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Internship Opportunity

Advancing the use of drones to support assessment of coastal habitats

Posted on: 03/04/2024
Research Area(s): Internships / Research

Summary / Description

Coastal habitats, including salt marshes and oyster reefs, and the ecosystem services they provide are threatened by climate and anthropogenic stressors. Ecological assessments play a central role in our understanding of the health and condition of coastal habitats, how habitats respond to various stressors and what management actions (e.g., restoration) may be most appropriate. Remote sensing tools such as Uncrewed Aircraft Systems (i.e., drones) have potential to radically improve the assessment of coastal habitats. Yet, knowledge gaps must be addressed to realize the full potential of drones for assessing coastal habitats. For instance, can drone-based surveys of salt marshes identify various species of wetland plants needed to delineate key ecotones where climate impacts are likely to be most notable? Similarly, can drone-based surveys of intertidal oyster reefs provide the necessary information on oyster demographics and shell volume to base management and restoration decisions? The objective of this project is to help fill these gaps using a coordinated approach that pairs drone-derived data with empirically-derived data. Specific objectives of the research project are to:

a) Use drone-derived geospatial, spectral and three-dimensional products of intertidal oyster reefs or salt marshes to measure and model metrics needed for ecological assessments.

b) Conduct in situ measurements of the metrics identified in objective a to assess the accuracy of drone-based estimates relative to in situ measurements.

c) Assess the ability of UAS-derived products to detect and quantify change in habitat metrics for informing management and restoration strategies. 

The intern will work collaboratively with a team of researchers to complete the research project. Specific duties and responsibilities will be tailored to the intern’s interest, but will generally include assisting with:

a) drone surveys of coastal habitats, b) in-situ surveys using a variety of techniques including real-time kinematic GPS and quadrat sampling, c) sample processing d) data entry and management, e) data analysis using quantitative approaches to conduct accuracy assessments, detect change in indicator metrics, and f) interpretation of outputs in the context of applied management and restoration. The intern will be responsible for providing periodic progress updates. Additionally, the intern may participate in other projects of interest as time allows.

Skills Required

A basic knowledge of ecology, experience using MS Office software, and a willingness to work in the field under potentially difficult conditions are required. Additionally, the intern must have an ability to interpret and organize primary scientific literature and have strong data management skills. The intern will be expected to take the lead on their portion of the project (determined during weeks 1 and 2) to include data collection, analysis, and interpretation of project results with continued support from the Research team. Familiarity with statistical techniques, ArcGIS, and/or image processing will be beneficial, but not required. The intern will learn the process for conducting drone and in-situ surveys, as well as the workflow used to process and analyze imagery. The intern will learn to prepare data for presentations and to communicate with different audiences.

Type of Opportunity



Remote or In-person:



Beaufort, NC or remote

Other Information

Intern Supervisor:

Brandon Puckett

Number of Slots Available:



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