- ENV 312 Field Trip: The Nicholas School's Wetlands Ecology and Management Class Studies North Carolina Wetlands
- Article and photographs by Thidavisuth Chunkrua
I woke up very early on a cloudy Friday morning in mid-October, the first day of a weekend-long field trip that was part of the Wetland Ecology/Management class I'm taking this fall. Although I am now in my second year of the MEM program, this was actually my first overnight field trip. I had been looking forward to it since the semester started, as I wanted to experience first-hand the various types of wetland systems in North Carolina. Until now, the only natural wetland I had ever walked through was a mangrove in my homeland of Thailand.
The ENV 312 class would visit several wetland types in the southeastern part of North Carolina. Stops included (1) Jones Lake State Park, (2) Cedar Island Wildlife Refuge, and (3) Cedar Point Tideland Trail in the Croatan National Forest. I met 12 fellow students, two teaching assistants, and professor Curt Richardson at the school’s parking lot. Three vans loaded with people, luggage, and field equipment left the school around 9 A.M.
From Durham we headed southeast to our first destination, Rhodes Pond. The area had been a bottomland hardwood wetland before it became a cypress swamp, probably after a dam was built for a mill. The sky was bright and sunny by the time we arrived there. The beauty of the bald cypress (Taxodium distichum) and the colorful foliage around the swamp stunned me.
Then we continued on I-95 to the Barra Farms/Cape Fear Regional Mitigation Bank in Cumberland County. We observed soil texture and basic water chemistry in the ditch located between the old corn farm and the wetland mitigation site.
This was the first of many times on the trip when we would sample water chemistry–pH, salinity, and conductivity–to understand the biogeochemistry of each type of wetland system we visited. We had lunch at the Jones Lake State Park, which has a beach with white, very fine-grained sand. We also hiked along trails in the bay, a depression with wet organic soil named for the bay trees that grow there. One of my friends called Jones Lake's water ‘cranberry juice’ water. The color and high acidity are caused by dissolved organic acids that come from the area surrounding the lake and decomposition at the lake bottom. Curt told us that in the early history of this country people loaded this water onto their boats as drinking supplies for long sea voyages because the acidity prevents biological growth. At the end of the day we headed to a beach house on Emerald Isle near Morehead City, for a delicious dinner and a good sleep. Next DAY 2