Kid Learning at Apalachicola National Estuarine Research Reserve

Spotlight on Interns | Sarah Buckley

By Megan Lamb and Sarah Buckley

Over the past several years, the Apalachicola National Estuarine Research Reserve (ANERR) has expanded its internship programs.  Internships are commonplace in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) fields and provide hands-on learning opportunities to students and individuals interested in natural resource fields.  Early research experience can help students sharpen focus and determine which area of science suits their interests. Reserve staff act as mentors to these students, providing coaching, support, and feedback to help guide future scientists and resource stewards. ANERR works with our Friends of the Reserve group which provides invaluable financial support and dormitory housing for interns. We sat down with Sarah Buckley, a second-year intern with ANERR’s St. George Island sea turtle monitoring group, to talk about her experiences over the past two summers.

Sea turtles are a protected species. All of Sarah’s activities were carried out under FWC Marine Turtle Permit #143 and in accordance with FWC guidelines.

Education Background:

  • College of Coastal Georgia, Graduated May 2019
  • Majored: Biology with a concentration in Coastal Ecology
  • Minor: Environmental Science

Hometown:  Thomasville, GA

Intern Sarah Buckley evaluating hatch success of sea turtle nest

ML: What got you interested in the science and natural resource fields?

SB: During my freshman year at CCGA I began volunteering at the Georgia Sea Turtle Center. I was planning on transferring after my first year (I was originally a meteorology major) and just wanted to do something with my time that I felt was important which is why I began volunteering. I think about six months or so in, I went around to the treatment room to ask questions about a procedure they were doing, and I was just completely enthralled by what I saw. Dr. Norton allowed me to stay through the procedure and talked me through what he was doing. I was absolutely hooked, I knew then that I wanted to work with sea turtles and I changed my major just a few weeks later.

ML: This is your second summer working as an intern with the St. George Turtle program. How were things different coming into this summer compared to your first year?

SB: I took on a lot more responsibility this year. Last summer was more about getting my feet wet and getting an understanding of the program and responsibilities. This year I wanted to step more into a leadership role. I'm lucky to have supervisor who has allowed me to do that, and even more wanted to give me that experience.

ML: Please tell us about your job between your ANERR summers.

SB: After I left the internship program last year I was offered a position as a Protected Species observer. I spent 8 months working all along the East Coast full time on a boat. My days consisted of 12 hour shifts where I was mostly on the bridge looking for animals such as whales, sea turtles, and manatees. I also inspected equipment looking for evidence of any interactions with endangered species and then reporting it if I found any.

ML: Can you tell me about the other science jobs and internships you’ve held so far?

SB: I was with the Georgia Sea Turtle Center all four years of my undergrad. During my time there I was able to go into the husbandry department and work hands on with sick and injured wildlife.

During the summer of my junior year at the college I interned at White Oak Conservation, a facility that focuses on the conservation of endangered species. I was a part of the animal care team and worked with a variety of species including Rhinos, Giraffes, Okapis, Antelopes, Zebras and more!

ML: What are your career aspirations?

SB: I would really love to go back in to rehabilitation. I love the pace of it and getting to do work that I feel is important.

ML: What was the most exciting part of your internship so far?

SB: Definitely our live strandings. We had a female that disoriented after laying a nest due to house lights, and so rather than going back out to the water the light drew her further into the island. It's sad to know it could have been prevented but it’s such a rush to take care of and help these creatures. Luckily, she made it back to the water without further incident.

ML: What was the most surprising thing you have learned or experienced during your internship?

SB: The most surprising thing I experienced this summer were our Bay Nesters. We had a couple of turtles come up and lay nests on the wrong side of the island!

ML: What is the most valuable thing you have learned during your internship?

SB: How extraordinary and necessary our volunteers really are. We could not do what we do without them, they are such a vital part of what we do every day. I really cannot thank them enough for their contribution to the program.

ML: How has your time with ANERR has helped you grow as a young scientist/naturalist/conservationist?

SB: It’s given me more experience in area that I was limited on before, and it has helped round out my knowledge which will help me as I move forward in my chosen field.

ML: Has your time at ANERR changed your expectations of a career in natural resources? 

SB: It's solidified my love and passion for these animals and what I do even more.

ML: Do you have plans after your internship this summer?

SB: Not quite yet, I may go back to observing but with things being so uncertain right now I haven't made any plans that are set in stone.

ML: Anything else you’d like to add about your experience over the past two summers that made an impression on you?

SB: My supervisor Janice, who does everything she can to help me succeed. She is one of my biggest supporters and offers help wherever she can give it. I'm grateful for the opportunities she has given me, I wouldn't be here without her.