Area marine labs host summer courses online

Duke University Marine Lab researcher Sara Blinebry conducts field research at DUML campus on Pivers Island in Beaufort recently. The lab, like others in the county, is holding its summer courses online this year. (Zachary Johnson photo)

MOREHEAD CITY/BEAUFORT — While state officials have been easing restrictions put in place due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, local university-led marine research labs aren’t going to have in-person classes this summer.

Since May 8, state officials have been relaxing restrictions placed under the Gov. Roy Cooper’s executive order, put in place as a preventative measure. However, in spite of phased reopenings of businesses and state facilities, the three university-operated marine labs in Carteret County – UNC’s Institute of Marine Sciences, N.C. State University’s Center for Marine Sciences and Technology and the Duke University Marine Lab – remain closed to the public. In lieu of in-person classes, the institutions have turned to distance learning.

On Pivers Island, DUML Director Dr. Andy Read told the News-Times they took “the first small steps to re-opening” recently, allowing several research laboratories to open under “strict conditions of physical distancing…and personal hygiene.”

“We’re limiting this initial phase to a small number of faculty who conduct laboratory research,” Dr. Read said. “The rest of us are continuing to work from home. We’re following specific guidance from our university administration on a step-wise implementation of re-opening our campus and will continue to abide by the time table set by the university.”

Under this timetable, DUML’s summer classes will all be held online. Dr. Read said “sadly, all of our summer in-person programs have been canceled.”

“The university hasn’t yet made a decision on whether we’ll be conducting class this fall in person, online or in some hybrid format,” he said. “We hope to have that decision sometime next month (June).”

Dr. Read said the online classes have, so far, gone well for DUML students and faculty.

“Regardless of when we welcome students back to campus, some of these lessons will forever change the way we teach,” he said.

Dr. Read said staff, faculty and students are all “itching to get back together on Pivers Island” and to the lab.

One of the biggest setbacks the pandemic has caused the labs’ faculty and staff has been hindering their ability to perform field work. Dr. Read said faculty and staff at DUML are actively working on plans for resuming field work, as well as keeping in touch with sister labs on the coast.

“We hope to be able to resume some of our field research program next month,” Dr. Read said.

Over in Morehead City, meanwhile, CMAST Director Dr. David Eggleston that institution is sill closed except to mandatory faculty and staff. Faculty members must apply with NCSU’s research administration for an exemption to conduct lab or field-based research.

“If an exemption is approved, there are very strict social distancing and cleaning requirements,” Dr. Eggleston said. “You can’t have more than one person per 250 square feet; if two people are in the same lab, they must wear face masks. All surfaces must be cleaned after each use…Although field research might be approved with the correct social distancing and cleaning rules, we’re still unable to submit travel authorizations at this time.”

Like DUML, summer classes at CMAST will be online. Dr. Eggleston said CMAST does host Carteret Community College instructors and students.

“Because of the different COVID-19 restrictions between N.C. State and CCC, we’re trying to have CCC students enter the main lobby of the building and use the west elevator and stairwell, and CMAST faculty, staff and students use the east loading dock entrance and east-end elevator and stairwell,” Dr. Eggleston said.

While undergraduate students who were based at CMAST had to adjust to online courses after spring break, they did a “fantastic job with their final research and internship project presentation and reports, and performed very well in our classes,” he said.

“It was a wonderful testament to our faculty for their ability to adjust hands-on classes to online instruction with very little time,” he said. “We’re providing masks and hand sanitizer for faculty that are returning to work. The CCC has also been conducting a deep-clean of the CMAST building…We would all love to get back to in-person classes.”

Just down Highway 70 is UNC-IMS, where Director Dr. Rick Luettich said no summer classes are scheduled for his lab.

“Any reopening will strictly be for research activities,” he said. “We’re presently doing critical field work, provided this can be accomplished using appropriate social distancing. Beyond that, UNC is targeting a phased reopening, beginning on (Monday) June 1, that IMS will be a part of.”

Before IMS reopens completely, Dr. Luettich said “many details are yet to be resolved.” However, he said UNC System Interim President William Roper announced in April all UNC campuses, which includes IMS, will be open for residential instruction in fall.

“We’re working towards this goal,” Dr. Luettich said, “although again many details must be resolved before this can actually happen.”  

 

Contact Mike Shutak at 252-723-7353, email mike@thenewstimes.com; or follow on Twitter at @mikesccnt.

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