Do you love sea turtles, sunny beaches and the nightlife?

If you answered “Yes” to all of the above, the University of Central Florida may have an internship opportunity for you.

The biology internship requires students to dedicate hundreds of hours from May 5 to Aug. 17 locating, tagging and cataloging nesting sea turtles and their nests of eggs, which are found along a 29-mile stretch of beaches from Patrick Air Force Base between Cocoa Beach and Satellite Beach, to the Sebastian Inlet State Park in Melbourne Beach. The female turtles emerge from the water, dig holes and lay their eggs between dusk and dawn each day.

“That’s when we’re typically working,” said Kendra Cope, who started working for the UCF Marine Turtle Research Group as a graduate student in 2012. “It’s a lot of hard work. You definitely have to love field research and turtles to do it. You have to be dedicated.”

All of the data collected contributes to the group’s marine turtle monitoring program started in 1982 by UCF biologist Llew Ehrhart. For 32 years the group has conducted morning and nighttime beach monitoring and tagging of loggerheads, green turtles and leatherbacks during the nesting season. The group also has been conducting in-water, long-term research of the juvenile loggerhead and green turtles in the area year-round. Data collected from this project was responsible for establishing the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge in Melbourne Beach in the early 1990s. The refuge is now the most important loggerhead-nesting beach in the western hemisphere, and is critical to green sea turtles’ survival.

“You will certainly learn a lot from all the hands-on experience. I know I did,” Cope said. She is pursuing a master’s degree in conservation biology at UCF. “It is a lot of work, that’s why we’re looking for students who are truly dedicated to the research this program is built on. The long-term data we collect is very important for the conservation of these threatened and endangered species.”

The internship is not paid, but those selected will have free housing available at the beach during their shifts (three consecutive days/nights a week), courtesy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Students can also receive up to three academic credits, and the opportunity to find out if this is the career for them.

“Field conditions are not always forgiving and can be extremely harsh at times,” Cope said. “Our interns get the chance to think about whether or not field research is something they would like to pursue, or if they actually do not like doing it at all.”

For those who are thinking about doing field-based research, this internship is a great networking opportunity because of the high-profile nature of the work being done and the unique location, Cope said. During their shifts, students are on standby like the rest of the UCF marine turtle research team to help with any reported turtle standings and other marine emergencies.

Some of the students who have been through the internship program since 2007 and earned their biology degrees at UCF are now working at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration among other institutions. Others are currently seeking a graduate-level degree at multiple institutions across the United States.

The internship is open to all students. Deadline to apply is Feb. 21. Those selected will be notified by March 31.

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