Awards and Accolades

Outstanding Mentor Award
Danielle McDonaldUM Rosenstiel School Professor Danielle McDonald is the 2016 recipient of the Outstanding Mentor Award. In its third inauguration, this award is meant to recognize outstanding mentors who go above and beyond in fostering the professional and personal development of RSMAS graduate students. This award is based on student nominations.

McDonald was described as an “engaging researcher and educator who demonstrates a vested interest in her students’ success and personal well-being.”

An associate professor of marine biology and ecology, McDonald directs the UM Toadfish Lab.  She combines whole animal physiology, molecular biology, pharmacology and toxicology research to study the interactions between serotonin (5-HT), its receptors and transporters and the stress hormone, cortisol, as toadfish have a unique physiological process, pulsatile urea excretion, that involves all these components. Her work has toxicological as well as human health relevance as it gives some insight on the impact of chronic antidepressant administration, which has many negative side effects in humans.


Graduate Student Receives NASA Fellowship

Ryan KramerUM Rosenstiel School graduate student Ryan Kramer was awarded the NASA Earth and Space Science (NESSF) Fellowship for research in the area of Earth Science. Kramer was one of 73 Earth Science fellows to receive the award, which provides a maximum award of $30,000 for one year, with two more potential years of funding.

Kramer, a PhD student in the UM Rosenstiel School Atmospheric Sciences Program, was awarded for his proposal “Understanding Radiative Feedbacks and Radiative Forcings of the Hydrological Cycle.”

The purpose of the NESSF is to ensure continued training of a highly qualified workforce in disciplines required to achieve NASA’s scientific goals. Awards resulting from the competitive selection are made in the form of training grants to the respective universities and educational institutions, with the faculty advisor serving as the principal investigator.

“I’m extremely honored to receive this Fellowship,” said Kramer. “It will provide me significant freedom to continue my research on the earth’s hydrological cycle as effectively as possible, and will help me build a valuable connection to NASA and their incredible resources.  There is such great work being done at RSMAS, and I am proud to represent the School in some small way.”

Awards for Excellence 

Congratulations to the winners of the 2016 UM Graduate Student Association and TA Excellence Awards:

UM Graduate Student Association Awardees

* Sean Kennelly was awarded the Linda Sher-Collado Memorial Staff Appreciation Award.
* Anna Ling was awarded the GSA Academic Excellence, Leadership, and Service Award.

TA Excellence Awardees

* Zack Daugherty for MSC 328: Introduction to Aquaculture
* Sharmila Giri for MSC 232: Introduction to Marine Biology Laboratory
* Jake Jerome for MSC 460: Spatial Applications for Marine Science

Researchers Assess Damage to Seagrass Habitat Following 4th of July Festivities

Researchers from the University of Miami (UM) Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, in collaboration with the Key Biscayne Community Foundation and the Key Biscayne Citizen Science program, conducted an assessment of seagrass communities on the Mashta flats off Key Biscayne prior and immediately following the 4th of July weekend.

Results showed significant amounts of new damage and marine debris following the weekend’s festivities, which is a popular area for weekend and holiday boaters. Initial surveys were conducted at 10 random locations (80 m2 each) on June 30, 2016. During these surveys, seagrass cover was calculated and all trash found within the plots was collected, identified, and counted. The same plots were re-surveyed on July 6, 2016.

An American flag found by researchers on seagrass habitat during the assessment.

An American flag found by researchers on seagrass habitat during the assessment.

The initial surveys revealed that each plot contained four pieces of trash on average. Trash items included aluminum cans, plastic cups, glass bottles, and other miscellaneous items. Extrapolating the amount of trash collected onto the whole area of the Mashta flats (82 acres, area < 3 m of depth) results in an estimated 17,000 trash items accumulated onto the bottom habitats prior to the holiday weekend. Following the holiday weekend there were an additional 2 trash items per plot on average. Extrapolating again onto the whole area of the flats, close to 10,000 new trash items accumulated on the seagrass habitat over the holiday weekend.

While trash on the bottom is a serious problem for marine life, physical injuries to the seagrass beds is also a major source of concern. Evidence of recent boat damage (anchor and propeller scars) was observed within 6 of the 10 plot surveys. Estimates of recovery time for scars vary, but can range from as little as 0.9 years to 7.6 years (Sargent et al. 1995, Andorfer and Dawes 2002).

