North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences Life on the Edge: Exploring Deep Ocean Habitats - NC Museum of Natural Sciences
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Meet the Life on the Edge 2009 Team

Principal Investigators Dr. Steve Ross, Liz Baird, Dr. Cheryl Morrison, and Dr. Martha Nizinski represent four different agencies from three states. The team also includes additional researchers, technicians, and educators. Inter-agency collaborations not only make the best use of the time at sea, they also foster fertile discussions leading to future research.

Meet some of the people involved in Life on the Edge 2009.

Steve W. Ross, PhDSteve W. Ross, PhD
Research Associate Professor
University of North Carolina at Wilmington
Wilmington, NC
Lead Principal Investigator and cruise Chief Scientist

Dr. Ross is a native of North Carolina and has spent most of his career involved in marine science of the southeast region. He earned a BS degree in zoology from Duke University, a Master’s degree from UNC-Chapel Hill, and a PhD from North Carolina State University. He was the Research Coordinator for the NC Coastal Reserve Program for 13 years. He is currently a research faculty at UNC-W and also helps lead offshore studies for the US Geological Survey. His area of specialization is ichthyology (fishes), particularly in areas of ecology and life history studies (age, growth, feeding, reproduction). He has conducted numerous, diverse projects in estuaries and offshore waters and has served as chief scientist on many cruises, including several using submersibles. The current work of Dr. Ross and his team involves assessment of the fish communities of several unique deep water habitats off the southeastern US and in the Gulf of Mexico. In particular, they are looking at energy flow (trophodynamics) and relationships of animals to various habitats, including coral banks, canyon systems, and rocky areas. One ultimate goal of such studies is to provide information for these poorly known areas that will facilitate management and protection of productive habitats.

Elizabeth Baird Elizabeth Denton Baird
Director of School Programs
North Carolina State Museum of Natural Sciences
Raleigh, NC
Co-Principal Investigator

As director of school programs at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, Liz Baird is accustomed to sharing science information with students and teachers across the state and around the world. During the Life on the Edge 2009 mission, she will share research activities with the public via satellite transmissions from the ship. She will work closely with researchers and the ship's crew to answer questions sent from students, and will assist the research team wherever she's needed. She will also assist Art Howard with the collection of footage for a new exhibit for the Museum. Ms. Baird's and her staff work with students and teachers to help enhance their understanding and appreciation of the natural world. In addition to leading an annual teacher workshop to Belize, Ms. Baird founded international Take A Child Outside week which is held September 24—30 every year. She has a BS in biology from Salem College and a MS in science education from North Carolina State University.

Cheryl Morrison, PhD Cheryl Morrison, PhD
USGS-BRD, Leetown Science Center, Aquatic Ecology Branch
Kearneysville, WV
Co-Principal Investigator

Cheryl Morrison is a geneticist for the USGS-Biological Resources Division, Leetown Science Center. Dr. Morrison earned a BS in marine biology at University of North Carolina at Wilmington, and her PhD in biology at Florida State University. Morrison has a diverse background in conservation genetics including molecular systematics, phylogeography and population genetics. Her research has involved the study of evolutionary relationships among such diverse organisms as tropical coral reef-dwelling snapping shrimps, hermit crabs, stream fishes, orchids, and jumping mice. She has been working on coral systematics and population genetics of Lophelia pertusa since 2004 and has participated in ten research cruises overseeing the collection of genetics samples collected via manned submersibles (JSL and DSV Alvin). On the cruise, she will assist with submersible operations, sampling and data collection, and will oversee the preservation of coral and invertebrate tissue for DNA studies.

