Student Stories: Wildlife major enjoyed North Carolina internship

February 27, 2012

Eric Johnson spent three months last summer as a wildlife intern in North Carolina, working with the Bald Head Island Conservancy, handling a wide variety of fascinating duties.

From deer and alligator population surveys to beach-dune-erosion experiments to protection of sea turtle nests, the Penn State senior loved the hands-on nature of the work. Majoring in wildlife and fisheries science, the Fleetville, Pa., native was one of 12 interns who were given a wide range of responsibilities.

"I experienced both field work and research along with public education," Johnson said. "Some of the field work was conducted at night, which gave me the chance to spend days working in other areas or teaching classes.

"We looked at alligator sizes and numbers and deer numbers and gender. The population work we did directly affected management."

Johnson also was involved in trying to control the growth and spread of the invasive plant beach vitex, a ground cover that contributes to dune erosion.

"This internship gave me invaluable work experience that should make me more qualified to find a job," he said. "It definitely will help me after graduation."

One of Johnson's favorite parts of the internship was working with the sea turtles and conducting his independent research. "I helped with nesting and caging, as well as guiding the turtles to the ocean," he said. "I also had the opportunity to present my research to the public and to the conservancy board members."

The focus of Johnson's research was evaluating the effect of different scents on reducing sea turtle nest predation by foxes. "I wanted to see if there is an affordable, safe and effective method for nest protection," he said. "I used different types of scents around mock sea turtle nests to see if they had an effect on predators that are drawn to the scent of sea turtle eggs."

Instead of sea turtle eggs, Johnson used chicken eggs sprayed with the sea turtle egg scent for his mock nests. He sprayed scents such as Axe body spray, wildlife research cedar cover scent and Repels-All commercial repellant around the nests. Then he compared the predation rates at the different sites and analyzed the data for significance.

"With the data I accumulated, I realized that more research should be done with a larger sample size and more of the turtle egg scent. But based on the trends I saw during the experiment, I believe more research could reveal that employing certain scents is an effective way to protect sea turtle nests."

Johnson is considering attending graduate school in the future to study wildlife management and also will be testing the job market this summer after graduation.


  • Eric Johnson, senior wildlife and fisheries science major, holds a baby sea turtle.

    IMAGE: Penn State

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Last Updated February 29, 2012