Ecosystem Assessment and Restoration: Karen A. Steidinger

Karen is an internationally respected scientist who has dedicated part of her career to the study of dinoflagellates and harmful algae. The scientific name of Florida's red tide organism, Karenia brevis, is named in her honor.

Degrees / Certifications
B.A. Zoology, University of South Florida, 1968
M.A. Marine Science, University of South Florida, 1971
Ph.D. Biology, University of South Florida, 1979

2005 to current: Harmful Algae Specialist, Florida Institute of Oceanography, University of South Florida.

1963 to 2003: Laboratory technician, biologist, laboratory supervisor and then Chief of Marine Research, Florida Marine Research Institute/Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, all at 100 Eighth Ave. SE, St. Petersburg. Stepped down from administration and went back to research in 1993.


What are you working on now?
I am a University of South Florida, Florida Institute of Oceanography employee working on federal grants and a state contract and assigned to the FWRI. My contract and grant work centers around developing guides to the identification of harmful algae and methods for their analysis. It also includes completing research and manuscripts on dinoflagellate or phytoplankton systematics and ecology associated with previous grants and current collaborative projects. I am also an instructor in various national and international harmful algae workshops or courses, concentrating on unarmored and armored dinoflagellates in marine waters. There are over 50 HAB dinoflagellates in the Gulf of Mexico and my work concentrates on those that are associated with red tides that cause shellfish poisonings like Neurotoxic Shellfish Poisoning. You can go to the Red Tide section to find out more. You can also see a presentation I made to middle class students at that is a video production.

What would you say is your biggest accomplishment?
My biggest accomplishment professionally has been in describing the sequential stages of HAB formation from initiation to dissipation, pointing out the importance of life histories of the organisms that cause HAB's in why we have HAB's, looking at the historical evidence of Florida red tides caused by Karenia brevis on the west Florida shelf, and in describing new heterotrophic and mixotrophic benthic dinoflagellates in the Pfiesteriaceae.

What do you like most about your career?
Two things. One, over the years, what I have liked most are the people I have met and worked with - their enthusiasm, dedication, and resourcefulness. Two, learning is an unending experience and science is infinite, every day something new is recognized.

What do you like least about your career?
I chose this career but I wish there would be more remuneration in the form of a higher salary for marine scientists in government, particularly in today's market.

What are some of your biggest challenges?
To build projects that are successful in the sense of receiving fiscal support from different sources, successful in producing quality data, successful in sharing that data with other scientists, successful in publishing that data.

What advice would you give to someone interested in pursuing a career in your field?
Go to college and at first major in a broad field like biology, zoology, or botany, then for an advanced degree specialize in a topic you have particular interest in. Your initial exposure to knowledge needs to be broad so that you can learn to synthesize and integrate what you have learned from various disciplines. Start off as a generalist, then become a specialist. It would be worthwhile to know that there are jobs in the field so that when you graduate you know where you can apply. Marine science or marine biology jobs are not glamorous; many are in the laboratory of on a research vessel but without diving, say with endangered species. There of course are those jobs, but those only represent a fraction of what is out there. All of these opportunities allow for discovery and that is the essence of science. You probably will surprise yourself with what you learn and how you increase the knowledge base through discovery.

FWC Facts:
Seagrasses are the principal food for endangered manatees and green sea turtles, help purify the water, and provide a suitable environment for a wide variety of marine life.

Learn More at AskFWC