In order to cope with her anxiety, Anna Boyce spends her time taking care of the animals at UNC’s marine invertebrate lab and sea turtle lab. She cares for each creature and its individual needs while simultaneously taking care of herself.
Anna Boyce is a transfer student from California in her final year at UNC-Chapel Hill. In the spring of 2018, she took a biology course about marine invertebrates and she fell in love. Anna now helps take care of the animals the live in this lab and wants to go to veterinarian school to take care of exotic animals. Boyce also suffers from severe anxiety and finds relief from that while taking care of these special creatures. Aside from medicine for her anxiety, Boyce must take different medications for several injuries she suffered from falling off of her horse back home, among other things.
After volunteering to work in the marine invertebrate lab, Boyce was quickly immersed in the student and research life that takes place in the marine science program. Aside from caring for the animals in the lab, Boyce is helping a graduate student conduct research on sea turtles from Bald Head Island, NC. Though each turtle was taken from the same nest, they are growing at different rates and Boyce must carefully cut and weigh each one’s specific portion of food.
Boyce helped gather the sea turtles from Bald Head, so she feels a special connection to them. There are 20 turtles, each named after a character from the show “The Office.” Boyce’s favorite turtle is Holly, because Boyce picked her up herself and because Holly is the runt of the group.
“I want to go to veterinary school, so this is a great experience to work with saltwater animals and learn about their behavior and health. I’ve also loved marine biology since I was tiny. I grew up going to the Monterey Bay Aquarium and learning about the ocean, so I love being able to see the animals all the time,” said Boyce.
Boyce met Cassidy Manzonelli when she took Biology 475, and since then the two are practically inseparable. They both work in the marine invertebrate lab together as well as take care of the sea turtles. They work side by side for hours with the animals in the basement of Wilson Hall and spend much of their time outside of the lab together studying or just hanging out.
Both Boyce and Manzonelli practically live and breathe marine life. At any time, the two can be seen sporting their turtle or sea horse clothing, carrying their computer around with marine life stickers, or even snuggling up with their marine life themed bedding. Taking care of these animals has transcended every part of their lives.
Just as Boyce spends her time taking care of the sea creatures in the lab, they take care of her as well. Though the tasks she completes on a daily basis may seem menial, like cutting up and feeding individual pieces of food to each animal, Boyce enjoys each quiet moment. “I have an anxiety disorder and I really believe spending time with the animals kelps me keep it together. I think it’s a big part of why I love the ocean as well,” said Boyce.
Boyce’s favorite animal she’s taken care of was Fitz the pufferfish. She helped pick him out when on an excursion with members of the lab. They brought him back because he was calm and did not puff up in their presence. Looking back, Boyce realized that may have been a bad sign, as his health slowly declined in the lab. Sadly, Fitz passed away over Thanksgiving break, and Boyce was heartbroken. The lab held a funeral, and Boyce shed a few tears.
In their free time, Boyce and Manzonelli are still keeping up with their lab and doing what they can to improve it. The two drove to a tropical fish store about an hour away from Carolina’s campus to buy some critters that could help clean the tanks as well as some sand, filters, and lights to help the creatures live better.
Boyce and Manzonelli left the tropical fish store with ten new hermit crabs and five new snails to help clean up one of the tanks that was not doing so well. It may come as surprising the kind of excitement these two students had in leaving the store with their new pets. “Whenever we’re struggling with schoolwork, Cassidy and I always end up doing things for the lab. It feels like a small victory,” said Boyce.
In the final week of research on the sea turtles for the semester, Boyce and Manzonelli spend eight hours on a Friday sitting around in the lab. The research focuses on sea turtles and their ability to sense magnetic fields, so the two must record, stabilize, and switch the fields and turtles throughout the day.
Boyce and Manzonelli carefully feed each sea turtle their allotted serving of food for the day. Along with each weighed piece of protein-rich food, each sea turtle is also treated to a little bit of squid as a snack. As Boyce walks down the aisle past the turtles, they all swim to the side opening their mouths in hopes of getting treated.
As Boyce and Manzonelli pass the turtles to one another, taking them from their boxes back to their control space, they call out each one’s name, commenting on its growth and attitude. Boyce is able to tell which sea turtle is which just by looking at it, and adores them as they grow bigger each and every day.
As Boyce prepares to leave for the semester, she makes sure she steps in to see the sea turtles one last time. The turtles will still be around next semester, but she has grown very close to them, and as she says, “They need a break just like we do.” Boyce is grateful for the lab and research at Carolina that she has been able to be a part of, and all of the friendships and peace it has given her.