This summer, forest wildlife management student Allison Williams spent more than two months volunteering at Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge in Gulf Shores, Alabama. While there she worked alongside U.S. Fish and Wildlife employees, interns hired through the Student Conservation Association, a doctoral student from Florida State University and volunteers from the Save the Beach organization. Her time at the refuge not only allowed her to conserve threatened species, it also sparked a new passion: bridging the gap between science and the public.
What were your primary duties?
My primary duty was to assist in turtle patrol. The main purpose of turtle patrol is to document false crawls and turtle nests by driving a utility task vehicle, or UTV, up and down the beach property owned by the wildlife refuge. During turtle patrol, we determined which species of turtle made the tracks and documented the track width, track distance from the high tide line and track distance from the dunes. If there was a nest associated with the tracks, we would plot it on the GPS and dig into the nest to search for turtle eggs. Once the eggs were found, we measured their distance from the surface, filled in the hole with sand, placed a predator screen over the nest and staked it off. If a nest was too close to the wrack line, which is the line of debris deposited by high tide, we had to move it; but, we only had to do that once. During my last week there I nest sat twice. Nest sitting involves hanging out at a nest and listening to it with a stethoscope every thirty minutes to determine if the eggs are close to hatching.
In addition to all of the turtle-related work, I also helped conduct bird surveys and drove the UTV. While I was there I completed two surveys - one of which was a nighthawk survey focusing specifically on common nighthawks, Chuck-wills-widow and whip-poor-wills. The other survey was a shorebird survey that focused on American oystercatchers and snowy plovers. I also attended a UTV/ATV training, as well as a turtle stranding training.
How has this experience augmented your education or influenced your career plans?
The volunteership was extremely helpful because it not only gave me valuable experience I can put on my resume, it also gave me somewhat of an idea of how it would be to work at a wildlife refuge. Before this summer I was pretty sure I would be interested in working at a wildlife refuge after I graduated, but now I am not so sure. While the work was interesting, it definitely got monotonous, and the hours could be really odd. Maybe if I did work there the work wouldn't be quite so monotonous, but the overall lack of social interactions would be frustrating - especially if I was working in a small refuge. There were only 5 people who worked at Bon Secour, and the public really only came in occasionally. I know wildlife refuges are set aside to conserve the wildlife and plants, but I thought there would be a lot more educational public outreach. I think there is an opportunity to do a lot of good by informing the public about ecosystems and wildlife. There is a massive gap in knowledge between the general public and people who work in conservation and preservation, and I think I would like to spend my career figuring out a way to help bridge that gap.