Environmental Internship in North Carolina, USA

An environmental internship opportunity for environmental science students to work towards protecting and improving the water quality of the Lower Cape Fear River Basin in Wilmington, North Carolina, USA, through environmental education, advocacy and action.

We have internship places for 3 month periods between June and September each year to take part in a range of environmental and community projects.

The cost for accommodation in a private room, programme materials, equipment & training, airport pick up/drop off is £1600.

River cleanup volunteersEcotour boat that interns will useCape Fear River watch kayakersRain gardenWednesdays on waterYou can learn to surf at the nearby beachBig surfing community nearbyRiver clean up resultsComing downstreamSnakes on branch by the riverVolunteer crewsKayaking

About the Project

Conservation volunteers travel down the Cape Fear RiverThe Cape Fear River Watch badgeCape Fear River Watch

Environmental Internship Programme in the USA

Cape Fear River Watch is a non profit organisation working towards protecting and improving the water quality of the Lower Cape Fear River Basin in Wilmington, North Carolina, USA, through environmental education, advocacy and action.

We have places for environmental interns to join for 3 month periods  to take part in the following projects:

  • Conservation volunteers help organise educational daysGreenfield Lake Eco-Tours - environmental interns will be trained to take visitors out on ecotours on the lake, and identify to wetland birds and trees to the visitors on boats.
  • Paddle Series - environmental interns will paddle a different stretch of the region's diverse waterways every month. The Cape Fear River watershed is a paddler's paradise with stretches of water for nearly every taste.
  • Water Quality Monitoring - environmental interns will carry out water quality monitoring 
  • Rain Garden Education and Maintenance - building and maintenance of the rain garden.
  • Summer Eco Camps - environmental interns can help to design and then conduct a summer programme with students.
  • Office renovation and assistance
  • River Cleanups - mostly done on canoes and kayaks.

For detailed descriptions of each project, please scroll down.

1. Greenfield Lake

Greenfield Lake is a historic treasure located near downtown Wilmington. It is a unique cypress-ringed freshwater lake in a city park just minutes from downtown Wilmington, NC. This amazingly preserved example of Cypress Dome Ecology, ringed by a 5 mile paved walking/biking path, features beautiful gardens (it was the original location of the famous NC Azalea Festival), a 900 seat amphitheater, a boat ramp, picnic areas, playgrounds, tennis courts, a skate park and more.

Conservation volunteers and members of the public by the river's shoreLess than 100 years ago a bottled water company was bottling and selling the spring-fed waters of the Lake. Later rapid urban development, excessive stormwater runoff and nutrient pollution severely stressed the lake, making it unsightly and unappealing. CFRW has been working closely with Wilmington's Parks & Recreation and Stormwater Services departments to protect and restore Greenfield Lake's ecology and today we operate a small boat house (paddle boats, canoes and kayaks for rent by the hour) on this hidden ecological gem.

A conservation volunteer shows members of the public the riverGreenfield Lake Eco-Tours

Small groups learn all about Greenfield Lake's history, current uses, flora and fauna on a trip led by the interns. Special trips with a focus on wildlife, migrating birds, and plant and animal identification have also been very popular.

Conservation volunteers kayaking down the riverSeasonal Nature Tours

Greenfield Lake and Cape Fear River Watch offers guided birding tours on the lake. As interns, you will learn to identify the Widgeons, Gadwalls, Cormorants and Egrets that roost in and around the Bald Cypress that dominate the lake. Great Blue Herons, Anhingas, and more variety of duck than seem reasonable also call the waters of the lake their winter home. You will also learn to identify the Long Leaf Pine, Live Oak, Magnolia, Dogwood and other wetland forest trees surrounding the lake that play host to many varieties of Warbler, Nuthatch, Flycatcher and Vireos. The one-hour tours will be led by the interns once you have been trained.

Conservation volunteers hidden amongst the treesPaddleboats, Canoes and Kayaks are available for rent. You will work at the boathouse renting water vessels to visitors. All proceeds from the rentals benefit programmes that help to carry out the mission to protect and improve the water quality of the lower Cape Fear River through education, advocacy, and action. The Greenfield Lake programme is a cooperative effort among Cape Fear River Watch, The United Way, and the city of Wilmington, North Carolina.


2. Paddle Series

Each month we paddle a different stretch of the region's diverse waterways. We may explore a primeval, twisty stretch of blackwater creek one month and the next month will see us in the saltwater marshes and beaches of the estuarine lower reaches of the river. The Cape Fear River watershed is a paddler's paradise with stretches of water for nearly every taste. Our main goal with the monthly paddles is recreational. We're not racing and we keep the advocacy and the science to a minimum (though we're always happy to point out interesting features.) Our underlying goal is simple. The best way to get to know a river is to get out on it. Walk its banks. Fish it. Paddle it. Pretty soon you'll want to share the river with others and protect it for generations to come.

