BHI Conservancy Team
Kelly Armstrong Coastal Educator
Kelly was born and raised in the mountains of New Jersey. She grew up fascinated by anything with water and finally ended up deciding to pursue a BS in Marine Biology at the University of North Carolina Wilmington after witnessing a sea turtle nest hatch. She has interned at the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center, Bald Head Island Conservancy, and volunteered with the Hawaii Island Hawksbill Sea Turtle Project. For two years after college she worked at the NC Aquarium at Fort Fisher in various departments where she learned her love of teaching people about conservation and wildlife around her. She is honored to be back at the Bald Head Island Conservancy and is so happy to call it home again.
Marissa Blackburn Senior Educator
Marissa was born in Maryland and spent her summers vacationing at the beach. Her love of the ocean inspired her to move to North Carolina to attend the University of North Carolina Wilmington, where she earned her B.S. in Marine Biology. After graduation, she spent five years working as an Educator at the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher before accepting her current role at the Bald Head Island Conservancy. She recently earned her Master’s degree in Biology through Miami University. Marissa is a certified NC Environmental Educator, serves on the Board of Environmental Educators of North Carolina, and is passionate about sharing the outdoors with others through educational experiences. Outside of work, Marissa enjoys traveling, exploring nature, and spending time with her husband, Kevin, and their two cats and two dogs.
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.
Desiree Bridge Sales Associate | Turtle Central
Desiree was born in New Jersey, but spent her youth in Naples, Florida, where she loved snorkeling at Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park, kayaking through the mangrove forests, or boating. Desiree’s family moved to King, North Carolina in 1994 and she would spend her free time exploring the local state parks. Graduating from UNC-Greensboro with a B.A. in Dance Choreography and a B.A. in History, she moved to Roanoke Island where she worked as an interpreter at the Roanoke Island Festival Park and the Roanoke Island Maritime Museum. While working at Festival Park she joined the volunteer sailing crew of the site’s recreated 16 th-century sailing ship the Elizabeth II. She was part of the crew when the ship voyaged to Bath, North Carolina for the town’s tercentenary which was filmed by Our State for UNC-TV. Desiree next worked at Old Salem Museum and Gardens in Winston-Salem, North Carolina where she discovered her love of historical baking and cooking techniques. Wishing to further her knowledge of baking science she enrolled at Johnson & Wales University in Charlotte, graduating Summa Cum Laude with a degree in Baking and Pastry. She spent the next couple of years continuing her education and work experience as a professional Baking and Pastry Chef. In 2019 she joined the Turtle Central team and enjoys utilizing her many years’ worth of experience in tourism to help further the goals of TC. She is a board member of the Southport Historical Society. In her free time she continues her studies in history, gardens, naps, and spends as much time as she can outside.
Diane Calhoon Finance Assistant
Diane was born in England but spend the majority of her life living in the hills of Northwest New Jersey. She worked many years for a large finance company before leaving to run the office for her husband's construction firm. Once her and her husband, Mark, were done raising their two children, they decided to move south to enjoy a quieter lifestyle, better climate and the beautiful North Carolina beaches. In her spare time, Diane can be found reading, exploring her local beaches or socializing with family and friends. She is excited to start the next chapter of her life at the Bald Head Island Conservancy.
Beth Darrow Chief 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, taught classes and led research projects in UNCW’s Department of Biology and Marine Biology, and has worked at BHIC leading science and conservation programs since summer 2018. Her research specialty is estuarine and shellfish ecology and stakeholder-driven science, exploring how humans can sustainably fit into the coastal environment. In her free time, she enjoys attending her sons' sports and activities, gardening, and traveling with her family. Beth and the science team are working to further develop the Conservancy’s research program and strengthen relationships with collaborators in the Cape Fear region and beyond.
Amy Dunmire Assistant Retail Manager | Turtle Central
Amy’s father served 27 years in the US Coast Guard and thanks to his service, she spent her childhood living on the East Coast moving from Avalon NJ to Morehead City NC to Newport News VA. She earned her degree in Psychology from James Madison University and worked for the YMCA as a School Age Care Director in Florida and Virginia. After 13 years working for the non-profit, Amy self-describes that she ran away and jumped on a cruise ship—Disney Cruise Line to be exact. The beach and sea is always in her veins. While spending 3 years as a Youth Activities Manager on the ships, visiting many islands in the Caribbean, crossing the Panama Canal (4 times), visiting Hawaii and Alaska, she gave up the cruise life and moved permanently to Southport NC. She also retired from child care and began working in retail first at Cattail Cottage in Southport and now with Turtle Central at the Conservancy. She loves working with our customers and our team at the gift shop, knowing that all proceeds from the sales go straight to support the Conservancy’s mission-driven programs.
