BHI Conservancy Team

Melissa Blackmon Director of Development

Melissa grew up in Northern Maryland, before heading to Virginia to study Speech/Communications at Mary Washington College.  She remained in the area for four years, working as a on air reporter for Adelphia Communications and local feature TV host.  She moved to New York City to work behind the scenes in broadcasting, as the head of Media Relations for a production company.  While remaining with the company for 15 years, Melissa and her husband resided in Boston and Northern Virginia, before settling outside of Raleigh.  Melissa began working in fundraising as the Development Associate for Donate Life NC, promoting organ donation.    Melissa's love of Bald Head Island began several years ago on a family vacation.  Melissa is married to Brent and has three very active children, Max, Jack, and Sofie.  Outside of work, Melissa enjoys reading, yoga, and spending time with her family.

Pam Cunningham, Operations Specialist

Pam Cunningham Operations Specialist


Raised in Boston, Pam moved to North Carolina from Houston, Texas  where she raised her two daughters, Shannon and Caitlin, and owned and operated two Wild Birds Unlimited Nature Stores, enabling her  to fulfill her mission “to bring people and nature together” in an urban environment.   She is very happy to live in beautiful and serene Brunswick County and to help to continue her mission on Bald Head Island with the Conservancy

Beth Darrow Senior Scientist

Beth grew up in Northern Virginia, vacationing with her family in Delaware and Cape Cod as a child, where she participated in naturalist programs and developed a passion for coastal ecology. She holds a B.A. in Biology and Environmental Science from the University of Virginia, an M.S. in Marine Science from the College of William and Mary, and a Ph.D. in Marine Science from the University of South Alabama. Beth has lived in Wilmington since 2014, and taught classes and led research projects in UNCW’s Department of Biology and Marine Biology for four years. Her research specialty is estuarine ecology; specifically, using bivalves such as oysters and clams as indicators of land-use change. She is interested in water quality, marsh ecology, and exploring how humans can sustainably fit into the coastal environment. When she is not at BHIC she can also be found at her sons’ baseball games or Cub Scout events, or gardening, kayaking, or cycling. Beth is looking forward to further developing the Conservancy’s research program, and strengthening relationships with scientific collaborators in the Cape Fear region and beyond.

Sharon Eisele Sales Associate  •  Turtle Central

Sharon grew up on the north New Jersey shore where she spent many happy hours in and near the ocean, volunteering to plant grasses to slow dune erosion, watching osprey nest every season, documenting oral histories of the Sandy Hook Lighthouse and just enjoying all the different beaches.  When her husband Don’s job took them to Greensboro, NC in 2002 she was dismayed to discover the beach was 250 miles away!  They quickly made their way to the Brunswick County beaches, bought a weekend place and finally retired full-time to Southport in 2012.  She began working part-time at Turtle Central Gift Shop in July 2015 as a Sales Associate.  She enjoys working for a non-profit organization with such a worthy mission and is looking forward to participating in the many Conservancy programs and contributing to the success of the gift shop.  She is a graduate of Monmouth University and  Fairleigh Dickinson University with a B.S. in Education and an M.A. in Psychology/Organization Behavior and had a long career in Human Resources and Training & Development.  In her spare time she enjoys traveling, cycling, yoga, golf and reading.

Emily Goetz

Emily Goetz Coastal Scientist


Emily grew up outside of Harrisburg, PA, and studied conservation biology at Middlebury College in Vermont. While she loves working outside in any capacity, she especially enjoys coastal ecology and wildlife field research. Emily started at the Conservancy as an intern in the spring of 2017 and stayed on as an AmeriCorps member through the Conservation Trust for North Carolina. As the Coastal Scientist, she is excited to manage the Sea Turtle Protection Program and assist with the wide array of conservation projects that the Conservancy facilitates. In her free time, she enjoys being in or near any body of water, ideally an ocean.

Catherine Kotarba Coastal Educator


I grew up in a small town in Illinois but found my way to Arizona and graduated from Arizona State University with a major in Biology concentrating in Conservation Biology and Ecology and with a Minor in Sustainability. Being in conservation education I am really motivated by inspiring my surrounded community to be active outdoors and connect with nature so they can see the beauty it as to offer and encourage them to take action to help the environment. I am most excited to work with my team and engage with the community about conservation issues. In my free time I love to read and watch Harry Potter, be outdoors and take wildlife photos.