Interns will help lead these paddle series after some instruction from our River Keeper, Kemp Burdette.

3. Water Quality Monitoring

River cleanup programmeInterns will have the opportunity to make basic water quality observations through our CreekWatchers Programme, which is a citizen science program freshly launched by CFRW.

The programme will provide support possibly including technical assistance in monitoring design, equipment use, data management and analysis.

4. Rain Garden and Maintenance

Storm water is the largest pollution problems across the United States and the Cape Fear River is no exception. Rain gardens are one attractive solution to storm water pollution. Rain gardens are shallow depressions planted with special water tolerant species of plants that thrive in wet conditions. Runoff from roofs and parking lots are captured and directed into the rain gardens, filtering through the soil and naturally removing pollutants. An added advantage is mosquitoes won't have time to breed, because the water drains within a day. This also reduces the load on the sewer system, and the amount of lawn chemicals and pet wastes that would otherwise have drained into the sewer system making its way to rivers and lakes.

Interns will have the opportunity to learn how to design and build a rain garden. A rain garden thrives at the Cape Fear River Watch headquarters, where team members will check in on a daily basis. You will be responsible for maintaining the rain garden, as well as other projects associated with the building.

A conservation volunteer helps to educate children in the forest5. Summer Eco Camps

An Education/Outreach programme. Interns will have a heavy role in conducting this summer programme, and can expect to work for about half of their internship as summer camp counsellors. The camps will accommodate approximately 15 - 20 students who will gain a diverse and complimentary learning experience through a combination of field and experiential work. It will offer students a deep understanding of the unique setting in which the Cape Fear River Basin is located and the pivotal role this region has played in local and global affairs, particularly in relation to the environment. Interns and the local Literacy Council can work together to provide free lessons in speaking better English.

Conservation volunteers managing the scrub


Conservation volunteers helping with river clean-up operations6. Office Renovation and Assistance

Cape Fear River Watch experiences the same funding issues as most NGOs do. They are not in a position to hire professional painters, carpenters, electricians, etc. Many updates are needed to the CFRW headquarters on the river. Interns may assist staff with these types of projects.

7. River Cleanups

In 2009 Cape Fear River Watch volunteers picked up over 15,000 pounds of trash from local watersheds during our Second Saturday Clean-ups. In 2011 and 2012, this number increased as we added new areas and increased the number of volunteers who came out to clean up their watershed.

As with previous years’ Greenfield clean-ups, this year’s effort will include both land and water components. Since so much of the shoreline is approachable only by water, many interns will be using canoes and kayaks to get where the trash lies. Sometimes it seems that azalea bushes exist solely to catch blowing McDonalds wrappers. Interns will be asked to scope out areas needing to be targeted for the monthly clean-ups. Once those areas are identified, you will help organise and lead the clean-ups.

Dates & Costs

A conservation volunteer travelling down the river with a scientist15th June to 15th September 2019

Please note that we can usually be flexible with dates, and you can usually join on other dates/durations, if you cannot fit into the dates above. For any questions about dates please email aaron@workingabroad.com

A volunteer with members of the publicCosts
The 3-month internship programme fee is £1600, which covers housing for 3 months, drinking water, all training and supervision by internship coordinator, pickup and drop off from the airport, bicycle use for transportation, project t-shirts, WorkingAbroad Projects backup and placement support, etc. What's not included are your flights to & from Wilmington, your meals, travel insurance & personal expenses.

Lodging, Travel, Training

The river conservation volunteer house in WilmingtonLodging and Food
All interns will be provided with shared accommodation in Wilmington during their stay. Interns are expected to purchase and cook their own food at the house either alone or with the other interns. In 2019, interns will share a 2-bedroom apartment near downtown Wilmington and within easy biking distance from the project office and the lake (where the interns do most of their work).

Free time
In your free time, amongst many things, there are great surfing opportunities for interns:

Conservation volunteers can relax in their time off at the beachSurfing Lessons
Wrightsville Beach surfing has grown tremendously in the past few years. One of the world’s top surfers, Ben Bourgeois, once called Wrightsville Beach his “home break”. The warm Gulf Stream waters, mild air temperatures and gentle sand bars produce a friendly break for first-timers and more experienced surfers. The Wrightsville Beach surfing community includes several surf shops and outfitters.

By joining this programme, you can get free surfing lessons at Wrightsville Beach, which is 15 minutes from downtown Wilmington. Qualified surfers will work with the internship coordinator to work in times when lessons can be given.

