Two Students, Two Oceans
Sometimes it’s hard to remember that the Chester River links Chestertown, Md., to oceans across the world. But two Washington College students are reaffirming that connection through their internships this summer on opposite sides of the continent.
Kelly Dobroski ’16, is studying the sea turtle population in Cape Lookout Bight near Beaufort, N.C., on the Atlantic Ocean, while Olivia Hughes ’15, is based in Honolulu, Hawaii, where she is researching data related to sea turtle migration in the Pacific Ocean. Both students are conducting the internships through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
Dobroski, an environmental science major with biology and anthropology minors, is working primarily with data that helps scientists track the turtle population in Cape Lookout Bight, a broad stretch of water behind the Cape Lookout peninsula on North Carolina’s Outer Banks.
“The bight is an area that the turtles get funneled into as they go up and down the coast,” Dobroski says. “So we’re trying to look at their movements, see how long they hang around in the bight, whether they go back out through the entrance to the bight or up the inside route [behind the Outer Banks].”
The turtles that Dobroski is tracking have been fitted with either satellite or acoustic transmitters. Satellite transmitters let scientists use GPS to track turtles all over the world. Acoustic transmitters use a sound signal to track them locally. Once a week, Dobroski heads out to the majestic Cape Lookout Lighthouse, where the acoustic receivers are based, and gathers the data showing which turtles are near and where they are traveling. She breaks it down and organizes it by the turtle’s ID, location of the receiver, and locations of the turtle. The focus is on loggerhead turtles, because they are most common to the region, but she’s also working with green and the very rare Kemp’s ridley turtles.
Out in the Pacific, Hughes is working at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam on leatherback, hawksbill, and loggerhead turtle research. A biology major with a minor in chemistry, Hughes is analyzing turtle eggs, as well as items that adult turtles eat, to determine the energy content of each. The research is part of a larger project studying how female turtles gather energy before migrating and laying eggs. Ultimately, Hughes says, the work will help regulatory agencies and scientists better determine how to protect the migrating animals while still enabling fishermen to make a living at certain times of the year when marine areas are restricted to protect the turtles.
“Leatherbacks eat only jellyfish, for instance, so we have different jellyfish samples, we dry them in an oven until they’re completely dry, then powder them and run analyses to determine how much energy is in them,” says Hughes. “It’s about how energy is moving through biological systems from plankton to the adult female, and how she is passing that energy on to her offspring.”
When she’s not working, Hughes says she’s hiking the iconic peaks of Oahu like Diamond Head, exploring waterfalls, diving and snorkeling, and checking out the surfer’s Mecca of the North Shore. “On July 4th I got to watch the fireworks go off behind a row of battleships on Pearl Harbor,” she says. “It’s been amazing just being here.”