Emily Eldridge Marketing and Communications Specialist
Emily was born in Wilmington, NC and grew up spending ample time both there and in South Florida. She enjoys being close to the beach and often finds herself reminiscing of the times she spent exploring the barrier island Key Biscayne as a child when her grandmother lived there. Her ties to North Carolina led her to later study Interpersonal and Organizational Communication at UNC-Chapel Hill. While in college, her passion for the outdoors grew stronger when she began to work with local environmental nonprofits. Emily has experience managing communications for camps and conference centers in Western North Carolina, and she’s excited to utilize these skills at the Conservancy. In her free time, Emily enjoys staying active by running and doing yoga, spending time with her family and friends, and exploring nature.
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.
Paul Hillbrand Sea Turtle Program Coordinator
Originally from just outside Kansas City, Missouri Paul acquired an interest in the ocean during a fourth-grade literature arts project on Beluga whales. From then on, he has been exploring the marine and terrestrial environments. He received a B.S. in Biology and a minor in Chemistry from Avila University in Kansas City, MO and his Master's Degree in Marine and Environmental Science from the University of the Virgin Islands in St. Thomas. Throughout his career he has worked with a variety of sea turtle species - including Hawksbills, Loggerheads, and Greens - in various labs and sea turtle hospitals throughout Florida and St. Croix.
Geoff Moore Campus and Facilities Manager
Geoff was born and raised in Durham, North Carolina. He and his family vacationed on the North Carolina coast primarily on Ocean Isle Beach. After high school he spent several years working on schooners and other charter boats, traveling from Florida to Michigan and back to North Carolina. Geoff settled on the Outer Banks for several years working in the charter industry and in construction. After living and working building houses in the Triangle area in North Carolina for nearly 18 years, he finally found his way back to the coast on Bald Head Island. Geoff is married with two children. Away from work he enjoys fishing, golfing, reading and volunteering in his community.
Lauren Schaale Coastal Scientist
Lauren grew up in Cary, North Carolina and she has always been passionate about coastal wildlife conservation. In 2015, she graduated from University of North Carolina Wilmington (UNCW) with a B.S. in Biology and a minor in neuroscience. In 2019, she graduated from UNCW with a M.S. in Biology. Her thesis research focused on the effects of sand surface temperature on beach-nesting birds and how it influences their nest-site selection and nest success. During her undergraduate years, she volunteered at the NC Aquarium at Fort Fisher and interned at the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center on Topsail Island. After college, Lauren completed a variety of roles and internships including a role as a marine educator for Sea Turtle Camp, a conservation/education intern at the Bald Head Island Conservancy, and a mammal and bird intern at the Greensboro Science Center. In addition, she worked as an AmeriCorps Research member at the Georgia Sea Turtle Center in 2016 and 2017. Her work focused on monitoring the beaches for sea turtle nesting activity. Outside of work, Lauren enjoys exploring the beach, birding, and reading.
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 Director of Retail Operations | 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.
Darice Voigt Business Operations Director
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.
Interns & Seasonal Staff
Faith Bradshaw Conservation Intern
Faith Bradshaw was born and raised in Newton, NC. She is a senior at NC State University majoring in Conservation and Wildlife Biology. While in school she works in the Biochemistry department studying the effects stressors have on temporal patterns of different plant species. During her free time, you can find Faith reading a good book, going kayaking and hiking with her family, scuba diving, or planning out her next big trip. Faith loves a good adventure, and while working as a field research assistant for a non-profit in both Peru and South Africa she realized her true passion for travel, field research, and of course natural sciences! After obtaining her B.S degree, she plans on attending graduate school in order to further develop her knowledge in Conservation Biology. Working to ensure that we can continue to enjoy, protect, and experience our natural ecosystems at their fullest potential!
Gabby Casini Education Intern
Gabby is from Des Moines, Iowa. She is currently a junior at Iowa State University double majoring in Animal Ecology and Environmental Studies. Gabby's family often vacationed to Florida and the Caribbean, where she fell in love with the ocean and wildlife. Gabby has spent three summers working in the environmental education field at Blank Park Zoo and Florida Oceanographic Coastal Center. Outside of work, Gabby loves to hammock, snorkel, hike, and kayak. She is thrilled to be spending this summer at BHIC and learning more about education and the ocean!
Tim Chisholm Resident Coordinator
Tim grew up in Mooresville, NC and recently graduated with a B.S. in Environmental Sciences and a minor in Applied Ecology from NC State University. In the past, he held the position of a Village Mentor within NC State’s EcoVillage living and learning community where he engaged with fellow students and the public as an environmental educator and project coordinator. With an interest in freshwater hydrology and ecology, Tim hopes to gain hands on experience and valuable life experiences in the various fields surrounding coastal ecology here at Bald Head Island Conservancy. In his pastime, Tim loves to fish and kayak and enjoys hiking North Carolina’s many state parks.
