Category Archives: Staff Spotlight

Staff Spotlight

This issue, Allison Patranella with Ecosystem Assessment and Restoration out of St. Pete, was kind enough to answer some questions about herself and her work. Thanks, Allison!

What is your professional experience?

I’ve been working at the FWRI for 5 years in the seagrass lab as an OPS field technician, and more recently as a Biological Scientist II. Previously, I worked several years as a scientific diver around Fort Lauderdale for Nova Southeastern University.

What are you working on now?

We’re currently growing out seagrass seedlings (Thalassia testudinum) for future use in restoration efforts. We collected around 2,300 seedlings from shorelines and wrack in Tampa Bay in August 2022. Most of those seedlings are now small Thalassia shoots, growing out in our nursery greenhouse. Next summer, these plants will be planted in Tampa Bay as a restoration effort in an area experiencing seagrass loss.

How is this information beneficial?

Unlike traditional seagrass restoration methods, no donor seagrass beds will be harmed for restoration efforts. Normally, plugs of seagrass will be taken out of a donor bed and replanted in the restoration bed. By using seedlings that were already washed ashore or otherwise likely to not survive, we are giving the seedlings a second chance at life while sparing the donor beds of damage. If we are successful, this process could become an alternative method of seagrass restoration.

What is your typical workday like?

I have lot of different typical workdays. When we’re out in the field, I’ll generally be on a boat monitoring seagrass beds all day, collecting samples, recording data, and doing surveys. If we’re not in the field, I could be running chlorophyll samples, processing seagrass and preparing for analysis, entering or QA’ing data, or any number of lab tasks. I also spend a fair amount of time in our seagrass nursery greenhouse, checking salinities and general the condition of our baby shoots.

Who has been your favorite mentor or role model?

Laura Yarbro has played a big part in the scientist I am today. Laura taught me numerous chemical analyses, the logistics of running a scientific laboratory, and how to navigate through permitting and administrative processes. I’m not sure where I’d be without Laura’s tutelage.

What have some of your biggest challenges been?

One of my biggest challenges has been adapting to our field schedule. During field season, we’re out of town for a large chunk of the month. Long field trips make everyone grumpy, and you need to be careful to not be sloppy with your data or protocols.

What do you like most about your career?

I like the variety of my career. I never have weeks of staring at a computer, I’m able to jump between multiple tasks when need be. I can take breaks from data entry to analyze water samples or go out in the field instead of doing lab work. It keeps me from getting too bored of any one type of work and gets me looking forward to the more satisfying jobs.

Was this your original career interest? Why or why not?

My original career interest was a marine environmental scientist focusing on artificial reefs with ecosystem in mind. I never had success with artificial reef companies, and I didn’t want to go back to school for a PhD at the time. I’m happy working with seagrasses as I can focus on ecosystem health and restoration in a more natural setting.

What would you be doing if you weren’t involved in science?

I would be a dive instructor in South Florida or the Bahamas. I really enjoy diving, so sharing that experience with newcomers would be a fun profession. I was a divemaster back in Fort Lauderdale, so being an instructor would be the next step.

What’s been one of your best memories during your career at FWRI?

One of my best memories is finally finishing the National Coastal Condition Assessment in 2021. The NCCA was supposed to be completed in 2020 but was extended for obvious reasons. The project was intense, incredibly detail oriented, required travel statewide, and required shipping hundreds of coolers. The feeling of completing the project after two long years was incredible.

What do you enjoy doing in your free time?

I enjoy playing video games, doing crafts, and spending time with my family. I’m the cool aunt, so I love spoiling my niece and teaching her how great the ocean is.

What book or show are you currently enjoying?

I’m currently reading The Expanse, book 9: Leviathan Falls.

Staff Spotlight

This issue, Lisa Smith from Wildlife Research out of Gainesville, was kind enough to answer some of our questions about herself and her work. Thank you, Lisa!

What is your professional experience:

I have been working with mammals at FWC since 2013. Before moving to Florida, I worked with a variety of species including everything from wading birds, songbirds, and ducks to butterflies, turtles, and salamanders. I have my Bachelors in Animal Science from University of Maryland and my Masters in Applied Ecology and Conservation Biology from Frostburg State University.

What are you working on now?

I spend most of my time working on cave bats and white-nose syndrome research, another big chunk of my time on musteloids (long-tailed weasel, spotted skunk, and mink) research, and all the remaining time on a few other small projects with other Florida mammals. Luckily, I work with some amazing people that make it possible for me to work on so many things!

How is this information beneficial?

White-nose syndrome has caused dramatic declines in the bats of North America and occurs as far south as Georgia and Alabama, putting Florida on the leading edge of the disease. Discovering all we can about Florida’s cave bats will allow us to enact appropriate conservation actions and mitigate the impacts of the disease to keep Florida’s bats healthy. Developing a better understanding of the status and ecology of the tricolored bat is especially important as it is a candidate for Federal listing that has experienced dramatic declines throughout its range. Florida’s bats are crucial to the environment and provide valuable ecosystem services for all Floridians.

