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Delaware National Estuarine Research Reserve

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DNERR Summer Interns!

Written on: June 19th, 2018 in Coastal Training ProgramEducation & OutreachResearchSt. Jones Reserve


The DNERR staff would like to welcome the helpful hands of our summer interns!  This group is eager to get to work and learn the tricks of their trade.  We are all looking forward to a fun, educational, and fantastic summer!

Jared Ryan – Education Intern

I am currently a sophomore at the University of Delaware and plan on graduating in the fall of 2019! I am pursuing a double major in Wildlife Ecology and Conservation, as well as Agriculture and Natural Resources. I am the Education Intern under Maggie Pletta, Education Coordinator.  I have always enjoyed wandering through nature and learning about the unique intricacies that allows for an ecosystem to thrive. Generally, I fill my time with exploration of surrounding parks and photography of the flora and fauna within. I one day hope to educate the public of the importance of conservation and how connecting with the earth can change a life for the better.



Mike Snyder – Policy and Communications Intern

Hello, all.  I received a BA in Political Science from Millersville University in 2008, and a JD from Villanova University in 2012 with a focus in Environmental and Energy law.  I am a Policy and Communications Intern under Kelly Valencik, Coastal Training Program Coordinator.  I am an avid golfer and Pittsburgh sports fan.  I also love to hike, climb, birdwatch, and take long walks on the beach.  For that matter, I enjoy walks on the beach of any length.  I hope to save the world, one wetland at a time.  And in the meantime, I look forward to getting know all of you.





Annette Carlson – Research Intern, Hollings Scholar

My name is Annette Carlson; I am a senior at Humboldt State University in Arcata, California. I plan to graduate in the spring of 2019 with a Bachelor’s of Science in Oceanography and a minor in Geology. In my free time I like to hike or go to the beach and play Frisbee with my dog, Venus. I enjoy traveling and experiencing how other people live, I think it helps me grow as a person. At the Reserve, I am a research intern through the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration Hollings Scholar program, under Kari St. Laurent, Research Coordinator. While I’m here, I’ll be looking at carbon stock and how it changes with sediment depth. I’m still evaluating my options on whether I want to attend graduate school or enter the work force after I graduate from Humboldt State. No matter where I end up, I hope to be working toward a better future for humanity and our planet through scientific study and conservation.


Ewan Malenfant – Research Intern 

My name is Ewan Malenfant, I attend Allegheny College with a major in Environmental Science and a double minor in Physics and Astronomy.  I plan to graduate in 2020. This summer I am the Research Intern under Christina Whiteman, Stewardship Coordinator, and Drexel Siok, Environmental Scientist.  My hobbies and interests include tennis, playing the drums, backpacking, and just about any outdoor recreational activity imaginable.  My life goal is to live in the mountains doing environmental science research and field work.  I am most passionate about human environmental impacts, getting off the beaten track, and the complexities of the universe. I’m very curious and always trying to broaden my knowledge.  


Sydney Hall – Research Intern

My name is Sydney Hall, I am a senior at Wesley College studying Environmental Science.  I am a DNERR research intern under Mike Mensinger, Environmental Scientist.  I am looking forward to this experience to gain knowledge about various projects and hands-on experience in the field and the lab.  This opportunity will give me a strong perspective on what a future career in environmental science could be like.  During my free time, I enjoy spending time traveling with my family.


Yay! Fishies Again!

Written on: May 8th, 2018 in Education & OutreachGuest BlogSt Jones Events and ProgramsSt. Jones Reserve

DNERR always offers something unexpected, and recently, one needed only to look overhead to see it. In the lab at the St. Jones Reserve, dual clotheslines were strung with, no, not freshly laundered lab jackets or drip-drying dip-nets, but damp sheets of colorfully daubed paper. The sheets overflowed onto many of the nearby horizontal surfaces.

Though I had already experienced Gyotaku, the Japanese art technique known as fish printing, this guest-blogger did not realize DNERR offers different fish-printing opportunities for the smaller fry among us. The large, rubber fish used by teens and adults can be too much for little hands, I was told, and hence these smaller fish-print stamps.

I eyed the array of creatures — who, in turn, looked right back at me — and found the smiling jellyfish irresistible for its quirky, almost paradoxical combination of hidden danger and overt insouciance.

Headlines in late 2017** announced that a University of Delaware professor, along with a UD grad who’s a researcher at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History, discovered that a type of jellyfish in our region that has long been thought a single species is in fact two: the U.S. Atlantic Sea Nettle (Chrysaora quinquecirrha) and the Atlantic Bay Nettle (Chrysaora chesapeakei). The moral of that story? Even for the experts, there is always more to learn about this big world around us.