Clara Dawson Sea Turtle Intern
Clara grew up in Greensboro, NC and recently graduated from NC State University with a B.S. in Zoology and minors in Marine Science and Wildlife Science. During her time at NC State, she became heavily involved with wildlife research and was able to work on a range of different studies with species such as white-tailed deer, eastern box turtles, Key Largo woodrats, and (her favorite) hawksbill sea turtles! Clara is passionate about wildlife conservation and ecology and hopes to pursue graduate school in this field in the near future. Outside of fieldwork, she loves trail running, backpacking, hiking, kayaking, playing soccer, and just about anything outdoors! She has dreamed of working with sea turtles for as long as she can remember and is super excited to be a part of the BHIC team this summer!
Michael Dorgan Education Intern
Michael grew up in the rapidly developing town of Huntersville, North Carolina, and became passionate about protecting the environment after witnessing firsthand the costs of expanding sprawl in his town. After a life-changing backpacking trip through the Yukon Territory of Canada, Michael knew that defending wild places was his true calling. He is currently a rising senior at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, majoring in Environmental Studies and Political Science, with a minor in Food Studies. Michael is the student organization President of Edible Campus UNC, a branch of the North Carolina Botanical Garden that seeks to harness the agricultural potential of UNC's campus to produce vegetables and fruits for food-insecure college students. He also serves as a board member of UNC Green Labs, a task force dedicated to reducing consumption and waste in on-campus research labs. He has researched circular economy implementation in Memphis, TN, and served as an Island Innovation Fellow for Island Innovation, a global environmental consultancy. In his free time, Michael enjoys performing improv comedy, reading, swimming, and playing the trombone.
Annamaria Haden Education Assistant ( Sea Turtle Walk Instructor)
Annamaria is a recent graduate from UNCW with a double major in History and Philosophy. Headed to the University of Tennessee in Knoxville this fall of 2021 to begin the PhD program in History, specifically to focus on Environmental History of the American South. A Wilmington local and Bald Head Island resident in the summers, Annamaria loves Bald Head Island and focused on the island for her Honors Thesis at UNCW titled: The Environmental History of Twentieth Century Development on Bald Head Island, North Carolina.
Abigail Hamilton Conservation Assistant
Abby is from Oxford, Pennsylvania, a small town outside of Philadelphia. She is a rising senior at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, VA majoring in biology and hoping to attend veterinary school. She has been visiting Bald Head for her entire life and has a strong appreciation for the work done by the conservancy. The research Abby participates in at school is focused on the conservation of rare Virginia salamander species found exclusively in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Through this position she is excited to combine her experience in conservation work with her love of Bald Head. Abby plays field hockey in college, but also finds time to enjoy the outdoors through activities like hiking, kayaking, and paddleboarding.
Claire Holliday Development & Marketing Assistant
Claire was born and raised in Raleigh and is currently a rising junior at North Carolina State University pursuing a degree in Zoology with minors in Wildlife Sciences and Animal Science. She has always had an affinity for nature from a young age and has helped out with outdoor summer camps at her local park. Claire also has over three years of experience working in an animal care facility, and she even started her own business selling eggs from her pet chickens when she was just 11 years old. Claire and her family have been visiting Bald Head Island for most of her life, and she has since fallen in love with the island.
Emma Jones Sea Turtle Intern
Hi, my name is Emma and I am from just outside of Nashville, Tennessee. From a young age, I developed an interest for the ocean and marine life on a trip to Catalina Island Marine Institute located off the coast of Los Angeles. I received my B.S. in Environmental Science with a minor in Biology from Tennessee Tech University. During my time in college, I was able to complete an internship in Costa Rica at Ostional Wildlife Refuge working with Olive Ridley sea turtles. It was there I found my passion for working with sea turtles and conservation-based fieldwork. After college, I worked with domesticated animals in an animal hospital setting. In the future, I hope to continue with conservation fieldwork to ensure future generations have the same opportunities I have been given! I am so excited to be working at BHIC this summer!
Shannon Manion Retail Intern
As one of three daughters I was born and raised in Charlotte North Carolina. Because of my love for the ocean and the Wilmington area I committed to UNCW. I am currently a full time student at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. I will be a senior next year. I have always had a passion for retail and fashion. Ever since I could work it has been in retail and, most recently I worked at a local boutique in Wilmington. I also have always had a special place in my heart for animals as well, especially marine animals so the retail internship was a perfect fit for me. Additionally, I love the environment and health and wellness in general. Recently I have worked remotely in customer service for a health and wellness blog based in New York City. They emphasized mental health, how to be more environmentally friendly, clean eating and etc. The retail internship combines all of my passions into one, retail, marine animals, and the environment.