Musteloids have also been declining dramatically throughout much of their range. Long-tailed weasel, spotted skunks, and mink are rare, exist in low densities, and are extremely difficult to detect. Because of these challenges, there is a lot we don’t know about their status, distribution, and ecology. We are working with Cowboy the Detection Dog to help answer some of the questions surrounding these species so we can better monitor and conserve these species.

What has your typical work day like?

I don’t think I have a typical workday. I could be out in the woods with Cowboy, rappelling into caves for bats, air boating in search of mink, or in the office writing reports, analyzing data, and working on manuscripts.

Who has been your favorite mentor or role model?

Cowboy the Detection Dog. I think we can all learn something from his incredible passion for the job, nonstop determination in the face of adversity, and contagious enthusiasm.

What have some of your biggest challenges been?

1.) Time. Florida has so many interesting species I’d love to work with, but there’s just not enough time to study everything! 2.) Ticks. 3.) Purchasing.

What do you like most about your career?

No day is ever boring. I don’t think I ever expected to have a career where I got paid to spend time outdoors driving outboards, ATVs, airboats, and swamp buggies, playing with a dog, writing code, using fancy mapping software, writing manuscripts, and collaborating with other amazing people with similar passions. Things aren’t always easy or straightforward and this field challenges you to come up with new methods and techniques to answer a larger question, and I love a good challenge.

Was this your original career interest? Why or why not?

No wildlife wasn’t my original career interest, but that was probably only because I did not realize I could get paid to learn more about animals, explore the great outdoors, and contribute to the conservation of our native wildlife.

What would you be doing if you weren’t involved in science?

I can’t imagine not working in science, but if I wasn’t involved in science, I think I’d like to be the host of one of those shows that just travels around to other countries and eats the local cuisine.  

What’s been one of your best memories during your career at FWRI?

There have been so many great memories at FWRI. We’ve had plenty of good times exploring caves, and the best memories tend to be the ones where things didn’t go quite right, like climbing up guano mountains and sliding back down before reaching the top (repeatedly), getting stuck in a bat poop lagoon and having to be rescued with a rotten log to crawl out over, or when cockroaches are dropping off the walls on people or climbing on people’s respirators. I think that last one is funny at least…. Other (less disgusting) memories include live trapping my first salt marsh mink, helping ultrasound pregnant bonneted bats, rewarding and playing with Cowboy after his first successful detection in the field, and rappelling down the side of Florida’s largest waterfall.

What do you enjoy doing in your free time?

Well for the past year and a half or so I have been riding horses, running, and working out nonstop in preparation for the World’s longest, toughest horse race, the Mongol Derby. In August, I will be racing with 45 other international riders for 1000 km across the Mongolian steppe on semi-wild Mongolian ponies. Interestingly, one of the reasons I was accepted out of thousands of applicants is because I’m a scientist, and the people reviewing applications thought that was cool. After that, I will have to find a new challenge to consume my life.

What book or piece of literature would you recommend currently?

Walking the Gobi. A true story of the adventure of a lifetime, complete with stories of the nomadic culture, near death experiences, and cool wildlife sightings.

Staff Spotlight

This issue, Ron Bielefeld from Avian Research out of Sebastian, took some time to answer some of our questions. Thank you, Ron!

What is your professional experience?

27 years with GFC (East Gulf Coastal Plain Joint Venture) and FWC

What are you working on now?

I am working on a major Florida sandhill crane radio telemetry project as co-PI with Tim Dellinger.  The objectives are to gain understanding of the habitat use, movement, survival, and reproductive patterns of cranes using both conservation lands and urban/suburban areas.  I am also working on finishing a manuscript for publication on the status of the genetic integrity of the Florida mottled duck.

How is this information beneficial? 

Florida has and continues to experience massive growth and development. Rural habitats are disappearing at a rapid rate.  The information we are gathering on Florida sandhill cranes will help managers understand and possibly predict what effects continued urbanization will have on the crane population.  With regards to mottled ducks, this same urbanization is the main mechanism that caused the mallard hybridization problem Florida mottled ducks now face.  As areas are developed, people buy mallards to put on retention ponds and other bodies of water, and these birds become feral. They then encounter our mottled duck.  The result is hybridization and ultimately genetic introgression.  This introgression, if left unchecked, will likely lead to the loss of the mottled duck as a distinct genetic entity.  The mottled duck population assessment project and the manuscript coming from it lays out this risk and suggests actions to help minimize it moving forward.

What has your typical work day like?

I would say I do not have a typical day, which is awesome. Every day is different.  Some days are spent mostly in the field collecting data for a research project, while other days are spent mostly in the office doing analyses or writing, for example.  Some days are a combination of both. 

Who has been your favorite mentor or role model?

I have been lucky to work with and under some great people while with GFC/FWC.  This may sound like a copout, but my favorite mentor or role model has been the people I have worked with all these years.  The biologists and managers of this agency work extremely hard and are so passionate about conserving the natural systems of this state and the world.  Their work ethic and passion have fueled my efforts for 27 years.  I have tried to keep up, and many times I have failed, but I have always benefited from working with and around these awesome people. 

What have some of your biggest challenges been?

