ornithologist retrieving osprey from trap

​I spent this summer as Great Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve’s (GBNERR) Ernest F. Hollings Scholar, funded by NOAA, and it was an incredible learning experience. This internship allowed me to engage in a wide range of tasks, where I was able to meet inspiring people who were always willing to share their experiences and wisdom with me. I was also given many opportunities to expand my skillset through a wide variety of field work, lab work, and Reserve engagement. 

Coming from Utah, I had never even heard of a National Estuarine Research Reserve before applying to the internship at Great Bay, so I had no idea what kinds of activities the Reserve might be involved in. My mind has been greatly expanded, to say the least. I’ve learned that GBNERR is massively involved in bettering the ecosystem in Great Bay through research, stewardship of the land, lifelong education, and community outreach. With the scope of projects that GBNERR is regularly involved in, I easily could have filled every day on the Reserve and still needed more time to fit it all in. 

One of my favorite experiences from this summer, which exemplifies GBNERR’s multifaceted strengths, was getting to do marsh porewater monitoring. I was able to go out into two different marshes alongside Heather Ballestero and Chris Peter, two research staff members at GBNERR, and a couple of energetic, fun, and incredibly intelligent volunteers. On those monitoring days, I was inundated with learning: new plant facts, how the marsh reacts to different light and water conditions, and the life stories of amazing people. Getting my hands (and sometimes whole body) dirty while doing research to enable GBNERR and its partners to promote better protection of salt marshes was fantastic. 

A majority of my time this summer was spent with Anna Lowien, the Reserve’s Margaret A. Davidson Fellow, who was spearheading her first summer of field work on a NERRs Science Collaborative project aimed at understanding eelgrass resilience in Great Bay. Field work included a variety of tasks on the Bay, such as snorkeling around to find pinned eelgrass to establish growth rates, building cages to hold macroalgae to also establish growth rates, and collecting many water and soil samples for analysis back at the UNH Water Quality Analysis Lab. From this field work, I chose to do an independent analysis of carbon cycling in the Great Bay, which allowed me to connect my love for organic chemistry with the field of ecology. Through this process, I learned a lot about building a methodology, searching through the literature to determine appropriate data analysis, and accomplishing field work in an estuary. 

Spending my summer at GBNERR was truly an exceptional experience that has made me all the more excited for my future. I hope to continue my engagement with estuarine systems throughout graduate school and into my future career opportunities. The support I received from GBNERR staff, volunteers, and partner organizations will boost me forward and I could never quite thank the Reserve enough for granting me this opportunity.


-Abigail Whittington, 2022 NOAA Hollings Scholar