It all started with a simple question, a question that I had asked Tracy Ziegler, the Chief of Resource Management and Science for the National Park Service at the time, in a sandwich shop in Avon, NC while on vacation with my family in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. The question, “Would I be able to do an internship with you?” sparked from an idea after visiting the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse earlier that day, and nothing would have prepared me for what followed.

Shea standing in front of the Bodie Island Lighthouse            

Hello, my name is Shea Valerius and I was a Full -Time Biological Science Technician for the National Park Service for two summers in the Outer Banks. After hearing about and seeing the kinds of projects Tracy had been working on, like protecting various wildlife species along the OBX, I was inspired to volunteer and assist with these projects myself. Over the years, my work would help preserve our coastlines, the wildlife who call the OBX home and their habitats for future visitors to learn about and enjoy. Working as a volunteer for the NPS, our days started with the sunrise, which somehow was consistently beautiful every single morning. We would patrol the beaches along the Cape Hatteras National Seashore looking for new sea turtle activity and nests, which had to be done early to avoid people who quickly populated the beaches after sunrise. Sea turtles come up and nest on the beaches at night. The two species, both endangered, that would frequent the beaches most often are Green and Loggerhead sea turtles. With the high number of tourists that visit these places during the summer, it’s incredibly important to help protect not just the turtles, but their nesting habitat. Later in the season when nests began hatching, sometimes hatchlings would need a little extra help getting to the water. We would release these hatchlings at dusk to help better their survival. I'll never forget what it was like holding a sea turtle hatchling for the first time. Turtles aren’t the only wildlife we had there, we also had various species of shorebirds. Every day we would survey and take data on our Least Tern colonies and our American Oystercatcher families. Sometimes we would even take bird surveys at the top of the Bodie Island Lighthouse. Many times, on our patrols, locals and tourists would approach us interested in what we were doing, and it was always a fun experience to educate them on the work we were doing and how they can help protect wildlife. It was truly a pleasure being a part of the NPS as a volunteer and helping protect the wildlife and their habitats along the outer banks.

Shea helping sea turtle hatchlings on their journey to the ocean  Royal Tern flying over Cape Hatteras National Seashore  Royal Terns and Laughing Gulls on Cape Hatteras National Seashore

Living in the OBX was quite an experience for sure, very different from Colorado which is where I am originally from. When I wasn’t volunteering, I would spend my days waking up early to catch the sunrise at the beach, and if I was lucky, I would see dolphins swimming along the shore. I also loved walking the shore, looking for shells and picking up any trash I found along the way. I also loved kayaking at the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge, which was bursting with life. I remember seeing birds, turtles and of course alligators, and if you go at night, you may even see some bioluminescence in the waters. Some nights I even drove down to the Lifesaving Station and the Bodie Island Lighthouse to capture some astrophotography, the light pollution was minimal so you could see the milky way with the naked eye. But of course, what's visiting the OBX without visiting the historical sites. The OBX is rich in history, so be sure to visit the Wright Brothers National Memorial and the Fort Raleigh National Historic Site if you go.

Sea turtle nest on Cape Hatteras National Seashore   Loggerhead sea turtle hatchlings    The Milky Way visible from Cape Hatteras National Seashore

May 17, 2023 — Adele Valerius

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