My biggest challenge has been staying positive about the future of the natural world. I am not a pessimist, but a realist, and the reality is there is so much happening in the world that is detrimental, even catastrophic, to wildlife. So much so, that I often think what I am doing means nothing in the long run.  I have often told people that we, as conservationists, are like a band-aid on a sucking chest wound.  However, like I stated, I see the passionate efforts of others trying to make a difference for wildlife, and that has kept me going trying to do the same.

What do you like most about your career?

I love birds, and my career has revolved around bird management and research.  I love that I have been able to work with these wonderful creatures all my career.  However, what I like most about my career is all the awesome and supremely dedicated people I have met and worked with.  I do not believe there exists a more dedicated group of people.

Was this your original career interest? Why or why not?

Yes.  And I feel fortunate to have been able to pursue my passion for my entire career.

What would you be doing if you weren’t involved in science?

I would be a full-time wildlife photographer.  In fact, I plan on pursuing this line of work after I retire.

What’s been one of your best memories during your career at FWRI?

One of my best memories is working with the team of people I had a hand in putting together to complete two of the major research projects I lead while with GFC/FWC.  One was the team that completed the mottled duck telemetry project in south Florida and the other was the team that resulted in the development of the plumage key to ID mottled ducks.  For me these were big undertakings, and thinking about them now, as I approach retirement, I am proud of those efforts.

What do you enjoy doing in your free time, now that’ll you have more of it?
I will be doing a lot more wildlife photography.  I love wildlife and spending time outdoors observing and photographing it in action.  Images move people like data often cannot.  I hope to inspire others with my imagery to do more to conserve the wildlife we have left on this planet.

After a career in the sciences and conservation, what sage advice can you offer us?

I don’t know about sage advice, but I will state this, don’t ever give up.  Like I mentioned, it can be depressing to think about and dwell on all the negative things that are happening to our wild world.  But, what you are doing matters.  Without folks like you doing the work you do and getting the data out there so people can understand what is happening, wildlife would not stand any chance at all.  So, keep it up, you inspire me and you inspire many others outside our field to work for the conservation of our natural world.

What book or piece of literature would you recommend currently?

I am a dog lover and if you are a dog lover too, I would highly recommend the book entitled Merle’s Door: Lessons from a Freethinking Dog by Ted Kerasote.

Staff Spotlight

This issue, Gavin Hutchinson from Facilities Management at FWRI Headquarters in St. Petersburg was kind enough to answer a few of our questions. Thank you, Gavin!

What is your professional experience?

I’ve been in the Safety field for around 4 years now. Started in the private sector with an environmental construction company. There I dealt with more hands-on everyday safety concerns dealing with heavy equipment hazards and creating safety plans for everyday projects.

What are you working on now?

Safety Week. A whole week dedicated to safety topics.

How is this information beneficial?

It’s always beneficial to consider certain safety aspects. Safety week will put safety at the forefront, where chosen topics are highlighted and discussed. A little bit of fun too.

What is your typical work day like?

Varies from day to day. Depending on the day, I’ll be responsible for safety inspections, chemical disposals, hazardous waste disposal, creating training curricula, ensuring that vendors get paid for their work, navigating covid guild lines etc. This doesn’t include the little things that are pop up randomly.

What is your greatest career accomplishment?

My greatest career accomplishment was passing the ASP exam. This exam/certification is the second highest certification from the Board of Certified Safety Professionals, the highest safety organization in the United States. The exam was 200 questions that lasted 5 hours. Prepared for a year to make sure that I passed and still wasn’t certain until I received the results.

What are some of your biggest challenges?

The biggest challenge in safety is getting others to understand certain steps that are taken and rules that exist. To understand that there are safe ways to do certain tasks regardless of how long you’ve done something a certain way.

What do you like most about your career?
I like that safety is intertwined in a large portion of the inner workings of any organization, and that everyone has a role to play to maintain a safe environment. Gives me the opportunity to be able to interact with a wide range of individuals.

Who has been your favorite mentor or role-model?
My favorite mentor was a person named Carlos Campos. We were both safety officers when I started in my safety career. He already had over 15 years of experience while I was essentially a rookie. He showed me the ropes and taught me about the most important part to consider about being a safety person, the people.

Was this your original career interest? Why or why not?

This was not my original career choice. My original career interest was to be involved in the medical field in some capacity. Then I realized that I hated needles and the sight of blood made me lightheaded.

What would you be doing if you weren’t involved in science?

I’m not technically involved in the scientific field, but if I were not working for a scientific organization like this one, I would most likely still be involved in safety in some capacity, probably in the private sector.  

What advice would you give someone interested in pursuing a career in your field?

You must be persistent and learn to engage with all levels of leadership. Most times, to get anything done, you have to escalate issues to the highest level. Effective communication is also essential. Oh, and get as many certifications as you can.

What do you enjoy doing in your free time?

Photography and spending time with family and my dog.

Staff Spotlight

This issue, outgoing Deputy Director Henry “Harry” Norris sat down with us as he finishes his final year with the Research Institute. Thank you for answering our questions Harry, and thank you for your decades of service with FWC.

What is your professional experience?

