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Capstone Projects and Internships

A Capstone Project provides an opportunity for students explore a topic in detail, usually involving independent analysis of information collected by others to address a problem of consequence in your field.  An internship is a valuable way for students to obtain real world experience with organizations such as companies, governmental organizations, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), or educational facilities. Most students conduct their Capstone Projects or Internships during the summer, though students make also take these courses during fall or spring semesters.

Below are a few examples of student projects and internships:

Jonathon Gaare (MA, 2020)

Jonathon Gaare interned as a seasonal Park Ranger Interpreter for the National Park Service at the nearby Fire Island N Jonathon Gaare (MA, 2020) ational Seashore and focused his project on science communication during a pandemic. The role of the Interpreter is to use their diverse wealth of knowledge of the park to engage and inspire visitors to learn about and enjoy its beautiful spaces. Jonathon found that due to the pandemic, traditional methods of science communication and interaction needed to be modified to maintain safety for all involved while still effectively sharing information and fostering visitor interest and investment in the local environment. Traditional communication tools, such as visitor centers could not be opened to the public, so fixed-point interpretation at doorways and frequent roving of the field were used to maintain good communication and capitalize on educational opportunities with visitors. Jonathon helped develop the “Watch Hill Expedition,” a combination of a self-guided tour and a scavenger hunt, which visitors could take part in rather than the traditional guided tours that would normally have been given. Jonathon spent much of the summer stationed at the Sailors Haven Visitors Center which is adjacent to the Sunken Forest. Using concepts learned in the MCP program he was able to provide a frontline opportunity for visitors to observe and recognize the true effects of sea level rise on this globally rare maritime holly forest.

Christine Suter conducted her internship with the Atlantic Marine Conservation Society (AMSEAS) based in Hampton Bays, New York, where she analyzed data on sea turtle strandings in the coastal waters of New York for the years 2010, 2012 and 2016. Her goals were to Christine Suter (MA, 2020) establish a procedure for analyzing the data, provide a baseline from which data in prior and subsequent years could be compared, and to identify trends relating to debris ingestion and entanglement within and between the three years observed. Most of the debris-related strandings she reviewed involved loggerhead turtles that had ingested soft plastic debris and latex balloon fragments, while most of the entanglement-related strandings involved leatherback turtles that had become entangled in lines from pot fisheries. In addition to analyzing the strandings data, Christine attended a series of necropsy training sessions with AMSEAS and assisted with several marine mammal and sea turtle necropsies throughout the summer.

Kayla Clauson (MA, 2020)

Kayla Clauson interned as an educator and research assistant with Narragansett Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve (NBNERR Kayla Clauson (MA, 2020) ) through the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management on Prudence Island. Prudence Island is a remote island in the geographical center of Narragansett Bay that has a wide range of habitats which she explored and taught about. Kayla focused on science communication and translation; making science meaningful for a variety of audiences including homeschool groups, family programs, and virtual programming . As part of her individual research project she was the first person to monitor spawning American horseshoe crabs ( Limulus polyphemus) on Prudence Island. The population was monitored across a latitudinal gradient during spring high tides occurring in June and July. Additionally, Kayla quantified the associated parasitic interactions between horseshoe crabs and their obligate triclad parasite, Bdelloura candida. Parasitic interactions are often overlooked in ecological monitoring, and Kayla used this opportunity to increase the scientific knowledge of interactions between the horseshoe crab, a target conservation species, and the parasite Bdelloura candida.

Nolan Slattery (MA, 2020)

Nolan’s capstone study, a New York State Marine Aquaculture 2020 Prospectus, included a comprehensive review of both the history of Nolan Slattery (MA, 2020) shellfish and aquaculture in New York and recent policy events that have direct implications on commercial aquaculture in New York. In the Summer of 2020, two major policy events were underway: an executive order was issued with the intent of accelerating domestic offshore aquaculture and the development of a 10-year review of Suffolk County’s Shellfish Aquaculture Lease Program. Additionally, Nolan participated in the County’s lease program, operating as a restorative shellfish farm in 2020. He was able to use the insights he gained from first-hand experiences with environmental regulators, legislators, and local shellfish hatcheries in conjunction with his analysis of the current policy decisions taking place locally and nationally in the development of this prospectus. Automation, sustainability, and globalization were important factors considered while developing the prospectus. For more information about the shellfish farm Nolan founded, click here.

Carolyn Sukowski (MA, 2014)

For her Capstone Project, Carolyn conducted shoreline surveys in the New York Marine District to examine the ingress, egress, and abundance of migratory shorebirds, including the proposed (September 2013) federally threatened red knot (Calidris canutus rufa). Carolyn Sukowski (MA, 2014) She also contrasted sediment cores from migratory shorebird foraging and non-foraging areas in order to determine preferred prey items for these species and to assess how available prey items determine distribution for these long-distant migrants. Carolyn worked directly with Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County’s Marine Program and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) who spearheaded this project. Through these efforts, environmental conservation managers will gain a better understanding of shorebird migration patterns, critical habitat for these species, and the importance of horseshoe crab eggs in migratory shorebird diet which could potentially lead to the concurrent management of these species in the future.

