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Scientists from the Coastlines and Oceans Division head research projects on scales from local to global. Our research projects focus on expanding scientific knowledge and making a difference in communities.

Nature & Society

  • Addressing Marine Megafauna Bycatch

    Lead: Jeremy Kiszka

    Project Title: Addressing and mitigating marine megafauna bycatch

    Bycatch, or the incidental capture of marine mammals, seabirds, sea turtles and elasmobranchs is the most significant threat to these species at the global level. The magnitude of bycatch is overlooked in many regions around the world, particularly in developing countries, and actions to mitigate bycatch are still rare in most fisheries.

    Working with our partners (including WWF Pakistan, Newcastle University, International Whaling Commission, US Marine Mammal Commission and Oceans Initiative), we investigate the magnitude of the incidental capture of marine megafauna and how to mitigate bycatch, primarily in small-scale fisheries. We also study how some industrial fisheries overlap and affect some endangered species, particularly cetaceans. We work regionally (East Africa, Arabian Sea) and globally to quantify and mitigate marine megafauna bycatch across multiple fisheries.

    Explore the Marine Conservation Ecology Lab to learn more about this project

  • Small-Scale Fisheries Management

    Lead: Michael Heithaus, Camila Caceres

    Project Title: Small Scale Fisheries Research Projects

    Overfishing has been recognized as one of the biggest environmental and socioeconomic problems facing marine ecosystems since it reduces biodiversity and alters ecosystem functioning. Fishing is often size-selective causing catches to be concentrated on large-bodied species including elasmobranchs (sharks and rays). Although research efforts have mostly focused on the effect of industrial fisheries on elasmobranchs, small-scale fisheries account for more than 95% of fishers in the world. Given their wide occurrence and the large number of people dependent on fishing, small-scale fisheries are an important economic sector and their impact on vulnerable elasmobranchs may be significant. However, in these types of fisheries, detailed information on catch composition is limited due to a lack of monitoring and reporting. In addition, the flexible and informal nature of most artisanal fisheries (e.g. broad range of targeted species, diversity of gear used) makes them difficult to study, in terms of catch statistics of targeted species and bycatch.

    Thanks to the support of Save Our Seas and collaborators like Pontificia Universidad Javeriana de la Compañía de JesúsParque Nacional Natural Corales de Islas del Rosario y San BernardoReGuaRKap Natirel, and the Environmental Research Institute of Charlotteville, Tobago, Ph.D. student Camila Caceres is sampling artisanal fishers to learn more about the elasmobranch and human communities that survive along Caribbean coastlines.

    Watch this video about Caceres' work or find out more about related projects from the Heithaus lab

  • Fisheries Management Strategy Evaluation

    Lead: Yuying Zhang

    Project Title: A decision-support tool for evaluating the impacts of short- and long-term management decisions on the Gulf of Mexico red snapper resource

    Management strategy evaluation uses simulation methods to quantify the risk associated with a suite of potential fisheries management actions. Management of the Gulf of Mexico (GoM) red snapper resource over the last three decades has been controversial and contentious. The need to develop a management strategy evaluation tool that can test the robustness of long-term management strategies and short-term regulations has been indicated in the recent stock assessment reports. For complex fisheries like GoM red snapper, a customized decision-support tool is needed, based on a broader MSE framework that allows for a more holistic evaluation of alternative management strategies. This project is funded by NOAA Restore Act Program. You can test our newly developed web-based GoM red snapper MSE decision-support tool here:

    Learn more from the Fisheries and Ecosystem Assessment Lab

  • Climate Resilient Urban Nexus CHoices (CRUNCH)

    Lead: Thomas Spiegelhalter

    Project Title: Miami Climate Resilient Urban Nexus CHoices (CRUNCH)

    CRUNCH is a three-year project that explores the food, water, energy nexus. It is running from 2018 - 2021 and will build an Integrated Decision Support System, which is an assessment tool for cities. 

    The City of Miami Beach is one of the most climate vulnerable cities on planet Earth. In the coming decades the city will have to face the challenges of sea-level rise combined with yearly threats of hurricanes, king tides, and tropical rain downpours that can dump as much as five inches of water on the city in one afternoon.

    Each semester the Miami CRUNCH research team will publish a volume of work based on design scenarios that have been developed with graduate students at the Urban Living Lab in Miami Beach. The team aims to publish book volumes focusing on different ways to respond to climate impacts through sustainable architecture. In their first volume, the team looks at designing building structures that can act as hybrids sitting in, out, or under the water with the ability to be self-sustaining.

    Explore Miami CRUNCH to learn more about this project.


  • Digital Commons - Sea-Level Rise

    A collection of publications, reports, presentations and research on sea level rise. This collection comprises research from various faculty and departments throughout FIU and is part of FIU's Sea-Level Rise research initiative. 

    Visit FIU Digital Commons - Sea-Level Rise

  • Direct-ageing Technique for Gulf and South Atlantic Spiny Lobster

    Lead: Mark Butler

    Project Title: Development of a direct-ageing technique for Gulf and South Atlantic Spiny Lobster for age-based stock assessment

    No fishery is more iconic or valuable to Florida and the Caribbean than that for the Caribbean Spiny Lobster, Panulirus argus. Yet, proper management of lobsters has been hampered by our inability to directly determine their age. Standard techniques for fishery stock assessment are largely age-based but unlike in fishes and mollusks, whose age can be determined from growth bands deposited in calcified structures, determining age in crustaceans has proved elusive.