I have been with the Agency for 30 years… starting out as a GIS analyst with what was then DNR/FMRI.  At first, my exposure to what the Department did was microscopic. I knew my login info, how to get to the bathroom… and, of course, where the Tavern was.  GIS was pretty new back then and it was an exciting field to be a part of as it was a great tool for synthesizing and characterizing data in ways that provided insights not readily apparent.  Pretty early on I learned that we constantly had to work with other researchers across the Institute, mainly because we needed their data to create our resource maps and conduct analyses. Working with other programs was a great educational experience that allowed me to learn a lot about the work that was going on across our organization.  An early example of this came in 1994 when we developed the Florida Marine Spill Analysis System, one of the first digital oilspill decision-support systems ever made.  To make the FMSAS useful to responders such as the Coast Guard and NOAA, we had to harvest data from across many FWRI programs and even external organizations. Acquiring and spatially enabling hundreds of data sets forced us to work closely with, and listen to, the owners of the data to make sure we understood any limitations and that we characterized the data correctly so they would be useful not just in response, but also contingency planning and post-spill damage assessment. Later, as IS&M section leader, I oversaw the inclusion and development of agency-wide support functions such as Biostatistics, Communications and Socioeconomics. These programs, much like the GIS crew before, reached out to provide a high level of support across the agency, once again exposing me to the breadth and diversity of our research and management operations. Lastly, once I took on the duties of the Deputy Director this experience of learning by working with and listening to staff across our many programs allowed me to establish close relationships and gave me an awareness and ability to work productively with people from different backgrounds and interests.

What are you working on now?

I am on a small team that is working to develop an Agency drone use and safety manual.  It is almost complete and ready for ELT review.  Additionally, we have pulled together an RFP to procure a Drone Management System for the Agency and hope to have it hit the streets before December.  Drones are going to play an important role in how we do business so it is very important that we lay the groundwork correctly.  I am also spending some time bringing my replacement, Leanne Flewelling, up-to-speed.  Though I am finding she is teaching me more than I am her.

What is your typical work day like?

Like most of us, quite busy. I find myself on the phone a lot.  Often, I am trying to fix some problem that is the result of a bureaucratic screw up. I like to think that the relationships I and others in Research Operations have built over the years across the Agency have served us well.  I think it is important for someone in a position like mine to be able to rapidly hone-in on the source of the problem and then know who to work with to get it solved quickly, or if not quickly, at least to our satisfaction.  I also seem to spend a lot of time in meetings, which I am not a big fan of.  But many are necessary, if only to make sure we are all on the same page and that there is accountability.

Who has been your favorite mentor or role-model?

I have had, and in fact still have many mentors and role models, but the one that stands head and shoulders above all of them was my English preparatory school’s Headmaster, Mr. David Donald.  He was a true renaissance man and he really made an impression on me as a deeply passionate, engaging and curious person. He loved to engage the students in conversation on just about any subject, and without being intrusive he asked probing question after question. I just thought he was preternaturally ($10 word) curious, but some years later I realized that he was employing the Socratic method of teaching by making us constantly think about our values and ideas. Any convo with him would have you reassessing many a deeply held thought.  He was also a geographer and lover of maps, which he enjoyed sharing and dissecting with his students.  It was his love of maps that inspired me to pursue a degree in geography, focusing on cartography… which led to GIS.  Cos a person has to eat, and GISers can get paying jobs, unlike cartographers.

What have some of your biggest challenges been?

At a very nuts and bolts level, the lack of funding to replace job-critical items such as vehicles, boats and engines… also necessary funds to make repairs to buildings in need of roofs, HVAC repairs, upgraded electric, etc. is a huge challenge. Another challenge is staff retention in support services such as finance and facilities. We are constantly having to replace good staff that leave for greener pastures.  I fully recognize that we can’t compete with the private sector but find it frustrating that local municipalities and counties can offer far better options that we cannot counter.  The last challenge is the increasing bureaucratic overburden that is being pushed down to research staff.  Often in the guise of “improvement”, staff are forced to use poorly designed software systems, fill out reams of additional forms, and meet ever changing guidelines and rules, such as purchasing. Gerry Bruger had a sign stuck to his door that read “upgrade and improvement are not necessarily synonymous”.  Pithy words.  But I do see a little light in the tunnel with the Invest Inward strategic initiative that is focused on improving the workplace by reducing stress, improving morale and making life generally better for all.  I do hope this initiative will look seriously at how much of a negative influence unnecessary bureaucracy places on all of us.  I want our staff to focus on their work and not die a slow death of a thousand paper cuts.

What do you like most about your career?

I really like learning about the work we do across the agency. For such a small organization, we really cover a lot of ground. A university colleague who partnered with us once said to me “y’all spill more in a day than others pour in a year”. I also really appreciate working with dedicated, creative and very bright people… they are found top to bottom across our organization.

Was this your original career interest? Why or why not?

I originally wanted to be a pilot… not the flying type, but the type that bring ships into ports and across bars. I love the water and anything that floats, preferably powered. As a young man, I worked as a deckhand on the Mississippi for a while and then joined the Coast Guard where I had the good fortune to serve on the Polar Star icebreaker out of Seattle, aboard which I met our own Linda Torres on an Antarctic cruise long before I came here. I also got to operate Search and Rescue boats out of New York. But curiously many years ago a palm reader had told me that I needed to stay away from water, and that fire was where I would find my calling. So, not sure if GIS counts as fire (electrons moving through wires?) but I took that route and gave up the salt life. But now that I am retiring, I think I will go back to the sea and her boats.

