Student Focus: McKee Dives into Aquarium Internship

Environmental Studies major Rebecca McKee '14, of Cashiers, N.C., gained a deeper appreciation for marine life during a summer internship at the South Carolina Aquarium, where she taught visitors about the animals and conducted research on diamondback terrapins and blue crabs.

Though her internship is complete, McKee is still analyzing the 75 hours of video she acquired of the two species' interactions with crab traps. The data collected during the summer will serve as the foundation of her senior environmental capstone project, which investigates the effectiveness of by-catch reduction devices (BRDs) in preventing terrapins from entering crab traps. Terrapin populations have recovered since facing extinction in the early 1900s, but death by crab trap remains a chief conservation concern.

The dual nature of her internship kept her days at the aquarium busy and varied. For her research on the effectiveness of BRDs, she spent three days every week videotaping both terrapins and crabs as they interacted with crab traps in the test tank. She then examined whether the BRDs reduced the ability of the crabs to enter the traps, an outcome that would prove economically detrimental to fishermen.

As an education intern, she also led tours and performed shows and games featuring owls, alligators and lemurs. McKee said she found the work rewarding because she was learning new things and working with different animals and people.

McKee's internship was made possible by grants from the Jolley Foundation, the Thomson Family Environmental Studies Capstone Fund and Davidson College. She was assisted in her research by Assistant Professor of Biology Kristen Cecala '07, who now teaches at the University of the South.