JOLIET – Shayne McConnell left the Joliet area behind this summer to study the aquatic flora and fauna of the Bahamas.
McConnell, 17, earned the opportunity when he became one of 20 students to visit Bimini, Bahamas under the High School Marine Biology program run by the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago. He set sail on the aquarium’s research vessel, the R/V Coral Reef II in early July and it was an experience that reinforced his desire to study marine biology.
“I’d say I gained a lot of confidence that I want to do this for a career and I can actually do the things that people need to do to study fish,” said McConnell, who will be a senior student at Joliet West High School in the fall.
In recent years, he’s been considering marine biology as a career but he can remember always being fascinated by aquatic life. The Bahamas trip, which lasted for a week, allowed him to embrace his fascination by studying plankton, counting fish, measuring sea grass and observing sea animals.
“When you look underwater you see this whole alien world that still has a lot of similarities to the world above,” he said.
Some of the oceans’ inhabitants McConnell encountered include pilot whales, maya rays and reef sharks. In one instance, the young researchers came about three feet close to a barracuda.
McConnell also joined other students in seine fishing. They went to a specific location, usually a grassy area in the sea, and set up a long net to capture fish. After counting up the fish, they would release them.
The Shedd Aquarium is celebrating 40 years of running the High School Marine Biology program this year. High school students age 14 or older who permanently reside in Illinois or surrounding states who have completed one year of high school science are eligible for the program.
The program was enough fun for McConnell that he wants to try it again.
“If I got the opportunity," he said, "I would love to.”