Martha S. Nizinski, PhDMartha S. Nizinski, PhD
NOAA, National Marine Fisheries Service National Systematics Laboratory
Washington, DC
Co-Principal Investigator

Martha Nizinski is a zoologist for NOAA/NMFS National Systematics Laboratory, National Museum of Natural History, Washington, DC. Dr. Nizinski earned a BS in biology at West Virginia Wesleyan College, a MS in zoology at University of Maryland, and a PhD in marine science at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science, School of Marine Science, College of William and Mary. She has been employed by the Systematics Laboratory since 1987, first as a technician, then as a zoologist. After completion of her doctoral degree in 1998, Dr. Nizinski began her research program studying the biodiversity, biogeography, taxonomy, and systematics of marine invertebrates, particularly decapod crustaceans. Her current research interests include systematics, biodiversity, biogeography, and community structure of decapod crustaceans, biodiversity and community structure of invertebrate fauna associated with deep-water coral reefs, and biodiversity of shallow-water gastropod and bivalve molluscs in Florida Bay. Dr. Nizinski is the invertebrate specialist of the research team. She will participate in submersible operations and data collection and will oversee all invertebrate collections.

Cheryl Lewis AmesCheryl Lewis Ames
Research Assistant, UNCW Center for Marine Sciences
NOAA, National Marine Fisheries Service National Systematics Laboratory
Washington, DC

Cheryl Lewis Ames works as a research assistant in the Nizinski lab located at the NOAA/NMFS National Systematics Laboratory, National Museum of Natural History, Washington D.C. Cheryl earned a Bachelor of Science in Biology at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario and a Master's Degree in Marine Biology from the University of the Ryukyus in Okinawa, Japan. Her graduate work focused on courtship behavior and reproduction in the box-jellyfish Carybdea sivickisi. Cheryl continues her research on freshwater jellyfish from Japan and cubozoan phylogeny and recently described her first new species, Chironex yamaguchii, a deadly box-jellyfish found in Okinawa. She is also interested in mid-water cephalopods and shrimp. Cheryl will participate in specimen collection, data entry and identification of a diverse range of invertebrate taxa.

Sandra BrookeSandra Brooke, PhD
Coral Conservation Director
Marine Conservation Biology Institute
Bellevue, WA

Dr. Brooke earned a BS in Biological Sciences and an MS in Bio-aeronautics in England then spent a few years working in mosquito control in the Cayman Islands, where she learned to dive and discovered marine ecosystems. Sandra then worked in Honduras on mosquito control, before moving to the Virginia Institute of Marine Biology, where she obtained an MA in Marine Biology. Her PhD was a joint venture between the University of Southampton in England and Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution in Florida and her dissertation research focused on the reproductive ecology of a deepwater coral Oculina varicosa. Sandra then worked at the Oregon Institute of Marine Biology where she was involved in several deepwater coral projects including a survey of deepwater coral ecosystems of the Aleutian Islands, reproductive ecology of Lophelia pertusa from Norwegian Fjords, and habitat characterization of deepwater coral habitats in the Gulf of Mexico and Florida Straits. Before coming to MCBI she worked as project manager of the Coral Reef Evaluation and Monitoring Project.

Tara CasazzaTara L. Casazza
Coastal and Deep-Sea Fisheries Research Assistant
Center for Marine Science
University of North Carolina at Wilmington
Wilmington, NC
Night Watch Chief

Tara Casazza is a coastal and deep-sea fisheries research assistant with the Center for Marine Science at UNCW. She holds a BS in marine biology from UNCW and started working for Dr. Ross as an undergraduate student in 2000. Tara completed her MS in marine science at UNCW, where she compared open ocean surface fish communities in two habitats: Sargassum versus open water, and determined trophic relationships between fishes collected from these two habitats. Her research interests also include biology of flyingfishes and distribution and abundance of eel larvae off North Carolina. Tara has participated in several offshore cruises. During the 2009 mission, Tara is chief of the night watch. She will also assist with gear management, data collection, including submersible operations, and fish identifications.

photo coming soonAmanda W.J. Demopoulos, PhD
Benthic Ecologist
USGS, Florida Integrated Science Center
Gainesville, FL

Amanda Demopoulos is currently a Benthic Research Ecologist with the US Geological Survey, Florida Integrated Science Center in Gainesville, FL. Dr. Demopoulos earned a B.S. in Oceanography at the University of Washington and her Ph.D. in Biological Oceanography from the University of Hawaii Manoa. Her current research interests include biodiversity, community ecology, and food-web structure of benthic invertebrate communities, and recruitment and succession patterns of the benthos. Her research spans from intertidal wetlands to deep-sea coral and chemosynthetic ecosystems. While at sea, Dr. Demopoulos will oversee sediment core collections of invertebrates and will assist with specimen collections for food-web studies.