What would you be doing if you weren’t involved in science?

Probably drinking out of a paper-bag-wrapped bottle under an overpass.  I really don’t have any idea…

What’s been one of your best memories during your career at FWRI?

I have countless recollections of memorable and enjoyable moments and friends.  But quite honestly it is MarineQuest that stands out.  MQ, year after year, sticks with me.  Watching all the hard and creative work that staff put into their exhibits, seeing children really light up during school daze, and having satisfying chats with adults who express wonderment about all the research we conduct. Over the years I have come to view MQ not just as an educational/outreach event, but also as a window into our culture and soul. I always leave uplifted.

What do you enjoy doing in your free time, now that’ll you have more of it? 

I like to explore new places… in the past few years it has been mostly in the Bay area, but now I plan to range further afield and visit lots of small towns and out of the way places.  I have an eye for noticing oddities and obscure things that tie places back to the past.  And as a foodie, I particularly like stumbling on hole-in-the-wall restaurants with great grub.  I also love to sail, but don’t have a sailboat handy so have to find friends with boat-benefits.

After a career in the sciences and conservation, what sage advice can you offer us? 

Nothing related to science or conservation as most staff already know more than I do.  But I can offer these general thoughts… to young folk, make sure you start saving money in an IRA or the 457 plan.  I cannot stress enough the importance of this.  I don’t care if it is only $25 a month, just start doing this.  You will be pleased you did years from now. Second, stray out o your comfort zone and participate in work activities and on teams beyond your current work-a-day world that will expand your horizons.  And third, vote, dadgummit!

What book or piece of literature would you recommend currently? 

Right now, I am reading “Manners will take you where brains and money won’t” by former NASA administrator Donald G. James.  I like what he has to say about behaving well and treating others with respect.  We seem to be living in a culture where our dialog and behavior get coarser and more brutish by the minute.  We need to push back, and people like Donald James make a strong case for civility and living by the Golden Rule.

And finally, as someone who grew up in New Orleans, which is the best sandwich? Po’ Boy or Muffuletta? 

That’s easy.  A fully dressed fried oyster Po’ Boy with lots of Crystal sauce piquant.  But any Po’ Boy from Crabby Jack’s off Jefferson Highway in NOLA is a home yum 😊.

Staff Spotlight

This issue, Hollis Stewart from Wildlife Health in the Naples Field Office was kind enough to sit down and tell us about herself. Thanks, Hollis!

What is your professional experience?

I went to the University of Georgia for veterinary school. I have had some wonderful vet experiences pre-and post-graduation. I worked with howler monkeys in Belize, jaguar, tapir and short eared dogs in the Peruvian amazon, marine animals in Hawaii, painted dogs in Botswana, lemurs and turtles off the coast of Georgia, horses, donkeys and mules in Morocco and dairy cows in Israel. Prior to joining FWC, I was veterinarian at Cheetah Conservation Fund in Namibia and then worked for seven years in Dubai, on falcons and captive wildlife.

What are you working on now?

I am currently investigating Feline leukomyelopathy (FLM) a novel neurologic condition in Florida panthers and bobcats. The condition causes damage to the spinal cord resulting in weakness and incoordination. The FWC team is opportunistically performing necropsies on road-kill bobcats, in addition to panthers.  FWC has a numerous camera traps deployed to monitor for signs and symptoms of FLM. We are also compiling citizen reports with video that has added to our database of probable cases. There is still so much to know and learn about this disease, what causes it, where does it come from, what is the prevalence, what is the impact on the wild panther population.

How is this information beneficial?

There are around 200 Florida panthers in the wild, already threatened by habitat destruction and fragmentation, in addition to vehicular collisions. We have yet to determine the impact or threat FLM has on their population.

What is your typical work day like?

The job is quite dynamic, some days I am flying doing aerial telemetry to track collared panthers and bobcats, some days I am responding to roadkill calls, other days I am in the field checking remote cameras. I am 24/7 on call in case of a panther emergency. The position is a seasonal with the summer months focusing on captive panther populations, evaluating data and working on manuscripts. The winter months is capture season, so the focus shifts to capturing and collaring panthers.

Who has been your favorite mentor or role model?

My mother has had the biggest impact on my life. She encouraged me to pursue my dreams and follow my heart. Animals were not her passion, but she understood they were mine and she was my number one cheerleader and role model.  I never knew any women of color veterinarians growing up. I still know very few that have a career in wildlife.

What are some of your biggest challenges?

Getting a foot in the door was a challenge. I knew that I always wanted to work with wildlife, but in order to do so, you need to understand domestic animals as well. With so many animal jobs, you must start out volunteering or accepting lower pay. If you have student loans and no financial support, it can be quite difficult just to live. At the beginning of my career I was working at a zoo but had four other jobs just support myself.

What do you like most about your career?

I like that my career is varied.  Veterinarians can choose to practice small or large animal clinical medicine, lab animal medicine, research, pathology, production animal health or other animal health positions.

