Student spends summer with prehistoric species

Student on boat holding fishUF/IFAS College of Agricultural and Life Sciences (CALS) student in the School of Forest, Fisheries, and Geomatics Sciences, Bethany Gaffey is pursuing her master’s degree in fisheries and aquatic sciences. She plans to graduate in summer 2023 and spent the summer of 2021 interning with the University of Florida and the Florida Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit as part of a collaborative research effort to study Gulf Sturgeon. In this internship she helped with fieldwork on the Choctawhatchee River in the Florida panhandle, a portion of a larger project in collaboration with USFWS, FWC, NOAA, USGS, LSU, USM, Mississippi State, UGA, and NAU where they replicate the research at their field sites.

Gaffey’s thesis will focus on Gulf Sturgeon distribution and climate change, with a specific focus on how water temperature, precipitation, groundwater, and other factors influence habitat use. She is excited to have access to decades of data in addition to the new research her team is collecting. She was all hands on deck with research throughout the summer gathering important information to add to the Gulf Sturgeon database. Using anchored and drifting gill nets, her crew was busy fishing the Choctawhatchee River.

Student holding small fish on boat Student on boat measuring fish.

Upon capture, they were responsible for weighing, measuring, and collecting genetic and age samples of the sturgeon. They inserted PIT tags and, for appropriately sized fish, inserted acoustic tags to track individual movement. Although their net mesh size aimed to target juvenile fish, they managed to collect samples from Gulf Sturgeon as small as 10 inches and as large as 6 feet. Project partners collected samples in the Suwannee, Apalachicola, Yellow, Escambia, Pascagoula and Pearl rivers along the Gulf of Mexico. Gaffey said majoring in marine sciences in CALS during her undergraduate studies lead her to many jobs as a researcher over the past four years. She says those work experiences prepared her for this internship.

“Working with such a prehistoric, charismatic and threatened species has been exciting. I enjoy getting up close and personal with these protected fish and then sharing my experiences with friends and family through social media. I am currently pursuing a career in science communication, so I enjoyed learning how best to communicate our research findings in creative ways. ” – Bethany Gaffey

The School of Forest, Fisheries, and Geomatics Sciences is a highly interdisciplinary unit comprised of program areas in Forest Resources and Conservation, Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences, and Geomatics. Since 1937, the School has been developing new knowledge and educating students and citizens about the sustainable management and conservation of natural resources. For more information about career planning and assistance preparing to secure an internship of your own, visit the CALS Career Planning webpage.


Posted: November 18, 2021

Category: Natural Resources, SFYL Hot Topic, UF/IFAS Research, UF/IFAS Teaching
Tags: CALS Interns, Featured, School Of Forest Fisheries And Geomatic Sciences, Special Topics, Sturgeon, VP Promise

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