Nature Coast Biological Station faculty member Russel Dame, portrait photographed on February 6, 2017.

Rusty Dame

Rusty Dame is a M.S. student in the UF/IFAS Food and Resource Economics program researching the economics and risk associated with triploid oyster farms utilizing the emerging off-bottom growout method. He analyzes the economic effect of various environmental, producer, and consumer risk scenarios associated with oyster farms along the west coast of Florida using Stochastic modeling via Simitar software. Rusty was born and raised in West Palm Beach, FL where he spent most of his free time snorkeling or fishing along the bridges. He transferred into the Food and Resource program where his interest in marine economics and aquaculture developed and rapidly grew. Due to the funds he received from UF/IFAS Nature Coast Biological Station has allowed him to work with Dr. Charles Adams and Dr. Kelly Grogan on the Triploid Oyster project in Cedar Key, FL. He is currently collecting cost and production data with Leslie Sturmer in hope this research gives potential oyster farmers a realistic view into the industry and a comparison of potential benefits between diploid versus triploid oysters.

Rick Herren

Rick has a B.S. degree in Psychology and Zoology from the University of Florida and a M.S. degree in Biology from the University of Central Florida. He has worked on marine research and monitoring projects for 25 years, including commercial fishery landings, right whale migrations and horseshoe crab mating. Since 1992, Rick has been studying, monitoring and managing sea turtle populations in the Southeastern U.S, which includes 23 straight years surveying nesting beaches and 20 years capturing thousands of turtles on population and conservation studies in bays, lagoons and open-water sites in Florida, Georgia and Hawaii. More recently he spent 10 years coordinating Indian River County’s Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) under a federal incidental take permit for impacts to nesting sea turtles. Rick currently works part-time managing conservation projects for the Sea Turtle Conservancy and part-time for the University of Florida. He is working on his Ph.D. in the Department of Wildlife Conservation and Ecology at UF in association with the Nature Coast Biological Station.
Rick is on the Board of Directors and a co-founder of Inwater Research Group, Inc. and Coastal Biology, Inc. He recently served two years as the Registrar for the International Sea Turtle Society's Annual Symposium on Sea Turtle Biology and Conservation. His leisure interests include surfing, sailing, traveling, camping, hiking and photography.
PhD Research

Rick’s research is focused on quantifying the demographics of sea turtle populations in the waters of the Nature Coast using standard and emerging technologies as well as developing spatial habitat suitability models to predict sea turtle abundance.

Nature Coast Biological Station faculty member Richard Herren, portrait photographed on February 6, 2017.
Nature Coast Biological Station faculty member Emma Pistole, portrait photographed on January 31, 2017.

Emma Pistole

Growing up along the southern California coast, Emma Pistole developed a passion for the ocean and marine conservation at an early age. In 2016 she earned her B.S. in Biology and Ecology at the University of Georgia. During her time as an undergraduate student she developed an interest in population ecology and the utilization of genetic techniques to inform research and solve ecological problems. She assisted the Georgia Dolphin Ecology Program with field research aimed at clearly identifying Bottlenose dolphin populations along Georgia’s coast. In addition, she completed a research project under the supervision of Dr. John Wares to investigate the impacts of temperature change on genetic diversity of Acartia tonsa, a species of zooplankton. After graduation, Emma worked at the USGS Wetland and Aquatic Research Center where she assisted with research aimed at determining species boundaries and geographic distributions of endangered freshwater mussels using genetic techniques.

Currently, Emma is a master’s student with the UF/IFAS School of Forest Resources & Conservation under advisory of Mike Allen. Her master’s project focuses on the recent range expansion of Common Snook along the Nature Coast. The goal of her research is to determine if these “pioneer snook” are genetically distinct from the currently managed gulf stock and if the population is supported by local spawning. Her project represents a cooperation between the Nature Coast Biological station, local fishing guides, Sea Grant agents, and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation.

Justin Procopio

Justin Procopio is a Masters student with UF/IFAS School of Forest Resources & Conservation earning a degree in Fisheries and Aquatic Science. Growing up in New Jersey, in close proximity to New York City and the Atlantic Ocean, he has grown a keen interest in the interactions between fisheries and the coastal communities that exploit them. Prior to attending UF, he received his B.S. in Marine and Environmental Biology and Policy at Monmouth University. During most of his undergraduate degree, he worked as a field technician for the NY/NJ Baykeeper assisting with the construction and monitoring of oyster restoration projects throughout Raritan Bay. Currently, Justin is conducting research with the Nature Coast Biological Station focusing on the Spotted Seatrout population of North West Florida. He is developing a population model which hopes to inform biologist on how regulations should be adapted to manage the harvest of species, such as Spotted Seatrout, which exhibit sexually dimorphic growth.