Type of interns needed:
Two conservation volunteers stand by a treeYou should be 20 years old and over, fit, healthy and capable of working in all conditions in a hot climate. No specific skills are needed, but those with previous experience of manual conservation work, trail work, gardening, river restoration etc. would be particularly useful, as well as those who are self-motivated, as you will get more out of the project if you are. In addition, those who are either students taking a year out, or who have graduated in the domains of environmental science, or ecology will greatly benefit and will gain lots of relevant field experience. The project will especially appeal to those with an interest in conservation, rivers, canoeing and paddling, surfing and ornithology.

Training and support
Interns will work directly under the Cape Fear River Watch Internship Coordinator. The CFRW Internship Coordinator will be responsible for scheduling, training, communication, monetary dispersement, and addressing any concerns that you may have.

This programme will provide training and lots of field work for any recent graduate needing to gain applied experience in the conservation domain.

A conservation volunteer going downstream in the riverVisas
Interns can travel for less than 90 days on a Visa Waiver Program.

The airfare to Wilmington, North Carolina, travel/medical insurance and personal expenses are not included within the project price. It is mandatory for you to take out travel and medical insurance for the duration of the project. In general, you can travel from your home country quite easily to Wilmington (with US Airways, Delta, United - check www.expedia.co.uk or www.skyscanner.com) - you will be picked up from the airport on arrival.

Interactive Map & Background

Below is an interactive map showing key locations for the project:

Cape Fear harbour and docksLocation - About Wilmington, North Carolina

This charming city, also known as the Port City, is located in the southeastern corner of North Carolina between the Cape Fear River and the Atlantic Ocean. Although not just a tourist town, Wilmington, NC has many attractions such as the Battleship North Carolina, Airlie Gardens and Screen Gem Studios where TV shows such as Dawson's Creek and One Tree Hill were filmed.

In addition, the nearby Wrightsville, Carolina and Kure Beaches are a mecca for boaters, surfers, sunbathers, beachcombers and seafood lovers and round out the wide variety of attractions in the Wilmington, NC area.

Experience American cultureThe city has more than 99,000 residents and is home to the University of North Carolina at Wilmington and Cape Fear Community College. It is also home to a regional visual and performing arts center, a regional medical center and to Screen Gems Studios - North Carolina, one of the largest motion picture and television studios outside of Hollywood.

Wilmington offers the perfect environment for many outdoor activities such as surfing, canoeing, sailing and biking. For those wanting some nightlife, downtown Wilmington is host to many establishments offering late night activities and live music.

Volunteers may also help when floods occurWeather

Wilmington’s climate is the mildest in North Carolina. Most of NC is zone 7 while Wilmington is zone 8. That means a wealth of plant-life. There are more than 54 parks, gardens and lakes.

Wilmington’s climate is best described as humid subtropical. Winters are generally cool with temperatures in the 40’s and 50’s F. Snowfall does occur on occasion. The volunteer opportunity begins in Spring and ends in the Fall season. Spring is slightly breezy with temperatures in the 60’s and 70’s. There is an abundance of dense, blooming vegetation in the area. Summer brings humidity with temperatures in the 80’s and 90’s. Due to the proximity of warm Atlantic Ocean waters, the area may be hit by a tropical cyclone during the summer, at an average of once every 7 years. Fall brings the same tropical potential as the summer. Temperatures hover mostly in the 70’s and 80’s, with ocean temperatures remaining warm. Some of the deciduous trees lose their leaves; however most trees in the area are evergreens and therefore remain green year-round.

Environmental Internship Testimonials

Programme feedback from Jana Sprenger, PhD, Germany, Joined as an Intern from 1st August to 31st October:

How this program has benefited me:
- What I learned during my time at CFRW is very valuable for me. My previous education mainly concentrated on doing scientific theoretical research, scientific field work and teaching in university. After finishing this internship I would like to work either for an environmental organization or doing conservation-related research at university. Therefore, gaining practical experience in conservation work and environmental education over a longer period of time was really important for me.

- I already took part in internship programs and volunteer work in several countries, but always for a shorter time period. This internship was one of the most valuable of these kinds of programs I have ever attended.

- Giving us the opportunity to actually lead the Eco-Camp and to write a whole lesson plan was a great offer from the program, which is quite useful for future applications and work.

- There will always be the chance to actually use the experience I made here. For instance, to write a lesson plan for a German educational program or to establish a watershed watch in my own community.

- As I am not only interested in conservation work in my own country, but in working for international environmental organizations as well, I also need to get experience from other countries. For international conservation work it is necessary to know about the way conservation and conservation-related politics work in different countries.

How I feel I have benefited CFRW, possibly in a way local interns would be unable to:
- We did a lot of work that took a long period of time like leading the Eco-Camp, doing research for the environmental lesson plan, writing the plan and staffing the boathouse. This allowed CFRW staff members to work on different tasks in the meantime.

