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Headshot of Kimmy Hansen, who wears a Bald Head Island Conservancy shirt. She stands in front of trees, which make up the maritime forest she researches.
“It’s so peaceful. The evenings here, with the sunset and the sea breeze off the Atlantic Ocean, are just magical,” said Kimmy Hansen of Bald Head Island, her research location. (Photo by Jess Abel)


Graduate student Kimmy Hansen is researching the impact of new development and zoning on the maritime forest in Bald Head Island on the coast of North Carolina. 

Hansen, a master’s student in the department of city and regional planning, is the inaugural Johnston Graduate Student Fellow in Coastal Sustainability, awarded by the Bald Head Island Conservancy.  

“It’s a tranquil paradise,” Hansen said of the island where she conducts her research. “It’s so peaceful. The evenings here, with the sunset and the sea breeze off the Atlantic Ocean, are just magical.” 

Hansen’s commute to her field work is anything but ordinary. It includes a ferry ride across the Cape Fear River and a golf cart drive across the four-mile island loop.  

On that drive, she weaves through different parts of the island’s maritime forest, the second largest in the state. The trees in the forest “help protect the structure of the island” shared Hansen, who is also certified by the International Society of Arborists. 

To help uncover the impact that construction might have on the island, Hansen is using an interdisciplinary research approach. She is conducting interviews with island officials and residents, mapping development patterns in relation to the health of the forest and reviewing the latest published research to recommend ways to maintain the forest’s integrity. 

Hansen will also develop a time series showing tree cover loss over the years if development were to continue at the current rate. 

Through her work, Hansen and her fellow researchers at the Bald Head Island Conservancy hope to keep the island a refuge for wildlife and travelers alike for generations to come. 

Story by Kim Spurr

Read the full story on Hansen’s research

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