Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve
Amanda Peters ’15 hadn’t planned on falling in love during her summer internship—who does?—but from the moment she laid eyes on the Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve in Monterey, CA, the Washington College biology major was smitten. “Oh my gosh, it is amazing,” she says. “I went on a kayaking trip yesterday, and harbor seals and sea lions and otters were everywhere. I am learning so much.”
Peters, from Toms River, NJ, is on the pre-veterinary track, and the chance to work with sea otters is what caught her interest in the internship. Offered through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which administers the 1,700-acre reserve with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, the two-month position focuses on research supporting a variety of conservation efforts. The Elkhorn Slough reserve is one of 28 national estuarine reserves and California’s largest tract of tidal salt marsh outside San Francisco Bay. Not unlike the Chesapeake Bay, it links salt water to fresh and supports an array of distinct habitats and hundreds of species. And, not unlike the Chesapeake, it and its species are affected by an array of issues, among them habitat loss, pollution, overfishing, and a human footprint that has changed many of the slough’s natural processes.
Peters says the internship has drawn her into a range of projects. Along with weekly counts of local sea otters and monitoring their travels, she’s studying the reproduction of the Olympia oyster, which has been overfished nearly to extinction. She’s also part of a project studying marsh “drowning” from erosion. Much of the erosion is due to human impact, but Peters is examining biological factors like the algal mats that wash up onto the marsh banks and kill pickleweed, whose root system serves as a key foundation in the marsh’s physical structure.
“Monday, I did water-quality testing,” she says. “I never thought I’d be doing that, but I understand now how it’s completely crucial to all of the other work being done here. It’s neat to see how all the different interlocking parts come together and work as one giant machine.” Peters credits her vertebrate zoology class from last semester with giving her a leg up: “Because of the background I had from zoology I had more to bring to the table,” she says. “It’s kind of cool to be able to say, ‘Oh yeah, I know the scientific name for that,’ or ‘I know how this one connects to that one.’”
Her goal is to become a veterinarian, and until now, Peters had always thought she’d work with typical domestic animals—dogs, cats, that sort of thing. But this experience is broadening her thinking into the possibilities of working with marine mammals or doing other types of veterinary work. She’s never been off the East Coast before, and the diversity of seascape, landscape, plants and animals has been eye-opening. So, too, is the new perspective and insight she is gaining. “Although the animals out here may be different species, the environmental factors that affect them remain the same. Every time I visit the Chesapeake or the Chester River, I’ll be reminded of my summer spent in Elkhorn Slough and how precious and important every part of marine life—even those we can’t see—is to the estuary as a whole.”
This is Peters’ first College internship; she received funding support from the Hodson Trust Internship Grant and the Nina R. Houghton Internship Fund.