- Especially the lesson plan will be very valuable for upcoming educational programs. It will allow future interns leading Eco-Camps almost without prior training by a CFRW staff member. Additionally it reduces the time they have to spend doing research about the subjects taught. All information needed is given in the plan.

- I feel having international interns is a great idea in our globalized world. Conservation cannot work without having the whole picture in mind anymore. By teaching us your experience you certainly have an impact beyond your own community.

- By educating international interns CFRW becomes part of training people who are well qualified to do international conservation work, because they gained experience in at least two different countries.

- As we are here only because of this internship our scheduling is focused on CFRW events. Many events took place in the evenings, sometimes on short notice. Local interns may have more problems being flexible and available for all these events.

Programme feedback by Fraser Dane, Canada, joined 1st May to 31st July:

How do I feel the Working Abroad Program has benefitted me?
I feel that the working abroad program has really benefitted me in my personal development. I was able to experience first hand the commitment that is required to run an NGO and how multi-talented each of the employees of the CFRW was. They not only have a great deal of technical expertise in their areas but have an incredible ability to bring people together and foster a community within the organization and it’s members.

Working at the CFRW gave me the opportunity to work on my social skills, which I did not realize would be so important for work on environmental issues. Connecting with people is very important to the perpetuation of environmental ideals. I had the chance to talk with people about the issues affecting the Cape Fear River basin and relate my experiences in Canada to those. Being able to lead the Eco Camp at the end of my stay was definitely one of the highlights of my internship. I was able to share my enthusiasm for the environment with not only the children at the camp but their parents as well.

My time with the CFRW has added to my enthusiasm for the environmental science program I am enrolled in this year. I have a head start with some of the concepts that are being discussed in my course. I believe I will be a better environmental educator by combining what I learned at the CFRW and what I am learning in class.

How do I think that I have benefitted the CFRW?
I believe that the CFRW benefitted from me because of the enthusiasm and personality that I brought to the organization. I feel that there is a certain type of personality (motivated, adventurous, and confident) that is willing to travel to make an impact in a community outside of their own country. I feel that the energy and enthusiasm I brought to the team was very beneficial to the educational activities I was involved with (especially those involving kids).

This will be an experience that I can share with the people that I know at home and who I work with in the future. It also shows a side of the States that the international population may not have experienced. Working with people such as the CFRW staff can do nothing but improve the perception of Americans with the international community. I have come home with nothing but good things to say about my experience in Wilmington.

While I was in Wilmington I knew that I was meant to give my time and energy to the organization when it was required. This was easily done because I was brand new to the area and had no other obligations. Attending the CFRW events was very attractive to me as it provided an opportunity to interact with people in the community and I may not have been as open to this if I was from the area. The reason being that if I was local I would have other social events taking my time.

Excerpt from Intern Mathew Craig, joined 1st August to 31st October:

From an international standpoint, I feel I’ve been able to consider a slightly different perspective to water/ environmental management and its governance; whilst also acknowledging the foreign aspects of water management in an American context. I feel this brings a fresh approach to the functioning of an environmental organization, especially in an increasingly global society affected by climate change.

The Working Abroad program is very important to me. Volunteering for conservation organizations allowed me to gain experience, confidence and skills while building my resume over a 2-year period. I volunteered and interned for a total of three organizations, all with different lengths and styles. I learned first-hand what makes a program work and what makes it fail in the eyes of a volunteer. I also learned how valuable volunteer programs are to non-profit organizations and to the volunteer alike.

I believe the Working Abroad program benefits CFRW in ways a local intern program could not. International volunteers travel from another country to devote their entire 3 months to Cape Fear River Watch. This includes days, evenings and weekends. Local interns have responsibilities and social lives outside of CFRW. Scheduling is much less flexible and the idea of being “on call” 24/7 would be impossible for most local interns.

The Working Abroad program gives CFRW the opportunity to have an impact starting with the Cape Fear River while embracing the connection of the river and our world. Natural resources are connected on a global level. Fresh water resources, forests, fish stocks, healthy soils, coral reefs, and wildlife species around the world are vanishing rapidly. The loss of these resources affects the world economy and global security. I am so excited to know this connection is being made in real life right here at CFRW.

How to Join the Project

If you are interested in this environmental internship position in the USA, you will need to fill out the online application form (you can also print it out and send it to us by post) – to secure a placement on the project, please complete and submit the form including two references and your application payment of £195. If for some reason, your application is not accepted, we will reimburse this payment fully. However, for those who are accepted, the full amount needs to be paid two months before departure. Once your place is confirmed, you will receive a pre-departure package with all detailed information on your project, suggested items to bring, details on the work you will be doing etc.


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