ESA/USGS cooperative internship program. By Veronica Winter
September 03, 2019
This past summer, I was selected to participate in the first ever ESA (Ecological Society of America)/USGS (US Geological Survey) cooperative internship program. This program, which was a geological internship in the past, offered students the opportunity to work at a USGS location for anywhere from 3 months to a year, and gain experience with science in the federal government. I was one of only 75 students selected across the United States to participate, and was matched with a PI from Florida, Dr. Kristen Hart. The proposed project was a continuation of a long-term study examining sea turtle movement in the Gulf and Florida Keys. I would be moving my life to south Florida and immersing myself in a whole new world of science, and with sea turtles! Isn’t this the dream?
The world of the federal government was nothing I had ever experienced before. Sure, I had been involved in collaborations with the National Park Service in the past, but this was a completely different ballgame. My PI, an accomplished GS-15 female scientists who has been in the field 20 some-odd years, had funding and resources I couldn’t entirely wrap my head around. Her worked spanned from isotopic analysis of sea turtles and alligators, to satellite tagging sea turtles, to work with the invasive Burmese Python. Our research took place in various locations, and I had gotten to join two remote field expeditions during this field season; the Everglades and the Dry Tortugas. These trips had slightly different focuses, although they were both nesting sea turtle work. The Everglades trip focused on collecting biological samples on Loggerhead Turtles and deployment of satellite tags to track movement. In Dry Tortugas, we were recovering GPS tags from both Loggerhead and Green Turtles (that were deployed a month prior) and resetting them with satellite tags. This work took place overnight when the turtles were coming on the beach to nest. Coming face to face with a large nesting sea turtle is something few ever experience, and I had this encounter occur over 60 times over the course of the summer.
When I wasn’t on a remote expedition, I was participating in data analysis back at the office. I was tasked with creating GIS maps and figures of the 10-year satellite data form 4 species of sea turtle. This work was being compiled to aid in protection and potential rezoning of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary – a manuscript I was asked to be a co-author on.
My Florida adventure also took me air-boating with Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission in WMAs in the Everglades, participating in necropsies of Tegus and Burmese Pythons at the Daniel Beard Center, becoming certified in the capture of Burmese Pythons, and lending a hand during nest monitoring of American Crocodile hatchlings. My adventure also involved being covered in mosquitos from head to toe, had my hands blow up to 3X their normal size, sweat like I had never sweat before, got lost in some true wilderness, and felt some real exhaustion. I was pushed to my limit a few times, and it wasn’t easy work by any means, but I left this internship a changed scientist with new thresholds.
My time with the USGS changed my outlook on science and gave improved perspective on myself and my capabilities. I also am leaving Florida with some life-long friends- who have quickly become family. I am truly grateful for this opportunity and am excited to see where my next adventure takes me.