The end of the semester – and finals – is ticking ever closer and the pressure of our Capstone project is always in the background wherever I go, like a tense knot in the back of my shoulders. Outside of the classroom a dozen different worries flit through my mind – election season, grades, research, friends and family. At times it can feel overwhelming, like the world has shrunk to just the next assignment – crowding out everything else. During my internship time at the Nature Conservancy I asked myself “Why do I do it? Is it worth it?”, and just as I was trying to fabricate some profound answer I simply stopped my work and opened my eyes.
I was dumbstruck by the display of natural beauty that I had been blind to moments before. Suddenly I was reminded of why I had chosen to study how to be a better steward to the natural world, and I felt with a reinforced surety that such wild places were worth fighting for. Everywhere I turned my eyes were met with new wonders – trails in need of raking transformed into mysterious paths dappled with sunlight and swallowed by lush foliage under an iceberg-blue sky.
Just as my perspective on my surroundings began to shift, so too did my feelings towards our Capstone research project. Since I’ve arrived at this field site I’ve met some of the brightest and most positive minds I’ve ever encountered in my life, and instead of stressing over the Capstone breaking us apart I realized that it can be the force that binds us together. The shared responsibility that can take us from just a group of undergrad students to being a step closer to true scientists, and creating something we can be proud of in the process.
An important step in that process is learning how stewardship of the natural world interacts with policy and regulation – we were lucky enough to meet with surveyors from the NC Division of Marine Fisheries who explained what it was like to interact with anglers that knew the data they were giving could be used to craft policies. We also observed one of the more scientific sides of marine data collection when we witnessed the harvesting of several fishes otoliths – small calciferous structures that can be used to age the fish – although the fish were frozen, so the extraction was a bit less precise dissection and a bit more sawing and prying.
Quickly afterward our perspectives shifted from the regulators’ side to the regulated as we went on a tour of O’Neals Fish House and saw fish weighed first-hand. Lastly we visited a fishing net supplier, and quickly learned that there are no shortcuts to quality and that the last few weavers are still around because they’re very, very good at what they do. During our time there we witnessed the proper weaving technique, and even got to put it into practice.
Suffice to say that some students took to it immediately, while others were less clear on the finer points of the craft.
Through it all I could feel that although the bonds we had formed at the beginning of the semester were no longer the same, they were far from broken. We even had it in us to go trick-or-treating on Halloween, and the pressure from our Capstone and academics made the night of levity that much more meaningful.