Summer Science Interns Find Connection in Conservation

This summer, two students from the University of Washington joined the scientific team of The Nature Conservancy (TNC) as conservation science interns. Alex Crabtree and Katie Thomas spent nine weeks with TNC WA as part of UW’s EarthLab summer Internship program. The program offers a cohort-style experience that supports the professional development of students in interdisciplinary and community-based work dealing with climate change and social justice.

As an intern, I experienced field work for the first time… and found that this is a lot of work! During the internship, our supervisors taught us the field research process. One of the most important parts of a successful fieldwork is to ask your question and determine how a project is monitored and the data collected, as well as the objectives and research questions. I really enjoyed working with the TNC staff to learn more about the process and ask questions about their approach. It was also helpful to have company in the field during the more rigorous parts of the job, which made the experience even more enjoyable.

While learning first-hand the work required to preserve a natural space, I was also impressed by the important role that storytelling plays in conservation. During a day of field work at Ellsworth Creek Preserve, a 7,600-acre waterhed in southwest Washington, Michael a forest ecologist at TNC, told us how TNC was able to buy the land after an activist wrapped a rope around a large old the forest to show its impressive size. The former landowners were so impressed by the extent of the tribe that they agreed to sell the land to TNC for preservation. Being able to show the value of preserving an area rich in natural resources was essential to ensure that it could be preserved and restored. Without the narrative piece, the Ellsworth Creek Preserve might never have been protected.

Although working in the field can be demanding, I have loved sharing experiences in nature with other and learning more about the wildlife that surrounds us. I remember an occasion when we were heading to a site on the Ellsworth Creek Reservation and a moose with big antlers was running down the street right in front of us. At that moment I thought how great it was to be outdoors and work in the field surrounded by beautiful creatures. I also liked to connect with other through common interests during our outings. During a trip to Port Susan Bay Preserve, one of my teammates shared her in-depth knowledge of birds, which also delighted and intrigued the rest of the crew about them. These experiences that connect with other while immersing themselves in the beauty of nature have been the most memorable for me.

Field work is known to be difficult, but it could also be a lot of fun. One day, our team was tasked with cleaning the oyster shells so that they could be reused for the restoration of Olympia oysters. I remember an excavator operator firing shells from a hill. Once the operator crushed the shells, they made two beeps with the shovel and we went out as a group and dug through the fragments to remove the plastic or debris. Once we were done, the operator fired more shells from the hill, beeped twice and the group all ran like a herd of animals. We had the best time!

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