Emma Phillips Sea Turtle Program Assistant
Hi everyone, my name is Emma Phillips! I was born and raised in Cary, NC and I have been spending my summers at Bald Head Island my whole life. I enjoy surfing, biking, and any outdoor activities. I was an employee/volunteer at Turtle Central for 6 years. My family and I have also been Nest Monitors for four years now. I am a marine biology major (concentration in marine conservation) with an oceanography minor at UNCW (class of 2024). I can’t wait for this summer to help protect our beloved sea turtles!
Eric Plessett Sea Turtle Intern
What's up everyone, I'm Eric Plessett (left) and I'm from Philadelphia! I go to school at UNCW where I'm majoring in marine biology and Spanish which is an interesting but very fun combo. I've always had an affinity for the ocean from a young age because of surfing and I love being able to connect with people from different cultures and backgrounds. Someday I hope to study some sort of fish migration in a Spanish speaking country. In my spare time, you can find me surfing and slammin' cheesesteaks (not always at the same time). Really excited to work with everyone on the island this summer!
Allison Polinski Conservation Intern
Allison is from Lockport, Illinois and recently graduated from the University of Alabama with a B.S. in Conservation Ecology and a minor in Spanish. At UA, she was involved in a biology research lab studying animal behavior of a hermaphroditic fish, mangrove rivulus. She also participated in study abroad programs in Belize and Costa Rica where she studied marine conservation and geography. During her junior year, Allison had an internship on San Cristóbal island, Galápagos and studied the effects of invasive vegetation on nest activity of endangered Galápagos Petrels. In her free time, Allison enjoys gardening, hiking, and hanging out at the beach. She has always had a passion for coastal ecology and marine conservation, and is very excited about this opportunity at BHIC!
Emily Prins Development and Marketing Intern
Born in Michigan and raised in North Carolina, Emily has always had a passion for storytelling. After trying her hand at multiple creative outlets such as creative writing and theatre, she fell in love with nonfiction filmmaking. That drive to tell human stories led her to the Cinema & Television Arts B.F.A. program at Elon University. Outside of her documentary work, she has held the role of Show Producer for a sketch comedy show on campus, produced videos promoting the work of the Elon Center for Design Thinking, and worked as the Programming Director for the Home is Distant Shores film festival. During her time with the Bald Head Island Conservancy, Emily looks forward to showcasing the important work being done at the Conservancy on social media, helping with fun events such as the Turtle Trot, and learning to appreciate the beauty of the North Carolina coast.
Ben Regester Education Intern
I am a rising junior at North Carolina State University double-majoring in environmental science and marine science. I grew up in Greensboro, NC, where I fell in love with environmental education after volunteering with the local science museum and helping with the city's Earth Day event. More recently, I have worked as the president of the Beekeepers Club at NC State, and I have loved teaching my peers about beekeeping. In the future, I plan on going to grad school for oceanography or earth science, and I want to study ocean ecology. Outside of school, I enjoy spending time outdoors, being with friends, and making music.
Anna Scotton Education Intern
Anna spent most of her childhood in the piedmont of North Carolina but relished regular family trips to both the mountains and the coast. She fell in love with environmental education while leading elementary school field trips at a local summer camp during her gap year between high school and college. Anna is a recent grad of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and majored in Biology and minored in Environmental Sciences and Studies during her time there. She enjoyed working as an environmental education intern at the North Carolina Botanical Gardens during her years of undergrad and finished out her final college semester as a high school Biology student teacher. She spends her time outside of work travelling, dancing, and attempting to create the perfect caramel macchiato.
Abigail Steele Sea Turtle Intern
Abigail is from Westerville, Ohio and recently graduated with a B.S. in Marine Conservation Science and Environmental Studies from the University of Alabama! She loves sea turtles and marine mammals, and this is the third island she has lived on! Abigail has worked remotely with the University of Hawaii to analyze blubber images of spinner dolphins, and is hoping to eventually go to graduate school. Abigail loves hiking, kayaking and collecting houseplants for her own personal jungle!
Karlee Szympruch Sea Turtle Intern
Hi, my name is Karlee and I was raised in Pleasantville, PA and I currently go to school at the University of Central Missouri studying biology with a concentration in Wildlife and Natural Resources Conservation. On-campus I'm the president of the Wildlife Society and volunteer at a wildlife rehabilitation. I've recently worked with Northwestern Pond Turtles in Eugene, Oregon, and decided I wanted to continue working with turtles on the other side of the country. In my free time, you'll find me on my paddleboard or on the hiking trails!