Seagrass beds provide myriad ecological and economic services. They are important nurseries and habitat to commercial and recreational fish as well as invertebrate species like lobster, crabs, snappers, grunts, tarpon, and bonefish. They buffer storm impacts and filter sediments and nutrients, contributing to water clarity. Additionally, they are important carbon sinks that help buffer the impacts of ocean acidification.

“Enjoying the beautiful and diverse marine habitats surrounding the city of Miami is a unique privilege,” said Diego Lirman, associate professor who led the assessment conducted by the University of Miami’s Benthic Ecology Lab. “However, we need to be aware that these habitats are very fragile and that their persistence is dependent on our responsible use.”

Research in the University of Miami’s Benthic Ecology Lab, led by UM Rosenstiel School Associate Professor Diego Lirman, concentrates on the coastal habitats of South Florida, including coral reefs, hardbottom, and submerged aquatic vegetation (seagrass) communities. Research activities combine extensive field activities and surveys and ecological modeling to understand the dynamics of benthic habitats and document influences of human and natural disturbances on these important resources.

By: Diego Lirman, Associate Professor, Department of Marine Biology and Ecology – UM Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science 

Drawn to the Sea

When Patrick Rynne contacted me on December 11th of last year, he explained that one of Waterlust’s initiatives was to showcase ocean scientists’ fundamental research interest and juxtapose the topic with their personal passions. He said “Obviously your name jumped up immediately. We’d love to produce a piece on you that contrasts your love of freediving with your research”. I was stoked about the idea of a snapshot documentary. I thought it could be a very artistic and powerful way to communicate science to the general public. Drawn to the Sea, the Waterlust 4-minute long video was launched 6 months later, coincidently during the International Coral Reef Symposium (ICRS) which takes place only every four years, and I could not be happier with the outcome. It’s making was a very educational and amazing journey that I’d love to share.

The short video is composed of three major parts: the narration, the footage, and the soundtrack.

Screen Shot 2016-07-14 at 3.10.11 PM

The Narration

Being familiar with my research on fish larvae, Patrick had a story board already in mind, but he asked me of I would prefer to do the narration myself. As far as I remember, water has been my sanctuary and since I am very passionate about my work and about freediving, I found it easy and fun to write the narration below. The hardest part was to make the story short enough to be told in 3-4 minutes. It took however coaching from Patrick to speak into a microphone and many repetitions alone in my office late at night, with complete silence to get it right!

I have always been drawn to the sea. As a kid, I imagined the magic of the aquatic realm and found comfort underwater, mesmerized by the sounds of waves on the shoals and of my heart beat slowing down.

I am a biological oceanographer and a free diver. The ocean is where I push my mind and my body. I study the earliest days of a fishs life, what we call its larval stage. All fish, even those that grow to become very large, begin their lives very small. They may be tiny, but weve learned they are far from defenseless. They are strong and self sufficient having evolved to survive the pelagic life. Like the mantra ek ong kar, they and the ocean are one.

Despite this, they must still find their way through the oceans currents to a safe home like a coral reef where they can live and grow. At first we thought some would find a suitable habitat by chance, while others would be lost in the vast ocean. But today we are discovering a different story. Fish larvae are skilled swimmers and work together by using the light from the sun, and the smells and sounds in the ocean to find their way home. Even when young, they are connected to the sea in ways we dont entirely understand. When I observe them, I cannot help but think they know something about this blue world that I don’t.

Unlike a fish, I cannot extract oxygen from the water. But with long, deep inhales, I have learned to fill my lungs with air and slow the beat of my heart. Underwater, I find peace listening to my pulse slowing down and the sound of water over my body. I sink as pressure increases and I feel the water running faster over my face. I imagine that I am just like the tiny fish I study.

I explore the ocean with others like me, learning how to hold my breath and extend each visit below, just a little bit longer. But no matter how hard I body will eventually force me to leave and return home to the air. my dreams, I imagine I could hold my breath forever. I feel free. I wonder if I could, would I ever come back?

The Soundtrack

The music actually came after the narration. Despite personal preference for cello or violin, I had to agree that the piano soundtrack chosen by the Waterlust team was perfectly in tune with the narration. They have a lot of experience putting together amazing videos with beautiful soundtracks so it did not take long for them to find the perfect fit.