Nature Coast Biological Station faculty member Justin Procopio, portrait photographed on January 31, 2017.

Nick Vitale

Nick Vitale is originally from Michigan where he completed his B.S. in Fisheries and Wildlife management from Lake Superior State University. After graduating, he worked a number of seasonal positions that took him around the country. One of these positions lead him to Florida, where in 2012, he took on the role at UF as the research coordinator of a long-term wading bird monitoring and research project in the Florida Everglades. Nick was immediately hooked on the beauty of the Nature Coast when he was introduced to the region while assisting with oyster reef research. In 2016, Nick began his M.S. degree at UF in the Florida Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit. His research is examining factors influencing shorebird nesting in Big Bend region, specifically how disturbance, predators and habitat changes affect breeding success.

Nature Coast Biological Station faculty member Nick Vitale, portrait photographed on January 31, 2017.
Nature Coast Biological Station faculty member Mark Sandtoss, portrait photographed on January 31, 2017.

Mark R. Sandfoss

Mark R. Sandfoss, PhD Student, UF Biology Department, has a BS in Wildlife Biology from Murray State University and MS in Fisheries, Wildlife, and Conservation Biology from North Carolina State University. His Master’s thesis was entitled, “The Serosurvey of Feral Pigs (Sus scrofa) in Eastern North Carolina”. His doctoral research at UF focuses on the unique behavior, ecology and physiology of insular Florida cottonmouths (Agkistrodon conanti) within the Cedar Keys National Wildlife Refuge. He plans to graduate in 2018 and continue to advocate for the conservation and study of amphibians and reptiles throughout the world."


Harris Holden.  Nature Coast Biological Station.

Holden Harris


For over 10 years Holden’s livelihood has been based on the ocean. As a charter captain, dive instructor, scientist and commercial fisherman, he has developed a multifaceted perspective regarding the marine environment. Holden’s past field work includes research in the British West Indies, the Bahamas, the Florida Keys, coastal Georgia, North East Florida, and offshore in the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico. At the University of Florida, he studied Zoology and Environmental Science and conducted research on salt marsh ecology under Dr. Brian Silliman. Since graduating in 2009, he has worked for UF’s Aquatic Food Safety Laboratory, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), the Center for Marine Resource Studies in the Turks and Caicos Islands, and Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). He has concurrently worked in diving and commercial spearfishing and is currently an instructor and captain for the F/V Native Diver II, a dive charter and commercial fishing vessel out of Jacksonville, FL (facebook.com/nativedivercharters). Currently, Holden is a PhD student in UF/IFAS School of Forest Resources & Conservation, under the advisory of Dr. Mike Allen. His dissertation research will evaluate if, how, and where socioeconomically incentivized harvest systems can function as a viable, long-term biological control agent for invasive lionfish. With the Nature Coast Biological Station, Holden’s research seeks to facilitate sustainable economic development in the Big Bend region through integrative assessments of the population dynamics, fishing impacts and management strategies for the region’s most important recreational fish species, spotted seatrout. As a systems ecologist, Holden hopes to ultimately facilitate sound, cooperative management of shared resources: finding ways to use and steward natural resources and the environment in ways that ensure long-term conservation, utility and functionality.

Travis Thomas


Travis Thomas, a Nature Coast native, grew up on the banks of the Suwannee River where he developed a passion for the local flora and fauna. He received his M.S. in Wildlife Ecology and Conservation and B.S. Degree in Natural Resources Conservation from the University of Florida. He is currently a PhD student in the Wildlife Ecology and Conservation at UF/IFAS applying fisheries population estimators to better understand aquatic turtle populations. Previously he worked for NCBS where his research was focused on the ecology of several species of aquatic reptiles. Before joining the NCBS team, Travis was a biologist in the Reptile and Amphibian Subsection of the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) for 5 years. He has worked on numerous projects concerning reptile and amphibian ecology, spanning many disciplines, including spatial ecology, phylogenetics, population ecology, evolutionary biology, and taxonomy. Travis has published numerous notes, articles, and reports on the ecology and distribution of reptiles, including a paper that described two new species of turtles in the genus Macrochelys.

Travis Thomas.  Nature Coast Biological Station.
Grant Scholten.  Nature Coast Biological Station.

