Life in the “swash zone”


Coastal engineering student Drew Davey helps conduct research to better understand how storms are damaging North Carolina’s coastline

Drew Davey and students under beach pier

Water has long loomed large in Drew Davey’s life. He grew up along North Carolina’s Outer and Inner Banks. In high school, he restored a sailboat, then started living on it.

“I got an up-close look at coastal morphology [how the beach changes over time] and the consequences hurricanes are having on our coast,” Davey says. “That’s what got me interested in coastal engineering.”

That interest led him – like many others – to UNC Wilmington, where a unique blend of expertise, infrastructure and location provide a perfect launch pad for research and careers in marine science. Last year, Davey joined a research team led by Ryan Mieras, an assistant professor and the first full-time, tenure-track faculty member in UNCW’s new B.S. in coastal engineering program. With support from a Summer Undergraduate Research and Creativity Awards grant, Davey and the team tested a new tool, CCP+, that can help observe and quantify geomorphic changes in coastal environments.

“We don’t have a good understanding of sediment transport in the swash zone (the sand moving in between each wave). The CCP+ allows us to study that,” Davey says. He’s also helping Mieras test a low-cost Light Imaging Detection and Ranging (LIDAR) device that can be deployed during storms to quantify the rapid changes that happen on the beach during those events.

“After Florence and many other recent hurricanes, we’re in desperate need of more accurate predictions of geomorphic change so we can improve response and recovery to storms on our barrier islands,” he says. “Devices like the CCP+ and LIDAR can provide data to guide policy advice about coastal construction and protection measures.”

Davey plans to continue research on that project next summer during an internship with the Naval Research Laboratory, an opportunity he wouldn’t be able to take advantage of without the LS3P Scholarship in Coastal Engineering that’s made his UNCW experience possible. Down the road, he looks forward to paying back that support by establishing a career in service to the place he grew up.

“I live in Edenton on the Albemarle Sound, and it’s a relatively poor area,” he says. “I thought this would be a beautiful way to give back to North Carolina, by getting into coastal engineering, and being able to protect them from the impacts of hurricanes.”

Increasing scholarships to support students like Drew is a key priority of Like No Other: The Campaign for UNCW. To learn more or make a gift, visit

This article appeared in the Winter 2021 edition of UNCW Magazine.

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