    We are testing in P. argus the efficacy of a new method proposed for aging crustaceans that uses growth bands in the gastric mill ossiciles (part of the lobster stomach) to accurately ascertain lobster age. Laboratory studies of lobster growth along with collections of lobsters from fisheries in the Florida Keys, Dry Tortugas, and various Caribbean locations will allow us to construct size-at-age models useful for fishery management in each area.

    This project is funded by the NOAA Marine Fisheries Initiative.

    Close up photo of Caribbean spiny lobster face (Photo Credit: Peter Bouwma)


    Close-up photo of a portion of a lobster stomach ossicle in which growth rings are visible.

  • Effects of Projected Sea-Level Rise on the Everglades

    Project Title: Effects of Projected Sea-Level Rise on Everglades Coastal Ecosystems

    This study identifies potential mechanisms for how salinity and saltwater inundation contribute to peat loss in freshwater and brackish wetlands, which can be used to inform Everglades and South Florida water management decision and more broadly inform ecosystem management of coastal landscapes worldwide. The outcome of the study will have immediate application to water and environmental management needs, and has been designed with end-users (e.g., SFWMD) to ensure that information will be readily accessible to water managers and decision makers. This project will continue to increase our understanding of the net effect of increased salinity and inundation specifically examining the effects of chronic and acute saltwater intrusion events on Everglades coastal peat communities.

    Learn more about the effects of projected sea-level rise on Everglades coastal ecosystems

  • Florida Building Commission Project

    Lead:  Jayantha Obeysekera

    Project Title: Potential Implications of Sea-Level Rise and Changing Rainfall for Communities in Florida using Miami-Dade County as a Case Study

    The overall effort to assess flood risk may be accomplished by comparing existing flood elevations with new elevations based on updated rainfall data and sea-level rise projections. For the contract, SLSC evaluated groundwater level due to sea-level rise and changes in extreme rainfall in Miami-Dade County and potential implications for the current Florida Building Code.

    View the Final Report  |  Explore the Data

  • Land Subsidence and Coastal Flooding in South Florida

    Lead:  Shimon Wdowinski

    Project Title: Land subsidence contribution to coastal flooding hazard in southeast Florida

    Over the past decade, several coastal communities in southeast Florida have experienced a significant increase in flooding frequency, which has caused disturbance to property, commerce, and overall quality of life. The increased flooding reflects the contribution of global, regional, and local processes that affect elevation difference between coastal communities and rising sea level.

    In a recent project, funded by the state of Florida, we monitor coastal subsidence in southeast Florida using GPS and spaceborne radar observations, in order to evaluate the contribution of local subsidence to the increased coastal flooding hazard.

    As part of the project, we constructed a network of four continuously operating GPS (cGPS) stations that monitor land subsidence with accuracies of millimeters per years (Figure 1). Each station is equipped with precise GPS antenna, a monument holding the antenna, solar panels, and cellular communication, and an explanation plaque (Figure2). The spaceborne radar observations enable the detection of building movements over wide areas, also with accuracy of millimeters per year.

    Read the article about the study, published in Proceedings of the International Association of Hydrological Sciences.

  • Marine Research Hub of South Florida Consortium

    Our mission is to raise the visibility, reputation and prestige of the region's oceanographic research institutions. Our objective is to establish South Florida as a global leader in oceanographic research. By fostering collaboration between research, education, business and economic development organizations, we are working to make a positive impact on the health of oceans while bringing substantial benefits to our global population.

    Learn more about the Marine Research Hub of South Florida Consortium

  • Mercury Cycling at the Arctic Ocean Air-Sea Interface

    Lead:  David Kadko

    Project Title: Constraining the role of chemical transformations on the cycling of mercury at the Arctic Ocean air-sea interface

    This project will provide new understanding about mercury exchange between the air and sea surface in the Arctic, in conjunction with studies of the forms of mercury in seawater. Results will help predict how increasing ice melt and warming waters will affect mercury levels in polar regions. The investigators will use a novel approach of comparing the dynamics of radon, an unreactive gas, and mercury, which is reactive in all its forms, to understand the importance of chemical and biological reactions influencing mercury levels in seawater. Results will be useful for the international Minamata Convention and resource managers concerned with mercury bioaccumulation in humans and wildlife.

    The goal of this collaboration is to better understand mercury cycling in the Arctic, and any dependencies that would give insight into how cycling may change in the future.

    Read more about this NSF-funded project.

  • Novel Mariculture of the Caribbean King Crab

    Lead: Mark Butler, Heather Bracken-Grissom

    Project Title: Novel Mariculture of the Caribbean King Crab for Market and Coral Reef Restoration

    We are investigating the potential for the semi-wild mariculture of the Caribbean King Crab for use in coral reef restoration and, perhaps for the commercial seafood market, through the unique use of underutilized, land-locked saltwater quarries in south Florida where the crab already occurs or can be introduced. Our approach is based on first investigating the environmental conditions in salt-water quarries throughout the Florida Keys to assess their suitability for mariculture, comparing crab population dynamics and productivity in quarries versus natural habitats, and assessing the genetic structure of crab populations in the wild and in land-locked quarries.

