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 Ecology and Conservation 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. 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.
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.
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.
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."
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.
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.
Chelsea is originally from Florida’s Space Coast, and grew a love for fishing and aquatic life through a childhood spent fishing and boating on the Indian River Lagoon, the St. John’s River and in Port Canaveral. She later attended the University of South Florida for her undergraduate degree in Biology with a concentration in Marine Biology. After college, she spent several years teaching in both classroom and outdoor education settings. Chelsea taught everything from forest ecology, wildlife ecology, and fishing in South Carolina to coral reef ecology, mangrove/seagrass ecology, and snorkeling in the Florida Keys. Chelsea is currently a Biological Scientist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute’s Fisheries Independent Monitoring Program, and a Master’s Student in the Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences Program at UF. Chelsea is also working on a collaborative project between FWC and UF to study the effects of oyster restoration on nekton assemblages in the Big Bend Region.
Audrey Looby grew up with a love of the environment and science, but a mild fear of the ocean. During her freshman year at the University of Southern California, she spent a semester on Catalina Island, earned her scientific SCUBA diving certification, and took a two-week summer class in Palau, where she got to experience some of the best diving in the world. A life of studying marine and freshwater ecosystems suddenly sounded a lot more interesting. After completing an REU also on Catalina Island and a couple undergraduate research projects, she got an internship at the Smithsonian Marine Station in Fort Pierce. There, she got to dive in the Florida Keys, Texas, and Belize, helping with projects ranging from seagrass physiology to chemical cues preferences of coral and fish larvae She is now a M.S. student in Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences under Dr. Charlie Martin. Her thesis project is looking at the fish preferences for various submerged aquatic vegetation that will be used to restore five acres of Lake Apopka, an environmentally degraded lake outside Orlando.
Dylan grew up in Sands Point, New York where he spent much of his time fishing and recreating on the Long Island Sound. For his undergraduate work, he attended Middlebury College and majored in conservation biology where he focused most of his studies on fluvial ecosystems. Upon graduation, he pursued his master’s degree at the University of Miami. At UM, he conducted research in collaboration with NOAA on eutrophication of the estuaries in the Gulf of Mexico and how water quality parameters are associated with fish production and community assemblage. In addition to his independent research, he was also able to participate in hydrographic surveys throughout South Florida along with a monitoring project for juvenile spotted seatrout (Cynoscion nebulosus) in Florida Bay. During his time with NOAA in Miami, he was able to observe significant changes in the ecology of Florida Bay following Hurricane Irma, one of which was a significant pulse of recruitment for several fish species.
Dylan is currently pursuing his Ph.D in fisheries and aquatic sciences at the University of Florida. His research will be focused on building an ecological model for the Cedar Key region that will assess how oyster restoration and freshwater discharge impact commercially and recreationally important fish species in the Big Bend. He will also attempt to assess the important predator-prey interactions and trophic linkages in response to changing environmental variables as well.
Former NCBS Affiliated Students
Biologist at United States Geological Survey (USGS) in Gainesville
PhD Student at Oregon State
Hannah O. Brown is a journalist, instructor and social scientist. She is currently a PhD student in the School of Natural Resources and Environment at the University of Florida, where she works as the school’s communications manager. She has a MAMC in journalism from the University of Florida and a B.A. in psychology from New College of Florida. Hannah is currently the Nature Coast Scholar for the UF IFAS Nature Coast Biological Station, a fellowship that funds her research on collaboration in oyster restoration projects on the Gulf Coast for three years. She has a background in journalism, writing as a reporter for news outlets such as the Tampa Bay Times, Gainesville Sun and Lake City Reporter. She is also co-editor of an online publication about environmental topics in Florida called The Marjorie.