Was this your original career interest? Why or why not?

I cannot remember a time that I did not want to be a veterinarian. It was my dream since I was less than 3 years old. I do not think it was a decision that I made, but one I was born into.

What would you be doing if you weren’t involved in science?

I do not know what I would be doing. I still have a strong interest in anthropology (my undergraduate major) and man’s historical connection with animals. So perhaps something along those lines. But is that social science? Hmm… in my head I wish I was a great artist or musician or dancer. I envy people that can express their emotions through art. 

Do you have any advice for women looking to enter the field?

Volunteer, find a mentor, talk to everyone, make connections. Also, to stay open minded, many people think they know what they want to do, but when they try it or see something else, and they change their minds. Changing your mind is ok. Changing your goal is ok. Opportunity is everywhere, just stay true to your passion and trust the process. But network and make connections. Always. You never know who you can help and who can help you. And stay humble. Always be humble.

What do you enjoy doing in your free time?

I just started taking flying classes. Being a pilot has been a dream of mine. I decided to stop procrastinating and make it a reality. I also love to travel. Covid put a damper on things, but I have an endangered species bucket list I need to get through. I’m grateful to have been to the places I have been, but travel is addicting, and you never regret traveling. I also enjoy anything that involves nature, the outdoors and my dog.

Staff Spotlight

This issue, Cary Lopez from Ecosystem Assessment and Restoration out of St. Pete was kind enough to sit down and tell us about herself and her work. Thanks, Cary!

What is your professional experience?

I have been working on phytoplankton or harmful algae-related issues for over 20 years now. After graduate school, I began my career working as a biological oceanographer with USGS’s San Francisco Bay project, where I coordinated field sampling and participated in multidisciplinary research projects investigating phytoplankton ecology. I gained a ton of experience there and it was exciting to work in an estuarine system that was so different that what I was used to. A little over five years later, however, my husband’s new job resulted in a cross-country move to Washington D.C. At that point, I took a leap into a new world when I took a job as a contractor working on HAB-related science policy with NOAA. I gained valuable experience in that position as well, but I really missed research more than I ever imagined I would. A couple of years after we moved to Florida, I was eager to get back to research. I applied for and started a new position with the FWRI HAB group in 2013. I enjoy what I do and continue to learn new things every day!

What are you working on now?

My main focus has been researching bloom dynamics of the dinoflagellate Pyrodinium bahamense in Tampa Bay. We have a grant-funded project coming up this summer that looks at interactive effects of this algae with benthic grazers, specifically the eastern oyster, Crassostrea virginica. We are asking the questions– can oysters effectively graze Pyrodinium bahamense and potentially mitigate blooms or does exposure to Pyrodinium bahamense and its toxins negatively impact oyster grazing and health?

How is this information beneficial?

Pyrodinium bahamense is a complicated and fascinating organism, but its ability to form recurring high biomass blooms each summer has been especially problematic for meeting water quality recovery targets in Old Tampa Bay. We have several ongoing projects that aim to improve our understanding of bloom drivers and ecosystem interactions. One goal is to provide information that can guide multiple strategies to decrease the magnitude and duration of these blooms in Tampa Bay and in other estuaries in Florida.

What is your typical work day like?

Well, the past year my typical work day has been different than usual (as I’m sure everyone’s has been), but it has also been interesting. My days have been filled mostly with writing proposals, reports, or manuscripts, learning new software, and lots of data analysis. This upcoming summer, I am expecting that there will be a good variety of field work and laboratory experiments filling my days, and I am looking forward to the fun that brings! 

What is your greatest career accomplishment?

There are definitely scientific accomplishments that I am very proud of, but if I had to choose one thing that has made me the happiest it would be that I have achieved a healthy work-life balance. It is sometimes a challenge to turn work off, but I have made finding a balance a priority.

What are some of your biggest challenges?

I think one of my biggest challenges is finding enough time in the day to do everything (and still maintain that balance I mentioned!). Related to that, staying organized when things are hectic is a real challenge.

What do you like most about your career?

I like that every day is different and that I am always learning.

Was this your original career interest? Why or why not?

Not really. In college I originally went into engineering because I loved math, but through a work-study program I realized that the engineering work just wasn’t clicking with me. After that, I changed my major to marine sciences and never looked back. I started working on harmful algae in graduate school, and then after I graduated with my Master’s degree, I got lucky enough to work with an amazing research group in San Francisco Bay. That experience really solidified my love of phytoplankton.

What would you be doing if you weren’t involved in science?

I also enjoy math, and I enjoy teaching children about both math and science. When my children were young, they went to a Montessori pre-school and I fell in love with the Montessori method of teaching, so maybe I would have my Montessori training and be a teacher.

What advice would you give someone interested in pursuing a career in your field?

Find people that inspire you, read their papers and listen to their talks. Get as much experience as possible and, while doing so, make sure to learn the “why” and not just the “how”. Ask questions and never stop trying to learn new things!

What do you enjoy doing in your free time?

In my free time, I prefer to be outdoors doing something active like gardening, biking with family, or playing games with my kids.

