Researcher Rob Ruzicka is passionate about studying coral reef communities and promoting their conservation.
Ruzicka surveying coral reef.
Ecosystem Assessment and Restoration: Corals
St. Petersburg, FL
B.A., Biology – Hanover College (Indiana)
M.S., Marine Biology – Georgia Southern University
Caicos Conch Farm, Turks and Caicos Islands – Offshore Technician. I maintained, fed, and protected (from predators) sub-adult populations of Queen Conch (Strombus gigas) on a two-acre offshore pasture.
US Peace Corps, Zambia – Fisheries Extension Agent. I assisted rural Zambians build earthen fish ponds to raise Nile Tilapia (Oreochromis niloticus) for consumption.
Ecoquest Education Foundation, New Zealand – Environmental Field Leader. I led students on a variety of field activities that focused on marine resource management in New Zealand.
Florida Department of Environmental Protection Coral Program, Miami – Fishing and Diving Project Coordinator. I organized the completion of numerous studies that evaluated the impacts of fishing and diving activities on southeast Florida reefs.
What are you working on now?
I’m preparing a manuscript for publication based upon the long-term findings of the Coral Reef Evaluation and Monitoring Project (CREMP). We have been monitoring corals since 1996 in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.
How is this information beneficial?
The manuscript informs the scientific community and public about how coral communities in the Florida Keys have changed since the mass bleaching event of 1997-98. Using the data collected by CREMP from 1999 to 2009, the manuscript provides a preview of what coral communities in the Florida Keys may look like in the future. Our data is critical for evaluating reef condition, or health, and Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary resource managers are using this information to potentially restructure the current regulatory strategy to afford better protection to coral reefs.
What is your typical work day like?
That depends on the time of year. Ask me during the spring or summer and most of my time is spent underwater measuring, counting and photographing corals, sea fans and sponges. Ask me during the fall or winter and I’m busy preparing proposals, writing reports and publications, and conducting data analyses.
What is your greatest career accomplishment?
I consider my time as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Zambia my greatest and most rewarding experience. I was a fisheries extension agent, and there was nothing more satisfying than watching a bountiful harvest of Tilapia by a rural Zambian farmer after months and months of excruciatingly hard work.
What are some of your biggest challenges?
Keeping an optimistic view about the future of coral reefs. Coral reefs are some of the most amazing environments found on this planet, but if aggressive actions are not taken to save them there will only be a fraction of them left for my kids and grandkids to explore.
What do you like most about your career?
I enjoy working with like-minded people that truly care about the fate of coral reefs and the health of our planet.
Was this your original career interest? Why or why not?
No, originally I was interested in athletics and physical therapy. It wasn’t until I went away to college in Indiana that I began to realize how spectacular Florida’s natural resources were. As a Florida native, born here in 1974, I have watched firsthand the deterioration of many of Florida’s natural resources. This ultimately led me to a career focused on marine conservation in Florida and abroad.
What would you be doing if you weren’t involved in science?
Given the many threats facing coral reefs, the majority of our research is applied to promoting conservation. Research is one method, but promoting conservation through alternative means – whether teaching, education or technology – would also be satisfying.
What advice would you give to someone interested in pursuing a career in your field?
Be prepared to sacrifice much of your time for little or no financial gain. The trade-off is you will have the opportunity to experience some amazing places whether through volunteering, internships, undergraduate or graduate school. The coral research community is small and these experiences provide a “rite of passage” that allows others to know you are dedicated to the profession.
What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
Right now it’s all dedicated to Tui and Tembo, two 4-month-old black Labrador puppies that are recent additions to the family. Tui is named after a New Zealand songbird, and Tembo means elephant in Swahili. Both serve as reminders of great memories.