Weedlines: A Sargassum Blog

Meet the Scientists

We’re winding down on Day 2 of searching for Sargassum! We have a mixture of Sargassum veterans and a few new faces for this leg. Check out who’s on board and learn a little bit about our science team, and thanks for following along on our blog!

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

Dr. Hernandez is an Associate 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.

Kevin DillonDr. Kevin Dillon (Co-Investigator, USM)

Dr. 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 CulpepperCarla Culpepper (Research Technician, USM)

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. This is her eighth cruise aboard the R/V Point Sur!


Eric Haffey (Research Technician, USM)

Eric HaffeyEric is a technician who 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 is excited to embark on his third sargassum cruise aboard the R/V Point Sur.


Olivia Lestrade

Olivia 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 StachowiakCourtney Stachowiak (Graduate Student, USM)

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 third 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.

Mengqiu WangMengqiu Wang (Graduate Student, USF)

Mengqiu started the project as a PhD candidate but completed her degree and remained as a post doctoral research scientist in the College of Marine Science at University of South Florida. Her dissertation focused 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 continue to decipher more about Sargassum with field measurements.

Caitlin Slife


Caitlin Slife (Graduate Student, USM)

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. Throughout the year, her field work typically only goes offshore for a few days, so she is very excited to spend an extended period offshore working on Sargassum.


April Hugi April Hugi (Graduate Student, USM)

April joined the Hernandez lab as an intern in the summer of 2018 and started graduate school in the fall. She is interested in larval fish ecology, fish-habitat associations, and ecosystem-based fisheries management. Her eventual goal is to pursue a career where she can link her two passions of marine science and visual art to help bridge the communication gap between the public and the scientific community.



SAN_8450Emily Gipson

Emily joined the larval fish lab as a masters student in Fall of 2018 after receiving her bachelors from the University of Central Florida. Her thesis focuses on larval and juvenile deep-sea fishes from the northern Gulf of Mexico. She will be using gut contents and a combination of bulk and compound specific stable isotope analysis to study their feeding ecology.



Minghai Huang SAN_8220

Minghai is a Ph.D. student in College of Marine Science at University of South Florida. His current research focuses on studying the connection between the Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico through meso-scale eddies. Most of his study was based on the numerical model output and altimetry results. He is excited to gain sea-going experience during this cruise.



Patricia Colón

Patricia is an intern who recently graduated from the University of West Florida with her Bachelor’s degree in Marine Biology. Her zodiac sign is Pisces and her favorite invertebrates are squids. She is interested in plastic pollution and how it may affect abyssal trench environments and the organisms that live there. She also likes the idea of being a professor at a university. This is her first time being on a research vessel, so almost everything excites her.


Sandra Huynh (Guest Scientist)SAN_8621.JPG

Sandra is an alumna of the Hernandez lab and is stoked about joining the lab again on her first research cruise on the R/V Point Sur as a volunteer visiting scientist. After working for the Hernandez lab, she obtained her Master’s degree in Marine Resource Management from Oregon State University and currently works for the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources at the Grand Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, where she still works with plankton as much as possible!

Nudibranch (Sea Turtle, Guest Lovie)

NudibranchNudibranch is going on her third 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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