Tell us about your work/research. What kinds of things do you do?
My graduate work involves the use of hydrographic products (mainly bathymetry and some subbottom data) and GIS to study a series of submerged paleoshoreline features across the West Florida Shelf. The goal of my work is to unravel the sea level history in the eastern Gulf of Mexico by using these paleoshorelines as indicators of past sea level stands. My background, while primarily in geoscience and hydrography, also includes experience in ecology as I have always had a special place in my heart for the biological world. My study of paleoshorelines has an ecological application in that these hardened, rocky features now form the substrate for ecologically important habitats known as mesophotic (or low-light) coral reefs that occur in the 30-150 m depth range.
What sparked your initial interest in your career?
I have always been drawn to the ocean and its beauty since I can remember. Born and raised in New Orleans, just miles from the Gulf of Mexico and cradled between the Mississippi River and Lake Pontchartrain, I have always had a close connection and fascination with the water. From the sugar-white sands and crystal clear waters of the Gulf Coast to the Pacific and Caribbean coasts of my father's home country of Colombia, I was exposed to how beautiful the ocean is from a young age and knew I wanted to make a career studying it. I began my path in marine biology and did research with a deep-sea biologist for some time, but later expanded my interest into the geosciences where I felt my skills would be put to better use. I came to realize that the field of oceanography was a perfect fit for me because it provided opportunities to study the ocean from shore and from the sea!
Who influenced you or encouraged you the most?
My parents have always been a huge source of support since I was young. My mom got SCUBA certified with my when I was in high school, and my dad carved out time to take me to some of the most beautiful corners of his country where I could see the ocean like never before. Later on, my advisor that I was paired with for an research internship became an important figure in helping me along my career path. He taught me that while science is serious work, it is just as important to love and have fun with what you are doing. Most recently, my graduate advisor has been my biggest and best supporter. He has helped me develop skill sets and pursue field opportunities that have been great for building my career, but most of all he has been kind and supportive through it all.
What element of your work/study do you think is the most fascinating?
My favorite part of my work is the way geology and ecology intersect in such an interesting and important way. Much of the West Florida Shelf still has not been mapped, and what data does exist suggests that rich ecosystems and fascinating carbonate geology are still waiting to be discovered. My hope is to continue being a part of that discovery.
How did you get involved with the Ocean Exploration Trust?
I became involved with Ocean Exploration Trust thanks to a research scientist that joined our mapping group at the University of South Florida who had previous ties to OET. After speaking with him, he graciously passed along my information to his colleagues at OET and I have since been hired as a junior seafloor mapping contractor!
What other jobs led you to your current career?
When I thought I wanted to pursue a career in marine biology I began with a research experience for undergraduates (REU) in a deep-sea biology lab. While my experience there was incredible, I realized that the statistics and coding involved with this career path were not for me. In graduate school, I ended up changing labs partway through which is when I fully transitioned into geosciences and hydrography. I have since gone on various research cruises that involved seafloor mapping including on the NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer, and most recently on the German research vessel Polarstern. I have also been involved with various field projects through my school's mapping group - the Center for Ocean Mapping and Innovative Technologies.
What are your degrees and certifications?
B.A. in Sociology - Louisiana State University, 2015
B.S. in Earth and Environmental Science - University of New Orleans, 2019
M.S. in Marine Science - University of South Florida, 2023
What are your hobbies?
Since moving to Florida, my favorite hobby has become paddleboarding. I have also gotten into cycling and rollerskating! I have always been a (mediocre) runner, but my proudest accomplishment that can also be considered a hobby is soccer! I played in college and professionally and have since moved back to the lower pressure world of rec leagues.
What advice would you give someone who wants to have a career like yours?
If you are someone who loves the ocean, I would encourage you to explore the wide variety of ocean sciences and careers that are out there! Oftentimes people default to thinking that marine biology is the way to go just because it tends to be the most popularized field, but I think many people (me included) are surprised to find out that it more often than not comes down to learning some pretty challenging statistics and coding skills with little time in the field. If you like that, then awesome! But if you're like me and don't work best that way, there are incredible opportunities that lie in other field of marine science - like seafloor mapping. These are just what I'm familiar with, but there's so much more out there, so above all - don't limit yourself and explore what's out there!