Tag Archives: Assateague Island

From one magical island to another

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.


Natalia holding a gadwall.

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.


Natalia at the 2014 Ocean Sciences Meeting in Honolulu, Hawai’i. She was awarded with a travel grant as part of the American Society of Limnology and Oceanography Multicultural Program.

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.

Old shoes, bottles and timbers wash ashore beaches at Chincoteague Refuge

shipwreck 1

In early August, Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge in Virginia held a training for their new wreck tagging program, which will document the artifacts that are found on the refuge. Credit: Gil Langley

Ever find a piece of debris on the beach and wonder what it is and where it came from?  Those  questions have come up many times at the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge since the passage of Hurricane Sandy in late October 2012.  Timbers from old sailing ships, bottles and other historic artifacts washed ashore onto Assateague Island during and after the storm.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Commonwealth of Virginia and State of Maryland archaeologists, volunteers, students and researchers have been working diligently to collect and preserve these artifacts when practical.   Additionally, staff at the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge in cooperation with its federal, state and local partners have developed a unique “wreck tagging” program for old ship timbers.  Through this research we hope to better understand how these relics of our seafaring history move around in the coastal environment.  This information may help us to better protect and conserve our maritime history.

Learn more! Read a news article about the findings on Assateague Island


This is a piece of a historic wooden shipwreck that was found at the southern end of Assateague Island. The tag is fixed on the structure and will help to trace this item’s movement throughout Virginia and Maryland. Credit: USFWS