Staff Spotlight

This issue, Theresa Warner from Fisheries-Independent Monitoring out of the St. Petersburg lab was kind enough to sit down and tell us about herself and her work. Thanks, Theresa!

What is your professional experience?

I earned my BS in Biology and Marine Science from the University of Tampa in 2003. While there, I completed an internship at FWRI in the Fish Biology otolith lab working on seabasses, hogfish and pompano. I was able to get involved in field work and even participated in an offshore research cruise (an incredible experience that I didn’t fully appreciate until years later, when I began reading/studying the work of those same senior scientists). I continued to volunteer as my school schedule allowed. Just before graduation, I interviewed with FIM, then left the country for a couple weeks to complete a study-abroad class on coral reef ecology. I returned from that trip with a voicemail asking “when can you start?” I have worked in FIM ever since, starting as OPS, then FTE Marine Tech, Biological Scientist I, Biological Scientist II, Research Associate. My current position is an Assistant Research Scientist.

What are you working on now?

A little bit of everything. Fish identification is my primary focus. I work with FIM staff locally and statewide – training, reviewing/updating/providing identification resources, confirming difficult identifications, reviewing species lists, etc. I work with Outreach to provide identifications that are sent from the public (“what fish is this?”) I help train new FWC Law Enforcement officers in fish identification. I also work with Collections to preserve specimens for incorporation into the Florida Biodiversity Collection. I participate in field sampling as both trip leader and crew. I maintain the FIM Procedure Manual and supervise several staff. I also dabble in database management.

How is this information beneficial?

The FIM program has collected 30+ years of fisheries data (species, abundance, sizes and associated physical data – location, water quality, habitat) following strict, standardized sampling protocols. FIM data are used by managers to analyze fish stocks, detect changes in fisheries, support/change/institute regulations, etc. Our data rely on accurate fish identifications. Retaining voucher specimens provides additional support for the accuracy of our data and allows additional investigations as fish taxonomy advances.

What is your typical work day like?

Every day is different. One day, I could be several miles up the Manatee River, in thigh-deep mud, counting anchovies, and avoiding alligators. The next could be in the office staring at tiny gobies under a microscope, reading videos (identifying, counting measuring fish), querying databases or reviewing papers. And, the next day, I could be heading 100 miles offshore to deploy underwater video cameras.

What is your greatest career accomplishment?

Loving what I do. The marine science field can be difficult to get into and even more difficult to endure. You stay in the field because you love it (certainly, not for the money). Field work takes its toll on your body. The flexibility with FIM has allowed me to have a family and a career.

What are some of your biggest challenges?

Time…there are so many interesting things that pop up…deciding which ones to “chase down the rabbit hole” and “how much time to spend” can be difficult. Degraded specimens, blurry videos, and amateur photos can make identifications difficult. Terminology in fish identification can be overwhelming. Staying current on changes and advances in fish taxonomy is a full-time job itself.

What do you like most about your career?

The variability…no two days are the same. Learning/Seeing/Teaching new things…A couple of years ago, FIM collected a blenny that had never been reported from the Gulf of Mexico (known from Venezuela). I completed the initial identification and worked with experts in the field to confirm the identification…that fish is now preserved in the Florida Biodiversity Collection. Deciphering the terminology in some identification resources, or helping staff see structures that they thought “did not exist” (ex. goby head pores) can be cause for celebration…I love those “AH-HA” moments. Watching, identifying and counting fish on underwater videos can be difficult and tedious, but mesmerizing.

Was this your original career interest? Why or why not?

I grew up being outside, at the beach, on the water, fishing, exploring. I always knew I would be involved in the science field…vet, zoo, national park, teacher. Even in college I wasn’t sure where I was headed, until I took Ichthyology…that class changed my life.

What would you be doing if you weren’t involved in science?

I don’t think I could completely remove science from any career path. I likely would have been a park naturalist, a vet, a science teacher, maybe a nature photographer.

What advice would you give someone interested in pursuing a career in your field?

Volunteer. Intern. Network. Get as much experience as possible. Those connections “get your foot in the door” and that’s the hardest part. And, you have to love marine science to make a career of it.

What do you enjoy doing in your free time?

What free time?! A husband, two young kids and two dogs keep me busy when not working. As a family, we enjoy being outside, walking the dogs, exploring nature, reading, cooking/baking.

Staff Spotlight

This issue, Cyrus Fire from Facilities took some time to answer a few of our questions. Thanks Cyrus!

FWRI Section / Location:
Facilities, JU building, St. Petersburg

Experience:
Property Admin II – FWRI St. Pete
Admin Assistant – FWRI St. Pete
Mail Clerk – State of Ohio
BFA – Columbus College of Art and Design

What are you working on now?
I am working with the home office to help brainstorm and plan for the 2021 annual inventory.

How is this information beneficial?
This information will hopefully make next years annual inventory audit go much more efficiently then it has in years past. This will allow the researchers to get back to doing what they love to do as soon as possible.

