When you grow up surrounded by cornfields, what is the statistical likelihood that you'll one day be a marine biologist? I'm no math genius, but I'm guessing it's pretty low.
Meet Jonna Quigg, 40, now of Rockledge, Florida -- a soon-to-be-married mother of two teenagers and a Master's candidate in marine biology. While growing up in Sherman, Illinois, she loved watching Jacques Cousteau -- and now she's living her dream, studying sharks and stingrays.
"I have always been fascinated by sharks," says Jonna. "I find them to be amazing creatures and so beautiful. My focus is on behavioral ecology of sharks and stingrays, [which] ... is the study of how the animal behaves related to its ecology. For example, what is the home range for a shark (how far does it roam in search of food)? Do they travel long distances for mating? What are their feeding strategies?"
Although Jonna says that our knowledge of sharks has increased steadily in the decades since "Jaws," relatively little is known overall.
"The more we understand their behavior and ecology, the more we can work to protect sharks," she says. "Their numbers are declining and certain species are endangered due to over-fishing. Their reputation as killers has not been easy to overcome."
Jonna's goals include being published in scientific journals, as well as producing educational books "that allow the readers to better understand sharks, squelch unfounded fears and dispel many common myths."
Have you always been interested in sharks?
"Yes, ever since I was a little girl. It was the only thing I ever wanted to do (since I can remember at least)!"
What are sharks' role in our ecosystem? Why should we protect them?
"Sharks are a keystone predator. Removing them from the ecosystem upsets the natural balance. Sharks prey on sick or weakened fish (particularly other predatory fish although some shark species feed on turtles, dugongs, crustaceans and even plankton!) and this helps to keep fish populations healthy. Ultimately it would affect a number of species down the entire the food chain."
Have you ever come in close contact with a shark?
"Yes, I've had many encounters with sharks -- from just being in the same vicinity with a single shark while diving, to participating in shark dives (for research) with hundreds of sharks, to participating in tagging expeditions. I've encountered Caribbean reef sharks, blacktip sharks, lemon sharks, nurse sharks, bull sharks, scalloped and great hammerheads, a brown nose shark and even a sawfish." [Photo above was taken by Jonna during a dive]
I noticed that you're also a rep for Thirty-One -- can you explain why/how you've fit this into your busy life?
"Working as a Thirty-One Consultant allows me flexibility to focus on my studies/writing, assist with research opportunities when they arise and more importantly, support my daughter's dance ambitions and rehearsal/performance schedules. She is really the reason I became a Thirty-One Consultant. I needed additional income but didn't have an additional 20+ hours to devote to another part-time position. So, now I can make the equivalent of 20-hours of pay in only 2-3 hours!"
What are you passionate about?
"Sharks! University of Miami Hurricane Football, nature/the environment and my family! (Not necessarily in that order)."
What drives you crazy?
"Kids? Just kidding. Ignorant pet owners are probably my biggest pet peeve. I worked for a number of years in an animal shelter and it's amazing how many pet owners still don't understand how to be responsible pet owners, the pet overpopulation problem or proper pet care."
What fun things do you like doing as a family?
"We enjoy going to the amusement parks although admittedly we haven't had much time lately. We used to enjoy Friday movie nights, but as the kids are getting older and we are always on the go... they have subsided. Right now I probably value Sunday dinners as a family the most."
Describe your perfect Saturday.
"That's a tough one! Saturdays are for running around so we can enjoy our Sunday. But I'd say the Saturdays when we get to enjoy boating/fishing are probably the ones I enjoy the most."
Check out her blog Thirty-One
Follow her on Twitter: @jonnasthirtyone