This past summer, Bridget Ausley, a UF/IFAS College of Agricultural and Life Sciences senior majoring in marine sciences, interned with the Sea Turtle Hospital at the UF Whitney Laboratory for Marine Bioscience in St. Augustine, Florida. Ausley was able to complete her internship with funding assistance from the VP Promise initiative, which provides financial assistance to undergraduates pursuing immersive experiences in agriculture, life sciences and natural resources. As an intern, she was primarily involved in rehabilitation and research.
Ausley worked on husbandry tasks and completed medical care of sea turtle patients. These husbandry tasks included monitoring the water quality of the rehabilitation tanks, cleaning tanks and preparing the patients’ daily diets. While providing medical care to the sea turtles, Ausley learned techniques to safely remove patients from their rehabilitation tanks, carry them to the treatment room, and handle sea turtles while they received treatments such as wound care and injections. She also helped run basic blood tests to measure glucose, packed cell volume, and total protein. Additionally, Ausley administered vitamins during feeding and recorded daily food intake for each patient.
Ausley also learned much about fibropapillomatosis (FP), a tumor-causing disease that primarily affects juvenile green sea turtles that the Whitney Lab specializes in treating. FP often causes sea turtles to become debilitated, which results in them stranding on the beach. “I responded to two stranding events during my internship, and I was able to recover the animals and transport them to our hospital for treatment,” Ausley said. “I also learned the importance of scanning the animal to check for a PIT tag, which indicates that the animal was previously treated and released at another facility.”
Over the course of the internship, Ausley completed an independent project to monitor algae that cause local harmful algal blooms through the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation’s Community Scientist Monitoring for Red Tide program. She also learned how to analyze environmental DNA from leatherback turtle sand samples. Ausley said these projects taught her that she wants to incorporate lab work into her future career.
Ausley plans to utilize what she learned as an intern at the Whitney Lab to pursue a master’s degree in sea turtle biology and conservation. She says the experience she had as an intern also encouraged her to apply for other sea turtle rehabilitation positions in her planned gap year, and adds, “This internship provided countless valuable learning opportunities, and it was very rewarding.”
The VP Promise is an initiative to provide financial assistance for students pursuing experiences in agriculture, life sciences and natural resources. CALS supports student success both inside and outside of the classroom and encourages students to broaden their perspectives through enriching opportunities such as study abroad programs and travel to conferences. For more information on the VP Promise visit the CALS website.