What is your typical work day like?
My typical work day includes approving surplus orders, filing surplus approval receipts, one on one meetings with staff and group management team meetings, following up with various departments to ensure timely acquisition of items marked for surplus to be picked up and either stored or disposed of properly. I approve and submit MP6401 forms to the home office for the surplus of vehicles as well as assisting in the coordination of a towing service between our stakeholders and DMS. Uploading signed property number request forms to the portal. I submit Wex card requests and field questions about surplus/acquisitions. Processing and mailing out of property number requests. I help people get tags for vessels and vehicles as well. Oversee any issues concerning the mailroom or janitorial staff.

What is your greatest career accomplishment?
My greatest career accomplishment with FWRI would be taking over the Property office and incorporating it into the Facilities Dept.

What are some of your biggest challenges?
Currently some of my biggest challenges involve planning for the upcoming inventory season. Covid-19 has made many things difficult to plan around successfully. Depending on how individuals feel about having visitors at their  location verses if we will be able to travel at all this upcoming year.

What do you like most about your career?
I enjoy helping people the most. My department assist people with the acquisition of new equipment as well as the disposal of old equipment. If I can successfully help someone who has a need for more space or equipment to fill that space with, then it’s a good day.

Was this your original career interest?
My original career is as an artist. I love color and design.

What would you be doing if you weren’t involved in science?
If I were not involved with FWRI I would be producing artwork. I am always creating something in some form or another.

What advice would you give someone interested in pursuing a career in your field?
I would tell that person to learn Excel and have stellar people skills!

What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
All my free time goes into making my quality of life as good as it can be. I have multiple home improvement projects going on around the house currently. I am learning to cook new things as well!

Staff Spotlight

This issue Nadia Gordon with Wildlife Research/Marine Mammals was kind enough to spend some time answering our questions for Staff Spotlight. Thank you, Nadia.

FWRI Section/Location:
Wildlife Research/Marine Mammals located at the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens

Experience:
Research Associate – Jacksonville Northeast Field Lab lead, Dec. 2010 to current

Supervisor of Mammals – Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens

Animal Curator – World Wildlife Kingdom

BS – Northern Illinois University

What are you working on now?
Day to day work can be dynamic since we receive calls from the public on marine mammals that may need rescue or strand, along with the salvage of marine mammal carcasses. In collaboration with a Jacksonville University D.V.M., our lab (Allison Burns and Kyanna Tamborini) is working to publish a paper on a dolphin stranding case. I’ve also been maintaining our section’s manatee rescue database and assisting in the rescue report editing process. I participate on monthly calls regarding the ongoing large whale Unusual Mortality Events. This afternoon I’ll be working on our monthly vehicle and vessel inspection checklists; we are always maintaining equipment in preparation for marine mammal rescues and necropsies.  

How is this information beneficial?
FWC contributes significantly to the evaluation of threats facing marine mammals and provides key information on health and mortality factors to resource managers and partner agencies. FWC participates within the Manatee Rehabilitation Partnership, a multiagency effort to rescue, release, and track rehabilitated manatees.  The manatee rescue database is complementary to mortality information, both provide insights into how and where manatees may be at greater risk, including from vessel-collisions, water control structures, or from natural causes such as cold-stress. The information may also be requested by the public or outside agencies, such as a recent request on how many manatees have been rescued due to ingesting or becoming entangled in plastics and debris.  

What is your typical work day like?
No day is typical, especially when you field calls from the public. In northeast Florida our responsibilities also change seasonally. Manatees migrate south in the winter, but that is when we welcome the North Atlantic right whales and assist with research and participate in yearly large whale disentanglement training.

What is your greatest career accomplishment?
Not my accomplishment, but I previously worked for the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens and was heavily involved in their team assisting FWC’s Marine Mammal Section. (I didn’t realize I was building my resume for a career with FWC.) Once I became an FWC employee, the Zoo asked if I would assist on their committee to build a manatee critical care rehabilitation facility, which opened in 2017. It was special to be part of a long-term goal coming to fruition.

What are some of your biggest challenges?
I’d say working during the COVID-19 pandemic is a challenge, but one I feel our Institute is managing well. The animal related challenges are typically feel-good stories in the end. I recall our team working with Jacksonville Fire and Rescue over 6 hours to free a live manatee from a storm drain or working with engineers and the City of Daytona to free a manatee cow and her calf trapped behind a walled off retention pond after hurricane Dorian. Both rescues were live streamed, which although is a great way to communicate with the public, can be stressful.

What do you like most about your career?
I like the people I work with and the common interests we share. I appreciate the variety of species we are involved with from manatees and dolphins to beaked whales and North Atlantic right whales, even the occasional wayward seal. I also enjoy collaborating with other organizations. I believe the relationships we build with people make a difference.

Was this your original career interest? Why or why not?
Yes, animals were always an interest of mine and started before I was a toddler trying to pet a bumblebee. (That didn’t go well.)

What would you be doing if you weren’t involved in science?
I’d find a way to get paid to travel to exotic places surrounded by nature.

What advice would you give someone interested in pursuing a career in your field?
Volunteering is a great way to learn about career opportunities. It not only opens your eyes to possibilities, but also allows an individual to see all aspects of a field, for better or worse. 

What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
I enjoy time with friends, running with a local run group at the beach, and in June of this year I adopted a shelter dog who’s learning to paddleboard. When I get the opportunity, I love to travel and explore new places (above and below water!).