What to Expect in the Unexpected

When I arrived in the Outer Banks in August I had no idea what to expect. I am from Swansboro, North Carolina, so living in a coastal town isn’t a foreign concept to me. However, Manteo was still a very new place that I had never been to before. I had just returned home from Germany a week before I arrived in Manteo, so my research on the area was lacking as well. So, what should you expect during your first few weeks in the Outer Banks? Well, this was my experience:

The Friends of Elizabeth Guest House

When I arrived, I knew I would be living in the Friends of Elizabeth Guest House, but I figured that would be in a literal house as you might have in Chapel Hill. This house is not quite like that. The Friends of Elizabeth Two Guest House is pretty much a small dorm that is hall way style. You share a bathroom with one other person, and there are two living rooms and one big kitchen. There is a really awesome house director who makes sure everything runs smoothly. The house is always kept clean, and the tenants are reminded that the cleanliness of living spaces is important. The other students in the program live there as well as governmental employees of different ages. The house is roughly a ten-minute drive from the Coastal Studies Institute (CSI).

thumbnail_img_9998          thumbnail_img_0001

The first walk I took on the beach, I was with a classmate, Julia. After walking for a while, we noticed a huge black figure up closer to the dunes. Continuing to walk closer, it was clearly a huge sea turtle, that we originally thought was a large statute. However, the closer we got to this huge statute, the more it began to smell. This was no statute at all, it was an enormous dead sea turtle. I had never seen this in my life, even on the beach where I grew up. Why was this here? Was no one going to do anything about it? I later came to find out that dead sea turtles often washed up on the beach here. Different organizations would mark the sea turtles depending on the area of the beach they washed up on, and later the town would decide if they wanted to bury the turtle or not.

14192507_10207359080803071_6749805137651069870_n             14212139_10207359080523064_8579542376133850996_n

I have had many adventures while in Manteo that I would have never expected. However, these are the two things that I found might be helpful for a future student. Time goes by quickly, so make the most of it while you can!

The Outer Banks Center for Wildlife Education

My internship for the semester is with the Outer Banks Center for Wildlife Education and my mentor is the center director, Karen Clark. Not to start off this post bragging about how incredible of an experience my internship has been, but it literally could not have been better. Karen Clark has been really fun to work with and is simply a fascinating woman in many aspects. As a biologist for N.E.S.T., she has allowed me to become very involved with a wonderful program, which I discussed in my last blog post “Nest or N.E.S.T.?”.  At the Outer Banks Center for Wildlife Education, there is also a curator, Sharon Meade, who lightens up my day every time I intern. She is incredibly knowledgeable about the surrounding area’s ecology and history. I have learned so much from her while also having fun at the same time. At the front desk is Elaine Goodwin, who can identify all the local species and is also incredibly knowledgeable. Finally, there is Jane Brown and Sam Stolkes who are seasonal environmental educators. I have worked with the public and schools most frequently with Jane and Sam. Jane has been an absolute blessing to work with and was the person to really show me the ropes around the center.  Sam graduated from UNC a few years ago, and he is extremely knowledgeable about many aspects of the environment.

When I started my internship in September, the center still had quite a few people visiting it on a daily basis. This allowed for many educational classes and carts so I often interacted with the public. Discovery carts are quick educational classes that we present on carts for anyone interested in stopping by. On Mondays, I spent the day with Jane

feeding the fish, doing discovery carts, and giving educational classes. We often had classes or carts on Gyotaku, which is Japanese fish printing. All of the fake fish we would use for Gyotaku are fish that you can find in the sound beside the education center. On Wednesdays, I would assist the kayaking class with Sam or Jane. While on this tour, we would talk about the historical background of the area as well as the ecological aspects.

Recently, I have been working more with my canine discovery cart, school outreach programs, and N.E.S.T. volunteer trainings. As a part of my internship goals, I needed to create a discovery cart for the center. Since red wolves and coyotes have recently become a prominent topic in this area, I thought that is was appropriate to create a cart to educate individuals more about them. The cart includes fact sheets on the animals, readings that people can look at, a craft and game for children, and a coyote pelt. I have used this cart a few times since finalizing it and the outcome has been very good. I have done two school outreach programs at elementary schools in Currituck County with Sam. One was presenting Sea Turtles in Jeopardy and the other was an interactive Velcro Fishing program. Moreover, there are often N.E.S.T. trainings at the education center that I help Karen with. I still continue to work with N.E.S.T. as explained in my earlier N.E.S.T. blogpost and will throughout the rest of my time in the Outer Banks. Finally, I continue to feed the fish every time I intern, but now I work more with the chemistry of the aquarium. Sam has taught me how to find the salinity and dissolved oxygen concentrations of the aquariums.

If you are an upcoming student reading this and you have any interest in environmental education, this internship is the way to go. I have gained experience and knowledge that has broadened my education in ways that sitting in a classroom cannot.

Nest or N.E.S.T. ?

When I first came to the Outer Banks in August, I was not sure what to expect. I have grown up surrounded by water, both in Long Island, New York, and in Swansboro, North Carolina, but I had never been on the coast solely for education. So much has changed since I arrived in August, and chasing degraded  sea turtle corpses stuck in the surf now seems completely normal.

As a part of my internship, which I’ll talk more about in a future blog post, I work with an organization called the Network of Endangered Sea Turtles (N.E.S.T.). The non-profit group is devoted to the protection of sea turtles as well as other marine animal’s habitats. My first experience with N.E.S.T. was supposed to be a nest excavation since the turtles had hatched days before; however, I received a call on my way to Southern Shores that there was a report of a live stranded dolphin in Nags Head. img_9391I decided I would stop off in Nags Head since it was on my way, and when I arrived on the beach I walked for about half a mile until I reached a group of people. They were all surrounding this distressed spotted dolphin, who was up on the sand. Two girls were trying to calm the animal and keep him comfortable, and I quickly joined in and followed instructions. The plan was to keep the animal calm and comfortable until the biologist, my internship mentor, arrived. Onlookers would ask questions about what was going on, and we made sure they were informed of the situation. A N.E.S.T. volunteer explained that, when a dolphin comes onto shore, there is a chance that their organs were ruptured from the waves, meaning the animal would need to be euthanized. When my mentor arrived, she had the N.E.S.T. volunteers bring the dolphin further up the beach.  The dolphin at hand was convulsing and curling its tail, which let my mentor know that the dolphin was sick and needed to be euthanized. She administered a vile into the animal, and I took notes on the reaction of the animal and its movements during the final moments of its life. We later took the deceased dolphin to a separate location where it would be measured and put in a freezer so that it could be transported to UNC Wilmington for educational and research purposes.

The next big move for me with N.E.S.T. involved the degraded leatherback sea turtle corpse that I mentioned earlier. My internship mentor asked me if I wanted to see something stinky, and naturally I was up for the challenge. I had to retrieve a muscle sample from this degraded mess of sea turtle and put it in a vile of alcohol. My mentor sent me alone to meet up with some lifeguards to retrieve the muscle sample. We struggled at first to bring the turtle onto shore since the corpse kept breaking apart. However, the afternoon ended successfully, and we were able to finally retrieve a muscle sample.

I’ve done other things with N.E.S.T. since being here, and I finally got to do a turtle excavation, but these two activities were my favorite and really made an impression on me. I am really excited to graduate in December, but I would not want to be doing anything different for my last semester at UNC Chapel Hill.