Choosing to pursue an internship for credit is a great way to gain field, lab, or general career experience, explore your interests, and add to your CV or resume! Start your planning early!
One student’s amazing experience…
Interning at Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge!
My name is Erica Roberts and I am currently working as a Wildlife Biology and Outreach intern at Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge in Gulf Shores, AL. I’m living out my Wildlife Biology dreams! I am one of two interns who are here for a total of 7 months sponsored by the American Conservation Experience (ACE) in their EPIC program. With only 5 months left, I have already gained a multitude of valuable experiences, skills, and knowledge.
First, and probably most exciting for me, we as interns are tasked with completing “turtle patrol” each morning. Due to the pandemic we are unable to complete UTV training. So instead of driving the various sections of beach we, along with volunteers, are walking the entire refuge’s beaches in search of sea turtle tracks. These tracks are sometimes just a “false crawl,” meaning the sea turtle came up in hopes of nesting, but for whatever reason she decided to turn around and retreat to the ocean without nesting. We have had 5 false crawls on the refuge so far this year. Other times, if we’re lucky, the sea turtle nests! We then take steps to locate the eggs, place a predator screen, signs, and flagging tape on/around the nest for protection from predators as well as humans. We have had 5 nests so far, and none have had to be moved. Moving nests would only occur if the nest was within the “daily high tide line” and in immediate danger of being inundated or washed out. The nests will hatch after an ~60 day incubation period, at which time we will get to monitor the hatchlings to make sure as many of them make it to the water as possible! Our most frequent species on the refuge are Loggerhead sea turtles and Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles. It seems to be a slow year in terms of nests at this point, but has picked up with four new nests in the past week!
We have also been involved in the Sea Turtle Stranding and Salvaging Network, personally participating in two salvages of both a Loggerhead and a Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle found deceased on the beaches.
Another valuable experience was our Alabama beach mouse surveys. We would set out Sherman live traps behind dunes in a grid during the daytime (the beach mice are nocturnal, so wouldn’t be in the traps all day). We would then go out at around 2 AM to check the traps. If an AL beach mouse was found, we would tag it, determine the sex and sex characteristics (scrotal, lactating, etc.), weigh it, and then release it. The Alabama beach mouse is a federally endangered species with its main threat being habitat destruction from development along the shorelines. Bon Secour NWR is the largest intact and undisturbed Alabama beach mouse habitat left.
We also get to help one of our most dedicated volunteers with her shorebird surveys. We have helped her locate/check on ground nests and chicks for birds such as the state-listed Snowy Plover and the Least Tern.
Last week, we also got the chance to help prepare for and host a visit from the Secretary of the Interior, David Bernhardt. He came to visit the refuge and learn more about an ongoing marsh planting project of which we were able to participate in during the days following his visit. He helped us “break ground” on the planting of 4,000 black needle rush plants along the shore of Little Lagoon.
There are so many other valuable skills I am learning like operating heavy machinery used at wildlife refuges, managing a federal Facebook page and creating engaging posts during a pandemic, and so much more. Getting to experience this internship while continuing my education is the absolute best use of my time, and I’m so thankful for the ability to learn so much from online classes that goes directly along with what I am doing in the field.