This summer, Sam Sanders is going to the beach and staying up all night more often than she sleeps.
But it’s far from the carefree summer some college students indulge in – Sanders is doing it to further her education, to prepare for her career and, most importantly, to help wildlife.
As one of 17 interns at the Bald Head Island Conservancy and one of only six sea turtle interns, Sanders rides in an ATV as part of night patrol from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m., scouring the beach for sea turtles and their nests.
For Sanders, a rising junior at the University of Georgia studying wildlife and fisheries, nights on patrol are nights well spent. “I am just infatuated with wildlife, and I definitely wanted an internship that would encompass marine life,” she said.
Upon finding a sea turtle, the team collects data. They tag the sea turtle so they can keep track of each one and take a “biopsy punch” from the fin to test for diet and perform other research. After the turtle has laid her eggs, the team checks on the nest, putting a protective cage around it to keep it safe from predators.
Overall, the process takes about two hours, although it could take as long as four hours if the nest of 100 to 125 eggs is too close to the high tide line and requires relocation, Sanders said.
“Around 4 or 5 o’clock in the morning, you get really tired,” Sanders said, although she believes she will adjust to the sleep schedule as the summer continues.
After returning to the conservancy and sleeping, Sanders wakes up to work from 2 to 5 p.m. either in the information center or in the classrooms that offer educational programs for visitors. She enjoys the work because it’s a way “to let people know what the conservancy is all about.”
In her spare time, Sanders, a 2010 Providence High graduate and a resident of Providence Plantation, is required to conduct an individual research project. She plans to focus on varying slopes of beaches and how it affects temperature, how much water reaches the nests and light intensity from the houses on the beach.
But for Sanders, working with the animals is her favorite part of the internship. She normally encounters loggerheads but has even had the opportunity to witness the leatherbacks that are rarer to the area. Only one leatherback has laid a nest in the area in the past 30 years, Sanders said.
The turtles combine Sanders’ two favorite types of animals to work with: large animals and marine life.
“Most people don’t understand how huge (loggerheads) are, but they can be 150 to 300 pounds,” Sanders said, adding that leatherbacks can even grow up to 2,000 pounds.
Sanders also is happy to be learning about data collection methods, which she hopes will help her in a future career working in the field with animal conservation.
Originally, Sanders planned to pursue a career in math or science, her two best subjects in high school. However, upon arriving to college, she discovered she could make her true passion into a career.
“Ever since I was little, I’ve loved animals and always wanted to do something like this, but I didn’t think I’d be able to,” Sanders said.
Her mother, Tori Sanders, will miss her daughter, who has been gone since mid-May and will not return until early August, right before school begins again. However, she is glad Sam is “living her dream.”
“She’s a very compassionate person. She wants to save animals, treat them the best they can be treated, make the world a better place.”