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experiential learning


Students from high school to graduate school come to IMS to experience this exciting research community. Its unique location with immediate access to rich estuarine and wetland habitats makes it ideally suited for studying the ecology, conservation, and restoration of coastal environments.

IMS has a wealth of resources, most notably its respected faculty, who mentor students to become scientists in a variety of fields of research. The IMS campus is also impressive and boasts 51,000 sq ft of laboratory, office, classroom, library and video conferencing space and a shop/wet laboratory building with running sea water. Outdoor ponds (concrete and earthen) provide seawater habitats for controlled experiments. A dormitory offers short-term bunking accommodations for up to 16 students and 6 faculty. A fleet of trucks and vans, outboard motor-powered boats ranging in length from 17-25 feet and a modern 48 ft coastal vessel, the R.V. Capricorn, are available for field studies. The R.V. Cape Hatteras, a fully-equipped 135 ft oceanographic ship operated by the Duke/UNC Oceanographic Consortium, is docked just minutes away. Diving instruction is also available in the early fall of each year.

Research opportunities for UNC undergraduate students are made possible through the Morehead City Field Site program, which is described below. Each summer, IMS also hosts undergraduates from universities around the country through the Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) Program, supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF).

The educational experience at IMS is enhanced by the unique concentration of marine science resources in the Morehead City area, including North Carolina State University Center for Marine Sciences and Technology (CMAST), the headquarters of the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources Division of Marine Fisheries, the Duke University Laboratory, and a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Facility.

On the left, you can view a video on YouTube that highlights a summer course taught at the UNC Institute of Marine Sciences by Professor Mark Alperin. The course, entitled “N.C. Estuaries: Environmental Processes and Problems,” allows undergraduates first-hand experience with scientific research in the natural environment. Hands-on learning experiences like this are often cited by students as being their most memorable at the university.”You can’t study the environment without going into the environment,” says Professor Alperin.



 field site for the

institute for the environment


The Morehead City Field Site program, run jointly by IMS and the UNC Institute for the Environment, offers undergraduates at UNC the opportunity to learn through discovery and hands-on experience. During this semester long program, in-residence undergraduates explore the “living classrooms” of the NC coast, including the Pamlico Sound, the second largest lagoonal estuary in the country and the site of dynamic larval fish and invertebrate activity. Students have the opportunity to experience offshore research expeditions with IMS faculty members, while also studying gradients from estuaries to the open ocean and gain first hand exposure to advanced shark research. Additionally, students learn about the impacts of human development and storm water on coastal receiving waters.

A speaker series brings in internationally and nationally acclaimed researchers to discuss such topics as microbial and phytoplankton ecology, water quality and resources, benthic ecology, fisheries management, sea level rise, coastal geology, barrier island ecology, ecosystem-based management, beach renourishment, coastal hazards, risk analysis, public policy and decision making.

The coursework, field excursions, and seminar series are complemented by a collaborative, team-based research effort known as the “capstone project,” which is typically an examination of a real-world marine science problem or issue. For example, recent capstone projects have been focused on stormwater runoff, beach nourishment, and oyster reef restoration efforts. Through these projects, students gain experience in research design, teamwork, and the presentation of scientific conclusions. For more information about the Morehead City Field Site program, please contact Rachel Noble.