An internship growing my skills as a science researcher, educator, and communicator

Hi! My name is Jonah Pereyra, and I am a scholar in the Ernest F. Hollings Scholarship class of 2022. This past summer, I had the pleasure of interning at Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve (Rookery Bay NERR) in Naples, Florida.

Three people in fieldwork clothes squat down in a mangrove forest, proudly posing behind a soil core that is nearly as long as a meter stick they are using to measure it.

Jonah Pereyra, a 2022 Hollings scholar, posing with a soil core with his mentor Marissa Figueroa and volunteer Mike Telles among the mangroves in Rookery Bay NERR. (Image credit: Courtesy of Jonah Pereyra)

My research

At Rookery Bay, I worked as an intern with the Coastal Training Program offsite link and conducted research into the amount of carbon dioxide taken from the atmosphere and stored by mangrove forests in Rookery Bay. Specifically, I had two questions:

  1. Do mangrove die-offs impact the amount of carbon stored in the roots and soils of mangrove forests?
  2. How do restoration efforts impact carbon stored in dying mangrove forests?

To answer these questions, I worked with researchers at the reserve to collect soil cores within a die-off. I then brought these soil cores back to the lab, where I isolated and weighed the mangrove roots. By using the dry weight of the roots, I was able to get an analog for the amount of carbon stored in the roots of a dying mangrove forest. I also collected measurements of the canopy cover at each of my sites, allowing me to see whether or not the amount of vegetation cover correlated with the amount of carbon stored in the soil.

Collecting soil cores
Jonah stands in a wetland with muddied water coming midway up his knee-high boots. He pushes down on a meter-long soil corer and looks at the camera.
Jonah Pereyra collecting a soil core at Rookery Bay NERR. (Image credit: Marissa Figueroa)
Jonah stands in a mangrove forest, holding a meter-long soil corer that is nearly full with a muddy soil core.
Jonah holding one of the soil cores he collected during his internship. (Image credit: Marissa Figueroa)
Jonah and Marissa stand in a marshy area and look at a soil core with a meter stick held up to it. Jonah holds a knife as though he is preparing to remove the core from the corer and put it into a labeled Ziploc bag held by Marissa.
Jonah and his mentor, Marissa Figueroa, examine a soil sample. (Image credit: Jay Black)
Jonah stands in a marshy mangrove forest and looks down at a section of a muddy soil core he holds in his hands. In the background, the rest of the soil core remains inside of the soil corer.
Jonah Pereyra closely examines one of his soil samples. (Image credit: Marissa Figueroa)

Sharing my findings with stakeholders

As the Coastal Training Program intern, I also got to speak with stakeholders in the counties surrounding Rookery Bay and learn how my research could best benefit and serve their needs. The role of the Coastal Training Program at every NERR is to put research and science in the hands of policymakers and ecosystem managers in the region to help them make informed decisions about the threats and concerns facing their estuaries and marine environments.

I was able to build my skills as a researcher, explore my love of the ocean and its wildlife, and grow my skills as a communicator and science educator... 

Jonah Pereyra

Collaborating on other ongoing research at Rookery Bay

My internship wasn’t all walking through the swamps though. While at Rookery Bay, I was able to dip my toes into a range of different projects. These projects gave me some incredible experiences and up close interactions with marine wildlife. I got to hold my first shark while helping with shark research within the estuary and I was able to see a baby sea turtle make its way to the ocean while assisting with sea turtle nesting research. 

Jonah sits on a boat at night, holding a shark that looks to be about foot and a half long.
Jonah poses with a neonate blacktip shark (Carcharhinus limbatus) caught as part of ongoing shark tagging efforts within the estuaries of Rookery Bay NERR. All shark handling was done for research purposes under Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission permit number SAL-22-0059-SRP. (Image credit: Morgan Zeleny)

With this internship and the NOAA Hollings Program, I was able to build my skills as a researcher, explore my love of the ocean and its wildlife, and grow my skills as a communicator and science educator, which I hope to take with me throughout my career. 

A headshot of Jonah Pereyra.
Jonah Pereyra, 2022 Hollings scholar

Jonah is a 2022 Hollings scholar and rising senior at the University of Maryland studying environmental science and policy (concentration in marine and coastal management) and a dual degree in atmospheric and oceanic sciences.