Sea Turtles, Shorebirds, and Sand Oh My! A day in the life of a CALO intern

Sea Turtles, Shorebirds, and Sand Oh My! A day in the life of a CALO intern

It is still a bit difficult to wrap my head around the fact that I have been at Cape Lookout National Seashore (CALO) for 5 weeks! How time flies. I thought it would be interesting to walk you through a general workday. No workday is the same, which keeps things interesting!

I usually wake up right before 6:00 am to get dressed and make sure I have enough time to make my Café Cubano on the stovetop (work essentials!). Days on the island are long and hot, so I fill up a Camelbak with water and ice and pack a lunch and tons of snacks. I leave the house just before 7:00 am to meet with other staff at our workboat for a quick ride to South Core Banks (CALO compromises 3 islands; South Core Banks boasts the highest sea turtle nesting density). We head to the work cabin and begin to pack equipment on our ATVs while simultaneously discussing any necessary game plans for the day (do any shorebirds need to be banded? are any sea turtle closures designated for today?).

And then we’re off! The island expands over 20 miles, so I ride my ATV along the previous high tide line to begin looking for sea turtle tracks. Though they may resemble vehicle tracks, it is easier to spot them because they run perpendicular to the shoreline! We may find false crawls or nesting activities, both of which data are collected from. False crawls are when sea turtles merge out of the water and may walk around, decide they did not want to nest and return to the sea. Nests are when eggs are actually laid and covered by sand. The sea turtle season is beginning to pick up, so we are averaging 5-10 activities per day! My favorite part is finding the sea turtle nests because we get to dig around the massive mound in an attempt to find the egg chamber. Though I end up completely sweaty and caked in sand, it is so rewarding to find the eggs and mark off the nest.

Pictured above is a sea turtle nest. Notice the large mound of fluffy sand created prior to returning to the ocean.

Pictured above is a sea turtle false crawl. The sea turtle made a quick turnaround before heading back into the ocean, not laying any eggs.

After surveying the beach, we return to the work cabin to input the turtle data collected into an online database. My research project is separate from fieldwork, so I try to squeeze in some time to work on it on the island. Some days when I and the other turtle intern finish with some time to spare, we assist the resource management staff with shorebird work! The last few weeks I have been able to participate in banding and collecting data from American Oystercatcher chicks. It is surreal to be holding these chunky birds and feel their hearts racing. We have to run after them in order to band them, so my heart tends to be racing just as fast as the chicks

Chelsey (left) and I are pictured p[acing bands on an American Oystercatcher chick. These bands display a unique code to help identify the bird! Photo by Taylor Smith
Here I am pictured with a different banded American Oystercatcher chick. Photo by Rachel Hilt

We usually get ready to head off the island around 3:30 pm, and I get home around 4:30 pm. Daily rituals include removing sand from my hiking boots, hair, and face (and then giving up to just take a super early shower). I am usually in bed by 9:00pm, ready to start a brand new day.

I hope you enjoyed learning a bit more about a typical work day!

If you would like to learn more:

Last week Rachel and I were super excited to be filmed for an upcoming episode on the Outside Science Inside Parks series in collaboration with NPS and CSU. Our episode should be airing later in the fall, and I hope to provide updates on where and when that can be viewed 🙂   

Behind the scenes of me (right), Rachel (left), and Jon (supervisor; center) digging for the sea turtle egg chamber. All sea turtle work is conducted under authorized marine turtle research permits. Photo by Ron Bend

1 Comment
  • Roxana Del Calvo
    Posted at 01:15h, 26 June

    Loved the article. Cristal Espinosa is doing an excellent job.
    Enjoyed her work and keeping me informed of her adventures in saving and keeping the turtles eggs safe.
    Now I know if I go to the beach what turtles tracks look like from a vehicle track.