    This research is funded through the NOAA-National Sea Grant “Exploring New Aquaculture Opportunities” Program.

    The Caribbean King Crab (Maguimithrax spinosissimus; Photo Credit: Antonio Baeza)

  • Protecting South Florida Archeological Sites with Integrated Ecosystem Restoration

    Lead:  Randall Parkinson

    Project Title: Stabilize and Protect South Florida Archeological Sites with Integrated Ecosystem Restoration

    Cultural resource sites are found throughout South Florida in a variety of environmental settings. These sites date to both colonial and pre-colonial times and are mostly found in close proximity to the coastline or are embedded in surrounding wetlands. As a consequence, these sites are vulnerable to the effects of accelerating sea level rise and anthropogenic climate change that will bring higher tides, more frequent strong hurricanes and increased erosion.

    This five-year project was designed to quantify rates of shoreline change associated with contemporaneous wave and tide conditions at three high-priority sites located in Everglades National Park using high-resolution 3D scans and contemporaneous water level data collected during winter and summer conditions. Results will help inform resource managers on the level of future risk to these resources caused by climate change stressors.

    Learn more about Everglades archaeological heritage

  • Rainfall Workshop

    Lead: Jayantha Obeysekera

    Project Title: Development of Unified Rainfall Scenarios for Florida

    The Sea Level Solutions Center (SLSC) at Florida International University (FIU) was requested by the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) to help develop a set of well-defined future climatic scenarios for various planning efforts underway. Such efforts include, but are not limited to, the Florida Protection Level of Service (FPLOS) program, Water Supply Planning, and CERP Planning/Everglades Restoration.  As a first step in this process, FIU organized a workshop on May 16, 2019 to be attended by a selected group of experts in the field and representatives of various agencies, governments, and private sector.

    Explore the rainfall workshop

  • Restoring Coral Reefs in the Florida Keys

    Lead: Mark Butler

    Project Title: Restoring coral reefs in the Florida Keys by stocking native herbivorous crabs and corals

    Florida’s coral reefs have reached a threshold whereby their resilience has been compromised, species are endangered, and ecosystem function degraded. There is a human cost too. Coral reef-associated tourism and fishing generate  about $8billion per year and support  more than 70,000 jobs in the Florida Keys alone.

    A big contributor to reef degradation has been the phase-shift from coral to macroalgae dominance that has diminished coral health and recruitment. We are testing a novel, two-pronged approach to coral reef restoration: (1) improve reef habitat for corals and other species by transplanting native, herbivorous crabs onto reefs to graze and reduce macroalgae, and (2) then increase coral density on reefs through coral transplantation, to help rebuild coral spawning biomass.

    This project is funded by grants from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and the Florida State Wildlife Grants Program.

    The Caribbean King Crab (Maguimithrax spinosissimus; Photo Credit: A. Jason Spadaro)

    Photo of underwater quadrat sampling of coral reef habitat showing transplanted coral (Photo Credit: Mark Butler)

  • Urban Resilience to Extremes Sustainability Research Network

    The UREx SRN focuses on integrating social, ecological and technical systems to devise, analyze and support urban infrastructure decisions in the face of climate uncertainty. It leverages a network of nine, diverse cities, a network of 65 experts, a holistic conceptual framework, inclusive, participatory approaches, a workflow, education program and an evaluation plan that produces results and continually learning. The central question we are addressing is: How do social, ecological and technological systems (SETS) domains interact to generate vulnerability or resilience to climate-related extreme events and how can urban SETS dynamics be guided along more resilient, equitable and sustainable trajectories? 

    Learn more about UREx SRN

  • Urban Water Innovation Network (U-Win)

    Lead: Michael Sukop

    Project Title: Transitioning Toward Sustainable Water Systems

    The Urban Water Innovation Network, a consortium of academic institutions and key partners across the U.S., include research, engagement and educational programs that address challenges that threaten urban water systems. The mission of UWIN is to create technological, institutional and management solutions to help communities increase the resilience of their water systems and enhance preparedness for responding to water crises.

    National Science Foundation. November 2015 - October 2020

    Learn more about U-WIN 

  • Workshop on Coastal Observation and Modeling Systems

    Lead: Jayantha Obeysekera

    Project Title: Workshop on Coastal Observation and Modeling Systems

    The workshop is designed to discuss observations and models associated with biophysical, social-behavioral, and economic systems in vulnerable coastal regions. Specifically, the workshop will focus on understanding the interactions of biophysical, social-behavioral, and economic systems in coastal regions, explicitly defining new data gaps that can be addressed by nongovernmental, local, regional, and federal networks for the formulation of a comprehensive Coastal Observatory, and the development of interoperability requirements of data and models.

    Explore the coastal observation and modeling systems workshop.


  • Biscayne Bay

    Project Title: Biscayne Bay Marine Health

    The Biscayne Bay Health initiative unites Institute of Environment faculty with local governments and organizations to help protect and preserve Biscayne Bay. An annual summit will spread the word about the bay's importance to our environment and economy.

