Sea Turtles and Sunrises? Count Me In

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.


Retreat to Corolla

Despite Maria’s best efforts to deter our plans, we had a successful (albeit slightly abbreviated) retreat to Corolla this past week. Our trip started bright and early on Thursday morning with an 8am departure from CSI. First stop: The Currituck Center for Wildlife Education. Here, we watched a short film about the history of Currituck and learned about the duck hunting and decoy making industry. As someone who isn’t native to North Carolina, let alone the Outer Banks, it’s always interesting to discover more about the area. After checking out the various exhibits at the wildlife center, we made our way over to the Currituck Beach Lighthouse. Our tour started with what must have been the most thorough explanation ever of the lighthouse’s history by Megan Agresto. It was phenomenal. After receiving a textbook’s worth of education in under an hour, we were ready to climb. Although I’m partial to the Bodie Island Lighthouse since my internship is based right next to it, the Currituck Lighthouse is definitely one worth visiting. The view from the top allowed for a nice opportunity to get oriented with a new part of the OBX.

After our climb we took a brief lunch break before meeting up with CAB member Hadley Twiddy for a walk along the pier behind her waterfront business, Coastal Explorations. Hadley talked to us about her stretch of coastline, pointing out different marsh plants along the way. The real star of the show, however, was Hadley’s trusty sidekick June Bug, a golden lab with quite the love for running through water and mud alike.

After our talk with Hadley we checked into our accommodation for the night, the Pine Island Sanctuary Guest House, where we were greeted by Chandler Sawyer, local waterfowl historian and hunter. Chandler described both the history of the area as well as plans for the future. Interestingly, he told us that renovation plans for the sanctuary included raised boardwalks between buildings to account for flooding issues that may occur as a result of sea level rise. In my experience it is rare to see people practically planning for environmental issues which will result from climate change so it was refreshing (if not somewhat upsetting that this is what the planet is coming to) to find someone who was taking these issues seriously.

The remainder of the night consisted of tacos, sunset walks to the water’s edge, and card games; pretty ideal if you ask me.

Friday came with another early start that was made slightly more bearable by the promise of seeing wild horses. As the sun rose we all piled into the back of a pickup truck and journeyed our way through Corolla on a wild horse tour. Despite the lack of actual horse sightings (there were two), the tour was a fun time. We were able to see the unique area that is Corolla (psh who needs roads?) and made it all the way to the Virginia border.

After the tour and a brief stop back at the guest house to pick up our bags we met up with another CAB member, Matt Price, for a tour of the Duck Waterfront Shops, of which he is a co-owner. Matt showed us around and explained the ways in which he and his business partner are actively trying to prevent the shoreline from eroding. He also shared insight on what it was like to grow up in the area and how the property has changed over time. As someone who is concerned with conservation, I found it interesting to hear about development from the perspective of the property owner, a viewpoint which I do not often consider. Once we finished up our tour Matt treated us to lunch at a restaurant on the property. If there is one way to make a group of college kids instantly love you it’s to take them out to eat (thanks again Matt, feel free to bring some French fries to the next CAB meeting).

Our last stop of the trip was at the Field Research Facility where we met up with yet another CAB member, Heidi Wadman, for a discussion and a tour. Heidi described to us the various undertakings of the FRF, showed us some of the machinery, and accompanied us on a walk to the end of the (really insanely long) pier.

And that’s a wrap! Thank you once again to all of the people we met along the way during our retreat. We would not have learned nearly as much without the help of all of you. To anyone reading this that hasn’t visited all of these places yet, what are you waiting for?