MOSAICS IN SCIENCE DIVERSITY INTERNSHIP
2018 – PROJECT DESCRIPTION
NPS UNIT: SOUTH FLORIDA CARIBBEAN INVENTORY AND MONITORING NETWORK
PD #: 2018521
Position Title: Assistant Avian Biologist Assistant
Position Type: DHA Resource Assistant
Primary natural resource discipline: Biological resources
Park or Program Website: http://science.nature.nps.gov/im/units/sfcn/
Location: Palmetto Bay, Florida
DIRECT HIRE AUTHORITY RESOURCE ASSISTANT OVERVIEW
The Mosaics in Science Diversity Program is focused on persons that are under-represented in STEM fields.
Students and recent graduates that are African American, Latino/Hispanic, Asian, Pacific Islander, and Native American are encouraged to apply for these internships. In order to be eligible for a DHA--RA Internship, applicants must be a U.S. citizen or U.S. permanent legal resident (“green-card-holder”) and enrolled or within one year of graduating from an institution of higher education.
The DHA Resource Assistant internship (DHA-RA) is a unique internship opportunity within the Department of the Interior (DOI). The objective is to build a pathway to employment in the DOI for exemplary students in higher education. DHA-RA interns will apply natural resource science expertise to NPS management and build a network with federal employees throughout the internship. These rigorous internships require specialized expertise and typically are available to upper level undergraduate or graduate students or recent graduates. The internships are designed to develop the participant’s technical and creative thinking abilities, leadership skills, and problem-solving capabilities. DHA-RA interns will receive a weekly stipend of $480, park-provided housing or a housing allowance, and paid travel expenses. DHA-RA interns who successfully complete the internship requirements receive a 2-year eligibility period starting from the date of their degree during which they can be non-competitively hired by the DOI. Successful completion of the internship does not guarantee that the participant will be hired in to a federal position.
PROJECT DESCRIPTION AND WORK PRODUCTS
Position Description: The intern will be an active member of the National Park Service South Florida/Caribbean
Inventory and Monitoring Network (SFCN) which is established to conduct long term natural resource monitoring. South Florida is ground zero for invasive species, climate change driven sea level rise, and exploitation of natural resources via overfishing. In this complex setting, the SFCN has developed a long term colonial bird monitoring program in Biscayne National Park.
Nesting colonies of wading birds and seabirds are important indicators of ecosystem health as they respond to changes in food abundance, food quality, contaminants, and disturbances. The acts of selecting mates, building nests, laying eggs and rearing chicks, are energy intensive activities. If the habitat is insufficient to support these activities, nesting success will suffer and may indicate a problem in the ecosystem.
The SFCN has been monitoring colonial nesting birds via low level aerial photography from a helicopter platform in Biscayne National Park since 2009. As the helicopter circles each island colony, the colonies are photographed. These photographs are processed to determine the number of active nesting birds for the focal species: Double- crested Cormorants (Phalacrocorax auritus), Great Egrets (Ardea alba), Great White Herons (Ardea herodias occidentalis), Great Blue Herons (Ardea herodias), White Ibises (Eudocimus albus), and Roseate Spoonbills (Platalea ajaja). The information reported from the Colonial Bird monitoring program has been used to direct park management actions. For example, closure of areas near colonies to prevent rookery disturbance, data to show environmental value for proposed purchases of an island within the NPS unit, currently one of the largest rookery sites. In general terms, the metrics indicate the health and general trends in nesting for the focal species of interest and how Biscayne National Park’s marine resources are being managed.
We are proposing two specific tasks for the Mosaic intern regarding our Colonial bird monitoring program. The first is to help determine nest success by determining the fate of specific nests through time by following them on the monthly surveys. The second component is to cross validate the current low level helicopter aerial photography monitoring to drone acquired aerial photography.
During our processing of the currently acquired aerial photography we have found a number of unique nests that can be followed from month to month and we can see the progression of the nesting cycle from nest building, egg brooding and the fledging of young. This process is important in determining actual fledging success, the current monitoring reports on an index metric (active nest). The intern would search the previously collected and processed photographs to find unique individual nests which they can follow through time. From this information, the intern would be able to determine nest success (% of nest that results in the emerging of young and how many of these young survive to fledge (leave the nest). The nest success metric is more directly linked to other co-factors such as: temperature, juvenile fish census, creel census, sea grass cover estimates, that may be affecting nesting in the park.
Just recently, in a collaborative pilot study with the USGS Wetland and Aquatic Research Center, we are beginning to investigate how drone acquired aerial images can be used to monitor colonial nesting birds. This is cutting edge wildlife research and is the future in aerial monitoring platforms. The use of drones in National Park Units is just beginning and the USGS as an agency has created an aerial acquisition team to develop drone imaging methodology. In the pilot study, we would acquire the aerial imagery and then we would need to cross over the data acquired from the drone methodology to the currently helicopter acquired oblique photography. This is the task the intern would assist on. The goal being to determine how to move away from the helicopter acquired photos to the drone images but to have a correction factor that links the drone collected data to the previously acquired data. The intern will assist with the drone acquisition; however, the intern will not be part of the helicopter work due to the extensive training needed.
