MEM Students Anna Windle and Sarah Poulin Awarded Fellowships for Oyster Reef Research

October 2, 2017

Tim Lucas, 919/613-8084,

windle poulin sea grant fellowships.jpeg

Sarah Poulin and Anna Windle display some of the drones they
will be using to collect new data on oyster reef health.
(Credit: Anna Windle)

by Lily Huffman MEM ’19, Communications Student Assistant

DURHAM, N.C. – Second-year Master of Environment Management (MEM) students Anna Windle and Sarah Poulin have been awarded NC Sea Grant/Space Grant Fellowships.

NC Sea Grant/NC Space Grant Fellowships are highly competitive honors awarded to North Carolina’s top graduate students in fields related to coastal watersheds and nearshore environments.

Windle and Poulin, who are both pursuing MEM concentrations in Coastal Environmental Management at the Duke University Marine Lab, will use their fellowships to conduct new research on the health of oyster reefs in North Carolina. 

“Oysters play a crucial role in estuaries, which is sometimes overlooked,” Windle says. Among other critical ecosystem services, they filter out water pollutants, provide habitat for fish, and help stabilize the shoreline and reduce erosion, she explains. They are also crucial to the success of the state’s multimillion-dollar oyster fishery.

However, over the past century, oyster populations in North Carolina have declined by as much as 90 percent because of overharvesting, poor water quality, disease and habitat loss.

“To protect and conserve North Carolina’s remaining oyster reefs, we need a rapid and reliable method for assessing oyster habitat that is low cost and easily replicable over time,” Poulin says.

To address that need, Windle and Poulin will use camera-equipped aerial drones to collect multispectral images that can be used to determine the vegetation density and key habitat characteristics of oyster reefs around Beaufort, N.C. They will use this data to create new indices for assessing oyster reef health.

They hope to share the data they collect with scientists, conservationists and fishery managers to inform future decisions about where oyster harvesting should be limited, and where reefs should be built or protected.

Windle and Poulin were both drawn to oyster reefs before the opportunity to work on this project. Growing up in Maryland, oysters in the Chesapeake Bay were a major part of the science curriculum for Windle. She also conducted an independent research study on oysters in college. Similarly, Poulin had the opportunity to work as a research assistant on oyster reef research in college.

NC Sea Grant/Space Grant Fellowships were first awarded in 2016. Lindsey Smart, MEM’09 who is currently a PhD student at NC State University,, was one of the program’s inaugural recipients.