A Summer by the Sea for Smith
Though prancing about a baseball
field dressed as “Moe the Manatee” wasn’t
in Emily Burrows’ job description, the experience turned
out to be among the highlights of the rising junior’s
“I still can’t believe
I was a mascot,” recalls Burrows of the night she played
Moe the Manatee at a St. Lucie Mets baseball game for “Mets
Help the Manatees” night. “It was an amazing and
surreal experience that I will add to my list of adventures."
When she’s not portraying
a manatee, Burrows spends much of her time at the Manatee
Observation and Education Center (MOEC) in Fort Pierce, Florida,
researching, tracking and watching the massive-but-graceful
sea mammals. Through Smith’s Praxis program, Burrows
serves as education intern and naturalist for the MOEC, a
nonprofit organization begun by the Fort Pierce Utilities
Authority to provide education on the endangered Florida manatee
and other important ecology issues.
The manatee, which is closely
related to the elephant, typically grows to a weight of 1,000
pounds and a length of 10 feet. the gentle animals usually
live in warm water near coastal areas. The Florida manatee
population is threatened by the destruction of its natural
habitat, inadvertent captures in fishing nets, collisions
with boats, harassment and other causes.
Burrows spends a typical week
at the center writing text and building exhibitions on manatees
and other animals, such as sea turtles (also endangered),
guiding tours, teaching classes and reading to children about
local sea life. She also finds time to occasionally row a
kayak around the Indian River Lagoon near Fort Pierce, and
sometimes swim with the manatees there.
Frequently she rises before sunrise
to go “turtling” – roaming the beach near
her home looking for recently hatched sea turtles that may
need help digging out of the heavy sand and swimming out to
Since heavy hurricanes lashed
Fort Pierce last year, the beach sand has become heavy and
muddy with clay, Burrows explains. When sea turtles lay their
eggs in the sand, as they have for thousands of years, their
new offspring are not able to dig through the thick sediment.
Local volunteers, dubbed “Turtle Mothers,” rove
the beach to assist the young sea turtles with their ocean
migration. Burrows recently accompanied Turtle Mother Grace,
a 78-year-old sea turtle rescuer, on a mission to dig out
baby turtles and place them near the water.
“We found more than 20
live turtles that would have been trapped,” she says.
“We gently placed them near the waterline and they ‘flippered’
their way in.”
Burrows is deeply interested
in ecology and environmental issues, and may study marine
biology at some point, she says. She sought an internship
that would satisfy her interests in environmental fieldwork
and ecology while allowing an early-summer commitment to coach
a summer league swim team.
At Smith, Burrows is pursuing
a double major in American and Latin American studies. “I
chose those majors because I’m interested in folkloric
preservation of the Americas,” she explains.
Meanwhile, she’ll spend
a few more weeks in Florida monitoring the manatees, rescuing
sea turtles and possibly dressing up again like Moe the Manatee.