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TU student Dana Blough gets up close with a baby horseshoe crab during her summer internship at the Gulf Specimen Marine Lab.


Cairo TU student interns at Gulf Specimen Marine Lab

When Dana Blough talks about her summer internship at the Gulf Specimen Marine Lab in Panacea, Florida, one thing becomes apparent – just how much she enjoyed the work, even the not-so-glamorous behind the scenes tasks of cleaning tanks and scrubbing sea turtles’ shells.

The daughter of Kim and Paul Blough of Cairo, Blough graduated from Cairo High School in 2015 before enrolling at Thomas University.

“I have a really strong passion for marine animals,” she said.

A Thomas University senior Biology major with a concentration in environmental science, Blough was one of 12 students interning from May 12 through Aug. 2 at the lab.

“We did a lot of educational tours,” she said. “That would probably be about 90 percent of the internship. That’s where we have kids’ camps or just tourists come in. We basically talk about the animals and give a lot of background information on them.”

When not interacting with visitors, Blough and her fellow interns helped keep the facilities in shape.

“We would also do a lot of tank cleaning as well,” she said. “That was probably the not-so-fun part, but it was still exciting because that was the time we got to engage with the animals.”

Blough is quick to point out that while she was sharing information about the animals, she was also gaining new knowledge.

“As I was teaching other people, I was learning a lot myself,” Blough said. “It just made me love it even more.”

The internship was an opportunity for her to spend time with some animals that she always loved – sea turtles.

“We have a sea turtle rehabilitation center there,” Blough said. “We actually had a turtle come in this summer. He was a Kemp Ridley Turtle, which we named Chester. He came in halfway through the summer with two hooks, one in his mouth and the other in his stomach.”

Chester wasn’t the only sea turtle Blough met.

“We had a loggerhead sea turtle,” she said. “Her name was Lil Herc. She was awesome. She was actually blind, so whenever we’d feed her, we’d have to touch the back of her shell. It was just a really cool experience.”

Then there were the stingrays.

“We had two different types of stingrays,” Blough said. “We had the Southern Stingray and an Atlantic Stingray. They are the most social creatures you’ll ever meet. It is so interesting to watch them. I’d come in every single morning, and they’d come right up to the top. I’d just give them a nice pat on the top of their head, and they loved it. It was just fun to see their personality come out because a lot of people find them frightening and don’t expect that from them.”

When asked why she’s so passionate about marine animals, she responded, “I see them like I see you. I think they’re an equal. There is still so much of our oceans and the animals that inhabit them that we have yet to discover. I want to help them, and I want to learn from them.”

Blough said taking Prof. Elizabeth Harrell’s zoology class at Thomas University helped prepare her for the internship by learning about the classification of animals.

“I think we have a super great biology program here,” she said. “One of the things I really like about the school is the classes are so small. I like the fact that you have so much one-on-one time. I have a special bond with one of my professors in particular. It just makes me love the biology program even more and makes me eager to learn from her.”

The summer internship isn’t the only hands-on experience Blough is gaining while earning her degree. This fall she is interning with Birdsong Nature Center, where she’ll help map gopher tortoise burrows using the GIS (geographic information system) skills she learned at TU.

After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in spring 2020, Blough plans to work in marine animal rehabilitation. She also plans to pursue a master’s degree later on.

Education that Engages... Empowers... TRANSFORMS

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