Grace Casselberry, a PhD student in marine science and technology, has been awarded a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Dr. Nancy Foster Scholarship that will provide four years of support for her doctoral studies beginning in September.
Casselberry, who works in Andrew Danylchuk’s laboratory in the department of environmental conservation, will continue working with him and expand upon his research on tarpon in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.
Tarpon, although not valued as food, are highly prized for recreational fishing, mainly catch-and-release, and are an important part of the regions’ tourist economy. Lately, sharks are grabbing the fish, which can reach as long as 8 feet, before they can be landed. That’s not good for fishing guides, tourists, the economy or the tarpon population.
Casselberry will be tracking bull and great hammerhead sharks using a combination of angler surveys and acoustic telemetry. Transmitters about the diameter of a dime are implanted in the shark and produce a unique ping that is recorded as the sharks pass within range of any of the 90 receivers Danylchuk has in the area for his ongoing tarpon research.
The recorded information is retrieved from the receivers by hand, either by diving or by hauling up from a buoy on the surface, then downloaded to a laptop for study.
Casselberry, who previously worked in a marine protected area in St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands, said, “I'm excited to stick around UMass for a few more years and to get back out in the field.”
The Dr. Nancy Foster Scholarship Program recognizes outstanding scholarship and encourages independent graduate level research – particularly by female and minority students – in NOAA mission-related sciences. The program seeks to increase the number of women and minorities in these scientific disciplines, particularly as they relate to the mission of the NOAA Office of National Marine Sanctuaries.
The scholarship provides $30,000 in living costs and $12,000 for academics for each of the four years. Casselberry is one of three chosen from about 200 applicants.
Casselberry and other Nancy Foster Scholars will gather in August for training at the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary in Michigan. They will be trained in diving, snorkeling and maritime archeology methods and will give presentations to the public.
“Part of the goal of the sanctuaries is helping people get connected to the marine environment,” Casselberry said.