Press Release: Clean Ocean Access Releases Comprehensive Intern Report

MIDDLETOWN – Clean Ocean Access (COA) recently released a comprehensive report detailing the growth and success of the organization’s internship program, including profiles of interns both past and present. Since the launch of the internship program in 2015, COA has mentored twenty-nine high school, undergraduate and graduate students, who have engaged in professional internships in environmental science, education and research, as well as communications, marketing and finance.

This report demonstrates the diversity of interests and interdisciplinary backgrounds of students who intern with COA, as well as the different universities that the organization works with throughout the year, including both in-state and out-of-state institutions. Students use the invaluable experiences gained during their internships at COA to build professional networks and advance their future careers.

“I was motivated to intern with COA because I heard about all the work the organization does on Aquidneck Island,” said Eileen Dillon, communications and marketing intern during fall 2018. “It was a really awesome opportunity to be part of something where I could see myself making a difference in the community.”

Students who have pursued internships with COA have moved on to work as scientists, instructors and science experts in diverse fields across the private, nonprofit, federal and higher education sectors. Several internships have also resulted in full-time employment with the organization, including marine debris specialist, Max Kraimer, who completed three consecutive internships with COA and program manager, Eva Touhey, who was the organization’s first intern in 2015.

COA looks forward to growing and expanding its internship program, offering meaningful mentorship and experiential learning opportunities to students interested in engaging in environmental nonprofit work. During the spring 2019 semester alone, COA expects to bring on 10 interns to assist in environmental science, communications, environmental education, and policy research work.

“I strive to go the extra mile for my interns by enabling them to take on their own projects and encouraging students to play to their strengths,” said executive director, Dave McLaughlin. “The results of this have been extraordinary.”

Students have the opportunity to pursue summer, fall and spring internships during which they work alongside COA’s dedicated staff, board, volunteers and citizen scientists to advance the organization’s mission to eliminate marine debris, improve coastal water quality, and protect and preserve shoreline access on Aquidneck Island.

COA currently has environmental education and communications and marketing internship opportunities available for the spring 2019 semester. Interested candidates can find out more and apply by visiting COA’s employment and internships opportunity page.

Meet Our Environmental Science Intern: Emma Gettman

When it comes to water quality monitoring, no one knows the waterscape better than Emma Gettman. As an environmental science intern at Clean Ocean Access (COA) this fall semester, Emma has helped to improve coastal water quality on Aquidneck Island through the water quality monitoring and beach cleanup programs.

Emma is an Ocean State native and loves exploring the underwater world day and night. Growing up in North Kingstown, Rhode Island, she remembers making sand castles with her dad and loves night swimming.

“I’ve always loved the ocean and wanted to work at an organization where I can help make a difference,” says Emma, who is senior at the University of Rhode Island’s College of the Environment and Life Sciences, pursuing a degree in environmental economics with a minor in sustainability.  

Emma spent a semester studying abroad half way around the world at Lincoln University in New Zealand, where she worked alongside PhD students researching genetic changes in soil microbes as a result of invasive species. Her genuine curiosity and scientific research skills led her to pursue an internship with COA in September 2018. In addition to monitoring water quality and helping run beach cleanups, Emma has also helped write reports, enter data, and track marine debris collected in the marina trash skimmers.

A typical Thursday morning for Emma entails waking up in the early morning and driving out to different access points across Aquidneck Island, where she then collects water samples. These samples are then delivered to the Rhode Island Department of Health for further analysis and testing of Enterococci, bacteria found in human and animal intestines that indicate the presence of fecal matter and potential risk of harmful diseases in water systems.

COA has been monitoring water quality year-round since 2006, helping to improve water quality in our favorite swimming spots around Aquidneck Island. In fact, COA volunteers and environmental science interns, like Emma, continue to monitor water quality September through May, when state-wide monitoring is not performed.

“I’m interested in advancing a sustainable and healthy environment, and I enjoy learning about different conservation strategies,” says Emma, who will be graduating from URI this December. After graduation she hopes to do more traveling and engage in environmental work that allows her to continue educating the public about environmental sustainability.

Meet Our Program Manager: Eva Touhey

Working in ocean conservation, I can teach people about something that I care about deeply with the hopes that it will inspire others to care just as much as I do.”

Eva Touhey grew up immersed in the island life. Growing up in Portsmouth, Rhode Island on Aquidneck Island, she’s lived within minutes of the coast and surrounded by the waters of the Ocean State, so protecting and preserving ocean health is a topic near and dear to her.

Eva earned her bachelor’s degree in biology in 2015 from Hobart and William Smith (HWS) Colleges, located in the heart of New York State’s Finger Lakes region. Before coming to Clean Ocean Access (COA), Eva gained experience working as an animal caretaker assistant at the HWS biology department and an aquarist intern with Save The Bay.

