Hey y’all it’s Danielle here ready to share a little peak into my internship this semester!
When Corey called me in August to discuss my internship he gave me the choice between two different opportunities. The first one sounded interesting, but once he said the words “National Park Service” and “baby sea turtles” I was sold on option number two. A fun fact about me is that I am obsessed with national parks (just got back from Shenandoah two days ago) so the idea of working for the Park Service sounded perfect.
When I got my first email from my mentor, Paul Doshkov, explaining that I had to report to work at 6am this internship suddenly seemed slightly less perfect. 6am!!! WHAT!!!! Little did I know that I would soon be reporting at 5:30am. Good thing sleep is for the weak.
Sea turtle patrol was the reason I had to report so early for the first few weeks of work. Turtle patrol consists of driving along the beach between the Bodie Island Lighthouse (ramp 1), and the beach just south of Rodanthe (ramp 30), excluding Pea Island. We were looking for turtle tracks leading from the ocean to the dunes, thus indicating that a nest had been laid. Unfortunately, despite the fact that many nests were still incubating when I started my internship, only one additional nest was laid between early September and late October, so I never actually got to see the turtle tracks myself. I did get to see, however, many amazing sunrises while driving along the beach so early.
Despite the lack of new nests, there has been plenty of work to do with the pre-existing nests. On my first day of work I was lucky enough to take part in an excavation. Approximately three to five days after a turtle nest hatches, the Park Service excavates the nest. This means that we dig out the nest and take inventory of hatched eggs, unhatched eggs, and live hatchlings still buried in the sand. On my first day we excavated a nest with 30 live hatchlings! Even cooler than the live hatchlings are the unhatched eggs, hear me out. We need to record what stage of development the eggs are in, therefore we have to rip open all of the unhatched eggs and examine the contents. It is so. cool. Turtle embryo goo shooting into your face is slightly less cool, but seeing a partially formed animal still in its early stages of development is fascinating. Also, just as a disclaimer, if the eggs have not hatched by this point they are not going to hatch, so we aren’t causing them any harm by opening them up.
When hurricanes Jose and Maria were off the coast things started to get a little rough. For one, the tide was too high to drive on the beach so we had to hike over the dunes. You never really notice just how far it is from the road to the beach until you have to walk through thorns and cacti while wearing jeans in 80 degree weather. Good times. While the dune hiking was a slight inconvenience, it wasn’t the end of the world. The bigger issue was the sand accretion caused by the storm surge. One of the nests was buried 124cm below the beach surface! To put this in perspective, a transponder ball is buried next to all of the nests so that we can use a GPS device to locate them. The amount of sand accretion was so extreme that the tracking device couldn’t even register the transponder ball. Our nest excavation that day may have resembled the set of the movie “Holes” just a little bit. Even more upsetting is the fact that the storms caused the level of the water table to rise to such a degree that multiple nests were entirely dead due to the eggs drowning. Luckily, since the storms have passed we have had two successful nest hatchings in the past week. Heck yeah.
I could probably write for a really long time about my internship but I suppose I’ll cut it off here. Overall, I really value the time I have spent working with the Park Service. I get to be in the field every single day. I get to watch the sun rise over the Atlantic. I get to work with amazing baby sea turtles, and the humans aren’t so bad either. I love it.