Ocean Isle, NC – [ambient sound of elevator] It's a slow ride to the 15th floor of a high-rise condominium on Ocean Isle.
[Cleary] See that down there? That's all artificial. That's artificial, that's been pumped from Shallotte Inlet.
William Cleary is a geology professor at UNC Wilmington. He's brought about a dozen people to the top of the building to give them a bird's eye view of the coast. He's telling them about beach nourishment, where sand lost to shoreline erosion is mechanically replaced with sand from another area. It's a controversial issue in coastal Carolina.
[Cleary] So once you've stepped your foot into the door, you're gonna create problems somewhere else. And all you've done in this case is transfer the problem that use to exist on the eastern end of Ocean Isle to the western end of Holden Beach.
Today, Dr. Cleary's pupils aren't college students, but local schoolteachers and other educators. They're attending a weeklong environmental education workshop sponsored by local Soil and Water Conservation districts. Mamie Caison has coordinated these workshops for Brunswick County for nearly twenty years.
[Caison] Well I think the goal for our workshop is that we do provide daily an opportunity for hands-on training. So that when they do take the information back to their classrooms, not only do they carry the information back, they also carry a new way of teaching back to their classroom.
[ambient beach sound] The next stop for the group is back at sea level to look at beach structure and dune vegetation. Paul Hosier is a biology professor at UNC Wilmington.
[Hosier] This is great. This is absolutely great. What we have here is three out of the four plants we're talking about.
Mamie Caison says the workshop's success is due mainly to the expertise and enthusiasm of the instructors that teach each summer, often for free.
[Caison] That majority of our speakers go above and beyond. And I think that's because they have personal interest. They really believe in what their jobs are, so when you have people like Dr. Cleary and Dr. Hosier come in, you know that it's more than just a job for them.
[ambient beach sound] The two professors wrap up the day's field exercises with a look at wetlands vegetation.
[Hosier] Let's just take one quick walk over here so we at least see spartina alternaflora.
Although the workshop was designed for teachers in classroom settings, participants are just as likely to be non-traditional educators. Most workshop attendees are working toward a state certification in environmental education. North Carolina was the first state to offer such an accreditation to its teachers.
The only workshop participant who's earned state certification is former North Carolina Science Teacher of the Year Dorothie Johnson. After teaching 8th grade science for nearly two decades, she has an idea why the workshop is only half full this summer.
[Johnson] Teaching school demands a lot emotionally and physically from a teacher. And most of the teachers just want to spread their wings and fly out and do other things, rather than to come and sit.
Mamie Caison understands that many teachers just want to enjoy their summers off, but she also knows that she can hook them if given the chance.
[Caison] We do have teachers that have been to maybe eight or ten workshops in the 18 years that I have been here. And what I often hear those teachers say is, they wish that more people would take time out of their schedules and attend one workshop, because if they came to one, they come to another.
For WHQR public radio in Wilmington, I'm Steve Meador.