Tag Archives: volunteerism

Barbara and her husband Nick with a cold-stunned Loggerhead sea turtle

In Your Words: Barbara Brennessel

Barbara Brennessel is a long-time volunteer at Mass Audubon’s Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary, where her work includes cold-stunned sea turtle rescue.


Barbara and her husband Nick with a cold-stunned Loggerhead sea turtle
Barbara and her husband Nick with a cold-stunned Loggerhead sea turtle

My husband Nick and I have volunteered at Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary for more than 15 years. In the spring, we survey and tag Horseshoe Crabs in Wellfleet Harbor.
Later in the summer, I monitor and protect Diamondback Terrapin nests, an interest sparked by attending a Cape Cod Field School program at Wellfleet Bay.

Barbara Brennessel measuring a Diamondback Terrapin
Barbara Brennessel measuring a Diamondback Terrapin

The highlight, by far, is how we mark the end of each year by volunteering to rescue cold-stunned sea turtles on Wellfleet and Truro beaches. These turtles get trapped in Cape Cod Bay’s cooling waters, especially when it gets below 50 degrees F; they become cold-stunned and thus lose the ability to swim south into semi-tropical and tropical areas.

We keep our phones handy so we can respond to calls from Wellfleet Bay’s Turtle Rescue Team. When the wind is howling from a westerly direction, we anticipate
being called to walk along a specific stretch of beach to look for turtles. We prepare for the cold, the wind, and a good sandblasting.

Our gear is always ready near the front door: boots, down parkas, hats, gloves, and headlamps for night patrols. This past year, we included face masks to our supplies so that we could adhere to COVID protocols. Our sled for transporting turtles from the beach is in the trunk of our car, along with a banana box or two in case we are asked to bring a turtle to the sanctuary.

Barbara during a Cape Cod Field School program on Diamondback Terrapins
Barbara during a Cape Cod Field School program on Diamondback Terrapins

We have seen some spectacular sunrises and sunsets while on turtle patrol. It is quite eerie yet also amazingly beautiful to be on a beach in the middle of the night. If you see a headlamp headed your way, who else could it be but another sea turtle volunteer!

Most of the two dozen or so turtles we rescued in 2020 were Kemp’s Ridleys, but the last few were loggerheads. Every live, rescued turtle has the potential to contribute to future generations of these endangered reptiles. It is tremendously satisfying to know that these rescued turtles have a chance to live a longer life, mature, and produce baby turtles.


In Your Words is a regular feature of Mass Audubon’s Explore member newsletter. Each issue, a Mass Audubon member, volunteer, staff member, or supporter shares their story—why Mass Audubon and protecting the nature of Massachusetts matters to them. If you have a story to share about your connection to Mass Audubon, email [email protected]  to be considered for In Your Words in a future issue! 

Jeanne Li - Volunteer at Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary

In Your Words: Jeanne Li

In Your Words is a regular feature of Mass Audubon’s Explore member newsletter. Each issue, a Mass Audubon member, volunteer, staff member, or supporter shares his or her story—why Mass Audubon and protecting the nature of Massachusetts matters to them. If you have a story to share about your connection to Mass Audubon, email [email protected] to be considered for In Your Words in a future issue! 


Jeanne Li - Volunteer at Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary
Jeanne Li – Volunteer at Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary

I have always enjoyed the outdoors and science. When I went to college at Vassar in the 1960s, Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring and other writings started me thinking about a career in ecology. I wrote to government agencies asking about job opportunities; the replies were not encouraging. So I switched my focus from zoology to chemistry and spent my working life in laboratories—indoor places. In my free time, I went hiking, skiing, sailing, and birding, and had many other outdoor adventures around central Pennsylvania.

When I moved to Massachusetts in 1984 and began looking for places to hike, I discovered Mass Audubon wildlife sanctuaries. In 2000, a move to the North Shore put Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary in Topsfield just 10 minutes away. I wanted to give back and help the environment but my job did not permit donating much time. So I helped with special events and did trail monitoring while I hiked, reporting any problems I found to the property manager.

Boardwalk choked by Glossy Buckthorn
Boardwalk choked by Glossy Buckthorn – May 2012

As retirement approached, I began looking for new ways to fill my time. I spoke to the staff at Ipswich River about volunteering to do some type of outdoor work related to ecological management and they asked if I would help restore a field by removing an invasive plant, Glossy Buckthorn. That fall, I successfully cleared a small patch with the guidance of Richard Wolniewicz, the property manager, and Lou Wagner, the now-retired regional scientist.

Unfortunately, the buckthorn grew back the following spring. To permanently eradicate it, we would need to take a targeted approach, individually cutting and applying herbicide to each plant by hand. Today, the fields contain more grasses and wildflowers and fewer invasive plants, which is very satisfying to see. With the help of other volunteers, student interns, and staff, we have extended the work to remove buckthorn along the wetland trail edges, as well.

Clearer views and healthier native plants after Glossy Buckthorn removal - Winter 2019
Clearer views and healthier native plants after Glossy Buckthorn removal – Winter 2019

This volunteer work has provided opportunities to meet and work with people from many different backgrounds, to learn botany and ecology, to present at Mass Audubon’s annual Staff Natural History Conference, to drive a tractor, and to keep physically fit. As a bonus, I observe birds, mammals, amphibians, and insects as I work. I am honored to be a part of Mass Audubon’s effort to conserve our natural world.


Jeanne Li is a volunteer at Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary in Topsfield.

Volunteering with the New England Patriots

View a slideshow of the event

Over the years, we’ve had all sorts of people volunteer with us—scouts, corporate groups, schools, families, etc. But on Tuesday, October 16, we officially added a new group to our roster: professional football players!

As part of the New England Patriots Celebrate Volunteerism campaign, three Patriots players (Zoltan Mesko, Ryan Mallett, and Danny Aiken) joined our regular volunteers from HMEA (an organization committed to working with people with developmental disabilities) at Stony Brook Wildlife Sanctuary in Norfolk. The task at hand: spreading wood chips at the future site of Stony Brook’s new Nature Play Area. The project is especially meaningful to Dan White, of Wrentham Boy Scout Troop 131, who is leading the charge of creating the play area as a way to earn Eagle Scout status.

The crew was able to accomplish a tremendous amount during the 45-minute work session. In between hauling and raking wood chips, there was plenty of time for laughs and a chance to learn more about Mass Audubon. Mesko was especially enthralled with all that the organization is doing in the realm of solar power, emphasizing how important it is to be proactive in conservation. “Mass Audubon is an organization that is leading the way.”

The day was capped off with the Patriots announcing their “Difference Maker of the Week” —our very own Ruth Connaughton, a 15-year Wellfleet Bay volunteer. Among the many volunteer ‘hats’ Ruth has worn are Trail Naturalist, Front Desk Greeter, and Nature Center Docent. As a former teacher, she is a natural interacting with visitors of all ages two afternoons a week, and she shares their excitement as they discover the natural world around them—one bird, fish, plant, fiddler crab, or turtle at a time.

Ruth says, “Seeing the enthusiasm and excitement of our visitors is the reason I love what I’m doing.” It is volunteers like Ruth that make the Wellfleet Bay a favorite destination for residents and visitors to the Outer Cape.

We were so honored to be selected by the New England Patriots to spread the word about volunteerism and grateful for the players hard work. We hope to see them again soon! Go Patriots!