Friday, October 8, 2010

Off The Beaten Track: Saving the Planet, One Endangered Species at a Time

Our first guest blogger is Candace Carter, who has walked many paths, from serving in the military to earning a doctorate in veterinary medicine. She then steered her career in a new direction, one that led her right to her ultimate dream job of protecting endangered species. Candace also writes mystery novels ( featuring a park ranger sleuth. She seeks representation for her first novel, Riddle in the Sand, and is working on its sequel.

I swoop in with my super-hero cape, just in the nick of time. If I don’t rescue these sea turtles and help protect their nests, they could become extinct!

Okay, so Supriya made me write that. My days aren’t quite like that (I don’t own a cape), but as a biologist working with Threatened & Endangered Species, I am fulfilling a lifelong dream that just happens to do some good in our world. What surprises me is I get paid to do something I love.

When I was a kid, I wanted to be a park ranger when I grew up. Somewhere along the way, I got sidetracked and instead earned a degree in veterinary medicine. No matter how prestigious that job may seem, it just wasn’t something I had a passion for. Fast forward several years later to where I take my first step toward a new career.

That big step first took me cross-country, to a desolate corner of Colorado, on an endangered species reintroduction project (black-footed ferret) for the Bureau of Land Management. I lived at a biological station so far from anywhere that it was 75 miles to a real grocery store and the mail only ran twice a week. The job was short-term, but my foot was in the door. I couldn’t believe my good luck.

The rest of that step took me across the country again, this time to humid Florida and a job as a biologist with the National Park Service at Canaveral National Seashore. What began as a morning fraught with first-day jitters quickly became a hike through scrub habitat, participating in a bird survey. From the moment that blue and gray Florida Scrub-Jay (a Threatened and Endangered Species) flew over my head and perched on a branch beside me, I knew this was really my dream job.

To better clarify what I do, it helps to explain a little about the agency I work for. The National Park Service preserves unimpaired natural and cultural resources and values of the national park system for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations. That’s a pretty big responsibility when you consider that there are nearly 400 National Parks in the United States. Canaveral National Seashore is home to 14 federally listed Threatened and Endangered species—the second greatest number in the entire National Park Service.

It’s been a busy year. Besides monitoring wildlife, restoring habitats, controlling invasive plants, and keeping up with various administrative tasks, rescuing sea turtles have been a major part of my job.

Back in January, for example, Florida experienced record cold temperatures. I was updating a database in my toasty office when a law enforcement officer stopped by to report a sea turtle floating in the water, still alive. Basically, it was stunned by the cold weather.

Before long, I was wading in the chilly waters of Mosquito Lagoon with a borrowed, leaky boot. We rescued over 70 sea turtles that day, kicking off a massive rescue effort. My fingers still feel numb from the cold when I think about it. Eventually, we helped save about 2,200 sea turtles. Statewide, the number was approximately 4,500.

A few months later, I found myself in Mobile, Alabama, as part of the oil spill response. I was assigned to serve as one of several resource advisors, monitoring activities of the cleanup crews on Gulf Islands National Seashore. That role took me straight to the command center. One of the big questions, of course, was how to protect the wildlife – including sea turtle hatchlings, which within weeks would emerge from their nests. At first, it seemed like controlled chaos, but the state agencies were able to accomplish amazing things, even relocating some 15,000 hatchlings to Florida’s east coast, away from the spill.

With fall upon us, sea turtle activity is winding down. Canaveral National Seashore has had a record nesting season. Nest totals along our 24 miles of beach have surpassed the park’s all-time high by more than 1,000 nests.

When I’m in uniform away from the park, people often stop me to ask about the turtles. I realize I’ve been too busy doing my job to think about all that’s gone on this year. Replying with a simple statement like, “very good,” doesn’t really sum things up.

Maybe I should wear a cape, fists on my hips, as I mutter, “Just saving the planet, one endangered species at a time!” before dashing back to headquarters. I certainly don’t feel like a superhero, and I certainly don’t do all the work alone. A lot of people share the cape. Yet it’s still great to have a job I love, one that I hope makes a difference.


  1. I'm buying you a cape, Candace. You have a lot of people's dream job. Thanks again for joining us today, and keep us posted on your novels. I want to read them!

  2. What an important and fascinating job you have, Candace! Though I think veterinarian would be pretty cool, too. What was it like to see so much wildlife caught up in the oil spill? It must have been heartbreaking. Wonderful that you managed to save so many turtles.

  3. I was at the spill early, before wildlife incidents started happening. And I was assigned to the Unified Command Center and not in the field.

  4. I think Candace should get her own day in the blog. I want to hear more about her adventures!

  5. Anon, I agree, Candace has a fascinating background. We hope she'll come back to blog with us again soon. In the meantime, stay tuned--we have many more interesting guests lined up for your reading pleasure. :)

  6. What an interesting job, Candace. I'm glad that you found the occupation that suits your interests. Also, good luck with your book!

  7. Candace, I let my imagination run away with me and was picturing you standing on the beach plucking baby turtles out of the sludge. :)

  8. I live in Southwest Florida and I'm well aware of the plight of the Scrub Jay. We have quit a number in our area and each morning, when I go outside the linai one will land on my head and wait for me to put my hand out, filled with food, and then land on that hand to eat. Others wait near by to take his/her place.

    I agree with have an enviable job.

  9. What a fabulous post, Candace. I can just picture you standing on a sandy beach, cape flapping in the wind, wildlife at your feet once again safe. :-)

    Thanks for doing such an important job and I'm glad you've been able to get some adventures under your belt doing something you love.

  10. Great story. Thank you for doing what you do, Candace. I admire people like you. A great source of inspiration if biologist Jeff Corwin. I am going to be reading his 100 Heartbeat book very soon ( Sea turtles are just too precious. I wanted to volunteer in the gulf in the aftermath of the oil spill, but didn't get a chance to. I am always looking for volunteer opportunities to work with animals. If you know of any where you work, please let me know. I live in NY, but can travel. :) Thanks again!

  11. Volunteers are always welcome at national parks and wildlife refuges - contact those close to you and see what's available! At my park, for instance, volunteers assist night crews with sea turtle nest protection during the nesting season (June & July). We certainly wouldn't have made it through the cold stun event I mentioned without the help of volunteers.

  12. Candace, I am so coming to Florida next June then. :)I visit my relatives there, so would be happy to help out. Thank you!

  13. Your journey has a fantastic history and you continue to travel. The idea of a daily, or when you have time between your cape-clad adventures, would be great! I'd enjoy reading about you and your job, both of which are ultimately cool!