Each year, the Nantucket Conservation Foundation hires 2-4 seasonal employees to help us get field work done. NCF’s Science and Stewardship Department has over 15 different projects exploring the unique ecology of the island from studying island bat populations to looking at salt marsh health to writing a comprehensive flora of the island. And we cannot do these projects alone! During the field season (April to October) the Science Department is working non-stop to get in all our work before the cold weather comes. Hiring seasonal field assistants helps us get all this work done and is also a fantastic early career learning experience for new ecologists.

This year we are excited to welcome Maeve and Scarlett to our seasonal field team and they are excited to tell you a little bit about themselves and the work they have been doing. If you see them around the island in the next few months, be sure to say hi and ask what they are working on!

Meet Maeve Kelley!

While growing up in South Portland, Maine, I spent lots of time outside, mostly at the beach digging for clams and chasing seagulls, but I was always experiencing wildlife from afar. It wasn’t until I got to college that I had the opportunity to work with wildlife close-up. I graduated from high school knowing that I wanted to do something with animals but never knew where that would take me. In 2018, I started my freshman year at the University of New Hampshire majoring in Zoology. After I took a course on environmental conservation, I was intrigued by the topics and wanted to learn more about conservation so I changed my major to Wildlife & Conservation Biology with a minor in Animal Behavior. This was the best decision I could have made at UNH! I thoroughly enjoyed learning about the wildlife in New England and feel passionate about protecting them.

I spent my undergrad years doing research and immersing myself in New Hampshire’s ecosystems. One of the first research projects I worked on involved monitoring the terrestrial salamander population in a forest on campus. Being able to work hands-on with amphibians was something I quickly came to love. The summer after my sophomore year I decided to dive into the plant side of conservation because I had always been interested in plant and animal interactions. I interned with NH Rockingham and Strafford County Conservation District where I monitored easements, participated in invasive plant control, and researched pollinator species in the area. Throughout my course work I learned a lot about research methods, wildlife habitats and ecology, spatial technology and mapping, animal communication and behavior, and plant identification. The summer after my junior year at UNH, I received an independent research fellowship (SURF) to undergo my own research on the Endangered Blanding’s turtle in NH. I was lucky enough to spend half of the summer trapping and processing turtles in the field and the other half mapping the wetland connectivity of Blanding’s turtles using a Geographic Information System. I had the opportunity to present my findings at an undergraduate research conference. 

As a recent 2022 graduate, I was so excited to accept the wildlife field assistant position with NCF because it involved everything I enjoyed about wildlife, as well as projects that I have always wanted to get experience with. I had never been to Nantucket before, so I was eager to move to a new place, especially an island! Since arriving in May, I have done lots of spotted turtle trapping and tracking (which I love of course), purple marsh crab trapping, and rare plant species surveying. I have also gotten the chance to survey the spawning horseshoe crabs on the beach at Warren’s Landing. I am looking forward to all of the new projects ahead like bat monitoring, salt marsh surveys, oyster catcher banding, as well as exploring more of the island!

Meet Scarlett Simpson!

Hi! My name is Scarlett, the botany half of the two field assistants. I’m very glad that I’m working with NCF this summer. This is my first job out of school, and I’m happy to be building up some more experience as an ecologist. Recently, I graduated from Rutgers University with my Bachelor’s degree in Ecology, Evolution, and Natural Resources. I began my undergraduate career at my local community college – Raritan Valley Community College – right after high school. I wasn’t into nature as a kid, unlike a lot of others in my field. In high school, biology was my least favorite subject, and as a kid, staying inside was a preference rather than a punishment for me. I started college as an English major. I’ve always had decent writing skills and a pretty good grasp on literature, so I thought that it would be the only natural choice. And although I really did enjoy the literature classes I took – something always felt off.  Through a chance series of events, I ended up taking a geology class as a science elective. I found all the information about how plants engineer and maintain soil to be fascinating, but I relegated the thought to the back of my mind until I was confronted with it again in a zoology class. It was during that class that I started to think about pursuing ecology. It felt like a fit, more than anything I’d done before. I’ve enjoyed all the jobs and the classes I’ve taken since. Community ecology has become a real interest to me, and I’ve found myself partial to plants over other groups. That’s how I started out in this field – a little bit later than other people.

Working in Nantucket has been a brand new experience for me so far. I’m a New Jersey native, and before now, I’d hardly ventured outside of my home state at all. Going from the densely populated, forested Central Jersey to the isolated, shrubby island life of Nantucket has certainly been a kind of culture shock. But I feel like I’m finally getting a taste of the independence I didn’t have as a commuter student, and the work I’m doing with NCF has already given me a lot of unique experiences just one month on. Before this job, I did some coastal conservation work setting up fencing and conducting dune surveys on the NJ shore. I also worked as an invasive plant removal intern for two summers in an old growth forest: doing trail maintenance, weeding, and conducting plant surveys.  Being a field assistant for NCF has been quite different from both those jobs!

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I’ve never had the chance to work with wildlife before now (…granted, I’ve mostly leaned into plants thus far), but trapping and radio tracking turtles, trapping crabs, and surveying horseshoe crabs have all been exciting, and I’m glad to be gaining experience in more diverse subsects of conservation. I’ve equally enjoyed the more plant-oriented side of things, of course. We’ve been doing rare plant surveys in these giant plots – I’ve only ever done vegetation surveys in much smaller plots, so that’s certainly a change. I really enjoy plant work (like surveys) in general, so I’m looking forward to the future locations and tasks in store for me. Being a field assistant with NCF is filled with lots of variety, and on Nantucket, the ecosystems are all novel in their own unique way. Through both employer and location, I’ve been learning plenty about plants and habitats that I’d likely never have the chance to learn anywhere else. I’m definitely looking forward to what’s coming next!