Student Research

Research with faculty

As leaders in marine science education and scholarship, faculty and students carry out cutting-edge research in marine and coastal oceanography using cross-disciplinary approaches, spanning the core disciplines of biology, chemistry, geology and geophysics.

Students collaborate with faculty on research projects, which in many cases, leads to publications in peer-reviewed journals and book chapters, as well as research presentations at professional conferences. Student research opportunities span the entire range of marine science. First-year research associateships offer unprecedented opportunities for qualified first-year students to work closely with a faculty mentor on various research projects.

Natural Sciences Summer Research Program

The Eckerd College Natural Sciences Summer Research Program, originally developed with a grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, continues to be generously funded by the College. This program provides modest funds to support faculty and students engaged in collaborative scientific research.

Senior theses

Juniors and seniors who demonstrate superior competence in their academic performance may be selected to design and implement, with faculty supervision, a senior thesis that involves research on a topic of their interest. Thesis projects culminate in a written thesis and defense, which are evaluated by three committee members. Some students publish results in scientific journals and/or present their results at professional conferences even before graduating.

Student Research Symposium

All Eckerd College students are invited to participate in a symposium highlighting student research held in March each year. Current students who have completed research outside their coursework from all academic areas are welcome to participate by giving either a poster or oral presentation describing their work. Awards for the Symposium have been made possible through SunTrust/ASPEC/Faculty Learning Grants and the Eckerd College chapter of Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society.

Current and recent student research projects

Dolphin social and population structure

For more than 25 years, Eckerd students have studied the social and population structure of common bottlenose dolphins in Tampa Bay by using photo-identification and acoustic techniques as part of the Eckerd College Dolphin Project.  The Eckerd College Dolphin Project (ECDP) began in 1993 to meet several objectives. They include scientific research on bottlenose dolphin biology in the Boca Ciega Bay area, to provide a platform for students to learn first-hand about dolphins and dolphin research, and to provide information to conserve dolphins and other resources in the area. Since 1993, 712 boat based surveys have been conducted in Boca Ciega Bay and surrounding waters and photographs collected during these surveys have resulted in a catalog of over 900 individual dolphins.

Dolphins swimming. Photo taken under the authority of NMFS LOC No. 15512.o.

Calf and mother interact. Photo taken under the authority of NMFS LOC No. 15512.o.

Shark population structure

Several students have used molecular techniques to investigate the population structure of Gulf of Mexico pipefish and bonnethead sharks. Dr. Szelistowski takes students to Bimini Biological Field Station for hands-on shark and ray research every year.

Students with Caribbean reef shark during spring break 2016.
Photo: Charlotte Sams/Bimini Sharklab

Coastal environmental characterizations – Caribbean

Since 2002 sediment studies have been ongoing in the US Virgin Islands (USVI) to understand the natural patterns and processes controlling sediment input and accumulation in coastal environments and how anthropogenic activities have altered these processes/environments.  This has expanded throughout the Caribbean to also include studies in the FL Keys, Cuba, Dominica and St. Lucia.  Recent studies are focusing on the impacts of Hurricane Irma (2017) to coastal environments in the USVI, Cuba, and FL Keys.

Deep sea benthic characterization – Gulf of Mexico

Since 2010 Eckerd College has received ~$1.2 million in research funding, and included several student research participants to assess the impacts of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill on the seafloor and benthic communities in the northeast Gulf of Mexico. Research continues to further characterize deep sea benthic habitat and processes controlling sediment transport and distribution.

Microplastic monitoring

Eckerd College has pioneered research on microplastics in Tampa Bay. Since 2017 Eckerd College has received more than $200,000 in research funding to develop methods and quantify microplastics in the sediments, water column and ingested by copepods and manatees. In addition to monitoring, experimental methods are used to explore interactions between plankton and microplastics.

Go Green Campaign/ Citizen Scientist Guardian Corps

Eckerd College has partnered with the Center of Anna Maria Island and Mote Marine Laboratory to  develop a project aiming at addressing water quality issues, and coastal habitat deterioration along coastal areas in the Tampa bay region. Students will assist in monitoring water quality on Anna Maria Island and west Brandenton. Students develop a set of skills that not only include research-oriented ones, but also others related to communication, teamwork, critical thinking, innovation, and problem solving skills.

Deep sea mining environmental impact assessment

The purpose of the project is to satisfy the recommendations of the United Nations, International Seabed Authority by providing quantitative foraminiferal abundance, biomass, and species structure that will capture baseline ecological quality for an area in the east-central Pacific Ocean that has been approved for test mining of polymetallic nodules (raw materials for sustainable energy storage, batteries, electric vehicles). This research project identifies foraminifera bioindicator species as proxies for initial disturbance and will be used to populate a marine biotic index, which can be used to deliver Ecological Quality Statuses for each site.

Seafloor coupling with harmful algal bloom

This ongoing project focuses on the coupling of seafloor processes with Harmful Algal Blooms (Red Tide) on the West Florida Shelf.  This collaborative effort involves working directly with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission-Fish and Wildlife Research Institute’s Harmful Algal Bloom (FWRI-HAB) group to investigate K. brevis bloom and seafloor coupling with the goals of

  1. providing environmental context of the benthos;
  2. establishing baselines of K. brevis bloom impacts/conditions in benthic environments (benthic foraminifera assessments);
  3. evaluating the historical context and flux rates (short lived radioisotopes). These collective goals are critical for laying the groundwork for a cyst or benthos monitoring program to aid in forecasting bloom dynamics, especially initiation and termination.

Regional research opportunities

Given the close proximity to the Gulf of Mexico and subtropical climate, the Tampa Bay region has a high concentration of marine research and academic institutions, providing a large number of opportunities for students at academic, government, and private institutions/agencies.