The long-term goal of the colonial bird monitoring program is to link the bird nesting numbers or nest success to large management actions; such as, the implementation of the marine protected area in Biscayne National Park. Using the monitoring data we can understand the impacts this type of management action has looking at the end results of foraging, safe rookery space, and consistency in food source.
This position is offered through the National Park Service's Mosaics in Science Internship Program in partnership with Environment for the Americas and Greening Youth Foundation.
Work Products: The intern would develop standardized methodology on how to perform the nest selection, clarify definitions for the different nest stages, and determine the final outcome for each nest. This information would be placed into a personal geo-database platform so as to be able to link it geospatially to the colony. The
project deliverable will be the baseline assessments of nesting success within the first five years monitoring
program; starting with the rare species and progressing to the more common species. For the cross over comparison between helicopter acquired images and drone drive acquisition, the intern would develop the methodology to compare the imagery and the results from the 2 methods. We would need to determine general methodologies and a cross over metric for the previous collected data.
The intern should have education in: biology, wildlife biology, basic ecology, zoology, and an interest in
ornithology (birds). The intern should have basic computer proficiency skills, examples include familiar with word, excel, power point, or similar programs. Some experience with ARC GIS would be useful. Proficient writing ability is required. It would be good if the intern had knowledge and experience with basic outdoor skills. Intern must be able to swim. Intern should be able to work well with a team and be able to complete task in a timely and professional manner. A happy person is desirable.
The applicant must be a U.S. citizen or U.S. permanent legal resident (“green-card-holder”) between the ages of 18 and 35 years old. Prior to starting this position a government security background clearance will be required.
VEHICLE/DRIVER'S LICENSE REQUIREMENTS
Applicant must have a valid driver’s license, good driving record, and personal vehicle are required for this
position. Park housing is available at Pine Island in Everglades National Park; this is a substantial distance from the SFCN office (26 miles away - 40 min drive time - a personnel vehicle is necessary). Miami is neither a pedestrian nor a cyclist friendly city- a car is necessary for transportation in the local area. Due to frequent rain storms and aggressive driving in Miami a motor cycle is not recommended.
Park housing is provided at no cost to the participant. Park housing is available at Pine Island in Everglades
National Park; this is a substantial distance from the SFCN office (26 miles away - 40 min drive time – therefore a personal vehicle is necessary). The housing is group housing, with up to 6 housemates. There are 3 rooms, so each room has 2 roommates. There is a shared kitchen. Interns will need to provide their own food and linens. Cleaning is responsibility of everyone and it is expected that shared living space and personnel spaces will be kept in a clean and orderly manner.
INTERNSHIP START/END DATES
Start Date: 5/21/2018
End Date: 8/3/2018
Mandatory Career Workshop will be held from August 5 – 9, 2018
Are these dates flexible? Yes
$5,760, all travel and housing costs will be covered
PHYSICAL/NATURAL & WORK ENVIRONMENT
Physical/Natural Environment: The majority of the work is office work. However, there is some amount of field work as the project progresses. The field work is from a small boat. Interns must be able to swim. Florida is hot
and buggy in the summer months and there are frequent thunderstorms. Keen appreciation of the weather, and working in hot and humid environment is a must. Hurricanes are always a possibility in South Florida. Frost is not an issue but exposure to torrential downpours can and will chill one to the bone.
The SFCN is located between Homestead and Miami, Florida. Both areas have a very large Latino and diverse population that allow individuals to be exposed to a wide range of cultural experiences. Miami’s 2.5 million residents are among the most diverse in the country.
Work Environment: The majority of the work is office work. However, there is some amount of field work as the project progresses. The field work is from a small boat. Interns must be able to swim. South Florida is a wonderful
outdoor location with lots of water activities: boating, wind surfing, sailing, beach activities (South Beach),
snorkeling, diving, and recreational fishing. This last summer the SFCN hosted 2 interns and there is opportunity to interact with seasonal Everglades Staff.
MENTORING AND LEARNING GOALS
Mentoring: The intern will be mentored members of the SFCN staff. The intern will be directly supervised by the
SFCN Community Ecologist who will oversee the entire project. The intern will collaborate with the SFCN Avian Technician for guidance bird sampling.
The intern will meet with the community ecologist and the Avian Technician; initially daily at the beginning of the internship, then less frequently. Once the intern has a full grasp of the project an outline will be generated by the intern with accomplishments and deadlines determined. The intern will meet regularly to give updates on the project work; reporting both successes and shortcomings. Since science is a dynamic process these interactions will help solve problems via brainstorming, redirection, and determine the most practical and defensible solutions. The report and the power point presentation will be made to the science and technical board members.
