Published: September 01, 2021
UT Senior Spends Summer Helping Nesting Sea Turtles
Before the sun rises in Clearwater, FL, Madison Schorle ’22 can be found at the beach five days a week, trekking her way through the sand. She’s not searching for the perfect spot to work on her tan, though. It’s part of her job helping mama sea turtles safely lay their eggs.
With a major in marine science-biology, Schorle has extensive knowledge of and a deep love for the sea turtles she’s working with as a nesting intern at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium.
“This internship has been a really great experience because I’ve met all these people from different places around the U.S. who have the same interest as me,” said Schorle. “Even though we don’t have the same backgrounds or go to the same school, we all want to be a part of conservation and help the sea turtles.”
Packed ready for her daybreak patrols, Schorle comes prepared with a measuring tape, a GPS, informative signs, tools, gloves, trash bags and mosquito spray to keep the early morning bug bites at bay. With a total team of 10 people, Schorle and the others patrol Clearwater Beach, Sand Key Beach, Indian Shores, Redington Shores and Treasure Island with a hefty binder in hand to fill out necessary data sheets about the sea turtles’ nesting patterns.
Each day is different as the team takes the data they found in the field back into the office to report their findings. Schorle, of Wheaton, IL, said they mark off the nesting areas to protect them from beachgoers. They also report any vandalisms, false crawls (when a sea turtle goes back into the ocean without laying eggs), GPS coordinates and baby sea turtles mistaking other sources of light for the moon.
“Being out in the field every day and getting down and dirty is definitely my favorite part,” said Schorle. “I know a lot of people wouldn’t like that, but I love it. I feel like a kid playing outside all day, but I’m still learning and I love being able to share everything I learn with other people so that they can help the environment, too.”
Paul Jacobs, biologist with the Sea Turtle Conservation Program and intern coordinator, said Schorle was fit for the competitive internship because of her work ethic and passion towards the project, especially in completing a 40-hour workweek.
Jacobs said he is rewarded working with interns like Schorle. Between battling red tide and trudging through waist-high water to find missing stakes that a hurricane pushed away, she still shows up to work at 5 a.m. with a positive attitude to start the day.
“If you’re not passionate about this kind of stuff, it’s definitely going to beat you down,” said Jacobs. “We couldn’t have done what we did without interns like Madison.”
Despite the hardships faced out in the field, Schorle knows it is all worth it when she gets a hands-on experience after a nest hatch. Schorle and her team help any hatchlings that may have been left behind be released halfway back into the water, standing afar as they watch them make their journey to start their lives. Any babies that don’t make it to the ocean again are brought back into the aquarium for rehab check-ups by the veterinarian staff. They will determine if the hatchling is cleared for release or if they require additional care.
“Seeing the baby sea turtles, getting to hold them and knowing that I gave them a second chance at life has definitely been the best experience, so far,” said Schorle.
Even after her internship comes to a close at the end of August, Schorle is still going to volunteer her time with the Sea Turtle Conservation Program until the nesting season is over in October.
Although being in a classroom couldn’t fully prepare Schorle for the conditions she was going to face in the field, she has gratitude for the communication and networking skills she brought with her. These skills from school make her job much easier to relay important information to the public and her supervisors.
She also looks forward to taking what she’s learned in the field back to her UT classrooms this fall. She has developed a stronger sense of time management and professionalism that will help her thrive in her last year.
By Kayla Lupedee ’22, journalism major with a minor in writing
Photos provided by Madison Schorle ’22