    Read about the Institute's latest partnership with the Biscayne Bay Marine Health Summit Coalition.

  • Coastal Fish Ecology in the Everglades

    Lead: Jennifer Rehage

    Institute scientists are passionate about fish and fisheries and the issues that affect them, particularly water and climate issues and their interacting effects. We focus on understanding how water and water management decisions interact with climate patterns to affect fish and the quality of recreational fisheries. Ongoing research efforts aim to understand how fishes move through their seascapes, what drives these movement, how those movements fit into large-scale ecosystem processes and what are the consequences for socio-economically valuable recreational fisheries. Our research mainly takes places in the Everglades and coastal South Florida, and we focus on key recreational species such as: Tarpon, Snook, Bonefish, Florida Bass, Jack Crevalle, and Redfish.

    Visit the Coastal Fish Ecology and Fisheries Lab to learn more about this research or watch Dr. Rehage explain the importance of the Everglades in this video


  • Coral Gables Tidal and Mangrove Sediment Elevation

    Lead: Tiffany Troxler

    Project Title: Coral Gables Tidal and Mangrove Sediment Elevation Study

    Coastal wetlands provide essential direct livelihood services to millions of people, as well as critical regulating services such as maintenance of water quality, protection from storms and erosion and carbon sequestration. Measuring the vertical movement of the coastal wetland surface and its constituent processes and relative local sea-level is necessary to determine whether a wetland can keep pace with SLR.

    Learn more about the Coral Gables Tidal and Mangrove Sediment Elevation Study

  • Ecological Roles and Importance of Sea Turtles in Coral Reef Ecosystems

    Lead: Jeremy Kiszka

    Project Title:  Ecological roles and importance of sea turtles in coral reef ecosystems

    In coral reef ecosystems, we study the roles and importance of hawksbill turtles (Eretmochelys imbricata) along the coasts of northwestern Madagascar. We study the abundance, distribution and feeding ecology of hawksbill turtles using multiple methods, including tow-diver surveys, focal follows, and tagging to better understand how coral reef habitats affect this species. We also try to understand the ecological function of these long-lived and large animals, and how they can potentially affect coral reef ecosystem dynamics. We closely work with the government of Madagascar to support sea turtle conservation initiatives.

    Explore the Marine Conservation Ecology Lab to learn more 

  • Epigenetics - NSF Understanding Rules of Life (URoL)

    Lead:Jose Eirin-Lopez

    Project Title: Predicting phenotypic and eco-evolutionary consequences of environmental-energetic-epigenetic linkages

    Living organisms may acclimate to environmental changes through epigenetic modifications to DNA, which alter the way genetic instructions are interpreted without altering the DNA code itself. While these modifications to organismal phenotype or function can be reversible, some of them may be inherited by offspring, potentially producing multiple, heritable outcomes from a single genome and affecting ecological and evolutionary outcomes. This project uses symbiotic, metabolically complex reef building corals as a model system to test the connections between physiological, epigenetic, and metabolic states, and predict how population and community dynamics are influenced by epigenetically-modulated phenotypes. This work will advance biological knowledge by delineating fundamental links (Rules of Life) between ubiquitous organismal energetic processes, epigenetics, and eco-evolutionary outcomes.

    Learn more about the project or read about the URoL grant in this FIU News article

  • Hurricane Effects on Spawning Aggregations of Goliath Grouper

    Leads:  Yannis Papastamatiou, Alastair Harborne, Kevin Boswell

    Project Title: Storm and tropical cyclone effects on the spawning activity, larval dispersal, and ecosystem impacts of an endangered marine predator

    Spawning aggregations, where large numbers of fish from across a broad area assemble to reproduce at a single site, are a critical component of the life-cycle of many fish species. Environmental conditions are critical for spawning success, including water temperatures and currents, and for that reason spawning behavior tends to be predictable in both time and space. Spawning activity is critical to population dynamics for many species, and missed spawning events can dramatically reduce annual recruitment and dispersal. While much work goes into identifying and protecting spawning sites, less is known about how disturbances, such as those caused by hurricane/storm events, may impact spawning aggregations.

    Large-scale weather events lead to dramatic changes in surge, waves, and physical energy, along with potentially dramatic declines in salinity due to freshwater inputs, both of which are likely to change spawning behavior. These changes (e.g. delayed, ineffective, or missed spawning events) are likely to have significant negative effects on population dynamics. However, for a recovering species, altered dispersal patterns could also potentially benefit the population by delivering larvae to new, but historically occupied, locations. When spawning aggregations are for large predators (e.g. grouper), changes due to disturbances can also have trophic consequences on prey species.

    This project will, for the first time, document the impacts of a major disturbance on a fish spawning aggregation. Such data are particularly critical given predictions of increased storm activity because of climate change.

  • Marine Macroalgae Connections to the Environment and Other Organisms

    Lead: Ligia Collado-Vides

    Institute scientists are investigating the relationship and connection that marine macroalgae have with their environments and on other organisms. The team sets out to answer questions around ddeveloping macroalgal indicators that can allow for the detection of changes in coastal waters, understanding the role of macroalgae in coral reef systems, and exploring how macroalgae can inform scientists about ocean acidification.

