Bald Head Island Conservancy

Graduate Student Fellowships in Coastal Sustainability and Barrier Island Science Awarded by Bald Head Island Conservancy

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By Beth Darrow, Chief Scientist

The Bald Head Island Conservancy is pleased to announce the awarding of Graduate Student Fellowships for the 2024-25 academic year to Brittany Morse in Coastal Sustainability and James Puentes in Barrier Island Science. 

Brittany Morse of the University of North Carolina Wilmington is the second awardee of the Johnston Graduate Student Fellowship in Coastal Sustainability.  She is a graduate student in UNCW’s Earth and Ocean Science Department pursuing a Master of Science in Geoscience with a concentration in Geospatial Science. Her advisor is Dr. Joanne Halls. 

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Graduate Fellow Brittany Morse

Morse’s proposed project, “Quantifying Wetland Accommodation Space using Uncrewed Aerial Systems (UAS) and Geospatial Technologies,” will use drone imagery and GIS to assess and calculate available wetland accommodation space to develop sustainability plans for the future of the back-barrier wetland along Bald Head Creek. These data will be used to develop high-resolution habitat maps and model coastal wetland changes in response to sea-level rise scenarios. Community involvement in the development of a web-based application containing interactive maps will inform future resilience and sustainability planning tools. Morse plans to conduct fieldwork at the end of summer 2024 and winter 2025 and will conduct a community workshop event to unveil these products (date to be announced). She invites anyone interested in participating in the project to get in touch. 

“After graduating, I plan to pursue a career in environmental science and monitoring to continue addressing public interests and providing environmental management, regulation, and research services,” says Morse. The BHI Conservancy is looking forward to working with Morse on this project, and is grateful for the support of donors Pat and Dick Johnston for funding this fellowship as part of the Center for Coastal Sustainability.

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Graduate Fellow James Puentes

James Puentes is also a graduate student at UNCW and the first Graduate Fellow in Barrier Island Science. Puentes is pursuing a Master’s degree in the Environmental Studies Department concentrating in Environmental Conservation and Management. He is also a Research Assistant in the Wetland Ecology Lab. He is advised by Dr. Stacy Endriss.

Puentes’s proposed project, “The Impacts of Invasive Phragmites and its Management: A Plant-Soil Feedback Experiment,” will survey the locations and sizes of invasive patches of Common Reed (Phragmites australis) throughout Bald Head Island and other parts of eastern North Carolina. Puentes will also conduct a seedling growth experiment to examine competition between this invasive species and native plants and determine the likelihood of native plant reestablishment. He plans to begin field work on Bald Head Island this summer, as well as do some educational outreach, and meet with landowners and other stakeholders on the island. 

In the future, Puentes plans to continue studying invasive species and their management in the hopes of understanding how best to bring back native species.

“These Fellowships provide support for graduate students to pursue research that match priority initiatives for the Conservancy and in collaboration with Conservancy scientific staff,” notes Dr. Chris Shank, Executive Director of Bald Head Island Conservancy. Fellows receive funding of $20,000 for one year to assist with tuition, living expenses, and project costs. In addition to collaboration with Conservancy staff, both Fellows will give a public presentation on the results of their projects at the Johnston Coastal Sustainability Symposium on Bald Head Island in spring 2025.

Applications for the 2025-26 BHIC Graduate Student Fellowships in Coastal Sustainability and Barrier Island Science will open this fall. 

More information:

Johnston Center for Coastal Sustainability

Bald Head Island Conservancy Environmental Monitoring

Bald Head Island Conservancy Research Projects


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