Haley Jackson, class of 2019, is pursuing a major in environmental science with minors in marine science and biology. She spent the summer doing her part to help conserve the sea turtle population, gaining valuable skills and experience that will lead her to success in her chosen field.
This summer I interned with both the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at the Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) and the Dewees Island Conservancy in South Carolina.
When I started looking for internships last January, I came upon the Texas A&M Job Board, which lists wildlife jobs and internships, and found this internship. I was one of two interns to have this incredible experience.
At the Cape Romain NWR, I was part of the group of workers and volunteers who went out on three different islands in the refuge and surveyed the beach for sea turtle nests. With every nest we found, we took a DNA sample by using an eggshell. This continues to help the South Carolina Division of Natural Resources identify mom sea turtles, know how many times they are nesting, and where they are nesting. Cape Romain NWR has the highest density of nesting loggerhead sea turtles north of Cape Canaveral, with a typical nesting season of May through September having around 1,000 sea turtle nests.
At Dewees Island, we walked the beach in the morning to look for sea turtle nests, processed any nests found on the beach, conducted water quality tests, ran educational programs, and kept our nature center exhibits and displays clean. Both Dewees Island and Cape Romain NWR are just north of Charleston, South Carolina, and this internship provided me a stipend and housing at both locations.
Knowing that I was doing my part to help the sea turtle population was beyond rewarding, and learning what I can do as a citizen to help protect not only sea turtles but other marine animals is quite insightful. Making little changes in your life, like using reusable shopping bags, metal straws, and reducing your plastic waste, can make a big impact.
This experience was extremely rewarding. By surveying the beach for sea turtle nests, we were able to determine whether or not a nest is in an acceptable location to be kept over the next 55 or so days as the eggs incubate. An acceptable location for a nest is somewhere that is above the high-tide line, where the nest won’t get washed over, and that provides the hatchling sea turtles a good path to the ocean. If we concluded that the nest needed to be moved to a safer location, then that was a nest we saved from potentially not hatching due to the circumstances surrounding the location. Sea turtles are a threatened and endangered species, and the more hatchling sea turtles that return to the ocean is a positive push toward raising their population numbers.
Wittenberg prepared me for this experience by providing me with a work-study award and giving me the opportunity to work with the director of the environmental science program. Through that job, I have gained confidence in conducting fieldwork, data entry, water quality testing, and more.
Wittenberg also has a great partnership with the Duke University Marine Lab, where I was able to further my studies in marine science, gain research credit, and have some amazing experiences, such as a 10-day trip to St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands to work with and learn about nesting leatherback sea turtles.
After this internship, I now have more experience and confidence in field work situations, data entry, educational program development, public speaking, etc. I am also able to bring these skills back to Wittenberg to help me in my classes while being able to help others, too.
The true value of an internship is gaining valuable experience in a field of interest. Being able to learn hands-on in a potential job field and having that experience prior to entering the work force is something I believe will make me a confident candidate for any position that I apply to. From this internship, I gained hands-on work with sea turtle nests, surveying, data entry, and educational program development and planning. An experience like this will help my resume stand out with future employers.
After graduation, I would like to obtain my master’s degree in wildlife biology or conservation biology. What I will do from there, I am not quite sure yet, but I know I’ll find where I am supposed to be.
Haley Jackson '19
Major: Environmental Science
Minors: Marine Science and Biology
Hometown: Hilliard, Ohio