UNCG senior Zoe Goldstone holds a sea turtle as another intern helps with a daily cleaning for the turtle.

Her research specialty is the tiny bog turtle. But a lot of students know Ann Berry Somers because of sea turtles.

“For some reason, sea turtles resonate with people and they feel a deep connection with them – especially if you get a chance to look them in the eye and have them look back at you,” says Somers, a lecturer in biology.

She taught her popular course last semester on sea turtles: Biology 361. She and her class made two service trips to the sea turtle rescue and rehabilitation center on Topsail Island. This summer, the class continued with a service-learning trip to Costa Rica, during nesting season there.

They had hands-on work with the turtles. “They get to touch the sea turtles. There’s a physical connection in addition to a spiritual connection.”

Sea turtles resonate with people and they feel a deep connection with them.

She inspires not only students in that class. Senior Zoe Goldstone took her course “The Biosphere,” a study of environmental issues in biology. That led to her fulfilling internship caring for sea turtles. “I spoke many times with Ann about her work and the work at the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center – and through her help and encouragement applied and was accepted as a summer intern at the center.”

Somers’ office reveals many students who’ve gone on to work in conservation. There’s also a poster of Costa Rica’s Tortugeuro, “land of the turtle,” which her class visits every other year.

“A magnificent place … and a huge number of nesting turtles there,” she says. Each night, she and her students will quietly venture 4-5 miles along the beach, watching as turtles come ashore, counting eggs as they come out of the mothers, reading tags on turtles – all under strict scientific protocols. One thing that sets the UNCG course apart from other universities’, she says, is a big service aspect to it.

And in this course students have the potential to work with all five sea turtle species, she says.

One year, she and some students silently observed a rare sight: a Hawksbill turtle coming ashore to lay eggs. “It just couldn’t be better. She wasn’t spooked.” But Somers had an almost impossible decision: which student should be selected to count the eggs? “How will I decide?” she explained to a student. The students had the answer, whispering in unison: “It’s easy. You’re going to do it!” Somers treasures those kinds of moments.

“I inspire the students, but they also inspire me.”

Sea turtles provide a powerful way to learn and teach about the human-earth relationship, she says. “What is revealed is the best and worst of humanity. Sea turtles are mangled by boats and nets and hurt by pollution – so much so that they are considered threatened with extinction. And then we see the best – you see hordes of volunteers under the guidance of scientists, helping conserve the sea turtle population.”

It’s the love of science, being passed from one generation to the next. “The late Hollis ‘Doc’ Rogers, a professor here at UNCG, showed me my first sea turtle,” she recalls. She points to his picture on her bulletin board. “He passed the torch to me – and I’ve kept it going.”

Photography by Chris English, University Relations