Madeline Perreault’s experience enjoying the outdoors spans land and water—from hiking, camping, and backpacking to surfing for her junior high and high school teams. So as the San Diego native learned that her passion for the natural world could potentially be more than a leisure endeavor, it was a game changer.
“I had never imagined that you could turn being in, studying, and protecting nature into a job or career,” said Perreault, a General Biology major in her final year at the University of California, San Diego. “Being immersed in nature is where I feel the most peaceful and curious.”
Not finding her high school science classes, like biology and chemistry, particularly inspiring, she began her time at UCSD thinking she would ultimately go to medical school.
“But then I signed up for an ecology program through a course offered by the UC system,” she said. “I thought that camping and doing field biology research for seven weeks sounded incredible. That was the moment I realized that I wanted to pursue this as a career.”
Perreault’s internship at River Partners’s San Diego office provided her an opportunity to advance her learning and passion for ecology. Collaborating this summer in the field with other scientists, Perreault conducted her own research project this summer, investigating wildlife movement along the SR-94 highway and wildlife corridor that the new Southern California riparian restoration sites, Hollenbeck and Sycamore Canyon, encompass.
“The highway fragments these habitats and these preserved areas,” she said, “and by fragmenting these habitats, wildlife populations are prevented from crossing to the other side to access better habitat or land, while also being a safety concern between animals and motorists.”
Additionally, using game cameras and Acoustic Recording Units (ARUs), Perreault collected preliminary data in these new project sites to gain a better understanding of species diversity and distribution, as well as how animals are using the existing highway underpasses. Her work aims to inform the planning phases of River Partners’ restoration efforts for riparian habitat and the installation of safer highway crossing structures for wildlife.
With her River Partners summer internship behind her and her final year at UCSD ahead of her, Perreault isn’t quite sure yet what lay ahead for her post-college.
“I’m considering the BS/MS program at UCSD,” she said. “But if that’s not exactly what I want to focus on for higher education, I would like to stay in San Diego and maybe work at a state park or experience different types of ecology, because I’m interested in both terrestrial and marine ecology.
“I just have so many interests that I don’t exactly know what I want to do, but that’s why I’m doing this internship and slowly figuring it out,” she said
No matter where her short- and long-term plans take her, Perreault will certainly return to where she feels most comfortable—nature.
“When you’re just immersed in nature but it’s quiet around you, except for the sounds of nature. The natural world is just so important to me because I think that planet Earth is just remarkable and we should take care of Mother Nature. That’s all we have.”