Each year, the Nantucket Conservation Foundation’s Science and Stewardship staff hires 2 Seasonal Ecology Field Assistants to help completely all of our many research and management related objectives over the summer and early fall season. Each year we look for people with strong experience in plant research, wildlife monitoring, invasive species management and an overall love and drive for conservation and ecology. We have had some amazing field assistants over the years and 2018 is no exception. Laurel Martinez and James “Mack” McGraw are this year’s Field Assistants. Read a little more about them below and if you see them out on our properties working hard this summer, feel free to say Hi!

Laurel Martinez


Laurel Martinez holding a ring neck snake at Squam!

After spending several months in the dry mountains of New Mexico, the lush greenery and ocean views of Nantucket are a welcome sight. I am originally from Rockville, Maryland and I attended the University of Vermont where I received a B.S. in Environmental Science and a minor in Plant Biology. Over the course of my time at UVM, I was an intern at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center where I designed an experiment examining the effect of low dissolved oxygen and pH on oyster growth. I also studied abroad in Botswana with Round River Conservation Studies where I did a project on elephant demography. However, I discovered a love of botany and began to pursue a minor in plant biology.

Soon after graduation, I got a job at the Joseph W. Jones Ecological Research Center where I conducted vegetation surveys under a canopy of longleaf pines. I was thrilled to be able to learn how to identify the plants of the Southeast and put a name to the amazing flora of the longleaf-wiregrass ecosystem. Nantucket offers an entirely new suite of plants to identify, and I am looking forward to the challenge of familiarizing myself with these new species and understanding their role in the sandplain-grassland community. When I’m not avidly searching for plants in the wilderness, I enjoy drawing and baking!

With only two weeks gone by, I have already experienced so many parts of the incredible natural world of Nantucket. During my first week I was surveying horseshoe crabs under the light of the full moon as they emerged from the ocean to the shore, ready to ensure their prehistoric legacy. I also got to wade through the wetlands of Squam Farm, searching for spotted turtles under waist-high ferns and a bed of Sphagnum moss. On a clear, windless night we set up mist nets to catch endangered long-eared bats. Carefully, we examined delicate membranous wings for tears and swabbed a tiny nose for disease as the bat squeaked his protests. Traveling to Coatue was another highlight, where outside the ranger house, rare geraniums brighten the front walkway with magenta petals, seals bask on the beach, and (if you know where to look) lady’s slippers dot the landscape. I am so grateful to be on this beautiful island for the field season and look forward to the new experiences and excitement I am sure to encounter!


Mack McGraw


Mack McGraw and a spotted turtle at Squam Farm

Born and raised on the North Shore of Massachusetts, I’ve been nurturing a love for the outdoors since I could walk. I loved picking up rocks and boards to see what critters might be hiding under them, or catching frogs and snakes in ponds nearby with friends. I always had a million different questions about the natural world, and when given the answers, they only made me think of a million more. Little did I know, my endless curiosity would be gas to the fire for my interest in ecology, and I was lucky enough to attend a vocational high school where I could major in environmental science. I took classes such as forest ecology, marine biology, wetland and soil science, and so much more. I went on many trips including an eight day canoe trip down the Merrimack River and a five day stay at a field station on the Bay of Fundy in Canada. It allowed me to not only observe the ecosystems I had been studying, but employ the surveying and experimental skills I was being taught and synthesize everything I was learning.

This program fine-tuned my love of nature to focus on wildlife sciences, and led me to attend the University of Maine to study wildlife ecology. There I was introduced to the true rigors and wonders of field research, of wildlife and habitat management, and of the ever growing conservation problems that challenge our biologists every day. Seeing more of the natural world from Maine to Peru through my studies, I felt a calling even stronger to try and save it all. That’s when I took to field research, starting with bird surveys in the forests, then saltmarshes. Then I took on a job conducting forest inventories in southern Indiana that afforded me the chance to also work with banding ornithologists, bat biologists, and botanists to help build my skills as a well-rounded wildlife biologist. Now working with NCF, I have this amazing opportunity to work with an array of plants and animals in a suite of different ecosystems, all with the goal of conservation and management in mind.

When I am not working, I enjoy bird watching, mountain biking, kayaking, or any number of other outdoor activities. I try to be outside as much as I can and here on Nantucket there is nothing holding me back!