Five students from Florida universities have each received $2,000 from the Florida Sea Grant Scholars program to support their research in timely and innovative ocean and coastal-related studies.
The 2016 Florida Sea Grant Scholars are:
- Jennifer Adler, University of Florida
- Nan Yao, Florida International University
- Sarah Huff, Florida Atlantic University
- Kevin Jensen, New College of Florida
- Margaret Vogel, Florida State University
This year’s scholars are conducting research that is important to the health of ocean ecosystems statewide. Research areas range from identifying important nursery areas for sharks to conducting a stock assessment of the Caribbean spiny lobster. In addition to the monetary award, each student will have the chance to meet with Sea Grant’s outreach faculty, and learn about Sea Grant’s statewide program of extension and education.
Karl Havens, director of Florida Sea Grant, said the program helps develop the next generation of marine scientists and resource professionals by exposing them to the state’s top research and extension faculty.
“We are pleased that Florida Sea Grant can support the research of such outstanding young professionals, and give them an opportunity to learn about our program, including the exciting work by our extension agents in Florida coastal communities,” he said.
Jennifer Adler, is a Ph.D. student studying interdisciplinary ecology at the University of Florida, and a 2015 Florida Outdoor Writer’s Association scholar. With her scholarship and her knack for underwater photography, she is creating a web-based, interactive tour of the Florida Springs.
Adler, who also received a National Geographic Young Explorer’s grant for the proposed research, hopes to share her project with school children to help spark a “water ethic” or an affinity for water conservation in the state of Florida. She also plans to use some of the funds to take elementary-aged children on educational field trips about the springs.
“This project gives kids the tools to engage creatively with water, ask perceptive questions, and make connections between what they see and how they act,” Adler said. “Using art as a means to explore the springs and water empowers kids to explore issues surrounding water and come to conclusions on their own.”
Nan Yao is a Ph.D. student studying marine science at Florida International University. Her research project is using stable isotope analysis to determine the origin and timing of when lobster larvae come into Florida waters each year. This information, she said, will help improve stock assessment models.
Yuying Zhang, assistant professor in the marine sciences program at FIU, said Yao’s research is necessary because right now, the origins of Florida spiny lobster populations are not clear. Some studies have concluded that Southeast U.S. stock highly depends on transport from Caribbean stocks, while other studies show Florida’s stock contributes to the lobster populations in the Caribbean.
“Inspired by these debates, Ms. Yao decided to explore the connectivity between spiny lobster recruitment in the Southeast U.S. and the adults from surrounding Caribbean stocks,” Zhang said. “This project has significant ecological and economic importance. With the connectivity derived, she can further evaluate the effect of fisheries management strategies in Caribbean countries on our U.S. spiny lobster fisheries.”
Sarah Huff is earning her master’s degree in environmental science at Florida Atlantic University. She is studying the effects of Sphaeroma terebrans, a tiny but highly destructive, mangrove-boring isopod that causes extensive damage to the prop roots of red mangroves. Studies show that isopod destruction of mangroves is the single most important factor contributing to coastal erosion from Marco Island to Cape Sable.
Huff is conducting her research in partnership with the Florida Oceanographic Society and will be determining the range and damage rate caused S. terebrans. She will also be looking at whether epibionts, or organisms that live on the surface of another organisms—in this case oyster spat on mangrove roots—can reduce the burrowing capabilities of S. terebrans and curb extensive damage to the mangroves.
“Since red mangroves are important nurseries for fish, prevent shoreline erosion, and contribute to water quality, understanding this interaction is critical to ecosystem health,” Huff said.
Kevin Jensen is an undergraduate studying marine biology at New College of Florida. His research will consist of identifying possible nursery habitats for sharks in Sarasota Bay. Last semester, he took academic leave to complete an internship at the Bimini Biological Field Station where he assisted with shark ecology projects.
“Sharks are top predators of the ocean and keep the oceans healthy and thriving. Like many fish, sharks use nurseries to provide a safe haven from larger predators so they can grow to become an adult,” Jensen said. “Because there are several identified nursery areas close to the study area, I am expecting to find that Sarasota Bay is a nursery for several species.”
Jayne Gardiner, assistant professor of biology at New College of Florida, said his project will help fill current data gaps.
“Since this bay has been understudied in terms of fishery-independent survey work, little quantified information is available,” Gardiner said. “He is equipped with the knowledge and skills to carry out this project and has a great enthusiasm for marine research”
Margaret Vogel is earning her Ph.D. in biology at Florida State University. The aim of her research is to identify the role tiny bacteria, or microbes, play in overall seagrass health and to develop management strategies based on her results.
“In many marine organisms, external biofilms and mucus layers serve as a habitat for microbial communities that act as a secondary form of protection from potentially harmful bacteria,” Vogel said. “The main focus of my research is to identify the microbial communities associated with seagrass blades and how the make-up of these communities may vary with changes in temperature and light availability.”
Her adviser, Tom Miller, a faculty member in the department of biological sciences at FSU, said Vogel’s research is “timely and clever.”
“There is current concern that changes in seagrass habitats has led to a greater incidence of disease and loss of coverage,” Miller said. “Virtually nothing is known about their bacterial communities nor about their interactions between the bacteria and the health of the plant. This work seems important and highly appropriate for Florida Sea Grant.”