She first discovered COA through a beach cleanup in her hometown and quickly became inspired to advance the budding organization’s mission. Eva began interning with COA in the fall of 2015, working to organize and analyze the Seaweed Nutrient Analysis Program (SNAP) two-year raw data set. She led presentations about the watershed, sources of pollution in the watershed, and pollution prevention. She later joined the team as an education coordinator, helping to develop hands-on environmental curriculum for elementary school students across Aquidneck Island.

“We didn’t have an office and I met with Dave in coffee shops to discuss the project I was working on,” recalls Eva. “In the three years I have been involved with COA, we have grown a lot as an organization. We now have an office, a solid work team and great interns.”

Eva is now COA’s program manager and oversees the organization’s programming, volunteer management, and advocacy efforts. “I am motivated to stay with COA because we have so much potential to do more great work, and I really am interested and excited to see where it takes us,” she adds.

As she works to finish her master’s degree in marine affairs at the University of Rhode Island this year, Eva aims to educate Rhode Islanders about the importance of having policies to protect the environment, though she is hopeful that environmental protection can be achieved without strict policies, but instead through instilling environmentally-responsible behavior in the community.

Eva’s master’s thesis, entitled “The Influence of Plastic Bag Bans on Pro-environmental Behaviors in Rhode Island Coastal Communities,” analyzes the effects of plastic bag bans on individual behaviors, and takes an in-depth look at people’s awareness of and involvement in environmental groups, their awareness of plastic bag bans in their community and their general support for a state-wide plastic bag ban. She will be presenting on her research as part of COA’s Ocean Science Speaker series in spring 2019.

Where did you grow up?

I grew up in Portsmouth attending the Portsmouth public school system and am now living in Newport. Aquidneck Island is home!

What is your first memory of the ocean?

I am not sure what my first memory of the ocean is, but I remember taking family summer vacations to York Beach, Maine and spending time looking for sand dollars along the beach. My parents started bringing me to the beach at a very young age and I have memories of swimming with my dad and playing in the sand.

What is your favorite ocean activity?

Being a beach bum. I can go to the beach for hours on end and sit, read a book, go for a swim, take a nap and repeat. I am dive certified and would love to dive more often than I get to right now. I also really like looking in tide pools and seeing what little critters are there.

What motivates you to work in ocean conservation?

Growing up on Aquidneck Island, the ocean has always been home. I can’t really imagine living anywhere that’s not within minutes of the coastline. Working in ocean conservation is very personal and I can’t “sea” (haha) myself doing anything else. By working in ocean conservation, I can teach people about something that I care about deeply with the hopes that it will inspire others to care just as much as I do. We take a lot of the benefits from the marine environment for granted, and if we keep abusing this, we are going to be in much deeper trouble in the future.


Meet Our Research Assistant: Sabrina Pereira

Ever since she was a young child playing in the ocean and on sandy beaches, Sabrina Pereira has always been fascinated by the marine environment and dedicated to protecting it for future generations.

Before working at Clean Ocean Access (COA) Sabrina worked as Fisheries Technician for the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, where she interviewed recreational fishermen on their daily fishing trips and identified and measured their catches. She also has prior aquarist and environmental education experience interning at the Rhode Island nonprofit, Save the Bay.

After graduating from the University of Rhode Island (URI) with a dual bachelor’s in applied mathematics and secondary education in 2016, Sabrina worked as a high school mathematics teacher preparing lessons and assessments in college preparatory Algebra 1, Algebra 2 and Geometry.

Currently, she is pursuing her master’s in marine affairs from URI. Her graduate research focuses on analyzing Rhode Islanders’ perceptions of marine plastic pollution to better inform municipal and statewide legislation that mitigates plastic inputs into the marine environment. 

Sabrina joined Clean Ocean Access in 2018 working on the “Research Needs for Marine Beaches” grant project that aims to advance the understanding of bacteria at high recreational use beaches in Rhode Island. She hopes to make a difference  by developing a successful, predictive model for beach managers to determine when to close beaches due to high bacteria concentrations.

By creating this statistical tool in collaboration with the Rhode Island Department of Health, Sabrina hopes to preserve both the health of Rhode Islanders’ and of Rhode Island’s marine beaches.

Where did  you grow up?

I am a Rhode Islander, born and raised. I grew up in the town of Coventry, where I still reside today.

What is your first memory of the ocean?

Having grown up in the Ocean State, I attribute my love for the ocean and conservation to the many, long days spent playing on the beaches of Jamestown and Narragansett with my extended family throughout my childhood.

What is your favorite ocean activity?

On a hot and sunny day I can be found kayaking some of Rhode Island’s pristine bodies of water and with my recent SCUBA certification I hope to start diving deep into these environments to explore marine ecosystems and hopefully some of shipwrecks off of Rhode Island’s coast someday!

What motivates you to work in ocean conservation?

I feel that my early memories spent around the ocean with loved ones helped shape my future motivations and efforts in marine preservation work since I hope to keep the ocean accessible to and safe for all who wish to recreate and subsist around it.