The Footage

Most of the footage was the result of a weekend session done with the Waterlust team in the Florida Springs. We had a great time freediving with them and their creative angles. Before that, I started organizing all my footage together and Patrick reviewed it and figured out what more was needed. The video needed field and lab footage of larval fish. I had some unique video of groups of damselfish larvae navigating taken by my husband Ricardo (RSMAS Alumni) and I on the Great Barrier Reef a few years ago. This study was recently published in PLoS ONE in December 2015. However, the field of larval fish behavior is relatively undocumented. So Patrick came to my lab and took some radical video of mahi-mahi larvae (generously donated by my UM Rosenstiel School colleagues, Daniel Bennetti and Martin Grosell) with a macro lens shooting at 240 frames per second!

The video also needed freediving clips from travel or from competitions. My first competition was at Deja Blue in October 2013 and my latest trip was at the Dean’s Blue Hole this April 2016, where I regularly service an acoustic pressure instrument that records sounds in a marine sinkhole. However, we still needed some footage of the meditation practice that is part of my freediving training, and of course of the fun part of the freediving with “others like me”. We asked Waterlust Ambassador, Ashley Baird, to join us on that endeavor. Ashley is from central Florida and also a competitive free diver and a great friend, so she was perfect for the role and she kindly accepted!

The best part of making the video was hanging out with the amazing Waterlust team,at Ginnie Springs around a fire camp and freediving under the moonlight. It was my first time visiting the Florida springs. I could not believe that after so many years in Miami, I had missed such natural beauty in Central Florida. The freshwater is so clear that you can see the refraction of the hammocks on the Snell’s window from the bottom of the sink holes.

I hope you enjoy the video and that it will inspire more documentaries of our scientific research at RSMAS and of our passion for the ocean.


Claire Paris, Professor – Department of Ocean Sciences, UM Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science

Claire Paris-Limouzy leads the RSMAS Physical-Biological Interactions Lab and is a champion free-diver.



Professor Emeritus Receives Surprise Honor

Joe and lab plaque_IMG_1561UM Rosenstiel School Professor Emeritus Joseph Prospero received a unique recognition at the 100th anniversary celebration of the Izana Observatory, a world-renowned atmospheric research station located in Tenerife, Canary Islands.

“For the celebration they asked me to present a short lecture on the history of our aerosol studies at Izana,” said Prospero. “At the end of the lecture – and to my great surprise – they presented to me a large aluminum plaque that was intended to be affixed to a building.”

The Izana Observatory building is now named the “Joseph M. Prospero Aerosol Research Laboratory.”

Known as the “grandfather of dust,” Prospero’s lifelong work has been to measure the effects of airborne dust. Since 1965, he and his colleagues have been measuring dust particles in Barbados, West Indies, thus creating the longest dust measurement data set in science.

Sergio and Joe with my lab at far left_MG_1543

“I have had a long association with the observatory, starting in 1974 when I started aerosol sampling at the site,” said Prospero. “Over the years we have continued to cooperate and we have held some major field campaigns there.”

About 100 people representing the major atmospheric and meteorological centers attended Prospero’s lecture.


Faculty and Alumni News

Professor Receives 2016 Provost Research Award

UM Rosenstiel School Associate Professor Oleksiak Marjorie Oleksiak in the Department of Marine Biology and Ecology is a recipient of a 2016 Provost Research Award for her work on marine genomics. Oleksiak is using a new model organism for natural aging in vertebrates, an annual killifish with a three-month lifespan.

“The award will allow me to expand my research and develop tools to enhance my current research goals,” said Oleksiak, who won for her research project titled, “Live fast, die young: oxidative phosphorylation function in a rapidly aging fish.”

Marine Genomics is genome biology applied to marine organism. Oleksiak’s research is about the genomics of how animals work, evolve and adapt. She uses evolutionary approaches to gain a better understanding of physiology, toxicology and human health and disease.

The Provost’s Research Awards are administered by the UM Office of the Vice Provost for Research to provide salary support and direct research costs to faculty for research. Oleksiak is one of 61 recipients of this year’s award.

Alumna Named 2016 Mujer Legendarias by Ford Motor Company

KarinaIn March 2016, UM Rosenstiel School alumna Karina Castillo (BS ’09, MPS ’12) was chosen by Ford Motor Company and Ford en Español as a 2016 Mujer Legendarias. Each year, Ford chooses four Latina women in five cities across the country to represent each of their four pillars: Intelligence, Green, Efficiency, and Security.

The 20 women selected represent the over 22 million Latinas across the country. Castillo was chosen for her work in addressing climate change to represent the green pillar. She is honored and humbled to be recognized for her work.

Castillo received a B.S. from the UM College of Arts and Sciences in 2009 and a Master of Professional Science in 2012.

