Jasmine Neverson: Stewart B McKinney National Wildlife Refuge

I guess you never really know what life is going to throw at you.

Tracking sampling points on a Trimble

Hi! My name is Jasmine Neverson. I am a junior in Environmental Technology, and this summer I worked at the Norwalk unit of the Stewart B McKinney National Wildlife Refuge in Connecticut. A National Wildlife Refuge is an area protected and managed by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), and the one I worked at was particularly curated to manage habitat for shorebirds. I’ve always loved science and I have aspired to be a researcher for a large part of my life, but working at the refuge taught me that there are so many more opportunities in the world I haven’t considered.

This internship took me entirely out of my comfort zone. I was the second person to arrive in the two-story house I would be sharing with 9 other interns. Training started bright and early the next day, so I quickly did some grocery shopping with my parents and got myself settled in.

Meeting everyone was a lot of fun. I loved getting to know each person’s story, watching meme compilations, playing Uno, and doing puzzles while we struggled through training together. A large part of our training was the motorboat operator certification course. Little old Jasmine would soon be high tailing it in a Boston Whaler up and down the long island sound. Before we could even think about touching a boat, we had to learn a series of knots that were essential in boating, take a quiz on the parts of the boat, and the rules of the water. All that information is jam-packed into a corner of my brain that definitely wouldn’t mind having a boat instead of a car. When we moved on to the water, all the interns learned how to launch, retrieve, and doc a boat. Then they moved us much deeper into the water. When I saw the buoys strangely organized in the water my stomach turned, whatever they had planned was going to be terrifying.

The house boat docked at Norwalk harbor

In front of me laid a daunting high-speed obstacle course called the serpentine. The obstacle was set up to be very wide and very short so that while moving in a snake-like motion around the buoys you would have to make sharp and precise turns and long horizontal stretches. Side note, I have never had to move that fast or turn that sharply a day in my life after this training, so I think I could’ve lived without the heart attack. I started a little distance away from the course and pushed the throttle all the way forward, speeding towards the first buoy. Water flew up around the boat and the people riding with me were holding on for dear life as I whipped around the first buoy to the next one. The next turn needed to be tight, so as soon as I was close enough to the second buoy, I slowed down, cut my wheel all the way to the right, and sped off. I wanted a close turn but I didn’t know it would be THAT close. I swore the boat would flip over and send us all into the water, so naturally, I tried to slow down. Apparently, you aren’t supposed to yank the throttle all the way down because it could potentially send someone off the front of the boat, go figure. Even though the instructor saw me freaking out, I still had to finish the rest of the course. I took my time going in a snake-like motion around the buoys while he assured me that no matter how hard I turned I couldn’t tip us if I tried.

After training, I received my assignment. The two other interns, Gabby, Elisha, and I would be living on a houseboat. You read that right, a houseboat, a floating, rocking, studio apartment docked at Norwalk boat launch with a Boston Whaler tied up to the side. We were responsible for educating the public and protecting the birds on 4 islands – Sheffield, Chimon, Goose, and Peach island. My weekly duties consisted of tours on the islands open to the public, bird count surveys 30 minutes before sunrise on Sundays, maintaining the Boston Whaler, and a special project. I chose to build a relationship with a nearby aquarium and create a project to kickstart our partnership.

Banding baby Least Turns on Faulkner Island

My most memorable moment this summer was my very first serious mistake driving the boat. After waking up before the sun to do a nesting bird survey on Chimon island, my crew and I decided to check on Cockenoe Island, a piece of land monitored but not owned by the USFWS. As I was approaching the island I remembered that the tide had significantly dropped during our last stop and that I should be careful with my approach. As soon as I reached my hand to lift the engine higher out of the water, the boat came to a screeching halt, nearly throwing one of the other interns off the front of the vessel. Glancing over the side of the boat, I realized that we were sitting on a sandbar with about a foot of water under us. As hard as we tried to push the boat into deeper water, nothing would help. We gave up. Our best option was to wait for the tide to rise, so 2 hours, soaked boots, an awkward phone call to my boss, and one glorious nap later, we finally had just enough water under us to head back home. That experience taught me the importance of a good lookout, being prepared for anything, and an extra pair of socks.

Even though we handled a lot of our mistakes well, the hardest part of this internship was the abrupt transition from training to doing. We were given a lot of independence, but our mistakes were always understood. There were definitely a lot of lessons to learn, mostly about the complexities of the conservation field, and how the organizations protecting wildlife need the support of volunteers to get work done. Moreover, the most important lesson was stepping out of my comfort zone while being patient and flexible.

I will never forget this summer. Hanging out with all the other interns and being the cool people in the neighborhood who everyone knew lived on the boat created some long-lasting memories. I moved further from my dream of researching, but I’ll never lose my love for purposeful work. Hopefully, my next steps will take me to grad school, so I can hone my GIS skills and be ready for the job that is right for me.  Which is… whatever life decides to throw at me next.