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A Summer by the Sea for Smith Sophomore

Emily Burrows ’07 as Moe the Manatee

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 summer internship.

“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.

Emily Burrows at the MOEC

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 sea.

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.

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