NC Sea Grant, Reserve Select 2017 Fellow Robert Snowden

Least Tern on Eggs. Photo Copyright Eve Turek.
Least Tern on Eggs. Photo Copyright Eve Turek.

By John Fear and E-Ching Lee, NCSU

Robert Snowden is the 2017 North Carolina Coastal Reserve Fellow. This opportunity is jointly funded by North Carolina Sea Grant and the NC Coastal Reserve and National Estuarine Research Reserve Program.

Robert Snowden. Source: North Carolina State University, Raleigh NC.
Robert Snowden. Source: North Carolina State University, Raleigh NC.

Snowden is a master’s student in biology at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. He will study how temperature affects least tern behavior and ecology on Masonboro Island, a NC National Estuarine Research Reserve site, and at other coastal sites around Wilmington. Snowden’s adviser is Ray Danner, an evolutionary ecologist at UNCW.

“Robert’s work will explore the nesting success of the least tern, a species of special concern that breeds in colonies along our coastal shorelines. This is an area of work that we do not regularly encounter and we are excited to see the results from this project,” says John Fear, Sea Grant deputy director.

This seabird nests on beaches in the spring and summer. The NC Wildlife Resources Commission lists it as a species of special concern. Snowden will focus on how the terns cope with the thermal challenges of their breeding environment during incubation.

“Seabirds such as the least tern serve as important indicators of the marine environment, and also are a popular attraction for beach visitors in coastal North Carolina. These ground-nesters face a number of pressures related to environmental exposure and human disturbance,” explains Brandon Puckett, reserve research coordinator.

“Robert’s fellowship research will provide insight into the effects of ambient temperature, disturbance and their interaction on the terns’ nesting success,” he adds.

Snowden, who is from Eugene, Oregon, holds a Bachelor of Science in biology from the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Washington.

The Coastal Reserve Fellowship is designed to foster research that addresses relevant coastal-management issues within one or more of the 10 sites in the reserve system. For more, go to

NC Sea Grant logo via NCSU
NC Sea Grant logo via NCSU

See more on NC Sea Grant’s work and mission at

More on the NC Coastal Reserve and National Estuarine Research Reserve Program may be found at


Ed. Note: According to a recent article in the Raleigh News & Observer newspaper, recent federal budget cuts may harm the NC Sea Grant program. See the N&O article for funding cut details.

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