Sara Hugentobler (MA, 2014)

Sara Hugentobler’s Capstone Project focused on the migration of Pacific Bluefin Tuna, a commercially important and heavily exploited Sara Hugentobler (MA, 2014) species. To complete this project, Sara collected samples in Taiwan for stable isotope analysis. Pacific Bluefin Tuna make transoceanic migrations and from the data collected, age and diet differences should be able to elucidate migration patterns. This work will fold into a larger research study conducted by Stony Brook University post-doc Dr. Daniel Madigan. In order to complete this project, Sara received funding from the National Science Foundation’s East Asia and Pacific Summer Institutes.

Nico Hernandez (MA, 2014)

The salt domes that create the Flower Garden Banks NMS support spectacular coral communities that are renowned throughout the Nico Hernandez (MA, 2014) world. Recent research revealed several vulnerable banks outside the current sanctuary boundaries leading the Sanctuary Advisory Counsel to propose boundary expansions and the creation of a research only area. Nico created socioeconomic profiles to help managers mitigate impacts to the three users, commercial fishermen, charter fishermen and dive boat operators. Demographic, cost and earning, knowledge attitude and perception as well as spatial activity (landings, person days, effort) were analyzed to reveal areas of economic importance. The profiles will be used in a spatial decision support tool that will allow the users to create their own boundary expansion alternatives and view the potential impacts. It will also be used in a post-implementation study to observe the actual socioeconomic impact is to users. Nico also helped created survey materials for a valuation study of Puerto Rico’s coral reefs, wrote technical document summaries and attended many meetings.

Amanda Eplett (MA, 2014)

According to the Endangered Species Act, a review must be conducted on protected species every 5 years to determine if the species should be uplisted, down-listed, delisted, or if the current listing should remain the same. During her internship with the National Amanda Eplett (MA, 2014) Marine Fisheries Service Office of Protected Resources, Endangered Species Conservation Division, Amanda Eplett developed the first draft of the sperm whale 5-year review focusing on the recovery criteria provided in 2010 Recovery Plan. She reviewed literature from 2008-2014 from a variety of sources, such as journal articles, technical documents, and yearly stock assessment reports. The information was organized and summarized into the first draft of the 2014 sperm whale 5-year review. After the review was drafted, the information was analyzed based on the recovery criteria to determine if any change in listing was warranted. In addition to the 5-year review, Amanda also attended meetings, assisted with editing technical documents, and began development of a review paper.

Sarah Bailey (MA, 2014)

Sarah Bailey conducted her internship at the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) office in Narragansett, RI working as a statistical fisheries intern for Dr. Jon Hare. During this time Sarah analyzed the movement of a commercially viable fin-fish species, the Sarah Bailey (MA, 2014) Atlantic croaker, and was able to model their population distribution shift northward over the last 40 years using trawl data collected by NEFSC. With this information she the went on to better understand the mechanism behind this movement and found that it was linked to mean length, indicating that the larger fish within the population traveled the farthest poleward.  Using this method of analysis, future research can be done on other commercial fish species in order to work towards a more fluid management regime, one that would be able to use the most up-to-date scientific information on fisheries populations to set more efficient regulations.

Elyssa Hopkins (MA, 2013)

During her internship, Elyssa worked with threatened and endangered coastal species on Long Island under the Southampton Town Trustees. Elyssa monitored and established protection measures for shorebirds such as the piping plover, the least tern, the Elyssa Hopkins (MA, 2013) common tern, the American oystercatcher and the black skimmer, as well as two plant species, seabeach amaranth and seabeach knotweed. Protection measures included the use of symbolic string fencing, snow fencing, and predator exclosures. Elyssa evaluated the effectiveness of the exclosures on piping plover breeding success by analyzing monitoring data that had been collected over the past five years. The results, which advocate for responsible and strategic exclosure use, have been distributed to various conservation agencies across Long Island.

Kenneth Lang (MA, 2013)

Kenneth completed an internship with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) / Global Environment Facility (GEF) Kenneth Lang (MA, 2013) International Waters Programme in which he worked with more than three dozen transboundary water environmental remediation projects funded by the GEF and implemented by the UNDP. In collaboration with project managers on four continents, Ken synthesized technical reports into a format accessible to a wider audience, including the water management community, potential donors and the lay public. Projects ranged from improving the state of the Benguela current off of South Africa, Namibia and Angola; to reducing pollution and dead zones in the Danube River and Black Sea; to reducing the use of mercury in artisanal gold mining amongst impoverished people. The common feature of all projects, which took place in Africa, Europe, Asia, and Pacific Island States, was bringing two or more countries together to tackle shared water environmental problems.

Sean Darsee (MA, 2012)

Sean developed an iPhone app to help border control and law enforcement personnel to identify traded fins from five especially threatened shark species (scalloped hammerhead, great hammerhead, smooth hammerhead, oceanic whitetip and porbeagle). Sean Darsee (MA, 2012) He developed the app based on a paper and web-based fin guide produced by Debra Abercrombie and Dr. Demian Chapman ( Sean worked directly with the scientists and policy experts at the Pew Charitable Trust’s Global Shark Campaign. The prototype app was an important part of successful advocacy efforts to list these species under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in March 2013. It will be launched and made freely available to potential users as the new trade restrictions on these species take force in late 2014.