Friday, September 16, 2016

National Geographic Article

Our very own Dr. Alejandro Vagelli was featured in a National Geographic article by Adam Cruise regarding the current state of the Banggai cardinalfish (Pterapogon kauderni) which is highly endangered and endemic to Indonesia (there are a few invasive populations in other tropical areas due to humans putting them there). The fate of the Banggai cardinalfish it to be determined shortly at the CITES 2016 convention which will take place in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Dr. Vagelli will be traveling to the convention to help support the proposal for the much needed protection of this beautiful and very popular marine fish.

Additionally, Dr. Vagelli was the lead consultant for getting this species listed in the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and on the IUCN red list.

Monday, August 1, 2016


Thank you for taking the time to look at our blog for Marine Field Ecology & Advanced Marine Field Ecology.

The 2016 students were: John Burt, Jess Dybus, Matt Heller, Hali Rederer, Sierra Rodgers, Shawn Rykaczeski, and Arpreet Singh.

Click on each student's name (above) to read their personal response of our trip. Enjoy!

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Lobsters in the Cudjoe Bay

Mangroves lining Cudjoe Bay.
This year we repeated the lobster experiment since it is an excellent way to get the students involved in critical thinking and overcoming the challenges that marine field work presents. They were tasked with locating sponges that had lobsters in them, and then capturing the lobsters to tag them with color coded ribbons. The goal of the project was to see if the lobsters showed a preference to a particular substrate.

A juvenile lobster being tagged.

Most of our days were spent in this area, so the students would become familiar with their surroundings and study the locations of the lobsters. At night the lobsters leave their substrates and move to deeper water and return the following day. Everyone had to catch a lobster and tag it at least once. Generally, they took turns. Someone would capture one while someone else would tag it, and another would mark the sponge with corresponding colors and yet another person would take notes.

Left to right: John Burt, Sierra Rodgers, Jess Dybus, and Arpreet Singh.
They just completed a lobster tagging and are about to return the lobster
to its sponge.
Adriana Vagelli & Shawn Rykaczewski tagging a lobster.
Jess Dybus is off to the left taking notes while Sierra Rodgers & Denise Hassinger
are spectators this round.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Cudjoe Bay

Our mobile equipment storage unit & dive flag.
For our first day of class we traveled to the Cudjoe Bay area which has become like a second home to me since I have spent so much time in this particular area. My perspective this year was different since I was no longer a student taking the course but beginning my graduate studies. I was traveling with the class to assist when needed and to do a preliminary sampling of polychaetes in the Lower Keys. I mentioned in one of my previous posts (this one) that it is important to have all your equipment with you when doing fieldwork. So this year, I bought an inexpensive floatation device which was tied with paracord and a carabiner to my wetsuit. This allowed me to remain hands-free while towing all of our necessary equipment. We even ended up attaching the dive flag to it too which stopped us from having to constantly move it as our location changed in the water. 

Friday, July 8, 2016


Woke up to a blue heron across the channel.
This year we decided to stay at the Venture Out Resort in Cudjoe Key, which is a gated community. We rented three houses and received better accommodations while saving money than at the KOA campground. We are hoping in the future to keep this as our lodging location.

Traveling Across the USA for Marine Science

Hali dawning her snorkel gear at midnight!
She is so ready for class to begin!
This year's batch of students are mainly undergraduates with the exception of two graduates. One in particular, Hali Rederer, traveled across the country to take our course after reading about our previous trips from this blog! She is a graduate student from California and currently attends California State University, Sacramento where she is studying the relationship between Pacific herrings and eelgrass (you can read more about her work by clicking on her name). She joined us to gain more experience in the field and learn new techniques to apply to her current studies.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Summer 2016: Marine Field Ecology

Join us this year for our third annual trip to the Florida Keys in July to conduct marine field work! We will be in the water nearly the entire time besides eating and sleeping. Most of our work will consist of snorkeling, but we will also scuba dive in the Looe Key Marine Sanctuary on two separate days (four dives total).

This class is listed as a graduate course, but undergraduates are more than welcome to join us! Also, this course can be used to fill a biology elective!
You do NOT have to be scuba certified to go on this trip! If you are not certified when we go to Looe Key Marine Sanctuary, you will be able to snorkel while others dive. However if you would like to get certified prior to the trip, contact Jim Kupper at Ocean Spirit Aquatics. Please, let Jim know that you were referred to him by Dr. Vagelli or Denise Hassinger and that it is for the summer course. 

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Banggai Cardinalfish

Dr. Vagelli is the leading expert on Banggai Cardinalfish (Pterapogon kauderni). Click on the "Indonesia" tab (top of page) or click here to view his recent trip to Indonesia to survery this species!

