Learning Through Loggerheads: Madeleine Kern’s ’13 Summer Internship in the Marshes (Part 1)

Madeleine Kern ’13, the author of this post, is one of two 2012 recipients of an unpaid internship grant provided by Davidson College and The Jolley Foundation.  The purpose of the grant is to allow students to participate in educational internships and to explore living and working in the state of South Carolina.  Madeleine is currently an intern with a program called Learning through Loggerheads.

Maddie untangles female terrapins from the trammel net used to enclose the turtles.

Maddie untangles female terrapins from the trammel net used to enclose the turtles.

I have spent the past five weeks living on Edisto Island, South Carolina working hard, even though it has been doing what I love.  I have been working as an intern for Meg Hoyle, a Davidson alum and owner of Botany Bay Ecotours and executive director of Learning through Loggerheads, a nonprofit organization that gets local high school and middle school students involved in work with mainly loggerhead sea turtles.

Working directly with Learning through Loggerheads, I have attended the training session for the high school and middle school interns and also provided transportation for a couple of the interns.  I also had the opportunity to lead several of the interns as well as some interested members of the community on a nighttime walk along Edisto Beach in search of nesting loggerhead turtles.  On similar walks, I have been able to educate some vacationers using bright flashlights out on the beach at night about the dangers of using such lights.  A surprising number have been unaware that the bright lights can scare the female turtles and keep them from coming up on the beach to nest, but most have been extremely receptive and cooperative when I have talked with them.

Meg and I both share a passion for educating people, especially children and young adults, about the value of nature and the surrounding ecosystems.  The majority of my work has involved taking people of all ages, from middle schoolers and their families to retired members of the Edisto community, out into the salt marshes. When people come out in the marsh with me, they often remark that they had no idea they lived so close to an area so wild and uniquely beautiful.  Nearly every time I take someone out into the marsh, we see several dolphins.  One of the most exciting things I get to show people is dolphins strand-feeding up on the mud banks lining the creeks.  I explain amidst wondering stares and gasps that this is actually the only area in the world where dolphins exhibit this extraordinary behavior and what they are doing is charging up on the bank and chasing out shrimp and fish to feed on.

Another goal of my internship this summer is to teach young adults about the scientific process and get them involved in hands on research experiences out in the marshes.  My internship supervisor did her Masters research on diamondback terrapins, a species of turtle that lives exclusively in the saltwater marshes, and we involve people in research on a population of these turtles right off Botany Bay Island.  I mentor several high school age students, involving them in the capture, marking, measuring, and release of these terrapins.  One student has been particularly motivated by the experience of being allowed to participate in scientific research and is now considering pursuing a career in science.  She comes out with me as often as possible and can never seem to ask enough questions about the marshes, scientific research, college, and turtles.  This one eager student has already made this internship a completely fulfilling experience, but everyone who comes out with me seems to gain a new appreciation for nature and science and I could not be more pleased.  In fact, I gave a talk on terrapins organized by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources and discussed how urbanization and heavy occupation of the waterways by humans can negatively affect the turtles.  As a result of this talk, a few members of the community are beginning to ask questions about what can be done to help protect the terrapins and the marshes in general.

In the course of teaching so many people of all ages, I have learned about myself.  I have always had a fairly difficult time organizing and leading people, but over these past five weeks I have found myself much better able to communicate and round up volunteers and instruct them productively.  I have also found that I can keep people calm under pressure because boat motors will inevitably have issues from time to time (i.e., I’ve had some boat issues) and it does not help things if you have a small group of high schoolers panicking out in the marsh.  However, I think the most important thing I have learned is that I definitely want to continue to educate people about science and the importance of nature as part of my career and whenever else I possibly can.

Stay tuned to hear more about Maddie’s experience at the end of the summer, when we’ll be posting her second and final blog post!

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