    Explore our Marine Macroalgae Research Lab to learn more about these projects or read this PantherNow article to find out how students are involved in this research

  • Marine Reserves Impact Seascapes

    Lead: Alastair Harborne

    Project Title: The energetic trade-offs underpinning foraging across a seascape for a model reef fish

    Institute scientists are studying how marine reserves can alter ecological processes and affect trophic cascades. We are also using marine reserves and other management tools to protect reefs of the future that may function differently because of low coral cover and complexity, as well as designing marine reserve networks for future changes of reef condition and larval connectivity.

    Dive into this study's article published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B to explore how marine reserves shape seascapes on a scale visible from space

  • Saltwater Intrusion and the Everglades

    Leads: Sean Charles, Rene PriceJohn KominnoskiTiffany Troxler, Evelyn Gaiser

    ProjectTitle: Experimental Saltwater Intrusion Drives Rapid Soil Elevation and Carbon Loss in Freshwater and Brackish Everglades Marshes

    A team of Institute researchers set out to determine if and how saltwater intrusion can cause coastal wetlands to sink. Their findings demonstrate local actions can play a large role in the resilience of ecosystems to climate change. Through effective ecosystem management, wetlands could play a key role in staving off sea level rise. Read this FIU News article to learn more about this project.

    Additionally, our experts have also found that the Everglades is seeing increased threats from sea level rise, like peat collapse. Our researchers are investigating how to address this challenges in an effort to protect the Everglades and, thus, incorporate wetlands in addressing the effects brought on due to climate change.  

    Read this AP News article to see how we are protecting our River of Grass against climate change or read the related publication in Estuaries and Coasts

  • Scaling Up Sponge Community Restoration in South Florida

    Lead: Mark Butler

    Project Title: Scaling up Sponge Community Restoration in South Florida to Improve Nearshore Water and Habitat Quality

    Declining water quality in south Florida is a real and frightening prospect for the health of this iconic ecosystem, as well as for the tourism- and fisheries-based economy of the region. For over a decade, our researchers have sought to understand the ecological structure and function of the region’s shallow, nearshore sponge-dominated hard-bottom communities that in some areas have been decimated by harmful algal blooms. Our current research focuses on better understanding the effects of sponge community assembly and diversity on ecosystem functions such as water column filtration, provisioning of nursery habitat, and contribution to underwater soundscapes along with the potential for improving coastal water quality through the large-scale restoration of sponge communities.

    This research has been funded by the EPA South Florida Initiative, The Nature Conservancy-NOAA Community-Based Habitat Restoration Program, and the Florida Sea Grant.

    Photo of researcher setting up an underwater sponge nursery area (Photo Credit: William Sharp)

  • Seagrass Ecosystems and Blue Carbon Research

    Lead: James Fourqurean

    Our seagrass scientists actively collaborate across departments and research centers to improve our research and methodology, not only within FIU but throughout the U.S. and around the world. At our Seagrass Ecosystems Research Lab (SERL), we recognize that seagrass science is a global and cross-disciplinary endeavor, and we strive for strong communication and collaboration within our research community. Our research also looks at the potential for blue carbon to address climate change.

    Learn more about the Seagrass Ecosystems Research Laboratory or read this related publication about blue carbon

  • Shark Bay Ecosystem Research Project

    Lead: Michael Heithaus

    Project Title: Shark Bay Ecosystem Research Project

    The Shark Bay Ecosystem Research Project (SBERP) is an international research collaboration led by the Heithaus lab with the goal of understanding the dynamics of one of the world’s most pristine seagrass ecosystems. In addition, SBERP strives to disseminate the results of the project to a wide audience through documentary films, the project website, curriculum and teacher resources for secondary schools. The lab’s work in Shark Bay provides the most detailed study of the ecological role of sharks in the world and has been used as an underpinning for affecting positive policy changes in shark conservation.

    Major funding for SBERP Projects has come from the National Science Foundation and NSERC Canada, but our work wouldn’t be possible without the generous assistance of a number of businesses, institutions, and individuals.

    Learn more about the Heithaus lab 

Organisms & Evolution

  • Behavioral Ecology of Whales and Dolphins

    Lead: Jeremy Kiszka

    Project Title: Understanding how ecological forces affect the behavior of whales and dolphins

    Institute researchers are studying how environmental conditions and ecosystem changes affect the sociality of several dolphin species across multiple systems (island-associated and coastal populations), and how the social structure of some species can evolve in space and time. We also investigate inter-species interactions and associations (polyspecific associations). 

    Visit the Marine Conservation Ecology Lab to find out more about this project or watch how our scientists tag whales to collect important data


  • Bioluminescence and Vision in the Deep Sea

    Lead:  Heather Bracken-Grissom

    Project Title: Bioluminescence and Vision in the Deep Sea

    In the twilight zone (~200m-1000m), where sunlight is limited, bioluminescence is an essential survival tool.  Over 700 genera contain bioluminescent species, 80% of which are marine and depend on the generation of light for communication, feeding and defense.

    Little is known about the evolution of bioluminescence and vision in the deep sea at the molecular level.  The CRUSTOMICS lab is studying the evolution and function of light organs and visual systems to better understand these fascinating sensory systems.