Julie GalkiewiczJulie Galkiewicz
Graduate Student
University of South Florida, College of Marine Science
St. Petersburg, FL

Julie Galkiewicz is a graduate student at the University of South Florida, College of Marine Science working towards a PhD in Biological Oceanography, with a focus on marine microbiology. She earned a B.S. in Biology from the College of William and Mary in 2006. Her research centers on the bacterial communities associated with deep-sea coral tissue and mucus and their possible symbiotic roles within the coral holobiont. Julie is fascinated by the genetic potential of deep-sea microbes and how they may interact with the coral host, providing carbon, cycling nutrients, or producing protective compounds.

Stacey HarterStacey L. Harter
Research Ecologist
NOAA Fisheries/SEFSC
Panama City, FL

Stacey Harter is a research ecologist for the NOAA Fisheries Southeast Fisheries Science Center in Panama City, FL. She earned a BS degree in Biology from Florida State University in 1999. In 2002, Stacey received her MS degree in Marine Science from the University of South Alabama, where she studied the effects of predation and habitat on growth rates of pinfish. For the past seven years, she has been working for NOAA Fisheries examining shelf-edge ecosystems and life histories of snapper and grouper. More specifically, Stacey has been investigating shelf-edge marine protected areas (MPAs) and their effectiveness as a management tool and the temporal and spatial distribution of juvenile grouper and snapper into St. Andrew Bay.

Art Howard Art Howard
Producer/Director of Photography
Raleigh, NC

For 30 years, Emmy award winning photographer and producer Art Howard has helped viewers experience life through images from both poles and 24 countries. As a native North Carolinian this adventure will focus on issues closer to home. He will follow the researchers aboard the Seward Johnson documenting the challenges, discoveries and challenges of offshore reef exploration. Using the latest High Definition video equipment, Art will attempt to bring viewers as close as possible to life at sea from the surface to depths of 3000 feet, capturing both the scientists and the life they seek to understand. This is Howard's fifth year as part of an ongoing project at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences to help all better understand the connection between man and his environment.

Jennifer McClainJennifer McClain
Graduate Student
University of North Carolina at Wilmington
Wilmington, NC
Graduate Research Assistant

Jennie graduated in 2006 from UNCW with a BS in Marine Biology and minor in Chemistry. She is currently working on her Masters at UNCW in Marine Science. Her thesis focuses on the trophic structure of midwater fishes over cold seeps in the Gulf of Mexico. She is analyzing stable isotopes (carbon and nitrogen) and stomach contents to determine whether the midwater community is utilizing the chemosynthetic energy at these seep sites. Jennie has been working with Dr. Steve Ross since 2003. During that time, she completed an independent study on the ecology of Eumunida picta, a species of galatheid crab found at the deep-sea coral banks, and participated in numerous off shore cruises, logging 59 days at sea and one submersible dive. Her research interests also include the community structure of midwater fishes and the use of stable isotopes to elicit diets of Anguilliform larvae.

photo coming soonJohn Reed
Research Professor
Center for Ocean Research and Deep Sea Exploration
Robertson Coral Reef Research and Conservation Program
Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute at Florida Atlantic University
Fort Pierce, FL