We have found from past experience it is better to have very specific tasks that are the responsibility of the intern but then leave open a venue for the intern to explore. For example, one of our monitoring programs monitors water temperature on the coral reef. This is a very long term monitoring program with over 20 yrs of bihourly data. The main task of the intern was to use R-code to determine correlations between sensors and back fill missing data. The intern completed that task but then went on to use R coding to link the long term reef water temperature data sets to satellite derived sea surface water temperature data set. This gives the monitoring program a more expansive view of the world. This was accomplished during his 11 week internship. This type of project instills ownership and feeling of professional collaboration.
Interns will be mentored by Robert Muxo (who has monitored colonial nesting birds for the last five years) and Dr. Kevin R. T. Whelan (who has been the SFCN ecologist since 2007). Dr. Whelan has been affiliated faculty with the Earth and the Environment Department at Florida International University since 2005. Dr. Whelan has mentored seven independent study students to perform internships with the SFCN. Two independent study students are currently in graduate school, and six are currently employed in natural resource monitoring. Additionally, four National Science Foundation Research Experience for Undergrads (REU) have worked with Dr. Whelan. One of the REU’s (2004) was able to build upon his experiences to become a National Park Service employee. The second REU (2012) had a poster presentation at 9th INTECOL International Wetlands Conference and is now a NPS employee. The third REU (2013) finished sampling soil nutrient samples at each SET site and was able to gain full time employment with Miami-Dade natural resources monitoring department. The fourth is completing her undergraduate schooling. Finally, there have been two (2012 and 2015) George Melendez Wright interns who have completed their internship. One has gone on to become an NPS employee and one is finishing her graduate schooling. Finally, we have had 2 NPS Academy interns (2016, 2017) and one Mosaic intern (2017). Of these interns one is in graduate school, one is finishing their undergraduate and one has taken a job in the environmental field. The SFCN has a successful internship program that takes the time to empower the intern to reach for the next step in professional development.
Learning Goals: The intern will gain the skills necessary to investigate avian nesting from low level aerial photography; this information will be confirmed by ground truth (field) visits of the colonies from a boat. The intern will be present for the drone acquisition of the colonial bird imagery.
The intern will develop basic skills utilizing GPS data collection, ArcMAP GIS data editing and manipulation, storing data in a spatially enabled personal geodatabase, and generating and following standard operating procedures looking at interpersonal and intrapersonal variation in nest determinations. Finally, the intern will be
part of a team of professional scientists that comprises the South Florida/ Caribbean Inventory and Monitoring
Once the pilot project is completed the intern will present the results to the Science and Technical Board member from the park being monitored. The presentation will indicate the general results along with any caveats that need to be understood. A decision will be made on whether to move forward with a large scale monitoring program based on the results from this pilot work.
PRESENTING PROJECT RESULTS
The deliverables for the Mosaic intern project are: 1) the collection of nest success data. 2) The establishment of
specific methods to perform the tracking of nest fate through time. 3) Comparison of nest success results to other covariate factors, 4) Compare nest count data from the traditional helicopter platform with oblique photography to the drone acquired imagery, 5) all of the above documented in a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP), with emphasis on the processing of the collected data. These 5 goals are achievable during the internship time interval because we are building upon existing work from the network and a number of the steps can be accomplished simultaneously.
Once the pilot project is completed the intern will present the results to the Science and Technical board member from Biscayne National Park. The presentation will indicate the general results along with any caveats that need to be understood. A decision will be made on whether to move forward with a large scale monitoring program based on the results from this pilot work. Additionally, the results will be communicated to the general public via a resource brief and through our web page dedicated to our vital sign monitoring programs.
Since the intern will be working on the SFCN vital sign monitoring program there will be an introduction to well established and vetted SOPs and the importance of proper data collection, management, and timely reporting of information to park management. The intern will be introduced to successful planning of sound monitoring programs including sampling design, training, data collection, data entry, data checking, analysis, and effective reporting.
We have found from past experience it is better to have very specific tasks that are the responsibility of the
intern but then leave open a venue for the intern to explore. These projects help out with the overall monitoring project, but are run by the intern and may take the monitoring in a new direction. For example, one of our monitoring programs monitors water temperature on the coral reef. This is a very long term monitoring program with over 20 yrs of bi-hourly data. The main task of the intern was to use R-code to determine correlations between sensors and back fill missing data. The intern completed that task but then went on to us R coding to link the long term reef water temperature data sets to satellite derived sea surface water temperature data set. This gives the monitoring program a more expansive view of the world. This was accomplished during his 11 week internship. This type of project instills ownership and feeling of professional collaboration.
The intern will meet with the ecologist and the avian biologist; initially daily at the beginning of the internship, then less frequently. Once the intern has a full grasp of the project an outline will be generated by the intern with accomplishments and deadlines determined. The intern will meet regularly to give updates on the project work; reporting both successes and shortcomings. Since sciences is a dynamic process these interactions will help solve problems via brainstorming, redirection, and determine the most practical and defensible solutions.