November 25th, 2013 (Jupiter, FL)— Not every college can boast that it has an excellent academic curriculum, prestigious faculty, a motivated student body, and access to some of the most beautiful beaches on the Florida coast. But the Harriet L. Wilkes Honors College of Florida Atlantic University can lay claim to all those assets, providing students with a chance to take full advantage of not only the academic atmosphere, but also the natural environment that surrounds the campus. This summer, Wilkes Honors College junior Sara Thomas quite literally immersed herself in Jupiter’s natural landscape by spending her summer on the beach, working hard to identify and protect the nesting grounds of Florida’s sea turtle population.
Florida’s Atlantic coast is the yearly destination for hundreds of sea turtles, who surface between late spring and early fall to bury their eggs in the hot beach sand. “We have one of the densest sea turtle nesting populations in the state of Florida and in the United States,” says Thomas, whose interests in marine life led her to become involved in sea turtle protection and conservation efforts over a year ago. “I started getting involved with Loggerhead Marine Life Center in the beginning of my sophomore year as an education volunteer,” Thomas explains. “I wanted to have something in my schedule that related to my chosen field and I had no knowledge of sea turtles.” That quickly changed, however, as Thomas became more and more involved in the Center’s activities and efforts, eventually interning with the Center’s staff so she could learn more about the work that they were conducting. “I got to know the staff really well and when my internship was ending, they started asking for applicants in the research department for the sea turtle nesting season which goes from March to October. I applied to be a seasonal research technician and on the recommendation of the staff members I worked with I was one of five technicians hired,” Thomas recounts.
Thomas’s work began in July and ran through the nesting season until October. Her specific duties involved things like surveying the beach for fresh turtle “crawls,” or tracks, marking nests for data collection, checking the marked nests every day, excavating the empty nests after hatching, and helping to release hatchling sea turtles. Thomas found that the job took a little getting used to. “The most difficult aspect was getting to work each morning. We clocked in at 5:30am and were on the beach before the sunrise each morning. During peak season some days we were on the beach until 1 or 2 in the afternoon in 80 degree weather,” says Thomas. “The field work was hard, exhausting, and really sandy.” However, she had no doubts about the importance of what she was doing, and was excited to be involved. “The most rewarding part was knowing that the data I was collecting was helping the county assess the sea turtle population that we have locally,” she says. “Overall, we had 10,000+ nests from three different species.”
"I made valuable contacts in my field and also new friends,” says Sara Thomas,current HC student.
Thomas’s work also was of great benefit for her personally, and has helped her take another step toward reaching her academic and career goals. “I want to use my degree to do research in the field of marine biology, so I gained real world experience that will help me no matter what I decide to do research on,” she says. “I made valuable contacts in my field and also new friends from many different places that I really enjoyed working with. Having my first paid job be one in my field of interest was an experience that I am thankful to have had.” In the future, Thomas hopes to take her passion for ocean life with her into her graduate studies and beyond. She is already in the process of deciding where she would like to study for her masters, and is looking into studying out of the United States so she can travel. “Ultimately I want to use my degree to do research that aids conservation efforts and educates people on the importance of our oceans,” she explains.
In the meantime, Thomas is looking forward to her last two years at the Honors College, and is enjoying spending time with her fellow classmates. She encourages other students who are interested in marine biology to consider working with the Loggerhead Marine Life Center, although she says it takes dedication to commit to that kind of job. “The work I did is definitely not for everyone. It was physically and mentally exhausting and you have to have the passion, for sea turtles specifically, to do it every day,” she says. However, in spite of the difficulties she faced, the hard work certainly paid off. For Thomas, her involvement with the sea turtles has made her a better researcher, student, and a better caretaker of Florida’s natural resources. “It taught me an incredible amount and I had the best summer of my life,” she insists.
About Florida Atlantic University: Florida Atlantic University, established in 1961, officially opened its doors in 1964 as the fifth public university in Florida. Today, the University, with an annual economic impact of $6.3 billion, serves more than 30,000 undergraduate and graduate students at sites throughout its six-county service region in southeast Florida. FAU’s world-class teaching and research faculty serves students through 10 colleges: the Dorothy F. Schmidt College of Arts and Letters, the College of Business, the College for Design and Social Inquiry, the College of Education, the College of Engineering and Computer Science, the Graduate College, the Harriet L. Wilkes Honors College, the Charles E. Schmidt College of Medicine, the Christine E. Lynn College of Nursing and the Charles E. Schmidt College of Science. FAU is ranked as a High Research Activity institution by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. The University is placing special focus on the rapid development of three signature themes – marine and coastal issues, biotechnology and contemporary societal challenges – which provide opportunities for faculty and students to build upon FAU’s existing strengths in research and scholarship. For more information, visit www.fau.edu