JOHNSON CITY (ETSU) – Caroline Parris, a rising sophomore at East Tennessee State University, spent six weeks rehabilitating sea turtles in Playa Junquillal, Costa Rica, for her Summer of Service internship through the Roan Scholars Leadership Program. She helped study and protect sea turtles on the Caribbean coast by facilitating nesting and rehabilitating turtles negatively impacted by humans.
Peak sea turtle nesting season is March-July, and Parris patrolled beaches to protect eggs, hatchlings and adult sea turtles. Her daily tasks included digging compost piles, planting trees and grasses, and going on night patrols to collect eggs before wildlife or poachers take them. These patrols last about four hours and, depending on the tide, end between 8 p.m. and 1 a.m.
Parris experienced her first sea turtle hatchings as she and her volunteer team released 36 Olive Ridley sea turtle hatchlings back into the Pacific Ocean.
“I actually had the honor of helping count the turtles right out of their nest,” she said. “I have never witnessed something so incredible in my life.”
She chose sea turtle conservation because of her passion for the environment and conservation. In March, Parris stopped using all single-use plastic products. Now, she is seeing the impact of plastic consumption as it makes up 99% of the Costa Rican beach debris she cleaned daily.
“The 300 locals of Playa Junquillal are very passionate about the environment and take great measures to protect their beach, so the majority of the garbage is not coming from them,” she said. “It is coming from the ocean and everyday people all across the globe. This just goes to prove that single-use plastics are something that we should all be conscious of and try to use as little as possible.”
Parris advocates for a plastic-free east Tennessee. She’s also passionate about working with local chapters of Girl Scouts of America to educate local scouts and help them earn sea turtle badges.
“Awareness and activism often starts with our youngest generation,” she said. “I would love to empower young girls to be passionate about wildlife conservation and the environment.”
Parris’s volunteer work is part of her Summer of Service with the Roan Scholars Leadership Program at ETSU. During the summer after their first year, all Roan Scholars are expected to serve for six weeks with a nonprofit or service-oriented organization, adding value to that organization and making an impact while building leadership skills.
“The Summer of Service allows Roan Scholars to expand their horizons, learn, and grow; while also benefitting the organization and their community,” said Roan Director Scott Jeffress. “Caroline chose a service internship that both serves others and directly aligns with her interests, which is something we encourage Scholars to do.”
Parris is double majoring in philosophy and communication studies and is a member of the Roan Class of 2022. She is a graduate of Pisgah High School in Canton, North Carolina.