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

John Dell'Angelo's Master's Project

Below is information provided by John Dell'Angelo regarding the Lobster Experiment:

A component of last years marine field ecology course was the survey of a channel-bay located on the gulf side of Cudjoe Key. We found an area inhabited by numerous spiny lobsters, Panulirus argus, that were associated with the vase sponge, Ircinia campana, and the loggerhead sponge, Spheciospongia vesparium.  Also, we noticed that frequently more than one lobster shared the same substrate.
  Panulirus argus 

 Ircinia campana

 Spheciospongia vesparium

Last year during the introductory marine field ecology course it was common to find multiple lobsters sheltering in the same sponge. The lobsters stayed in holes carved in and/or under the sponges seemingly made by the lobsters. During this years advanced marine field ecology course we decided to conduct an experiment that would further our understanding of this association. Our prior observations on the lobster/sponges association led to two basic questions: a) Do lobsters consider a particular sponge home? We wanted to know if the lobsters returned to the same sponge each day after foraging at night. B) Are the groups of lobsters found in a particular sponge always composed by the same individuals? In the case of sponges inhabited by more than one lobster, we wanted to see if these lobsters preferred to stay in groups and if there were strong associations among particular individuals. 

We assumed that such basic questions have been already clarified, and searching appropriate scientific literature would provide us with the answers. However, we decided not to consult existing literature but to conduct our own experiment that would test the hypotheses that we proposed during our group discussions.

Our hypotheses were:
1) Lobsters have a strong homing behavior, and same individuals will utilize a particular shelter, i.e., the same lobsters will be found occupying the same sponge during the observational period.
2) Lobsters maintain the same social group. If a group of lobsters are observed sharing a particular sponge one day then those same individuals lobsters will be found together on subsequent days.

We wanted to get first-hand experience of conducting such an experiment in the field. Dr. Vagelli suggested not look up for existing studies and utilize this opportunity to practice the design of a concrete experiment adequate for testing our hypothesis and answering our questions. This would add the benefit of encountering different unexpected challenges and rigors of designing a sound experiment and conducting it in the field. For instance, we decided that in order to conduct the experiment, we needed to tag the lobsters, and we had to come up with ideas for tagging the lobsters that would be efficient, humane and make them easy to locate again.

The study zone covered an area approximately 300 m long by 100 m wide. This area spanned from the shore that is lined with mangroves to a depth of approximately 2 m. The bottom is covered with sandy patches, and areas with seagrass and thick coralline algae.

We started out by surveying the area, counting all sponges and lobsters in our study area. We learned rather quickly that proposing something like tagging lobsters and actually carrying it out are very different things.  Our original plan was to make a slip knot, slide it down the lobstersantenna, and then tie it (easier said than done). We wound up diving below the surface and capturing the lobsters with nets, tagging them above water, and releasing them back to their sponge. This was also easier said than done but we got better as we went on.  We identified 10 sponges that had 2 or more lobsters with them, tagged those lobsters and identified those sponges with buoys.  For the next two days we came back to the site and documented the lobstersmovement.

This project was not as easy as it may sound, tagging lobsters over a large area presented many challenges. Working with live specimens in their natural habitat is harder than in a lab because our specimens could swim away. These challenges also included varying tides, and currents causing turbidity which made it hard to see and swim at times. It took several hours of swimming to locate the lobsters each day. However, we did manage to generate some good data. The sample was small and therefore the results were not particularly decisive, but the point was to carry out the experiment and generate data. We never expected to discoveranything new about this observed relationship, however we did generate data. We tagged ~18 lobsters and we were able to recover ~13-14 over the study period. It could also be used as preliminary data to conduct more studies on lobster behavior, and aquaculture.

We learned that designing and conducting an experiment in the field is much harder than you may think. We have read many papers that have these types of surveys described in the materials and methods. We will now be able to read materials and methods with greater perspective of what is being described. We gathered data during this study but more importantly we gained experience in conducting a field study. We all have a greater level of confidence in our abilities to conduct similar field studies. This experience is invaluable to us as biologist no matter what direction we go in from here.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Lobsters & Polychaetes in Cudjoe Key

Denise, Bri, Mike, Dr. Vagelli, John D., and John R.

Originally, we were going to do some observational work with the long spine sea urchins and compare our findings to a few scientific articles that we read. However, since we were unable to locate the sea urchins, we had to come up with another activity for our class. As a group we developed the lobster experiment, which we conducted over several days. In total we spent four days and roughly twenty-eight hours executing the experiment. The experiment had its flaws, but the point was not to create the perfect experiment, but rather learn how to develop and complete one. There were many challenges involved, including obtaining useful materials and methods. In the end we obtained usable data and John Dell'Angelo decided to use the experiment for his master thesis. There will be a separate post by John giving more details.

