UNCW is known as a great school for aquatic studies so it’s no surprise that we get an intern or two every summer from there. Caroline McGann, the final intern we’re profiling will soon be returning to their campus as a rising senior to complete her coursework in Marine Biology.
We’ve been partnering with UNCW for many years, accepting about a dozen students for a Saturday internship during the fall and winter semesters. Caroline had heard about the program for the past few years but had already committed to other internships and study abroad, until this year. She had general information about what we expected of our interns and was intrigued by the rehab and extensive hands-on aspects of the work. “I like studying anatomy, especially muscles. I had physical therapy after a shoulder injury and was fascinated by how muscles work and how specific movements are deigned to get them functioning again. I like trying to figure out how things are put together to function the way they do.”
And it’s not just the muscles on our turtles that Caroline likes about working here. “I like everything I do, from feeding to bathing to treatments. Even if you come in feeling a bit off for some reason as soon as you pick up a turtle there’s no way you’re going to have a bad day!” And of course she has a favorite like everybody else and at the moment little Kemp’s “Forest” is top turtle. “First of all, he’s little, and who doesn’t love baby animals. But he’s always looking around like something is suspicious, and he looks through you like he knows something you don’t. If there was a gang for turtles he’d be in it.”
Caroline enjoyed seeing our turtles head home during the June release, especially the loggerheads who were set down on the sand just in front of the surf. “They knew exactly what to do and watching them plow through the sand and zip through the waves was exciting.” She also enjoys meeting visitors during our tours. “There’s a real mix of people but they all get very excited when we they see the turtles. Sometimes they’re speechless and can only stare in wide-eyed amazement.”
Caroline keeps busy not only with her studies but also as the volunteer coordinator for “Plastic Ocean Project” based in Wilmington. She also volunteers with UNCW’s Marine Quest program manning the small exhibit tanks, feeding the animals and working with the kids on the Saturday sessions. But those things will have to take a back seat this fall when she’s headed for the “Semester by the Bay” program at the University of Alaska in Homer. She’ll be taking courses, doing field work and maintaining the environment on the Kenai Peninsula and Cook Inlet. Last year she spent her spring semester at James Cook University in Townsville, Queensland, Australia. Guess she’ll need to reconfigure her wardrobe for this year’s adventures. And she already has an internship lined up for next spring at a local vet clinic where she hopes to do some shadowing in their rehab area for small animals. After graduation she plans to take a year off before heading to graduate school for animal rehabilitation and conservation.
She has some advice for anyone thinking about applying for our internship: “Be prepared for a lot of hard work and to be slapped around by the turtles. Always put the turtles first, and be ready to fall in love.”
We’re into crossover season and the Topsail Turtle Project volunteers are burning the candle at both ends with nests in the morning and hatchings late into the night. As of this writing we have 165 nests and 15 hatches. Just looking at those numbers is exhausting for turtles and volunteers alike! We get a lot of inquiries about both of these activities but we can’t tell you when either of them is going to happen. First of all, the mama turtles and their babies are pretty closed-mouth about their plans. But more importantly our permit to work with these magnificent animals prohibits disclosure of impending hatchings. However, if you see a group of volunteers on the beach at night waiting, and waiting and waiting you’re welcome to join them. Just remember that they are the ones in charge of getting these hatchlings safely into the water.
Tour schedule: we’re open daily (Except Wednesdays and Sundays) from Noon – 4 p.m. Lines can be long so prep for your visit by making sure that you are well hydrated and are wearing sunscreen. An umbrella can help provide shade if it’s a hot and sunny day. The tour lasts approximately one hour once you are inside. Come in and talk turtle with us!
Karen Sota is the volunteer media coordinator for the Sea Turtle Hospital in Topsail Beach.