Meet Natalia Lopez, from the pearl of the Caribbean – Puerto Rico. She obtained a Bachelor’s degree in natural sciences with a major in coastal marine biology from the University of Puerto Rico at Humacao. During her time as an undergraduate student, Natalia conducted a four-year research project with a PhD student from Texas A&M University at Puerto Rico’s largest coastal wetland, using stable isotope hydrology to study the effects of climate change at the Humacao Natural Reserve (HNR). After graduating, she began the 2013 Shorebird Management Summer Internship at Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge in Virginia. Hear all about her time from one magical island to another.
As my first internship opportunity, I didn’t know what to expect. It was the first time I would be away from my home for a long time but I definitely accepted the challenge. The main focus of my internship was on monitoring breeding populations of the piping plover, a federally threatened species, and other shorebirds like American oystercatchers, least terns and black skimmers. What a memorable and exciting summer it was! From shorebird ecology, sea turtle and marine mammal stranding response and small boat operation to living with 11 bunkmates, working on recreational archery with the visitor services team and networking with a variety of agencies.
When the summer internship ended, I was offered an internship extension until the spring. During that time period, I worked with the big game deer hunt check station where I oriented hunters and monitored deer populations of white-tailed deer and sika elk at the refuge. I also conducted vegetation, waterfowl and water quality surveys, assisted in the American black duck banding program, monitored mammalian predators and wrote documents specific to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Finally, the most memorable experience was to represent the Service, Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, the wildlife biology program and Puerto Rico at the 2014 Ocean Sciences Meeting in Honolulu, Hawai’i this past February. I developed an abstract based on the maternal DNA data collected from sea turtle nests at the refuge and evaluated how successful the egg translocation program was at Chincoteague.
Working with the Service was a life changing experience. I grew personally and professionally, and the woman that arrived in the summer of 2013 was different than the one that left in March 2014. To be able to work with such passionate employees and volunteers made me smile every morning as I walked to work. I once heard from a visitor that Chincoteague Island was a magical place. Nowadays, I believe in what that wise man said. Gazing upon the Assateague lighthouse while conducting waterfowl surveys and seeing my first piping plover hatchlings are some of the countless memories that I will cherish forever in my heart. Thanks to this opportunity, countless doors have opened for me and it will keep on going for the rest of my professional life. Ultimately, a quote that I learned during my time at Chincoteague summarizes my overall experience:
“Success always happens when preparation meets opportunity” – Henry Harman.