Learning Ecosystem

Marine CSI combines Kimberly Belfer's two passions

Kim Belfer Resized (1)

KIMBERLY BELFER’s mission is to bring the region’s ecosystems to students who can’t get to the area’s beaches or river basins. To do so, she founded Marine CSI: Coastal Science Investigations and serves as its director of education.

“With school funding cuts, field trips are limited,” says Belfer. “Bringing the outside in is one of my major goals.”

Belfer’s love of the outdoors started early. As a child, she loved hiking and other outdoor activities. Then Belfer took an oceanography class in high school, and that solidified her love for marine science. Belfer majored in marine biology at Stockton University in New Jersey and received her masters’ degree in conservation biology from James Cook University in Australia.

Along the way, Belfer found a way to satisfy her second love—teaching. However, rather than serving as a traditional teacher, Belfer specialized in informal education. She worked on a part-time or seasonal basis with museums, aquariums, and other establishments, including the University of North Carolina Wilmington’s MarineQuest, N.C. Aquarium at Fort Fisher, and Museum of Coastal Carolina, to provide unique educational activities for students.

In 2014, Belfer decided to pursue informal education full-time and created Marine CSI. Initially, Belfer created resource books for K-12 teachers; but teaching called and she developed the Watershed Walkabout, an outreach program she offers to local schools. In that program, Belfer tailors lessons to the Cape Fear Watershed, so students can learn about the area’s river systems, creeks, lakes, and barrier islands in fun, interactive ways.

Just some of the topics elementary students explore through games and experiments include where sand comes from, the different types of sea turtles, and the pollution of our water systems.

She also has sophisticated lessons for high school students. For example, when working with Eugene Ashley High School’s Marine Science Academy, Belfer had students build their own barrier island.

“The students conducted a series of tests to see how normal tides and storms affect a barrier island,” Belfer says. “They saw what happens every time we have a hurricane.”

Belfer’s work is much appreciated. She has received stacks of thank you cards from the students. Those cards mean everything to Belfer, as they are proof that the students learn from her lessons, she says.

Teachers are no less appreciative. They often use the lessons Belfer teaches as a jump-off point for additional instruction, or her lessons expand on concepts the teachers have introduced.

In addition to her work in the Cape Fear region, Belfer has presented workshops on her educator training modules at the Mid-Atlantic Marine Education Association, National Marine Educators Association, and Environmental Educators of North Carolina.

Belfer remains committed to her mission despite the pandemic. To ensure students can continue to learn about the ecosystem, she developed the “Explore Your Watershed Adventure Guide,” a full-color book of activities for students.

“Kids can still go outside, and with this guide, they can explore different ecosystems on their own,” says Belfer.

For Belfer, teaching about the ecosystem is an act of love that gives back many times over.

“It comes full circle,” says Belfer. “I love the ecosystem and I love teaching, but I get that love back from the kids because they love the learning experience.”

To view more of photographer Terah Wilson’s work, go to terahwilson.com.

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Categories: Women to Watch