Social Science in Coastal Environments: Research on the Chincoteague Bay

It is easy to notice an increase desire for knowledge about global warming and climate change. The rapidly changing environment, climate, and ecology raise questions from individuals around the globe from all walks of life. Their origin of knowledge on this phenomenon may vary, but the extent of this event will not change itself, unless we open our minds to a variety of schools of thought. So where is our information coming from, and who is doing the research? Is the research supported by facts, dates, and tests, or is it a subject stating their opinion? When considering global issues, it is vital to consider all facts and subjects in any given environment or ecosystem.

The statement above derives from the research I conducted in the summer of 2016. During this time, I lived and worked at Chincoteague Bay Field Station in Wallops Island, Virginia. The non-profit organization works to educate students and locals about the protection of coastal and marine environments. The field station house researchers throughout the year and hold various classes for students of any age group. I had arrived in late May to discover that I was the first social science researcher to live on campus. Also to my surprise was that the location (Greenbackville, Virginia) of my research accompanies scientific research conducted by the field station itself along the shoreline. I acknowledged in very little time the impact my research may have on the plot of land used for marine science.

assateagueEastern Shore of Virginia; a wetland environment.

For the past century, Greenbackville, Virginia has experienced multiple disasters effecting their environment and economy. Some of the disasters include residential and business fires, hurricanes, floods, nor’easter s’, fall of the railroad business, and extinction of the oyster population in the Chincoteague and Chesapeake Bay. The resilience of the town’s community, fire department, and church kept the town intact, but only in the spirit of “what once was”. Nostalgia of past times, love for the land and water, and family lingers in the town of Greenbackville. My goal as a student of anthropology was to interview local residents about their perceptions of ecological and economic change as a whole. Through this methodology, I was able collect qualitative and quantitative results that can compare and contrast perceptions about the lands changing state. This knowledge of the peoples living on the land could then be used to contribute to the science studied at the Chincoteague Bay Field Station.

When thinking about knowledge use and comparative studies, it is critical to understand where, when, and how the study is conducted. The peoples living on the land must be considered in any areas of concentration research of any discipline. This is certainly applicable to the research in Greenbackville, Virginia. Generations of human behaviors, life ways, celebrations, customs, and beliefs can be telling to ecological patterns. In the case of Greenbackville, shoreline erosion and land refill can be very telling to any researcher that stands in the town. Of course, at a glance these things go unnoticed. But a resident living in the town for a few decades would explain the frequency the roads are filled in due to the ecology of the wetlands and the erosion of the shoreline. Policies and regulations within the town have increased due to these changing ecological states. These factors must be considered when attempting to protect and revitalize the health of the bay and wetlands.

floodinggreenbackFloods in Greenbackviile from a few hours of rainfall.

After my stay on the coast of Virginia, I really grappled with the idea of merging my work into marine and coastal scientific studies. As an aspiring anthropologist, holistic thinking has become a part of my nature. But I believe many other sciences (soft or hard) can learn this form of thinking. Of course, we must remain disciplined and true to the history of our particular research, but considerations to other factors can push variables forward. This has become a very important part of my personal and academic perspectives. I would love to share more with anybody who is interested – so any further questions please email me at or comment on DANTAism page. Thanks for reading!

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