Working in Paradise


Sebastian Palacio from Cobleskill, NY and Chelsea are setting up camera traps at Long Beach to catch the number of visitors we get in this location.
Sebastian Palacio from Cobleskill, NY and Chelsea are setting up camera traps at Long Beach to catch the number of visitors we get in this location.

For many college students and recent graduates, it’s hard to build a resume without a job and it’s hard to get a job without a resume. For aspiring conservation leaders, we wanted to address that problem.

Through our Spirit (Tigers for Tigers) Campaign on college campuses, we teamed up with the USFWS to design and implement a rewarding 10-week summer internship program on nine national wildlife refuges throughout the South East.

The students are having an absolute blast working with refuge staff, local Friends Groups, volunteers and community members. Students are gaining real world experience in resource conservation management, learning valuable skills for future careers in conservation, and becoming life-long stewards of the National Wildlife Refuge System.

Throughout the summer we will be sharing their stories, their awe-inspiring moments and reflections on their experiences. We are so proud of our student interns and we can’t wait to introduce them to you.

This week, we would like to introduce you to Chelsea Connor, a recent graduate from Towson University. Here is her story…

Working in Paradise

So you want to know what its like working in paradise? It’s awful.

It’s awful if you expect to be sunbathing with a pina colada all day, everyday. I mean, the title is “Working in Paradise” which means you do have to work.

So who am I, and why am I sharing this with you?

My name is Chelsea Connor. I am a recent graduate of Towson University with my Bachelors in Environmental Science. Like most recent graduates, I have been looking endlessly for jobs in my field. And like most recent graduates, I haven’t been very successful. I ended up getting a desk job at a technology company for awhile… something I never thought I would do.

But today, I’m working in the Florida Keys! How did that happen? It all started through the National Wildlife Refuge Association’s Spirit Campaign, an effort to mobilize college students who are passionate about their school mascots – in my case tigers – to get involved in wildlife conservation.

They’ve developed a unique internship program with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to give students from schools with wildlife mascots a chance to intern on a national wildlife refuge and get hands-on wildlife conservation experience. And I was lucky enough to score an internship at National Key Deer Refuge in the Florida Keys!

I had never been to the Florida Keys before, so when I got here I felt like a kid in a candy store. All of the flora and fauna is so unique here because of its geographical location and climate. And this is precisely what makes the refuge’s conservation strategies unique. Sea level rise from climate change is a very real threat here and will most likely put the keys underwater at some point. This makes it a hot spot for research, surveys, and other biological studies.

As an intern, I am exposed to a variety of activities from law enforcement to biological studies for seed collections, sea turtle surveys, butterfly surveys, camera traps and white crowned pigeon surveys. I also get exposure to visitor services by helping with education and outreach.

I won’t lie, work here is tough. It may be paradise to visitors, but the time and energy required to go out in the field with the hot, summer sun on your back is tough, and only dedicated wildlife conservationist endure. That is just what kind of team we have here.

The rewards, however, are never ending. Seeing an endangered Bartram’s Scrub Hairstreak butterfly, loggerhead sea turtle tracks and nests, catching newborn Key Deer fawns on camera traps, listening to white crowned pigeons cooing nearby, kayaking the shoreline of mangrove forests, snorkeling with nurse sharks and stingrays, and others makes it all worth it. The things I’ve seen here, I’ve never seen anywhere else. It is a special piece of paradise that I wouldn’t give up, and neither should you.

If you are a student looking to get experience, learn, and make a difference, I strongly recommend you get involved in the National Wildlife Refuge Association’s intern program with America’s national wildlife refuges. It’s an excellent opportunity to gain valuable experience and get to know the men and women who do tremendous work for wildlife in wild places.

Until next time,

Chelsea Connor


Permanent link to this article: https://www.refugeassociation.org/2016/07/working-in-paradise/

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