Poul Lindegaard, Director of Operations

Poul Lindegaard Assistant Director


Poul was born and raised in Denmark and graduated from the Danish Technical University with a Masters degree in Chemical Engineering. He is married to Dee from England and have two kids, Sebastian, 23, and Louise, 21, who were both born in the US. Poul worked for a Danish biotech company for approx. 25 years, primarily heading up technical organizations with responsibility for North America. He has been coming to BHI for more than 15 years, been a property owner and a life member of the Conservancy for approx. 5 years and have been a board member and volunteering in various capacities for the Conservancy for the last year. When he is not at the Conservancy, you will likely find him at the golf course or on the beach swimming and fishing!

Carol O'Donnell, Sales Clerk

Carol O'Donnell Sales Associate  •  Turtle Central

Carol O’Donnell has been with Turtle Central Gift Shop for nearly 3 years now. She is our retail specialist as she grew up working in her mom’s children’s boutique, and enjoyed a career with a home interiors company. She is a vibrant, customer service oriented salesperson and enjoys interacting with our members and customers. She has two sons and two gorgeous grandchildren who she loves to dote on. She is married to Tod and enjoys walking her dog, reading and volunteering at the Southport Visitors center.

Pam W. Smith, Assistant Manager

G. Christopher Shank Executive Director


Chris was born in Maryland but has had a love for the North Carolina coast since he was a young kid.  His family has been vacationing along Brunswick County beaches for more than 40 years and he also lived in Wilmington for a decade.  He holds a B.S. in Electrical Engineering from Virginia Tech and M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Marine Sciences from UNC Chapel Hill.  He conducted his Ph.D. research on the Cape Fear River system with scientists in the UNCW Chemistry Department, and also worked for several years for the Lower Cape Fear River Program at the UNCW Center for Marine Science.  Before joining the Conservancy, he was a faculty member in the Department of Marine Science at the University of Texas at Austin for 10 years where he ran a coastal research lab and taught numerous courses on marine conservation and coastal ecology.  Chris also has considerable public education and outreach experience and is always excited to share his love for and knowledge of the awe-inspiring habitats and species of Bald Head Island.

Pam W. Smith, Assistant Manager

Pam W. Smith Retail Manager  •  Turtle Central


Born in Elizabeth City, NC on the Pasquotank River, Pam was raised to love and respect the water and its inhabitants. Living near the Outer Banks of NC she spent many summers on the Northeastern North Carolina barrier islands including Hatteras and Ocracoke. She graduated with a degree in Textile and Apparel Management with a business concentration from NCSU in Raleigh, NC. She initially worked as a materials utilization engineer within the textile manufacturing industry in Durham, NC before following her dream of owning her own business. She ran and operated a Bridal and Formal wear shop for 10 years before moving to the Wilmington, NC area. Pam first travelled to Bald Head Island in ’99 while on a “Lighthouses of NC” tour. She fell in love with the island and was thrilled with the opportunity to work at Turtle Central marrying her love of Coastal NC with retail. Pam enjoys reading just about anything she can get her hands on, dancing and traveling with friends and family.

Heather Thornton Marketing & Online Support Associate  •  Turtle Central

Heather grew up on the coast of North Carolina where she spent her childhood combing the beaches for seashells and weather worn treasures to turn into jewelry. Her passion for design and all things coastal ultimately turned into a business called Patina Queen where she spends countless hours in her studio manipulating raw metals with custom patinas to use in her work. Her jewelry designs have been featured in numerous books, magazines, on TV and in movies. She currently designs jewelry for the TV show Good Behavior filmed in Wilmington, NC. Heather is a graduate of East Carolina University and enjoys contributing to BHI Conservancy's mission as a marketing associate, running e-commerce and social media.

Darice Voigt Finance Manager

Darice was born in Indiana but has lived all over the United States in places like New Jersey, Colorado, Wyoming, Nevada, and Arizona with her most recent relocation to the South Carolina/North Carolina area. Having lived in the desert states for a number of years, her love of the ocean is what brought her to the coast, while her love of nature and sea turtles is what brought her to the Conservancy. She worked as the Controller for a growing company in Arizona and South Carolina for nearly 10 years, before joining our Team.  She is an avid traveler and loves to explore different places in the world and has been to Thailand, Belize, Honduras, and Mexico, just to name a few. In her free time, she can be found near the water doing things like kayaking or parasailing but she also loves anything adventurous. 

