KINGSTON, R.I. – May 7, 2012 – Alexa Kretsch knew from her earliest days that a career in the marine sciences was in her future. She spent summers at the beach, loved dolphins, and enrolled in a vocational high school for those interested in marine science and technology.
As the Eatontown, N.J. native prepares to graduate from the University of Rhode Island on May 20 with a degree in fisheries and aquaculture, she is well on her way to accomplishing her goals.
“Since second grade, I’ve always wanted to be a marine biologist, but I was never sure exactly what aspect to pursue until a friend suggested fisheries and aquaculture,” said Kretsch, who also played trumpet in the URI marching band and pep band. “I found that I really like big organisms. I don’t want to always look through microscopes at teeny tiny things.”
During her years at URI, she took advantage of every opportunity available to gain hands-on experience in marine science. She spent a summer on a boat back home in New Jersey mapping the seafloor through a program at Monmouth University, and with the Rhode Island Sea Grant Fisheries Extension she worked on several projects involving local fishermen and international fisheries scientists and managers.
“That experience really helped me shape my future career direction,” she said.
As a sophomore Kretsch was awarded a Hollings Scholarship, the most prestigious undergraduate scholarship in the U.S. for those studying marine science. In addition to helping pay for her final two years of schooling, it also provided her with a summer internship at a research lab operated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. She chose to study sharks at the Apex Predators Program of the Narragansett NOAA Lab.
“I spent two weeks in Delaware Bay catching and tagging dogfish, sandbar sharks and sand tiger sharks,” she explained. “The biggest one we caught was nine feet, and it was pretty exciting. I like sharks, and I know that if we don’t bother them then they don’t typically bother us, even though I know we were kind of bothering them that summer.”
Last fall Kretsch spent the semester aboard a sailing vessel conducting research and learning to sail. The Sea Semester program took her from Cape Cod to the Caribbean.
“Every day I wish I could go back,” she said with enthusiasm. “The seas are bigger than you expect out there, and the boat was rocking a lot some days, but it was an amazing experience,” she said.
The research she conducted while aboard ship compared the effectiveness of different fishing net technologies.
As Kretsch looks toward URI graduation and graduate school at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth next fall, she is eying a rift that she hopes she can help to resolve.
“The world of fisheries is really divided between the scientists, the fishermen and the fishery managers, and they seldom agree on anything,” said Kretsch. “I want to find a way to bring them together. I want to look at the science and the policy and the social issues involved, and figure out how to make it work for all of them.”