    Learn more about this project from our CRUSTOMICS: Crustacean Genomics and Systematics Lab.


    Photo by: S. Johnsen

  • Decapod Tree of Life

    Lead:  Heather Bracken-Grissom

    Project Title: The Decapod Tree of Life

    The Tree of Life depicts the evolutionary history of all extant and extinct organisms over the history of Life on Earth. Currently, the CRUSTOMICS lab is involved in several Tree of Life projects focused on decapod crustaceans (crab, shrimp and lobsters) and pancrustaceans (crustaceans + insects). The lab uses  morphological, molecular and paleontological data to generate a phylogeny from which we can make inferences about ecology, character evolution, diversification and origins.

    Learn more about this project from our CRUSTOMICS: Crustacean Genomics and Systematics Lab.


    Photo by: Heather Bracken-Grissom

  • Ecology and Conservation of Sharks, Rays and Reef Fish

    Leads:  Demian ChapmanYannis Papastamatiou

    Institute scientists are using a variety of tools like genetics, new tag technologies, baited remote underwater videos, and stable isotopes  to answer diverse and complex biological questions about the ecology, biology, and behaviour of sharks, rays, and predatory bony fish. 

    Visit the Predator Ecology Conservation Lab to find out more about this research or read this FIU News article or this FIU Magazine story to discover how our scientists are protecting endangered sharks from being illegally trafficked


  • Epigenetics as a New Frontier to Improve Shark Nursery Conservation in Bimini

    Lead:  Jose Eirin-Lopez

    Project Title: Epigenetics as a new frontier to improve shark nursery conservation in Bimini (Bahamas)

    Institute researchers have been supported by the Save our Seas Foundation to focus on improving management and restoration of Lemon shark nurseries in Bimini (Bahamas) by identifying epigenetic biomarkers of exposure to trace heavy metals in juvenile sharks.

    The availability of a decades-long historic archive of Lemon shark samples from these nurseries will open a window into the past, helping us understand how pollution has impacted the survival of Bimini shark populations.

    Along with the characterization of epigenetic changes, this study will help define biomarkers effective in assessing the impact of these stressors at different stages.

    Learn more about this project from our Environmental Epigenetics Lab.



  • Epigenetics of Corals in Response to Hurricanes Irma and Maria

    Lead:  Jose Eirin-Lopez

    Porject Title: Interaction between genotype and acquired environmental modifications during coral responses to hurricanes Irma and Maria in Puerto Rico

    After the impact of two consecutive category 5 hurricanes in less than a month, Puerto Rico is (for a narrow window of time) the world's best natural laboratory to study the effects of extreme weather episodes on coral reefs and the mechanisms underlying coral acclimatory responses to global change. This project leverages this opportunity, and the research team's previous work in the area, to understand how coral existing genetic variation interacts with acquired environmental modifications (i.e., microbiome and epigenome) during intra- and trans-generational responses to extreme climatic events.

    This work is undertaken by a multi-institutional team, providing much needed answers to questions concerning the mechanisms by which foundational species acclimatize to rapidly changing environmental conditions. By better understanding the mechanisms contributing to stress responses, the researchers hope to learn how long lived sessile organisms may adapt or acclimatize to a extreme events. Established resources at Florida International University, the University of Puerto Rico, and Pennsylvania State University recruit and engage graduate and undergraduate students from under-represented groups in science in the research. The research team works closely with Puerto Rican agencies and local resource managers to communicate management and conservation applications from the research.

    Learn more about this project on our Environmental Epigenetics Lab website. 



  • Evolution of Marine Invertebrates

    Lead:  Heather Bracken-Grissom

    Our scientists are addressing issues related to the biodiversity, phylogeny, ecology, biogeography, and conservation of marine invertebrates. Specifically, our current research combines the study of fossil evidence with molecular and morphological phylogenetics to gain insights into key evolutionary adaptations, relationships, and origins of decapod crustaceans.

    Learn more about these projects from our CRUSTOMICS: Crustacean Genomics and Systematics Lab or read about the evolution of crabs in this National Geographic story


  • French Polynesia Reef Shark Research

    Lead:  Michael HeithausJeremy Kiszka

    Project Title: French Polynesia Reef Shark Research Projects

    Do healthy reefs need sharks? In October 2013, our scientists launched a study of the reef sharks that inhabit the coastal waters of Mo’orea, an island in French Polynesia. Using animal borne (or shark cams) and stationary cameras, the goal of the study is to investigate the feeding and behavior of a variety of reef sharks, especially blacktip reef and sicklefin lemon sharks, and their importance to the health of the reefs. Because Mo’orea offers shark feeding as a tourist attraction at designated sites, one  goal of this study is understand how feeding of sharks changes their behavior and their role in the ecosystem.

    Our researchers are exploring how emerging video technologies may offer a solution by providing inexpensive and non-invasive ways to survey sharks in remote, data-poor regions.

    Learn more about this project from the Heithaus lab


  • Global FinPrint

    Leads:  Michael Heithaus, Demian Chapman

    Project Title: Global FinPrint

    We unite researchers and collaborators from around the world to study sharks, rays and other marine life on coral reefs using baited remote underwater video surveys (BRUVs). Our goal is to assess coral reef sharks and rays, understand how they affect these vanishing ecosystems, and inform emerging conservation actions. 

