It was the largest rock I had seen on the beach that day. Though it seemed twice my size, I knew that I had to see what curiosities lay beneath it. As I steadied myself and gathered up all the energy my little 6-year-old arms could muster, I hurled that two-ton rock as best I could only to have it land a few inches from where it was originally cemented into the mud.
I peered beneath the rock, my eyes almost level with the sand, and was fascinated by the treasure trove teeming with life just barely hidden from the rest of the world. Colorful shore crabs of all different sizes, wiggling worms digging their way into the mud, and some odd creatures I had never seen before, all scrambling to retreat back to the safety of that two-ton rock.
Moments like that one set me in motion for a future in conservation.
I’m an AmeriCorps member serving with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, and I am so grateful to serve in this beautiful state of Washington where I have lived my whole life. I graduated with my bachelor’s degree in science at The Evergreen State College with an emphasis in marine biology. I participated in a variety of research projects and field assignments, including the grazing preferences of snail species and microplastic retention in molluscs. These opportunities to conduct research and work in the field have built on my love for the outdoors and have made me eager to pursue a career in conservation science.
As a kid I spent most of my days flipping rocks on the beach and digging in the sand for crawling creatures. Now as an adult, I have explored the tide pools of the San Juan Islands at midnight and had the privilege and excitement of calling it “work.”
This feeling of excitement has continued throughout my time serving with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, and I feel fortunate to be a part of some amazing projects. During my first week I supported projects aimed at determining how nonnative fish species potentially impact juvenile salmon in urban lakes. By week two I was waist deep in the Elwha River helping biologists tag bull trout and steelhead.
Some of my favorite moments during these projects have been interacting with the public. In most cases we are working on public land, and it brings me so much joy to see how many people are interested and excited about the work that we are doing to help support Washington State ecosystems.
Moving forward, I am eager to deliver more educational outreach opportunities. I am currently working on scientific illustrations of juvenile salmon to help school age kids identify salmon species. I’m hoping this identification activity as well as my passion for art will spark an interest in conservation and communicate the importance of preserving these iconic species.
As a kid I looked up to the members of a local organization called the Stream Team. They taught us about the importance of the water cycle and the negative impacts of pollution. Our school partnered with the Stream Team and coordinated multiple stream sampling efforts over the school year. It was early fieldwork experiences like this and educational outreach volunteers that helped develop my passion for conservation. I hope to do the same for future generations in my work with U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and beyond.
It has been incredible getting to experience my home state in a way I have never experienced it before. Every day I feel that I am contributing to preserving this state’s ecosystems. Though I may not be spending my days flipping rocks for shore crabs anymore, I am beyond excited to continue my service and learn through new opportunities with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.
Editor’s note: Hannah Ferwerda is an intern serving at the Western Washington Fish & Wildlife Conservation Office of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. This internship is through a partnership with the American Conservation Experience.