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US Fish & Wildlife Service FieldNotes

My Personal Experience as a LMRD Intern at Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge

Region 5, August 2, 2013
Installing a surface elevation table in a local marsh
Installing a surface elevation table in a local marsh - Photo Credit: n/a
Having some fun while out in the marsh doing some nekton sampling
Having some fun while out in the marsh doing some nekton sampling - Photo Credit: n/a

I think Rachel Carson said it best, “To stand at the edge of the sea, to sense the ebb and flow of the tides, to feel the breath of a mist moving over a great salt marsh, to watch the flight of shore birds that have swept up and down the surf lines of the continents for untold thousands of years, to see the running of the old eels and the young shad to the sea, is to have knowledge of things that are as nearly eternal as any earthly life can be.”

 

My name is Stephanie Petrus. In 2008 I left home in Easton, Pennsylvania for the cold north in Biddeford, Maine, knowing I was starting a new adventure (some call it college). Most of my friends thought I would be working for Sea World when I told them I was going to get my degree in marine biology. College was awesome. I fell head over heels in love with Maine and spent three and a half years helping to rehabilitate marine animals such as seals, turtles, and porpoises; spending my weekends tide pooling in the rocky intertidal zone or kayaking out around Wood Island, and developing this idea of who I want to be. After college I traveled to Kona, Hawaii where I helped a PhD student, Julian Tyne, with research quantifying the effects of tourism on the local spinner dolphin population. With a first taste for field research, I needed more. I applied for an internship in Maine at the Rachel Carson National Wildlife Refuge, back where I fell in love with lighthouses and clam chowder. There, I hoped I could keep digging my hands into the scientific world. Little did I know that I’d literally be digging my hands into nature, daily, to help get my boots unstuck from the mud.

Ironically, I started my internship with the Land Management Demonstration and Research team on Earth Day (April 22). Since then I have learned invaluable things like what true teamwork feels like, how to walk across a salt marsh without becoming a fossil, and how to tie a canoe onto the roof of any vehicle. I feel very fortunate to have had this experience.

Working under salt marsh biologist Susan Adamowicz has been a pleasure. I am constantly kept on my toes. For example, we found a large pebble in a pool one day. I believe that most people would keep on walking by but Sue bent down, picked it up, and then turned to me. “Stephanie, give me 5 hypotheses on how this pebble got here, " she said. At first I always think, “Oh gosh, turn your brain on girl. Five hypotheses is just a game. Remember, aliens can always be an option.” Then I take a step back. How did the pebble get there? Could winter ice sheets have moved it to this location? Maybe superstorm hurricane Sandy brought it onto the marsh during its storm surge. It could be possible that a predator, such as an otter, used it for cracking open shells. All of a sudden my mind is alive with all of these ideas and the enigma of the salt marsh sets up its own investigation office in my brain. On days like this, I like to describe my internship to people as “how-to-become-a-good-scientist” school.

How do I know that this internship is transforming me into a good scientist? The LMRD team sent me to Newbury, Massachusetts to help with their invasive perennial pepperweed problem. Although pepperweed had not yet been found in Maine, I understood how important it was to spread awareness about this plant and to do my part by eradicating it through manual pulling.

After helping in Massachusetts, pepperweed was always on my mind. I love high marsh plants like sea lavender, seaside goldenrod, and marsh elder. What if this pepperweed moved into my neighborhood and reduced its diversity? I feel a sense of pride in my team because we all feel this way. The salt marsh’s integrity is so important to us.

So one day, while carrying equipment for our piping plover technician, I noticed a cluster of perennial pepperweed growing along the wrack line. This was the first official siting of pepperweed in the state of Maine. Without the knowledge and confidence the LMRD team instilled in me, I would have walked right by without even knowing there was a threat to our marsh. The next day I had the satisfaction of leading our team and refuge biologist to the site so we could pull it out.

Don’t get me wrong, hauling sleds filled with cement and stainless steel rods through the marsh to our surface elevation installation sites is not a walk in the park. I have had to do more loads of laundry in the last three months than I have in my whole life. Some days we eat lunch while knuckles deep in the mud, as mosquitoes feast on us. I wouldn’t trade the experiences I’ve had with the LMRD team here at Rachel Carson NWR for the world. I have enjoyed every minute and will always give thanks to those who have helped mold me into someone who can do good for our environment -- and will.

For more information contact:
Susan C. Adamowicz, Ph.D.
LMRD Biologist
Susan_adamowicz@fws.gov
Rachel Carson NWR
321 Post Rd.
Wells, Maine 04090
207-646-9226 x31

Contact Info: Stephanie Petrus, 207-646-9226, stephanie_petrus@fws.gov