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.
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 Cahoon Finance Manager
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.
Morgan Hooks Development and Marketing Assistant
Morgan Hooks grew up on a family farm in North Carolina, developing a passion for the outdoors and conservation from a young age. At the age of twelve, her mother entrusted her with her Kodak point-and-shoot camera and a stack of vintage National Geographic magazines, which Hooks brought with her everywhere she explored. She is never shy to scale a rockface or crawl through a passionate crowd for a photo op. She spent her childhood taking weekend trips to the Appalachian Mountains, and soon called them her home during her time at Montreat College, where she recently earned her BS in communications with a concentration in journalism. Hooks feels blessed to call the coast her new home and is eager to explore all that Bald Head Island has to offer. When she isn't behind a camera, Hooks enjoys hiking, road trips, concerts, cooking, gardening, and creating art.
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.
Jennifer Wiggen Senior Educator
Jennifer has always loved the outdoors and was fortunate enough to be surrounded by the ocean, marshes, and mangroves growing up. She grew up walking the beaches at dawn in search of sea turtle nests on the west coast of Florida and moved to the North Carolina coast when she was 10. What truly set her on her path for pursuing a career working in the geosciences was participating in the Duke TIP program. She spent a summer with a geoscientist, studying marsh ecosystems in Morehead City, NC. She holds a B.S. in Environmental Studies and a M.S. in Marine Science from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington and interned at Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rehabilitation Center and Hospital while in school there. She went on to earn her Ph.D. in Marine, Earth and Atmospheric Science from NC State University where upon the completion of her doctorate, completed a postdoctoral research and teaching position in Geoscience Education. In her free time, she enjoys going on nature adventures with her husband and daughter, olympic weightlifting and traveling. Jennifer and the education team are working to further develop the Conservancy’s education and outreach programs and strengthen relationships with collaborators in the Cape Fear region and beyond.
Interns & Seasonal Staff
Jenna Albaugh Conservation Intern
Jenna was born and raised in New Philadelphia, Ohio and grew up vacationing in the Topsail and Wilmington area. She recently graduated from Ohio State University with a B.S. in Environment & Natural Resources and specialized in Wildlife Sciences. At OSU, she was involved with their marine biology student organization and has volunteered with ongoing sea turtle research near Savannah, Georgia. Jenna enjoys reading, gardening, kayaking, and yoga. She has always felt a connection to nature and is excited to learn and work within the coastal environment.
Judith Broussard Education Intern
I recently graduated from Bridgewater College in Bridgewater, VA. I got my bachelors in Biology because of a passion for science and animals since I was a child. I hope to bring my love and knowledge of animals, nature, and all the wonderful features of BHI to our education programs this year.
Kylie Hackett Conservation Intern
Kylie Hackett was born and raised in Charlotte, North Carolina. She grew up spending parts of her summers at various beaches along the North Carolina coast. She is a recent graduate of Western Carolina university where she got her B.S. in Biology with a concentration in Ecology and Evolutionary biology. While attending university she worked at a Herbarium in Charlotte cataloging specimen and as a lab technician with the endangered dusky gopher frog in Mississippi. She also studied salamander behavior in the Blue Ridge mountains. She enjoys reading, rock climbing, and caring for her succulents. She is looking forward to living on the island and helping further conservation efforts.
Adelle Schubarg Education Intern
I was raised in Fuquay-Varina, North Carolina. After taking an Outward Bound course, I realized that I wanted to pursue a career in Environmental Science. I recently graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill with a B.S. in Environmental Science and a minor in Mathematics. During my time at UNC, I worked as a Research Assistant for the UNC Institute for the Environment and was a member of the UNC Judo Club. I am also a freelance gardener/landscaper. When I am not outside or working, I love spending time with friends, traveling, hiking, and identifying plants. I am excited to work with the Bald Head Island Conservancy to help communicate important environmental topics and promote the conservation of barrier islands.
Maddie Talnagi Conservation Intern
Maddie is originally from Virginia Beach, Virginia and is a recent graduate of The College of William & Mary, where she studied psychology and history. During her time at William & Mary, Maddie conducted research for the National Parks Wellness Lab, and completed internships with EPA and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. Maddie is deeply passionate about coastal conservation and has come to the Conservancy after spending the past year conducting research and working for the Maryland Coastal Bays Program in Berlin, Maryland. Maddie hopes to continue her career in coastal environmental science by pursuing a master’s degree in conservation and environmental management.