Marine Lab Summer Memories

Most coastal environmental management students visit Duke Marine Lab once or twice before moving to Beaufort full-time for their second year of classes. There is the option, however, to take Summer Term 2 classes at DUML tuition free before you even arrive at the Nicholas School. Let me say that again, tuition free. With classes like Biology and Conservation of Sea Turtles, Marine Mammals, and Drones in Marine Biology, Ecology and Conservation, how could I say no to that?

Imagine being at summer camp but for all things marine. I lived in a cabin-style dorm with six others. We slept in bunk beds and had a bathroom to share. You learn quickly to never leave that air-conditioned oasis without a good coat of sunblock, then bug spray. Meals were served every day from 8-9 a.m., noon-1 p.m., and 5-6 p.m. After lunch or dinner (sometimes both), there would be a pilgrimage to the swim dock. Even if you only had an hour for lunch before your next class, it was worth showing up soaking wet just to jump in once. Later, we’d catch the routinely stunning sunset and then gather in the Boathouse to watch a movie while attempting to do homework. Other activities included kayaking to the Rachel Carson Reserve, fishing off the dock and a watermelon eating contest (that I won).

The best class hands down that I have ever taken was at Duke Marine Lab. Drones in Marine Biology, Ecology and Conservation was like nothing I had ever experienced. The Marine Robotics and Remote Sensing Lab at DUML is a state-of-the-art hub for all things drone.  Our professor, and director of the drone lab, Dave Johnston has worked all over the globe from analyzing humpback whale bubble net behaviors in Antarctica to counting seals in Canada using thermal imagery. One of our TAs, Julian Dale, works in the lab as lead engineer. Julian can design and fabricate drone parts in-house using 3-D printers and construct drones from scratch. Everette “Rett” Newton was another TA but that was pretty low on his resume. In addition to being the lab’s program manager and a Duke PhD student, Rett was a F-15 fighter pilot and officer in the Air Force, and in 2017 he was elected the mayor of Beaufort. Essentially, we won the jackpot for instructors. In addition to our extraordinary instructors, the course content was phenomenal. We had the opportunity to build and operate our own drones, down to the soldering! Due to this class, I was able to connect with faculty and begin formulating a masters project surprisingly early.

It may be cheesy, but the best part of this Summer Term 2 were the friendships made. Duke’s main campus in Durham can be overwhelming. Coming in with these connections made the transition to a new city and school exponentially better. You do not have to be a CEM or even a Duke student to take classes at the marine lab! These courses are available to all and, if you have even the slightest of interest in the Duke Marine Lab, I urge you to visit their website for more information.