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 so she could 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. Marissa is a certified NC Environmental Educator and is passionate about sharing the outdoors with others through educational experiences. As a lifelong learner herself, she is currently working part-time towards earning her Master’s degree in Biology through Miami University. 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.
Emma Corbett AmeriCorps Outreach and Volunteer Coordinator
Emma grew up just outside of Richmond, Virginia and spent her summers on the Virginia’s beaches and the Chesapeake Bay. She went to school in the mountains at Virginia Tech, and completed an undergraduate degree in Environmental Science with a minor in Green Engineering. During college, she spent her summers on the Eastern Shore of Virginia working as a sailing instructor and volunteering with the Nature Conservancy. During her time at Virginia Tech, Emma continued to be drawn to the water and spent her weekends sailing in regattas all up and down the east coast with the Virginia Tech Sailing Team or hiking and fly fishing in the Jefferson National Forest. She is passionate about sharing her love of the environment and was the president of the Environmental Student Organization at Virginia Tech. Through this platform, she organized outreach to local schools in Giles County and developed a love for environmental education. She is excited for the opportunity to share her excitement and enthusiasm with the community during her time at BHIC!
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.
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.
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!
Hannah Newcombe Assistant Retail Manager • Turtle Central
Hannah was born and raised in Gastonia, North Carolina. She recently graduated with a degree in Fashion Merchandising and Marketing with a minor in Journalism from NCSU. Working at the BHI Conservancy is a dream come true for Hannah as it combines her love of turtles, fashion, and Bald Head Island. Hannah and her family have been vacationing on the island since she was a baby. In her free time, Hannah loves traveling, shopping, and spending time with her yellow lab, Audrey Hepburn (and any other furry creature).
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.
Lara Noren Intern Coordinator
After interning with BHI Conservancy for the fall 2018 season, Lara is excited to return to Bald Head Island as the intern coordinator this summer! Originally from Minnesota, Lara moved to North Carolina to pursue a degree in Marine Biology at the University of North Carolina Wilmington (UNCW). While attending UNCW, she fell in love with North Carolina’s beautiful coastline and Barrier Island Ecosystem. She is excited to share her passion for this region with others through facilitation of the internship program, assisting with BHIC’s conservation projects, and educating the public. When Lara is not working at the Conservancy, you can find her spending time at the beach, reading books, SCUBA diving, and listening to music.
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 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.
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.
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.
2019 Fall Interns
Briana Fragata Conservation/Education Intern
Brianna left her hometown beaches in Plymouth, Massachusetts to attend Hood College where she received a degree in Environmental Science and Policy with a concentration in coastal and watershed studies. During her time interning at Hood College in the Center for Coastal and Watershed Studies and the Biology department, she conducted bacterial monitoring, a forest recreation study, and helped to implement a vegetable rain garden in the local community. She then moved on to work for the University of Maryland Horn Point Laboratory as an oyster hatchery intern. This past year she worked at Maryland Coastal Bays Program as a Chesapeake Conservation Corps Member, living right by the incredible Assateague Island. There she engaged in water quality monitoring, oyster gardening, and anadromous fish sampling. Additionally, she designed and implemented environmental education programs, including her favorite fish seining program. Brianna is looking forward to joining the team at Bald Head Island and spending ten months in her happy place learning and living by the beach.
Corrine Johnston Conservation/Education Intern
Corrine grew up in Nashville, Tennessee. This past spring, she earned a B.S. in Animal Science with a minor in Wildlife and Fisheries Science from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Throughout her time in Knoxville, she has worked with a variety of animals! With the rapidly changing environment, her interests have grown to understand more of the relationship between species and their habitat. Corinne is passionate about wildlife health and environmental conservation. She loves working hands on in protection efforts, no matter how small! She is very excited to begin this internship in Bald Head Island and learn more about barrier island ecology and share her love for the planet and its inhabitants! And she's ecstatic to work with sea turtles and take part in this record-breaking year for nests. In her free time she enjoys spending time with my pup, swimming, reading, and more recently scuba diving!
Connor Love Development Intern
Connor grew up in Durham, North Carolina. This past spring he graduated from Wake Forest University with a Political Science major and Psychology minor. In college when he was not cheering on Wake athletics he served on executive committees for fundraising events that raised money for cancer research and children's hospitals. This past summer he worked as the head male counselor at Camp Kanata where he had the opportunity to work with children and spend time outside. Connor fell in love with Bald Head during his visits the past five years on Memorial Day Weekend. Connor enjoys spending time with friends and cheering on the Carolina Panthers.
Blake Marin Conservation/Education Intern
Blake grew up in North Carolina and recently graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a B.S. in Environmental Science. He is fascinated by marine and coastal ecology, and has assisted in cetacean research in the Galapagos Islands. In his free time, he prefers to be biking, sailing, or trying to photograph some elusive animal.
Ashley Rose Conservation/Education Intern
Ashley grew up in the North Carolina Piedmont, but spent a lot of her childhood in the mountains of NC. This past May, she received a B.S. in Biology and a B.A. in Environmental & Sustainability studies from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG). In college, Ashley enjoyed being part of a STEM education program where she developed and taught lessons in elementary school classrooms. She also worked in UNCG’s community garden and was president of the garden club for two years. Growing up, Ashley always had an affinity for nature, especially marine ecosystems, and is excited to live out her dream here at the BHI Conservancy.