INA, IL (KFVS) - She comes from Mt. Vernon, Illinois and attended Rend Lake College. Now she is a Marine Scientist studying the endangered smalltooth sawfish.
Dr. Andrea Kroetz said RLC's location and the ability to take care of her general courses were what brought her to the college.
After graduating, Kroetz transferred to the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign where she earned her Bachelor of Science in Liberal Arts and Sciences degree. She then went on to the University of South Alabama and earned her Doctor of Philosophy in Marine Science.
Kroetz developed a passion for a group of fish known as elasmobrancii. This includes sharks, rays and skates. Her work became even more focused when she started to study smalltooth sawfish.
"The smalltooth sawfish population has likely declined by up to 95 percent since the turn of the last century and the status of the US population is currently unknown," Kroetz stated. "Researchers have been working to gather as much information about this species as possible including habitat use, movement patterns, diet, reproduction, age and growth, genetic diversity, etc. The more information that we have on this species will better inform fisheries managers and lead conservation efforts to aid in the recovery of this species."
From inside the lab to out in the field, Kroetz does it all. In a research field day, she might spend between 10 to 12 hours working on collecting samples from juvenile smalltooth sawfish.
Kroetz works with a team that collects the sawfish through an approved method, taking extra care. First, is the task of catching a sawfish. After that they count their teeth, collect a small genetic sample, tag the animal and then release it back into the wild.
In the lab, Kroetz takes care of the data collected in the field. She writes code to analyze the data and writes manuscripts for peer review as well.
Kroetz said she believes she was part of the team that placed the first-ever internal acoustic tag in a smalltooth sawfish, and she performed the surgery.
"It was amazing and nerve-wracking. To have such responsibility in your hands can be stressful and a high at the same time. The surgery went very well and we have been detecting her on our listening stations ever since," she expressed.
In December of 2016, during an expedition in Andros, The Bahamas, the team caught a mature female smalltooth sawfish. Kroetz was part of a group that witnessed the live birth of five sawfish pups in the wild.
Kroetz said populations are slowly increasing and she urges anyone who sees a smalltooth sawfish to contact the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.