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Education

Downers Grove South High School student researches sharks in Belize

Elizabeth Kazmierczak, fourth from right, poses during her shark research to Belize this summer.
Elizabeth Kazmierczak, fourth from right, poses during her shark research to Belize this summer.

DOWNERS GROVE – Wherever her future travels lead, Elizabeth Kazmierczak probably won’t be trying any shark fin soup.

The Downers Grove South senior has a passion for marine life and conservation, and got a first-hand look this summer at how over fishing sharks for their dorsal fins has led to dwindling numbers of some species.

The fins are largely shipped to China, where they are the main ingredient in the pricey and popular soup.

Kazmierczak spent a week in Belize as part of a teen expedition organized by Earth Watch. Every morning, she and the rest of the team joined Jasmine Valentine, a Ph.D student from the School of Marine and Atmospheric Science at Stony Brook University, to track and research sharks off the coast.

Tasks involved laying Baited remote underwater video stations (BRUVS) on the ocean floor, about 30 to 90 feet down, she said. Then the crew would check various shark lines and nab any sharks caught that day for cataloging, tagging and release. The day would end with some fishing for shark bait and retrieving the BRUVS for review.

BRUVS record underwater video for about 85 minutes, which Kazmierczak and others would review to identify and record the types of species in the water.

The trip “definitely changed the way that I see animals and conservation in general,” she said. “I learned a lot about how Marine life works and how we’re destroying our planet slowly and definitely dwindling the population of sharks.”

The data allows Valentine to determine the health of the shark population in the area, as well as the health and numbers of the other fish populations that sharks eat.
Kazmierczak said they caught seven nurse sharks during the week, but none of the reef sharks that are prized for their fins – indicative of the decreased population.

“Last year, she only caught one or two reef sharks,” she said. “When I went [this summer], she hadn’t caught any.”

Scientists from Stony Brook University have been conducting research around the islands of Belize for about a decade to inform and assist the Belizean government in creating legislation to protect the shark species found in their waters, she said.

“They do want to make it illegal, but since it’s such an important industry in Belize, they haven’t,” she said. “Rather than stopping it, they’re just trying to figure out a way to stabilize the population of sharks.”

Kazmierczak will begin applying to colleges this fall and said she’s hoping to study environmental science.

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ABOUT Elizabeth Kazmierczak

AGE: 17

TOWN: Downers Grove

SCHOOL: Downers Grove South High School

YEAR: Senior

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