John Reed is a Research Professor at Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute (HBOI) at Florida Atlantic University and Principal Investigator for the Robertson Coral Reef Research and Conservation Program. His emphasis is research and conservation of deep and shallow water coral reefs, including deep water Lophelia and Oculina reefs, and shallow water reefs of the Caribbean, Bahamas and Florida. He has been Chief Scientist on 60 research expeditions over the past 30 years, visiting 40 countries, including Seychelles, Samoa, Papua New Guinea, Australia, Galapagos Islands, Pearl Islands, Azores, Canaries, Cape Verde, Sierra Leone, Senegal, and throughout the Bahamas and Caribbean. He has utilized research vessels from HBOI, NOAA and NASA as platforms for manned submersibles, ROVs, and AUVs. John also heads the Collections and Taxonomy Department for the Biomedical Research Program. He is curator for HBOI’s museum of biomedical collections (>30,000 deep and shallow water marine organisms) and is manager of the submersible videotape and photographic archives. John is Diving Safety Officer for all diving activities by 50 HBOI research and commercial divers. He has logged 35 deep water lockout dives with helium-oxygen from Johnson-Sea-Link submersibles to depths of 300 ft, >2000 scientific scuba dives, and more than 200 dives in the Johnson-Sea-Link and Clelia submersibles. John’s research on the deep water Oculina coral reefs off Florida since 1976 has resulted in the establishment of a 300 sq.mi. Oculina Coral Marine Protected Area, the first in the world to protect deep water coral ( His current research on the deep water Lophelia reefs off Florida at depths of 2500 ft has been instrumental in a proposal by the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council for a 26,000 sq. mi. deep-water coral habitat area of particular concern. John‘s research on deep-water reefs began 33 years ago when he started at Harbor Branch for the Division of Marine Science. He has >100 publications, reports, and articles on worldwide research expeditions, deep sea coral reef research, and biomedical research. John received his B.S. from the University of Miami and M.S., specializing in marine ecology, from Florida Atlantic University in 1975.

Michael RhodeMichael Rhode
Coastal and Deep-sea Fisheries Research Assistant
Center for Marine Science
University of North Carolina at Wilmington
Wilmington, NC

Michael Rhode is a Coastal and Deep-sea Fisheries Research Technician with the Center for Marine Science at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. He earned a BS in biology from Kutztown University, and a MS in marine studies from the University of Delaware, College of Marine Studies. His master’s project consisted of comparing the dynamics of the larval fish assemblages at two coastal Delaware inlets. Mike also spent three years at the Marine Science Consortium in Wallops Island, VA as the equipment manager, college coordinator, and first mate aboard their 47’ research vessel. On this cruise his responsibilities include assisting with gear management, data collection, and fish identifications.

J. Murray Roberts, PhD, photo credit Gavin Newman J. Murray Roberts, PhD
Marine Biologist
Scottish Association for Marine Science
Dunstaffnage Marine Laboratory
Oban, Argyll, UK
Marine Biologist

Murray Roberts is a marine biologist at the Scottish Association for Marine Science working on the biology and ecology of cold-water corals. He studied Biology at the University of York before completing a PhD at the University of Glasgow on the symbiosis between the snakelocks sea anemone and the single-celled algae it contains. Since 1997 his work at SAMS on cold-water corals has taken him to sites off Norway, Ireland and the SE United States. His work led to the discovery of the Mingulay cold-water coral reef complex in 2003 which has since become a focus of several European research projects. In 2007 he began a two-year Marie Curie fellowship to develop the first international trans-Atlantic study of cold-water corals. He is senior author of the ‘Cold-water Corals’, the first book covering the biology and geology of these important deep-sea habitats. He lives in North Connel outside Oban and is married with two children. In September 2009 he will move to Heriot-Watt University (Edinburgh) to take up a new position as Reader in Biodiversity.

Leslie WickesLeslie Wickes
Lab Manager and Research Assistant
Biology Department, Temple University
Philadelphia, PA
Research Technician

Leslie is a lab manager and research assistant for Dr. Erik Cordes at Temple University. She graduated from Penn State University in 2008 with a BS in biology. While earning her degree she worked under Dr. Chuck Fisher and Erin Becker investigating community composition of deep sea hydrothermal vent chimneys. Her position at Temple entails lab maintenance and data management, as well as assisting with research studying the microbial growth on the exterior of tubeworms. This will be her third cruise, but first in the Atlantic and first with a manned submersible. Her responsibilities on this cruise will include the sorting of specimens collected from the Bushmaster and mussel pots as well as assisting with night ops.