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Released June 4, 2003

By David Tisdale

HATTIESBURG - A recent graduate of The University of Southern Mississippi's Honors College will take the international stage later this month when she makes a presentation at an environmental conference in Africa.

Christina Watters of Mobile was selected to join scientists and other scholars from across the globe June 18-22 for the second International Conference on Chelonian Conservation in Dakar, Senegal. Watters' presentation is titled "Large Scale Mortality of Diamondback Terrapins as a Result of Drowning in Commercial Traps."

Last summer, Watters took part in a National Science Foundation project in New Jersey that provided research experience for college undergraduates in science, engineering and math. Watters' research that summer focused on coastal conservation.

"Being from Mobile, I've always been interested in coastal habitat," said Watters, who received a degree in environmental biology during spring commencement exercises. "Last summer was my opportunity to get involved in research. I decided I would spend the summer to see if this is what I wanted to do (for a career) and I knew then it was the right choice."

While participating in the project, Watters was fascinated by the efforts being made to help the northern diamondback terrapin, a species of turtle that lives only in salt marshes. Thousands of the turtles reportedly drown in abandoned commercial crab traps every year, threatening the species' survival. Watters' research includes seeking ways to reduce the death rates of the turtle.

"There are similar threats to other turtle species around the globe, and hopefully my paper will encourage other scientists to work toward solving the problems in their own countries," she said.

Watters credited the faculty of the Southern Miss biology department and the Honors College for providing her with the education and field experiences to earn the opportunity to participate in the conference. "I've loved my years at Southern Miss," Watters said. "I've had a great experience with the biology department. Everyone there goes out of their way to help you. Plus, I've had a lot of work outside the classroom and that's made my education an even more valuable experience."

Last year Watters was part of a Southern Miss student team that used NASA facilities to test the effects of microgravity on jellyfish. Her trip to Africa will be sponsored in part by the Honors College, the Southern Miss Department of Biological Sciences and the Wetlands Institute, a nonprofit wildlife charity based in New Jersey.

As an Honors College student, Watters was required to write a thesis, which she said was good preparation for graduate school. She plans to take a year off before pursuing graduate studies and will work in Hattiesburg this summer studying the gopher tortoise. "It's been a lot of work, but it's been worth it," she said of her undergraduate program.

Southern Miss biology professor Dr. Frank Moore said he's proud of Watters' achievements. "Christina is a bright, hard-working student whose enthusiasm for biology is contagious," he said. "The chance to participate in an international conference on turtle conservation fits so well with her interest in conservation biology."


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April 20, 2004 4:09 PM