The UNC-Coastal Studies Institute


The Need

Coastal North Carolina is home to a wide array of ecosystems and rich cultural history. The unique landscape has made the area highly desirable during the past few decades, leading to a host of economic benefits and environmental issues. This influx of civilization to a once sparsely populated area has lead to major environmental degradation and resource use. To address these issues, collaboration between various entities must occur to consider the future sustainability of water quality, fisheries, and inland and water habitat as well as how human interactions impact each of these aspects. However, prior to 2002, no organization existed that would act as a base for these collaborative efforts. With the creation of UNC-CSI, such an endeavor could be achieved.



Formed in 2003, the UNC Coastal Research Institute (UNC-CSI) serves as a pioneer research institution and center for education. The campus is located on Roanoke Island in the Outer Banks and was formed to fulfill the lack of knowledge about one of North Carolina’s most delicate and dynamic ecosystems. It’s missions is to undertake research, offer educational opportunities, provide community outreach programs, and enhance communication among those concerned with the unique history, culture, and environment of the maritime counties of North Carolina.

26CSI_VIEW AT DUSCK FROM NEW MARINAThe building itself was built in 2012 and was awarded the LEED Certification, acknowledging its attempt to seamlessly develop a relationship between the architecture and ecosystem. The UNC-CSI was also awarded with:

  • 2014 Chicago Athenaeum International Architecture Award for Best New Global Design
  • 2014 AIA Triangle Honor Award
  • 2013 AIA North Carolina Honor Award
  • 2013 USGBC North Carolina Sustainability Award


The Coastal Studies Institute also serves as a platform for collaborative applied research with five North Carolina universities including North Carolina State University, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, East Carolina University, and Elizabeth City State University. Such a network of universities allows for these different groups to fully extend their research and knowledge in order to provide potential solutions to coastal problems.

The campus spans 213 acres of marshes, scrub wetlands, forested wetlands, and sound ecosystems. While the institute emphasizes northeastern North Carolina in its outreach and educational programs, its scope also encompasses all of the eastern coast of the United States and the mid-Atlantic.
Research at UNC-CSI covers a broad range of pressing environmental concerns faced by coastal North Carolina and the delicate ecosystems that are present. By bringing together skilled professionals, scientists, academics, and locals to the North Carolina coast, UNC-CSI can provide unbiased research to decision makers of the area, resource managers, and the public.



UNC-CSI’s research focuses on five main areas:

The Board of Directors advises the institute on research, education, outreach, development, and policy. UNC-CSI also receives direction from the Scientific Coordinating Committee in matters of current and future research, education and outreach efforts.