Starting as a volunteer at FWRI's Marine Mammal Pathobiology
Laboratory, Matt eventually turned his focus from manatees to
microorganisms that form harmful algal blooms.
B.S. Marine Science, Eckerd College, 2003
Present non-degree-seeking student, University of South Florida
My career with the FWC started in 1999, while I was a student at
Eckerd College. I began as a volunteer at FWRI's Marine Mammal
Pathobiology Laboratory, where I would assist in manatee
necropsies, cut ear bones, and help in the occasional rescue and
capture. Later, I became an intern. During the summer of 2002, I
was a lab assistant, and my duties expanded to include carcass
retrieval and laboratory analyses-you know, the fun stuff.
During the winter semester of 2001, I was enrolled in an
independent study at the path lab. I looked at various aspects of
the red tide-related manatee die-off in 1996. Little did I know
that this would not be the last time red tide and I crossed paths.
In 2003, I was involved in another independent study/internship at
FWRI with Fisheries-Independent Monitoring, looking at the sexual
dimorphism and annual replacement of spines of the southern and
After graduation, the Harmful Algal Blooms (HAB) subsection at
FWRI hired me for a ballast water project, the first of its kind in
Florida. This was a project to investigate the risk of introducing
harmful algae into Florida waters from foreign ports through ships'
ballast water. We collected an unidentified species from ballast
water that may be new to Tampa Bay. I have enjoyed working with
various other programs at the Institute, including assisting with
manatee necropsies, rescues, and captures and the 2011 manatee
synoptic aerial survey; diving for the seagrass recovery program in
the Keys and Ten Thousand Islands and for the fish biology group's
spotted seatrout program; and investigating HAB species in Costa
Rica and Jamaica. I also was involved in USF's post-oil-spill
assessment cruise aboard the R/V Weatherbird II.
What are you working on now?
I am working on the HAB group's ECOHAB: Karenia
program. This is a six-year, $4.8 million program funded by NOAA
that is focused on two questions: (1) what are the different
nitrogen and phosphorus nutrient sources fueling the massive,
persistent biomass accumulations of Florida red tide? and (2) where
are these nutrients coming from?
Our approach to these questions involves a team of scientists
with varied expertise in nutrients, red tide and other HABs, and
the southwest Florida environment. The work includes laboratory
studies, comparative field studies, examination of multiple
nutrient sources, measurement of physical flows, and computer
modeling. The project is in its last year of funding, and I am
trying to finish experiments, write up the data, and assist with
the project's special-edition publication in the journal
How is this information beneficial?
This project takes a multifaceted approach to understanding why
we have the blooms, as well as when and where. The information we
collect and analyze will be used to lessen the impacts of the
blooms for both the environment and the public.
What is your typical workday like?
I really don't have a "typical" workday. Every day brings new
Do you have a favorite species to study?
Tough question. I enjoy so many species for their unique
qualities. I enjoy working with manatees because they are so odd,
and I've always had a great interest in sharks. But for algal
species, I tend to gravitate to cyst-forming species. The idea that
these species can lie dormant for up to 10 years and then cause a
bloom is pretty fantastic.
What is your greatest accomplishment?
I don't think I have one accomplishment that I could call the
greatest, but knowing that I have a piece, whether minimal or
extensive, in the success of so many different and wide-ranging
projects is a big accomplishment for me.
What are some of your biggest challenges?
I think my biggest challenge is staying current in the field.
There is always so much more to know, and technology is always
changing the game. It seems just when you've learned or mastered a
method, something new comes out. And like most fields, information
is rarely restricted to one discipline; you have to understand all
facets to get the big picture.
What do you like most about your career?
Overall, I enjoy the possibility of discovery, but the one thing
I like most is the flexibility and opportunity to learn so many
different aspects of marine science. I strive to be well-versed in
a variety of subjects, rather than focusing on just one area. I
have been very fortunate in the opportunities and experiences in my
time at FWRI.
Did anyone inspire you to become a
My mother is a nurse and has an unquenchable thirst for
knowledge, and I've always admired that.
When did you choose this career path?
People often ask me how a boy from the Midwest fell in love with
the ocean. I always had a propensity for water, and I tended to
gravitate to animals. I had a subscription to National Geographic
and enjoyed learning of faraway places and was excited with the
element of adventure. All it took was a school trip in the second
grade to the John G. Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, and I knew what I
wanted to do. It all kind of fell into place.
What would you be doing if you weren't involved in
No idea-probably walking around aimlessly in a parking lot
What advice would you give to someone interested in
pursuing a career in your field?
Internships have been invaluable not only in advancing my basic
knowledge, but in springboarding my career. I would suggest getting
involved with as many volunteer and internship opportunities as you
can. Sometimes it's not all what you know, but who you've met.
Being involved in multiple programs can open multiple doors or even
lead to a carryover between two. I would also say if you are
passionate enough, never give up and always keep your feet moving.
Things will work out in the end.
What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
I like to think of myself as a pretty active person. I enjoy
anything that is nature-related like camping and hiking, but I also
like to play various sports (softball, soccer, hockey), and of
course, anything that involves getting into the water.