass bundles where the water meets the marsh grass. “I wasn’t sure if the cord grass bundles would float, so I had to add a pool noodle to help the grass logs float. Each week, I would go to the area and evaluate the placement of the bundles and measure the rate of shoreline recession. After a couple of months, we will be able to assess whether the cord grass bundles are slowing down the rate of erosion. Some animals kept destroying the pool noodles so that became an issue during the study."

Emily’s professor at UNC-Chapel Hill, Lindsay Dubbs, agreed that it is rare for students to be able to design a research project of this caliber as an undergraduate. This is the type of opportunity made possible only by your gift support – and there are more to be had at Pine Island Sanctuary.

"I hope to further this area of research in the conservation community," stated Emily. "Discovering new ways to protect our lands so that anyone can do it affordably—that would really help our society if we could work to save the marshes we have today. The goal is to avoid costly restorative work that results in multi-million-dollar projects." 

Emily’s research may help farmers and fishermen all along the coast save marsh complexes, which are vital as fish nurseries. Further research on low-tech solutions might also provide a key to saving our coastal communities’ heritage when it comes to fishing, farming, and hunting.

The University Research program at Pine Island Sancutary is moving coastal conservation research forward. Our marshes and waterways are endangered ecosystems, and essential refuges for birds. They are also one of the most important spaces in our state for field research, and we are proud to be able to offer this outdoor classroom for students like Emily to innovate and discover.

How you can help, right now