New Book on Old Florida at RSMAS Library

A_PioneerSonIn a new book, A Pioneer Son at Sea: Fishing Tales of Old Florida, celebrated marine biologist Gilbert Voss posthumously recounts his early days of fishing on both coasts of the peninsula during the Great Depression and World War II. Voss (1918-1989) was professor of biological oceanography at the UM Rosenstiel School and author of several books, including Seashore Life of Florida and the Caribbean.

The book was edited by Robert S. Voss, the author’s son and a curator at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.

Long before tourism dominated Florida’s coastline, the state was home to dozens of commercial fisheries and ethnically diverse communities of rugged individuals who made their living from the sea.

Oversized personalities inhabit the pages, including Voss’s brothers, who were themselves seminal figures in the early days of Florida big-game fishing. Voss’s anecdotes feature Crackers, rum runners, murderers, Conchs, wealthy industrialists, now-legendary charterboatmen, Greek spongers, and Cuban viverocaptains.

The book was published by the University Press of Florida and an e-book is available and a print copy is currently on display at the RSMAS Library (non-circulating).



Faculty and Alumni News

The Oceanography Society Honors Professor Fine


Rana Fine

UM Rosenstiel School Professor Rana Fine was elected a 2016 Fellow of The Oceanography Society (TOS) for her outstanding contributions to the field of oceanography. She will be honored along with other 2016 Fellows during the TOS breakfast on Feb. 23, 2016 at the American Geophysical Union’s Ocean Sciences Meeting.

Fine’s scientific interests include ocean circulation processes and their role in climate using chemical tracers. Fine is a fellow of the AGU, American Association for the Advancement of Science, and American Meteorological Society.

A graduate of the UM Rosenstiel School, Fine has received the highest honor attainable at the University of Miami, induction into the School’s Iron Arrow Honor Society. Fine also received a Provost’s Award for Scholarly Activity from the University of Miami.

TOS was founded in 1988 to disseminate knowledge of oceanography and its application through research and education, to promote communication among oceanographers, and to provide a constituency for consensus building across all the disciplines of the field.

Alumna Heads to Washington, DC as 2016 Knauss Fellow


Erica Towle

UM Rosenstiel School alumna Eric Towle was awarded a 2016 NOAA John A. Knauss Marine Policy Fellowship through the Florida Sea Grant Program for her outstanding achievement in marine and coastal policy research. Towle will relocate to Washington, D.C. for one year to work with the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation for the majority staff, focusing on oceans, atmosphere, fisheries, and the Coast Guard.

Towle is a double alumna of the UM Rosenstiel School earning her B.S. in marine and atmospheric science in 2010 and her Ph.D. in marine biology and ecology in 2015.  Her Ph.D. research was completed in Chris Langdon’s Corals and Climate Change Lab, focusing on identifying indicators of resilience to climate change stress in corals of the Florida Reef Tract.

The National Sea Grant College Program created the Knauss fellowship in 1979 to provide educational experiences to students that have an interest in ocean and coastal resources and in the national policy decisions affecting those resources.

Towle hopes the fellowship will teach her more about how science is translated and used in policymaking.

Alumna Elected Chair of Beach Preservation Association

Leanne Welch

Leanne Welch

UM alumna Leanne Welch was elected chair of the Florida Shore and Beach Preservation Association (FSBPA) at their annual meeting in September. Her tenure as chair began Jan. 1, 2016 and runs through Dec. 31, 2016. As chair, Welch directs the board meetings and serves on the planning committees for the statewide meetings, which will be held in Jacksonville and Naples in 2016. She works closely with the president and executive director of FSBPA, as well as with other member counties and cities, to promote effective beach management throughout the state.

Welch graduated from UM in 1994 with a double major in marine science and biology and is currently an environmental manager with Palm Beach County’s Department of Environmental Resources Management. She manages many coastal issues in Palm Beach County, including coastal construction (beach and dune nourishment, artificial reef construction, inlet management, and living shorelines), coral reef ecosystem monitoring, sea turtle nesting, manatee protection, and a variety of estuarine management and monitoring programs in Lake Worth Lagoon.

Since its inception in 1957, the Florida Shore and Beach Preservation Association has functioned as a league of coastal cities and counties on behalf of Florida’s beaches. FSBPA provides information to the Florida Legislature and Congress on beach preservation issues and funding.

Welch has been on the Board of Directors of FSBPA since February of 2012.