Weedlines: A Sargassum Research Blog

Meet the Scientists

We have another great group going out this year, including a few new faces. Check out who’s going and learn a little bit about our science team.

Dr. Frank Hernandez (Chief Scientist, Lead Investigator, USM)

Frank Hernandez.pngDr. Hernandez is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Coastal Sciences at the University of Southern Mississippi where his research focus is in fisheries oceanography. His research interests include larval and juvenile fish ecology, biophysical processes that influence recruitment dynamics, fish-habitat associations, planktonic food webs, and the impacts of environment/climate variability and anthropogenic disturbances on the ecology of fish early life stages. He spends way too much time at his desk or in meetings, and is therefore thrilled to be going offshore again in search of Sargassum.

Dr. Kevin Dillon (Co-Investigator, USM)

Kevin DillonDr. Kevin Dillon is a chemical oceanographer and associate professor in USM’s Division of Coastal Science. His research interests include carbon/nutrient cycling and food webs in aquatic environments and the impact of anthropogenic stressors to these ecosystems. In this study he is using bulk stable isotopes (13C and 15N) as well as compound specific stable isotopes of amino acids to elucidate food web dynamics in Sargassum communities.  He is grateful for this brief escape from the lab for some well-deserved time at sea with his PhD students exploring the mysteries of Sargassum.


Glenn Zapfe (Co-Investigator, NOAA)

Glenn ZapfeGlenn is the lead of the Plankton Unit at NOAA’s Mississippi Laboratories in Pascagoula, Mississippi. He oversees the plankton portion of the Southeast Area Monitoring and Assessment Program (SEAMAP) which includes surveys conducted to provide fishery independent data for stock assessments. His interests include examining the role Sargassum plays in affecting larval abundance and distribution of commercially important species such as grey triggerfish and dolphinfish.

Carla Culpepper (Research Technician, USM) Carla Culpepper

Carla is a technician and lab manager of the Fisheries Oceanography and Ecology Lab in the Department of Coastal Sciences at the University of Southern Mississippi. Her research interests are in plankton dynamics in the northern Gulf of Mexico, particularly, the interactions between zooplankton and ichthyoplankton. By the end of this summer, she will have spent roughly sixty days aboard the R/V Point Sur; it has become a home away from home.



Eric Haffey (Research Technician, USM)

Eric HaffeyEric is a technician that joined the lab January of 2017 identifying larvae fish as part of the CONCORDE project. Prior to being a part of our lab he worked at the Baruch Field Laboratory USC in South Carolina working with planktonic samples and early life stage tarpon. He looks to expand his knowledge of early life stage fishes and is excited to partake on his first research cruise on the R/V Point Sur.


Valeria Nuñez (Research Technician, USM) Valeria Nunez

Valeria started in early February as research technician in the lab. She came to Mississippi from Texas after graduating from Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi in December. Though she is taking a break from school, she continues to expand her knowledge and skill in research so going back out to sea is an exciting opportunity for her to do just that.



Olivia LestradeOlivia Lestrade (Graduate Student, USM)

Olivia is a Master’s student in the Fisheries, Oceanography, and Ecology lab at the University of Southern Mississippi. Her research focuses on microplastic impacts to early life stage fishes associated with floating Sargassum habitats. She has been a fish out of water her whole life and has a passion for understanding and exploring the Gulf of Mexico.





Courtney Stachowiak (Graduate Student, USM)Courtney Stachowiak

Courtney is working to obtain her MS in Coastal Sciences at the University of Southern Mississippi’s Gulf Coast Research Lab. Her research is funded by the NOAA RESTORE program and is focused on assessing the juvenile fish community assemblages associated with Sargassum, and targeting important fishery species to quantify age and growth parameters. She hopes to pursue a career in fisheries research as she enjoys field sampling, and she is looking forward to her first research cruise aboard the R/V Point Sur.




Zabe PromoElizabeth (Zabe) Premo (Graduate Student, USM) 

Zabe is a PhD student in the Department of Coastal Studies at the University of Southern Mississippi working under the advisement of Dr. Kevin Dillon, and is undertaking research focused on stable isotope ecology and marine nutrient cycling. She is funded by NOAA RESTORE, and her main efforts as part of this project focus on bulk and compound specific stable isotope analysis of biological samples to investigate trophic structure associated with Sargassum features. Zabe is extremely grateful for the opportunity to go to sea, and intends to unabashedly geek out with each new Sargassum sighting.


Caitlin Slife (Graduate Student, USM) Caitlin Slife

Caitlin is a PhD graduate research assistant in Dr. Dillon’s chemical oceanography and biogeochemistry laboratory at the University of Southern Mississippi. She is a stable isotope ecologist whose research is focused on modeling trophic webs via bulk isotope and nutrient analysis. She typically only goes offshore for a few days, so she is very excited to spend an extended period offshore working on Sargassum.



Mengqiu WangMengqiu Wang (Graduate Student, USF)

Mengqiu a PhD Candidate in College of Marine Science at University of South Florida. Her dissertation focuses on studying the distributions, abundances, and transport of Sargassum in the Intra-Americas Seas and North Atlantic. Most of her study was based on “reading and interpreting” satellite images, and she is eager to decipher more about Sargassum with field measurements.



Xingxing Han (Graduate Student, USF) Xingxing Han

Xingxing is a visiting scholar in  College of Marine Science at the University of South Florida. Her research focuses on studying the long-term changes of coastal wetland in Florida and Louisiana. Using Landsat and MODIS satellite images, she is able to determine the wetland cover types based on the intra-annual phenology of different vegetation.



Verena WangDr. Verena Wang (Postdoc, USM)

Verena is a postdoctoral researcher in Dr. Hernandez’s fisheries oceanography lab.  Her research currently focuses on studying the community structure and vertical migration patterns of deep-pelagic ichthyoplankton in the northern Gulf of Mexico.  Most of her research is conducted in front of a computer screen or on a lab bench, so she is very excited to gain experience at sea on her first research cruise.



Brian Jones (Guest Researcher, Photographer, DISL) Brian Jones .jpg

Brian is the curator at the Dauphin Island Sea Lab’s public aquarium, The Estuarium, on Dauphin Island, Alabama. While his days are mostly consumed with keeping aquarium fish healthy, and making fish tanks look presentable to the public, he thoroughly enjoys helping out with interesting research projects in the Gulf of Mexico.



Nudibranch (with Beatrice).pngNudibranch (Sea Turtle, Guest Lovie)

Nudibranch is going on her first research cruise, courtesy of Frank’s daughter, Beatrice. Nudibranch will help in several important ways. First, she will use her sea turtle powers to help the team locate Sargassum at sea. Second, she will help scan the weedlines and ensure that our sampling region is “turtle free”, and that we are okay to deploy our nets. Lastly, she will keep Beatrice’s dad company, so that he will not be lonely and miss his family so much.

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