Research continues at Duke University Marine Lab as it recovers from Hurricane Florence.

BEAUFORT, N.C. – The sun is shining, the drones are flying, and the classrooms and labs are buzzing with activity again.

Six weeks after Hurricane Florence hammered the Duke University Marine Lab with damaging winds and days of torrential rain, it’s back to normal operations at this island-based campus of 150 people on the North Carolina coast.
“We’re a vibrant, busy campus again,” says Marine Lab Director Andrew Read.  “When students arrive for spring semester in January, it will be hard to tell the storm was ever here.”

The community gathered for coffee after students returned to campus on Oct. 1.

The campus, which is home to 75 undergraduate, master’s and doctoral students this semester, returned to its normal course schedule earlier this month.

Its library, student center, labs, classrooms and dining services are back up and running. Its saltwater and IT systems are fully operational. (The saltwater system is vital for the operation for the Marine Lab’s algae ponds, which are used in research.) Four dorms, three of which had water damage, are on track to be reopened later this month.

“We are in the process of putting new roofing on several buildings, and have some longer-term repairs to make on a couple of buildings, but otherwise, we’re open for our regular business of teaching and research,” Read says. 

More Student Research Opportunities

“We’re launching a series of new initiatives where undergraduates can work alongside faculty and graduate students on laboratory and field research,” Read says. “This includes everything from flying drones and using geospatial analysis to assess storm impacts on coastal habitats and communities, to partnering with colleagues at the UNC Institute for Marine Sciences to measure impacts on water quality, beach erosion, fisheries health, marine life, marsh restoration and other issues vital to the economic and ecological health of our coast.”

Results from these studies could help inform post-Florence rebuilding and recovery efforts, and allow communities and policymakers to identify probable impacts from future storms so that precautions can be taken. 

Research conducted by students as part of these initiatives could provide the basis for an Independent Research or Graduation with Distinction project.  There are specific research opportunities offered by the Rachel Carson Scholars and Duke Scholars in Marine Medicine programs.

Concurrent with these initiatives, the Marine Lab will offer a full slate of undergraduate courses this spring, including its popular Beaufort Signature Travel Courses with travel components to Puerto Rico, Singapore, Australia and Mexico’s Gulf of California. 

Damage Could Have Been Worse


Florence struck the Marine Lab, which is located on Pivers Island near the historic waterfront town of Beaufort, on Sept. 14.

The storm’s winds peeled back one roof, blew away siding and shingles, and downed several trees across campus. The torrential rain caused water damage in many buildings. The campus was closed and students were evacuated to Durham prior to the storm’s arrival.  Since returning on Oct. 1, undergraduate students have been housed temporarily at a secure off-campus location in Atlantic Beach. 

“The Marine Lab is recovering much more quickly than anyone thought possible, thanks in huge part to the support we have received from the Durham campus and the tenacity of our faculty, staff and students, who have worked to get courses back up and running in record time,” Read says.  

The damage could have been much worse, he says, but luckily the campus was spared the brunt of Florence’s storm surge and flooding.   

“We’re protected from the open ocean by Bird Shoals and sit on high ground on Pivers Island. You can see the storm surge’s high-water mark in drone imagery taken the day after the storm and the nearest it got to a building was about five feet,” he says.  

Recovery is progressing at a slower rate in surrounding communities, he notes, but students and staff have been assisting with local recovery efforts, particularly in hard-hit rural areas north and east of Beaufort.