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Anthropology major researches lobsters

lobster.jpgBOONE – Appalachian State University anthropology major Robert Carson Thigpen III has spent nearly a year immersed in the culture of Caye Caulker, a small island off the coast of Belize that relies heavily on its fishing industry.

The oldest fishing co-operative in Belize, the Northern Fisherman’s Co-operative Society Ltd. (NFCS) was formed on the caye in 1960. NFCS offered Thigpen an internship in January 2005. Through hard work and a little help from an international scholarship, Thigpen was able to stay in Belize for seven months to learn about the life of a lobster fisherman.

Thigpen’s experiences led to several research opportunities. After observing NFCS quality checks and noticing that many of the lobsters presented were gaining weight after they were caught, he decided to investigate further. Thigpen discovered that as the fishermen soak the tails of their catch while preparing the catch for sale that the tails increased in weight as a result of this unavoidable practice. Additionally, some lobsters that have not reached reproductive viability may be accidentally harvested.

The resulting research also drew conclusions about which sex of lobster is more likely to be harvested, by which harvest method, and how likely it is that even if the lobster’s carapace or shell length is satisfactory, the tail weight is too small for industry standards.

Thigpen has presented this information and its potential effects on the sustainability of the spiny lobster species at both regional and international conferences, including the Belize National Marine Science Symposium. He also presented his work at a teacher’s seminar for a new marine science workbook for Belizean school children. In addition, consulted with the Hugh Parkey Foundation for Marine Awareness and Education on the design of their new marine wet lab.

Thigpen continues his research on spiny lobsters and stone crabs in Central America with support from the Gilman International Scholarship Fund, Sigma XI scientific research society, and Appalachian’s Prestigious Scholars Program and Office of Student Research.

His faculty mentors are Dr. Shea Tuberty (biology), Dr. Susan Keefe (anthropology) and Dr. Robert Creed (biology).

Thigpen is a senior, scheduled to graduate in December 2006.

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Photo caption: Senior anthropology major Robby Thigpen in Caye Caulker