The moral of this story? Whether one species or two, those jellies would not take kindly to being dipped in paint and then pressed onto blank art‑paper; so the child-friendly stamps are a great way for kids to interact with these particular marine denizens without incurring “The Wrath of the Chrysaora,” a type of 3-D, sensory, theatrical experience no one wants to have — the jellies included.


** For more information:





Text and photos by M.L. Christmas

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M.L. Christmas, MSM, is a freelance writer/editor living in the Dover area. She is a longtime member of Delaware Press Association and the National Federation of Press Women.


Dancing with Horseshoe Crabs, Under the Stars

Written on: March 27th, 2018 in Education & OutreachGuest BlogResearchVolunteers

Do you recall the mention, in this blog, of the “poetry in Horseshoe Crabs”? (If not, just keyword-search “poetry” on this page.) Now is your chance to prepare for experiencing that poetry for yourself, when “dancing” with the crabs during a real-life beach “party” in support of a good cause: DNERR’s annual Horseshoe Crab Spawning Surveys.

DNERR has several upcoming Horseshoe Crab Survey Training Sessions, in advance of the actual surveys that will be conducted from late April through early July. This year’s training sessions are:
Saturday, April 7:  10 am – Noon, and 2 pm – 4 pm
Further details can be found by clicking here.

Scene from a late-night beach “party” in Delaware: “Dancing” with the Horseshoe Crabs, under a canopy of stars. (Photo: Drexel Siok)

Signing up for a training session, and then being a participant in a count, are great ways for everyday citizens to assist with the advancement of science!  Participating in a Horseshoe Crab Survey is an opportunity to attend a special type of late-night “party” on the beach, at high tide, and to have the privilege of “dancing” around the spawning Horseshoe Crabs while standing under a canopy of stars. Each group uses a portable quadrat for a “dance floor,” its boundaries delineated with a framework of PVC piping. 

This guest-blogger crossed paths recently with DNERR’s Horseshoe Crab Spawning Count Coordinator, Drexel Siok, and with DNERR’s Research Coordinator, Dr. Kari St. Laurent, for the purposes of learning more about the program. Drexel has been coordinating the counts, he said, for about five years.

“We always need new people to help out; but those who have previously completed the training must still come back every three years in order to stay current with procedures.” He continued, “Right now, we are looking for 75 people to participate in the training sessions. The registration for the sessions is done online.”

Kari, noted, “Some of the volunteers come from a distance, such as New England; so they are not necessarily all local people.” Clearly, all are driven by a love for the cause. “We also get a decent amount of school kids, of middle-school and high-school students.”

The training sessions typically cover topics such as biology and management, and they address such questions as why conduct the surveys, who uses the data, and what can — and cannot — be inferred from the data. Drexel and Kari agreed that, “Drawing accurate inferences is not that easy.”

Horseshoe Crab shell affixed with a USFWS tag, used for illustration purposes at the St. Jones Reserve. (Photo: M.L. Christmas)

“For instance,” Drexel explained, “Horseshoe Crabs reach full maturity at 8 years. That is the point at which they start to come up on the beach. So any changes to harvesting policies might not show up for a while in the count data. The spawning survey is also a measure of just the crabs we can see on the beach, and not necessarily the entire population.”

Kari added, “That is also why it is important to look at whole Delaware Bay-wide picture, not what is happening at just one point, on one particular beach, in Delaware.”

As an enticement to would-be survey-participants, she cited the fact that, “The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has a Horseshoe Crab tagging program. Watch for those tags! If you spot one on a crab, and report its number, you can receive a pin [as a prize].”

Drexel noted, “Hundreds to thousands of Horseshoe Crab tags are affixed per year. We have seen maybe 10 or 15 total in our surveys.” It pays to be observant, and therefore DNERR’s having the extra pairs of human eyes out there is important in more ways than one.

“We need a significant amount of people each night of a count,” Kari noted. “Otherwise, that is a data gap we can never get back. We really rely on our interns and volunteers for assisting with these counts.”

Can we rely on YOU to help? Please let us know!


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Text by M.L. Christmas; photos by Drexel Siok and M.L. Christmas, as noted.

M.L. Christmas, MSM, is a freelance writer/editor living in the Dover area. She is a longtime member of Delaware Press Association and the National Federation of Press Women.


New faces are at the DNERR!

Written on: February 12th, 2018 in Blackbird Creek ReserveEducation & OutreachNERRSt. Jones Reserve

We would like to formally welcome and introduce (although a little delayed) our new Environmental Program Manager and Assistant Reserve Manager, Lara Jennings, and our new Assistant Education Coordinator, Rebecca Vermeesch!