Grant Scholten


Grant Scholten is a PhD student with UF/IFAS School of Forest Resources & Conservation that assists with research directed by the Nature Coast Biological Station. Growing up on a farm in Iowa, Grant developed a deep appreciation for the notion of growth and harvest making him an avid hunter, angler, and biologist. His research with the Nature Coast Biological Station is focused on Spotted Seatrout population dynamics, stakeholder perceptions of fishing quality, and cultivating partnerships between stakeholders to progress the economic growth in the fishing industry of the Big Bend region of the Gulf of Mexico. Currently, this involves a tagging study to estimate tagging effects and exploitation, followed by a survey to gauge stakeholder perceptions. Other research he is directing for his PhD concentrates on assessing the potential for angling induced effects for Florida Bass, influences on catch rates, and fine-scale spatial effort dynamics of bass anglers.

NCBS Internships On The Nature Coast

Nature Coast Biological Station is partnering with federal and state agencies with UF students to work on research in the Nature Coast region this summer. The list below includes the intern and their partnered host affiliate, which shows what project each intern will be researching this summer.

Cory Gillis

Meet Cory Gillis, 2016 Summer Intern with NCBS and the Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge. Cory is one of six NCBS interns that will be placed around the Nature Coast this summer to help our partners with natural resource projects. Cory will be working with Refuge staff this summer on wildlife and habitat monitoring projects around the LSNWR. Congratulations Cory!

Intern Host: Vic Doig and Larry Woodward

Host Affiliation: USFWS Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge

Project Title: Lower Suwannee Wildlife and Habitat Monitoring


Jessica Van Vaerenbergh

Meet Jessica Van Vaerenbergh, 2016 Summer Intern with NCBS and Dr. Bill Lindberg with UF's School of Forest Resources and Conservation - Program in Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences. Jessica is one of six NCBS interns that will be placed around the Nature Coast this summer to help our partners with natural resource projects. Jessica will be working with Dr. Lindberg's lab this summer to collect data from a large-scale experimental network of artificial reefs in the Gulf of Mexico. This data will help improve fisheries management by increasing understanding about reef fish habitat selection. Congratulations Jessica!

Intern Host: Dr. Bill Lindberg

Host Affiliation: UF -Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences

Project Title: Application of Hatitat Selection Theory and Reef Technology to Fisheries Management

Hannah Van Horn

Meet Hannah Van Horn, 2016 Summer Intern with NCBS and the FL Department of Environmental Protection's St. Martins Marsh and Big Bend Seagrasses Aquatic Preserves. Hannah is one of six NCBS interns that will be placed around the Nature Coast this summer to help our partners with natural resource projects. Hannah will be working with DEP staff this summer to monitor seagrasses and water quality in the Gulf of Mexico in the beautiful Big Bend Seagrasses Aquatic Preserve. This data helps natural resource managers keep tabs on the status of our valuable seagrass resources. Congratulations Hannah!

Intern Host: Timothy Jones and Jamie Letendere

Host Affiliation: Florida Department of Environmental Protection St. Martin's Marsh and Big Bend Seagrasses Aquatic Preserve

Project Title: Seagrass and Water Quaility Monitoring In Florida's Big Bend


Julia Richter

Meet Julia Richter, 2016 Summer Intern with NCBS and Dr. Mark Clark of UF's Soil and Water Sciences Department. Julia is one of six NCBS interns that will be placed around the Nature Coast this summer to help our partners with natural resource projects. Julia will be working with Dr. Clark and local Cedar Key, Florida residents this summer on a living shorelines demonstration project. This data is important for informing future shoreline restoration and coastal engineering projects. Congratulations Julia!

Intern Host: Dr. Mark Clark

Host Affiliation: UF Soil & Water Sciene Department, Wetland Biogeochemistry and Extension

Project Title: Cedar Key Living Shoreline Demonstration and Canal Water Quality Enhancement Project

Lizzie Mayes

Meet Lizzie Mayes, 2016 Summer Intern with NCBS and the FWC Fish and Wildlife Research Institute. Lizzie is one of six NCBS interns that will be placed around the Nature Coast this summer to help our partners with natural resource projects. Lizzie will be working with the Fisheries Independent Monitoring Program out of the Sen. George Kirkpatrick Marine Lab in Cedar Key, FL. The data collected by this program is essential for managing commercial and recreational fisheries in FL. Congratulations Lizzie!

Intern Host: Caleb Purtlebaugh

Host Affiliation: Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute

Project Title: Fisheries Independent Monitoring