    Learn more about Global FinPrint

  • Green Sea Turtle Research

    Lead:  Michael Heithaus

    Project Title: Green Sea Turtle Reseach Projects

    Using unmanned aerial video (UAV), baited remote underwater video (BRUV), and seagrass surveys our researchers study green turtle foraging ecology including how food availability, food nutritional quality and predation risk affect turtle habitat use and the impact of turtle grazing on seagrass communities. This is the first explicit test of whether Caribbean green turtle distributions reflect a trade-off between risk and energy intake or if foraging considerations alone determine spatial variation in turtle densities. The lab is also studying the effects of green turtle grazing on seagrass communities using a multi-year grazer exclusion study within four tidal creek sites along Abaco, Bahama’s eastern coastline.

    Learn more about green sea turtle projects from the Heithaus lab

  • Investigating Marine Organisms with Underwater Acoustics Technology

    Lead:  Kevin Boswell

    Our scientists explore the world of deep ocean life by using advanced underwater acoustics technology to monitor what happens under the sea. They investigate deep-pelagic communities on short-term (sub-generational) and long-term (evolutionary) timescales to appraise extant recovery and potential future recovery of these communities. They also study sound scattering layers (SSLs) used by euphausiids, crustaceans, siphonophores and myctophids, which are prey for larger predators, like marine mammals, allowing our experts to explore predator-prey interactions. Our experts also use autonomous survey vehicles to perform acoustic surveys in shallow coastal waters (e.g., estuarine systems), collecting high-resolution data of the substrate characteristics, bathymetry and the organisms distributed above the seabed.

    Learn more about these projects from our Marine Ecology and Acoustics Lab


  • Madagascar Whale Sharks

    Lead: Jeremy Kiszka

    Project Title: Madagascar Whale Shark Project

    In collaboration with Mada Megafauna, the Marine Megafauna Foundation, the National Center for Oceanographic Research in Madagascar and Les Baleines Rand’eau, Dr. Jeremy Kiszka is studying the population status and residency of whale sharks off Nosy Be, Madagascar. Photographic identification of individuals coupled with satellite tagging will help researchers determine where these sharks are moving and whether or not there is a decline in sightings. The Madagascar Whale Sharks team plans to communicate these results with the local government to establish management regimes.

    Find out more about the Madagascar Whale Shark Project



  • Modeling and Mapping Fishing Pressure and Fish Stocks

    Lead: Alastair Harborne

    Project Title: Mapping and modeling fishing pressure and fish standing stocks in the Florida Keys

    Institute researchers are modeling and mapping fishing pressure and standing stocks in the Florida Keys to understand the factors driving these variables and to assist conservation planning. We are also using models to examine how changing sea surface temperatures associated with global climate change will affect the size and distribution of reef fishes, and how this will affect catches and management initiatives.

    Explore the Tropical Fish Ecology Lab to dive deeper into this project



  • Expedition Ocean

    Based on the work conducted at Aquarius Reef Base, we let students and teachers be a part of real-world science through activity-based lessons and unique experiential opportunities. 

    Explore Expedition Ocean

  • Aquarius Interactive

    Splash down to Conch Reef and take a virtual tour of the Aquarius undersea lab, the life support buoy and adjacent coral reefs – all without getting wet.  

    View Aquarius Interactive

  • Florida Keys & Me

    Being a student in the Florida Keys means being surrounded by Everglades National Park, the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and the Florida Bay. In other words, there is no shortage of nature, outdoor activities or diverse ecosystems. Learning to live in balance with these fragile habitats so that the resources they provide will continue to flourish is a big part of living in the Florida Keys, requiring a more in-depth approach to outdoor activities.

    Through three different citizen science platforms, students collect data at a site that will contribute to their knowledge of the natural world, their desire to be involved and their ability to take charge. Projects within the Florida Keys & Me program are grade-specific (3-12).

    The topics and citizen science projects are:

    • Marine Debris (Grades 3-5): Scientific beach clean-ups using the NOAA Marine Debris collection platform (Location depending on day of field lab, normally Plantation Key Hammock Preserve)
    • Water Quality (Grades 6-8): Water quality testing using the Florida Keys Water Watch and Microplastic Awareness Project platforms (Green Turtle Hammock Preserve)
    • Species Identification (Grades 9-12): Biodiversity tracking, species list creation and invasive species removal using the iNaturalist application (Green Turtle Hammock Preserve)

    Programs are grade-specific but can altered on request for different grade levels. All field labs take place in Islamorada in collaboration with the City of Islamorada. Field labs are available for up to 30 students at a time.

    If you are interested in this field lab, please contact Analisa Duran.

    The program is grant funded through May of 2020.

  • Miami-Dade Environmental Education

    Project Title: Miami-Dade County Environmental Education Grant

    This project focuses on engaging with students and community members on environmental education, (including the issues, impacts and solutions related to the environment). Some of these topics may include sea-level rise and climate change, resource management (recycling and composting), water quality concerns (pollution and contamination) and other relevant and critical environmental issues. 

    The grant supports education and awareness initiatives in local communities, as well as in a university setting.