Lara Jennings, Environmental Program Manager

Introducing Lara Jennings

Lara joins us as the Environmental Program Manager and Assistant Reserve Manager from the DNREC’s Division of Watershed Stewardship where she spent eight years in various positions including Wetland Field Technician, St. Jones Watershed Coordinator, Environmental Scientist with the Nonpoint Source Program and a Program Manager for the Drainage Program.  She also spent time as an Outreach Specialist with the Division of Fish and Wildlife to help promote wildlife habitat conservation on private lands.  Lara received a Bachelor’s degree from the University of Delaware in Wildlife Conservation where she completed undergraduate research as well as study abroad programs to Costa Rica and Tanzania.  She clearly brings a lot of experience and eagerness to the Reserve, we are excited to welcome her aboard.  In her free time, she enjoys hiking, traveling, visiting the beach, and spending time with her family on their farmette.   




Rebecca Vermeesch, Assistant Education Coordinator

Introducing Rebecca Vermeesch

Rebecca joins us as the Assistant Education Coordinator from DNREC’s Division of Fish and Wildlife where she worked at the DuPont Nature Center educating visitors of all ages about horseshoe crabs and shorebirds.  She has a B.S. in Marine Biology with a dual minor in Environmental Science and Fisheries Science from Rutgers University.  Her college internships working at summer camps, non-profit organizations, and an aquarium has given her experiences in education, research, and interpretation.  Rebecca joins our team with a lot of enthusiasm and a love of horseshoe crabs, so we think she will fit right in with our crew. In her free time, she likes to kayak with her sister and take her dog, Bella, to the beach. 

We are excited to welcome these lovely ladies to the Reserve and look forward to what they will accomplish in the future!


Bon Voyage 2 Johanna! Good Luck 2 Her!

Written on: December 14th, 2017 in Guest BlogVolunteers

To add variety to the blog and to offer a fresh perspective from our visitors, we are inviting guest bloggers to write posts describing their visits and thoughts while at the Reserve. This guest blog is from M.L. Christmas and her send off to Johanna Hripto our Assistant Education Coordinator who has headed off to bigger and better things. Enjoy! (Maggie Pletta, DNERR Education Coordinator & Blog Editor)

Bon Voyage 2 Johanna! Good Luck 2 Her!

Visits to DNERR are always constructive, but beyond taking a specialized walk, a more important reason brought me to the St. Jones Reserve: bidding farewell to Johanna Hripto, Assistant Education Coordinator & Blog Editor. She would soon be leaving DNERR in order to pursue her graduate studies out of state. And my being there that day — and beyond that, my ever having been at the Reserve at all — hinged, at least in part, on a $2 bill.

Yes, a $2 bill. Some people love them. Others hate them. Whichever camp you may occupy, they “still spend,” as we in this household like to quip. They are not rare. They are usually available through your local bank. They are even still in production, at the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing , for release into circulation. What does all of this have to do with the Delaware National Estuarine Research Reserve? Plenty.

Johanna with her “lucky $2 bill”  (aka “emergency money”) and a  framed scan of a graphite sketch by  the guest-blogger.

Part of my “confetti-ing” Johanna with best wishes was presenting her with a “lucky $2 bill” toward her travels. It’s lucky in the sense that the giver hoped the recipient would not necessarily need to spend it, but if she did, that it might come in handy in a pinch. Such was the case with another $2 bill this guest-blogger presented to someone years ago. That other someone, a now-late friend, ended up needing and using that $2 bill, while hundreds of miles from home, during an unusual set of emergency circumstances. The outcome was a happy one.

So I hoped this $2 bill would prove similarly beneficial for Johanna. The note was hers to spend — or not — however she pleased, in the course of her life’s journey, and to know that my late friend would approve. Think of this process as my continuing to pay it forward, $2 at a time. That late friend is the reason I started volunteering at DNERR in the first place, as a means of honoring her memory.

The rest of the “confetti” dropped upon Johanna was a scan of a graphite sketch by Yours Truly, based on a personally snapped photo. The drawing, entitled “Persistence,” seemed apt: imagery of marsh grasses pushing their way up through the boardwalk at the St. Jones Reserve. To put it in metaphorical terms: Things don’t always occur in the way we anticipate them — akin to the unexpected appearance, from the perspective of the flora and fauna, of a boardwalk out on the marsh ‑‑ but one persists anyway, like the marsh grasses, in seeking every opportunity to develop and to reach toward the sun. One must take advantage of those windows of opportunity, those openings between the planks, wherever they are found.

And so it is, whether with the departure of Johanna Hripto or with the twists and turns of our own lives.

Let us all go forth under the watchword, “Persistence!”

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Text and photos by M.L. Christmas.

M.L. Christmas, MSM, is a freelance writer/editor living in the Dover area. She is a longtime member of Delaware Press Association