Inside Out: Interning at a Research Reserve

The willets were unhappy. I’d entered their habitat to deploy an ecoacoustic sound box, a device that records biological, geological, and anthropological sounds in the Little River Estuary. That sound data will help the Wells National Estuarine Research Reserve determine the level of biodiversity in four separate habitats at the reserve, ultimately helping to guide future stewardship and research.

Because the reserve is part of a national system, the data will also paint a picture of wildlife biodiversity in America’s coastal estuaries. Tell that to an angry willet, though. I’ve entered the bird’s habitat and despite choosing a location far from its nesting site, the willet wants to make itself clear. It does so by making aeronautical passes along my path, dive bombing my head when it gets close enough.

These are the kind of moments I cherish as an intern. Having been a docent at the reserve leading student outings, I have developed an attachment to this estuary while only viewing it from an overlook—But this is my first experience actually on the fragile marsh. On a research reserve, time outdoors is surprisingly rare. The work preserving our estuaries demands a lot of time inside, too.

Eco-acoustic sound boxes installed on the marsh

Stewardship at the reserve involves a higher level of research support than at a land trust and a lower level of engagement with the public. Later this summer I will be assisting the reserve in a research project that utilizes drones to map and measure vegetation in the marsh. 

This is a new project for the reserve and one where I have been given the lead in developing the mission plan. This is an opportunity to prove myself in an emerging field in natural resource management. I am very thankful for it, but as I noted, I have to put my time in, inside, to enjoy the work on the outside.

Chris at work at the Reserve

Many of my hours are spent organizing sound files and creating maps for other projects, writing a policy and procedure manual for drone flights, and conducting literature reviews. These are tedious, but necessary tasks. They are a strong portion of all natural resource management jobs. While we all yearn for our time engaging with the natural world, our best efforts are borne out of the analytical and creative thinking that makes our work effective. Managing those details can get unwieldy.  On a typical day, I may work on several different projects. This keeps the internship interesting. Data work is interspersed with investigations of past studies and map making. 

For the willets, though, my time on the marsh is a source of stress. They want me back in the lab, snipping files, researching the parameters of a successful study that will help us care for their habitat. Well, I’m heavily anthropomorphizing there. They just want me to stay the heck away from their nests.

Chris Ring was one of nine 2020 Maine Coast Heritage Trust Conservation Interns. Chris worked for the Wells Reserve at Laudholm.