    Find out more about the Miami-Dade County Environmental Education Grant


  • NOAA Planet Stewards: No Debris for Me!

    The goal of this program is to educate students on what marine debris is, the impacts it has on the environment and what they can do in their community to combat the issue. This program is funded by the NOAA Planet Stewards Program and is free for fifth-grade Title I schools. Field labs are for up to 30 students per program.

    The program is be completed over a month includes:

    • Outreach to your class about marine debris
    • Bus costs and field lab to conduct a scientific shoreline cleanup
    • Follow-up lesson plans correlated to the Florida Standards of Education and the Next Generation Science Standards


    If you are interested in this program, please contact Analisa Duran.

    The program is grant funded through May of 2020.

  • Ocean Life Public Seminar Series

    The Ocean Life series brings renowned researchers and academics to the Keys to educate, entertain and inspire audiences of all ages. Hosted by our Center for Coastal Oceans Research and the Friends of the Key Largo Cultural Center, the series features interdisciplinary experts from FIU and the Keys. 

    Browse upcoming and past Ocean Life lectures

  • Sea Level Solutions Center Citizen Science

    Seasonal King Tides (the highest of the high tides) have been causing flooding in our Miami community. SLSC, in collaboration with several partners, hosts yearly volunteer events to collect sea level rise data through flood reporting. 

    Explore SLSC citizen science opportunities

  • Sea Level Solutions Interdisciplinary Research & Design Studio

    Sea Level Solutions Interdisciplinary Research & Design Studio

    This course provides an innovative and creative platform to work collaboratively across disciplines to design and produce sea level solutions that are at once functional and visionary in their approach, in addition to serving as a model for our region and beyond. Faculty from multiple FIU colleges are among instructors and will provide weekly lectures (open to the public), training and analytical tools.

    The studio will pay particular attention to infrastructural solutions that are concurrently functional, aesthetic, and contextual in their design approach. Students will be expected to deliver projects that are formally resolved in macro and micro scales, and will conduct research and analysis, site investigation, mapping and interpretation of the existing context. They will carry out studies aimed at exposing important site qualities and relationships. Ideas will be discussed in the form of desk crits and formal reviews, with special emphasis on frequent, in-class pinups and interdisciplinary group work.

    For more information on this course, read the 2018 Studio Book or contact Dr. Tiffany Troxler.

    View the below video to learn more about that course: 

Past Projects

  • Public Education and Outreach - Communicating Sea Level Rise

    Project Title: Communicating Sea Level Solutions

    Robert Gutsche, Susan Jacobson, Kate MacMillin and Juliet Pinto of FIU won Eyes on the Rise: Sea Level Rise South Florida in 2014-2015. Their project entitled “Sea Level Rise South Florida: How Are Waters Affecting You?” presented ways of communicating sea level solutions while building community awareness and inspiring action.

  • Sea-Level Rise and Projected Impacts

    Project Title: Predicting Urban Flooding

    GIS Coordinator, Pete Harlem, mapped sea level rise in South Florida which predict urban flooding patterns. Ivan D. Haigh, Thomas Wahl, Eelco J. Rohling, Rene M. Price, Charitha B. Pattiarachi, Francisco M. Calafat and Snoke Dangendorf are creating timescales to detect a significant acceleration in sea level rise. Through their findings, they will know if sea level in 2100 will increase by 1.5-2m (by 2020) and 0.5-1 (by 2030).

  • Sea-Level Rise, Peat Collapse and the Everglades

    Leads:  Rene Price, Tiffany Troxler, John Kominoski

    Project Title: Effects of sea-level rise and freshwater management on long-term water levels and water quality in the Florida Coastal Everglades

    Scientists found that reduced freshwater delivery to the Everglades is increasing salinity in drinking water wells through their study analyzing data from 2003-2012. Researchers examined sea level rise and South Florida coastal forests and found new evidence of the collapse of peat soil. In their study, looking at 50 years of coastal vegetation change, scientists found that sawgrass marshes in Everglades National Park is at risk of peat collapse. Additionally, they discovered that mangroves are displacing sawgrass marsh at rates up to 10 km per 50 years. They have conducted experiments to determine the consequences of SLR to marshes.

    Read more about the project and access the publication in this FIU News article or read the study publication in the Journal of Environmental Management.

  • Sustainable Communities and Transportation Planning

    Project Title: Designing a Resilient City

    The project looks at the city, neighborhood and building scale. It won the Florida Foundation for Architecture Award as well as the Provost’s Award for Outstanding Creative Project and the A|A Miami Design Awards. The project was exhibited at the Coral Gables Museum in 2014, Miami Beach Urban Studios in 2013 and the Association of Climate Change Officers in 2013.

    For more information, please visit the CARTA Climate Change Studio.

  • Water Supply, Management and Infrastructure

    Project Title: Measuring Impacts of Flood Mitigation on Water Quality

    Measuring the impacts of flood mitigan on water quality has been one priority. There have been routine assessments of the effects of urban flooding on water quality in Marine Protected Areas. Henry Briceño of the School of Environment, Arts and Society examined the King Tide Day in 2014 at Miami Beach. The regulated total nutrients (TP, TN) and CHLa were within range, but dissolved nutrients, SRP and DIN were up to six times the historic averages concentration.