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24 Hours at the Coast

Spend a day with a marine science field course at NC State's coastal campus.

Three people gather samples in knee-deep sound water behind the CMAST building Play Video

Drive about 150 miles east from Raleigh, to the shore of the Bogue Sound in Morehead City, North Carolina, and you’ll find a home away from home for NC State students, faculty and staff — NC State’s Center for Marine Sciences and Technology (CMAST). The facility is a hub of marine and coastal research, education and outreach.

Each summer, the center hosts a four-week marine science field course led by seven faculty from the Department of Marine, Earth, and Atmospheric Sciences (MEAS). The course gives students unique opportunities for hands-on research and learning in everything from coastal erosion to biological diversity.

In early June, we spent a day with the 17 undergraduates and some of their instructors — MEAS associate professor Astrid Schnetzer and graduate student Gabrielle Corradino — to experience life at this coastal campus.

Students dredging for plankton off the pier behind the CMAST building
Supervised by Gabrielle Corradino, students practice dredging for plankton off the pier behind the CMAST building to prepare for the work they will do on the next day’s research cruise.
Students collect phytoplankton and zooplankton samples in small canisters to take back to the classroom to examine under a suite of microscopes.
Exterior of the CMAST building with beach and water in front
The classroom is in the CMAST facility on the shores of the Bogue Sound. The building includes 51,000 square feet of lab, office, classroom and meeting space.
Astrid Schnetzer looks into a microscope at the front of a classroom of students
Back in the CMAST teaching lab, Astrid Schnetzer leads the students in examining the organisms, a key part of the coastal food web, under dissecting microscopes and high-magnification compound microscopes.
Close-up of pencil drawings of plankton
Students identify and sketch plants and animals they found to learn to distinguish them and better understand their ecology and biology.
Three students gather around a microscope in a classroom at CMAST
Students crowd excitedly around microscopes to study the samples they found, including a fragile jellyfish.
Also viewed through the microscopes was a chaetoceros, a type of chainforming phytoplankton.
Three males hold a dredging net on a pier at night
That night, students return to the pier to dredge for more plankton and observe their bioluminescence.
The next morning, students carry their gear to a nearby pier and board a boat for a trip from inshore Bogue Sound to the coastal Onslow Bay. This will be the last of their three field cruises during the summer course.
A female student smiles as she holds a net off the deck of a boat, with others in the background
During the four-hour excursion, the class puts their training to work, using nets to collect plankton. They also gather data on the water to determine how planktonic communities vary with changing depth, which affects light, nutrients and temperature.
At the end of the cruise, the students dredge a portion of the seabed and examine the creatures they find, including sea urchins, oysters and a jellyfish.