A biologist’s journey from Puerto Rico to both ends of the U.S.

Today you're hearing from Emarie Ayala-Diaz, wildlife biologist from Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge on the coast of Virginia. Credit: USFWS

Today you’re hearing from Emarie Ayala-Diaz (left), wildlife biologist from Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge on the coast of Virginia. Emarie and Eva Savage (right), biological technician at the refuge, were banding black ducks in January 2013. Credit: USFWS

I was born and raised on an enchanted island – an island surrounded by memories of fishing, swimming and hiking outdoors with my father and grandmother.

My childhood in Puerto Rico gave me opportunities to enjoy nature and explore my surrounding aquatic environment with few limitations and much family support. I remember back to one typical day, while playing in the sand at the beach with my family, I decided that I was going to study marine biology. I knew I loved being on the beach and wanted to stay as close to it as possible.

Thus, my journey into a career in marine biology began.

Emarie examines eggs on the beach. Credit: USFWS

Emarie excavates a loggerhead sea turtle nest at the end of the season at Chincoteague. This process helps determines  the success of the nests. Credit: USFWS

During my time as an undergraduate student in coastal marine biology, I studied the Laguna Tortuguero, one of only two freshwater lagoons in Puerto Rico, and interned for a semester with the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities at College Park, Md., with the Food and Drug Administration. This was my first time living and working in the U.S. It was quite a culture shock.

Everything was different than back home in Puerto Rico. Even ordering at a fast food restaurant was a challenge, but that didn’t stop me.

Following this internship experience, I was a Student Conservation Association (SCA) intern at the Golden Gate National Recreation Area in San Francisco, Calif., where I learned about the natural resources of the Marin Headlands and gave interpretive talks.

While still in California, I volunteered at the Marine Mammal Center, a wonderful experience that I still cherish.

Emarie and others riding along the coast of the refuge. Credit: USFWS

Emarie and others riding along the coast of the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, where she helped plant smooth cordgrass as part of a restoration project and training. Credit: USFWS

In 2009, I was accepted into the Conservation Internship Program with SCA and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at the Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge in Maine. This interesting and amazing experience sparked my interest to become part of the Service and led me to the Student Career Experience Program as a student trainee in biological sciences at Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge. While at Iroquois, I did bathymetry mapping of Cayuga Pool, worked with the haying program and job-shadowed Paul Hess, a wildlife biologist who taught me about the work they were doing at the refuge.

After finishing my work as a student trainee, I took a job as a wildlife biologist at Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge on the Island of Chincoteague, Va. Living and working on Chincoteague has been an incredible journey. I’ve gained more than just work experience; I am gaining life experience with new friends and family.

I left an enchanted island to find myself in another enchanted island – with a different language and traditions but with the same warmth from the heart.

3 Comments on “A biologist’s journey from Puerto Rico to both ends of the U.S.

  1. love it! un orgullo para sus compatriotas y su universidad 🙂

  2. Pingback: It’s Latino Conservation Action Week | U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Northeast Region

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