In the Spotlight: Mass Audubon’s Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary

  1. What is Mass Audubon?

Mass Audubon is a conservation non-profit (the largest in Massachusetts!) that is dedicated to protecting and preserving nature and wild spaces in the state.  There are sanctuaries and protected properties throughout the state, from the Berkshires out west to the outer tip of Cape Cod.  We work with communities to advocate for nature preservation, educate students in the classroom, and run programs to get people out into nature!  I work at the Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary on Cape Cod, which is the only Mass Audubon sanctuary with a full time science department.

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  1. What is a typical day for you like?

Hah! There’s no such thing.  My official job title is the Turtle Field Coordinator, which essentially translates to “anything turtle related, call Rebecca.”  I coordinated our Diamondback terrapin conservation program, and this year am coordinating our Sea Turtle Rescue Program.  However, I’ve also been known to help out with Piping Plover monitoring, Horshoe crab surveys, and working on photo exhibits!

A “typical” day really depends on the season I’m in at that moment.  During April and May, I was out on the beaches looking for Piping Plover pairs, protecting nesting habitat, and finding and recording nests.  In June and July, I’m coordinating about 100 volunteers to patrol for and protect Diamondback terrapin nests, a state-listed turtle that lives in the salt marsh.  In August and September I’m trying to keep track of the literal thousands of terrapin hatchlings that come popping out of the ground, and this winter I will be organizing the massive undertaking that is rescuing and transporting hypothermic sea turtles to the New England Aquarium.  It’s not surprising to catch me out in the field, organizing the recovery of a five-foot dead sea turtle while also watching a female terrapin lay her eggs.  Let’s just say, my work keeps me on my toes!

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  1. How can the community get involved with Mass Audubon’s Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary?

There are countless ways the community can get involved with our sanctuary and its work.  All of our conservation projects rely on the 500+ volunteers that dedicate their time to the sanctuary.  Folks are often surprised to hear that we have so many diverse projects (especially since we’re known as “the bird people”).  And if mucking around in the field isn’t quite your style, you can volunteer at the front desk, donate field supplies, or even just be an advocate for wild spaces in your area.

  1. What do you wish people knew about conserving biodiversity? 

That every action, big or small, has some kind of impact on our planet.  Using reusable produce bags, eating sustainable foods, even what you plant in your garden can all help wildlife thrive.  Of course, there’s another side to that coin: every piece of styrofoam you throw out, every gallon of gasoline you burn, is damaging the environment.  The key is to not get overwhelmed by all of the environmental degradation we see around us, but instead to fight to protect what’s still here.

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  1. How do you think this position has helped inform/form your ideas about wildlife research and conservation?

I think I’ve really come to appreciate how personal wildlife conservation is as both a science and a movement.  I’ve always been passionate about animals and wildlife, but that’s also because I was extremely privileged in where I grew up and the community I was raised in.  For someone who grew up in the city, or someone who has to worry about paying medical bills or putting themselves through college, how can we make something as abstract as “nature” meaningful?  Although I love research, I’ve realized that my real passion lies in getting folks engaged with a project or an idea–we can’t continue to publish studies in a scientific vacuum and assume that the world will change.  Although I used to fantasize about being the next Jane Goodall, I’ve realized that I want to help research find its way into the public eye, to make these issues relevant and important to the other inhabitants of our planet.

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If you’d like to read more specifically about the projects Rebecca has worked on, visit the WBWS citizen science blog!  http://blogs.massaudubon.org/wellfleetbaycitizenscience/
Two recent articles featuring Rebecca and Mass Audubon: http://eastham.wickedlocal.com/news/20160826/tiny-terrapins-leave-nest

http://www.csmonitor.com/Science/2016/0525/On-World-Turtle-Day-how-are-the-reptiles-faring
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