Additionally, Cudjoe Key was also a prime location for polychaete collection. Last year, we came across a terebellidae polychaete, which is commonly known as a "spaghetti worm." We only saw one, but at the same time we were not exactly looking for them either. This year we were and they were plentiful. We collected egg masses and several different types of polychaetes to bring back to Rutgers for study. I also learned a valuable lesson when collecting specimen in the field: come prepared! Make sure you have plenty of containers and that they are with you when you swim out, no matter how close you are to the shore! There were multiple times where I found an excellent specimen, but could not collect it because someone else had the collection containers or they were left on shore. Without having some sort of marker, it was near impossible to get back to the exact spot where you found the specimen. There was another instance where I literally collected the sample with my hands and held it while I swam against a strong current all the way back to shore so I could place it into one of the containers.

Bri tagging a lobster.

Amidst our tagging, we found a batfish! We temporarily captured it so everyone could view it and then released it.

Okay, we released it after Mike proved that he can mimic the batfish with scary precision.

Tagged lobster. This one was from the tire.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Another Day @ Looe Key

John R., Mike, Dr. Vagelli, Denise, Bri, and John D.

Our second day in the Looe Key Marine Sanctuary was much better! The water was clear and we were able to explore quite a bit. After descending, we grouped together and waited for instructions from Dr. Vagelli. Since the area is protected and it is illegal to collect anything, we only conducted observational work. We came across two cleaning stations, which was really amazing to see. Dr. Vagelli tried to see if the fish would clean him as well, to no avail. Since we explored different parts of the lower keys, we were able to see the same fish in different environments. For instance, the sergeant majors were tiny in other areas in the keys, but at the coral reefs they were roughly two to three times the size.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Key West

Left to right: Adrianna Vagelli, John Rapacz, Denise Hassinger, Alejandro Vagelli, Gabrielle Kostiuk, Mike Monteleone, and John Dell'Angelo.
On Saturday, we took a much needed break and ventured to Key West for dinner sporting our class shirts. We dined at Sloppy Joe's where there was live music playing. Yes, they served sloppy joe's and it was delicious! During our meal, the singer stopped in between her songs and asked us what our shirts meant. We explained to her why we came to Florida and she proceeded to applaud us, and said that we were doing something great. It was unexpected, but appreciated recognition for wanting to make some sort of improvement in the world. 

Friday, July 10, 2015

"Mangrove Island"

Today we rented a boat and returned to the "mangrove island" where we first collected our polychaete egg masses last year. Our hope was to collect the same type of egg masses. While we did successfully collect more egg masses from this area along with some polychaete tubes, at this time we are unsure if they are the same polychaetes or not. We will be taking the egg masses back to Rutgers Camden, where we will be studying their life cycles.
Captain Mike & First Mate John Dell'Angelo

Left to right: John Rapacz, Denise Hassinger, Mike Monteleone, Adrianna Vagelli, Alejandro Vagelli, Gabrielle Kostiuk, and John Dell'Angelo.
Adrianna & Alejandro Vagelli

Every post had cormorants on them. 

John Rapacz & Adrianna Vagelli with "mangrove island" in the background.

"mangrove island"

Part of "mangrove island" that we called the "bird island" since majority of the birds were found in this little section of mangroves. 

John Rapacz getting ready to throw the anchor.

Dr. Vagelli

A great white heron in the mangroves.

Dr. Vagelli found a recently deceased cormorant. 

John Rapacz relaxing in the mangroves.

The area was littered with polychaete tubes. 

Gabrielle Kostiuk found a great section with multiple polychaete tubes, which we collected. 

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Cudjoe Key

Today was a super long day! We went to an area in Cudjoe Key where we visited last year and ran into an octopus. No octopuses this time, but the area was a prime place to practice a multi-person transect. We lined up and swam together scouting our "lanes" for lobsters in sponges. This proved to be quite difficult. Not the spotting of lobsters and sponges, but staying in our "lanes." As a result, observations were missed. We completed this type of transect several times to get the lay of the land and of course to practice doing a transect properly. Reading methods in a scientific article is one thing, but to actually perform those methods is another world altogether.
Getting ready to explore Cudjoe Key!

Mangrove cove at Cudjoe Key.

Dr. Vagelli instructing us on our first multi-person transect.

Lobsters at sponge species number two.

Lobster at sponge species number one.

Juvenile Highhat

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Looe Key Marine Sanctuary

After we finished exploring the Sugarloaf area, we headed over to Strike Zone Charters for our afternoon coral reef dive in Looe Key. The visibility was poor, but we did not let that stop us from having a great dive!

Massive grouper (compare size to the snorkeler on the left).

Gabrielle Kostiuk

Blue parrotfish

Sergeant majors

John Dell'Angelo

Gabrielle Kostiuk & John Rapacz enjoying their first ocean dives!


Denise Hassinger