Micah Walker White-Tailed Deer Associate Researcher

Micah was born and raised in Wilmington, Delaware, and knew from an early age that he wanted to work with wildlife. As a child Micah and his family vacationed by backpacking and canoe camping throughout many great North American wilderness areas and national parks; these experiences cemented his love of the woods and all the creatures that inhabit it. Micah earned a BS degree in Wildlife Conservation from the University of Delaware.  Since graduation, Micah has worked several seasonal wildlife jobs in places such as: Olympic National Park, Superior National Forest, and Ouachita National Forest, and has managed and studied a variety of animals such as American black bears, gray wolves, white-tailed deer, coyotes, Rocky Mountain elk, and mountain goats. In his free time, Micah enjoys nature photography, swimming, birding, and fishing. Micah has returned to the deer project this year as a graduate student at North Carolina State University. He is pursuing a master’s degree studying the immunocontraceptive project here on the Bald Head Island.

Amber Walters, Communications Specialist

Amber Walters Marketing & Communications Manager


Born in West Virginia and raised in Pennsylvania, Amber spent her summers vacationing with her family in nearby Oak Island, NC.  She received her B.A. in Communications Studies with a concentration in Public Relations from California University of PA.  Her love of nature and the North Carolina coast, in combination with her creative skills, led her to working at the Conservancy in 2015.  She enjoys spending her free time with her family, friends, dogs and cat, as well as anything that involves being outdoors/on the beach.

Emilee Winter

Emilee Winter AmeriCorps Community Outreach & Stewardship Coordinator  

Emilee grew up outside of Raleigh and studied Environmental Science at UNC Wilmington. She loves environmental education and getting people of all ages to get outside and enjoy the world around them. Last year, she served as an AmeriCorps member near Asheville with the Big Brothers Big Sisters program. Continuing with AmeriCorps as the Community Outreach and Stewardship Coordinator, she is excited to get the community involved with the island and the surrounding environment. When she is not volunteering, she loves scuba diving, kayaking and reading. She cannot wait to use her experience creating lessons and activities for volunteers to make Bald Head Island an even more inviting place for everyone to explore.

2018 Fall Interns

McKenna Koons  Conservation/Education Intern

McKenna, an Ohio native, graduated from Coastal Carolina University where she studied Marine Science. She spent three of her undergrad years doing field work on the Savannah River Basin as well as some geophysical research. The ocean is her passion but she also enjoys popcorn, hiking, and especially being on the water. She loves outdoor activities and was a 2018 summer intern for the BHI Conservancy. 


Dani Meeker  Conservation/Education Intern

Dani recently graduated from Christopher Newport University in Newport News, Virginia. She earned her Bachelor’s degree in Organismal Biology and double minored in chemistry and leadership studies. Danielle is originally from Harleysville, Pennsylvania just outside of Philadelphia and spent her summers living in Wildwood, New Jersey.  Last summer, she worked as an environmental education intern at The Wetlands Institute in Stone Harbor, New Jersey. She is most excited to continue the research she started while she was a 2018 summer intern at the BHI Conservancy.  In her free time, you can find Danielle hiking, reading, sitting on the beach or trying to make travel plans that hopefully include scuba diving.


Lara Noren  Conservation/Education Intern

Originally from Minnesota, Lara moved to North Carolina to pursue a degree at the University of North Carolina Wilmington (UNCW). She graduated in May with a degree in marine biology, a concentration in conservation, and a minor in public administration. While attending UNCW, she fell in love with the North Carolina’s beautiful coastline and barrier island ecosystem. She is excited to share her passion for this region with others through environmental education programs and studying this region through the conservancy’s multiple conservation initiatives on the island. When Lara is not working at the conservancy you can find her spending time at the beach, reading books, hiking the trails, and listening to music


Lauren Weinstock Conservation/Education Intern

Growing up in the suburbs of Philadelphia, Lauren adored spending her summers lakeside with family in Virginia. She recently graduated from Tufts University with a B.S. in Biology, focusing on environmental conservation. Lauren was a summer 2018 intern for the BHI Conservancy where she did conservation fieldwork and promoted environmental stewardship. In her free time, Lauren enjoys rock climbing, hiking, swimming, reading, and making art.