Written By: Carlyn Scott, Science Communication Assistant at USF CMS
Marina Marrari graduated from the Dr. Kendra Daly’s Zooplankton Ecology Lab at the USF College of Marine Science with a PhD in 2008. For her thesis she investigated physical and biological controls of zooplankton in the Southern Ocean using remote sensing techniques to examine chlorophyll and sea ice dynamics. She currently works with the Costa Rica Fishing Federation. Her impressive resume includes a post-doctoral fellowship at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. Marrari was drawn to the College of Marine Science’s interdisciplinary oceanography program, and she shared her experiences and advice with us in a virtual exchange.
Q: What led you to CMS?
A: I graduated from College in Argentina with a degree in marine biology and applied to a Fulbright Scholarship to pursue a graduate degree in Biological Oceanography in the US. After researching schools, I decided to apply to USF because I loved the College of Marine Science and its surroundings. I was really drawn to the projects and ongoing research in the Zooplankton Lab, and I fell in love with St. Pete!
Q: What is most valuable to you from your time at CMS?
A: I remember those years as some of the best of my life -- full of new experiences, opportunities, and great people that I’ve kept in my life through the years. It was eye opening and very fulfilling to be exposed to so many new opportunities I didn’t even know existed in our field! What is most valuable is definitely the people I met during my years at CMS, many of whom I still collaborate and stay in touch with.
Q: What advice would you give a current grad student? What advice would you give a prospective student?
A: Stay focused and do the work, but also enjoy the experience and take advantage of all CMS has to offer. Most important, take advantage of the knowledge people at CMS are willing to share. To prospective students I would say go for it! The time at CMS is wonderful!
Q: What coursework or person led you to your current research interests?
A: My interests were initially in zooplankton ecology, more specifically in the Southern Ocean and my research was part of the US Southern Ocean program. Due to the difficulties in collecting in situ data in the remote Southern Ocean, I started attempting to use satellite data to characterize the environment and relate the variability observed to zooplankton populations and recruitment success in krill. The work I did in collaboration with Drs. Chuanmin Hu and Kendra Daly led to really interesting results and definitely paved the path for my current research.
Q: What is your current research focus?
A: At present I live in Costa Rica and work in the Costa Rica Fishing Federation, FECOP, which is an NGO dedicated to promoting conservation and good fishing practices in Costa Rica through science and education. I am involved in a variety of interdisciplinary projects including the development of a mobile application called PezCA to distribute near-real-time oceanographic satellite data in Central America and apply it to good fishing practices. The project is a part of a collaboration with the local fisheries agency and provides access to the latest information completely free of charge for all users. This is the first source of high-resolution operational satellite data specifically for Central America and we’re very excited to see so many people using it.
I’m also working on the analysis of sportfishing catch data from a variety of local sources to assess the effectiveness of conservation measures. This project has a large component of citizen science and is very exciting to see it develop. Other work I do involves providing scientific criteria to government agencies, lobbying for regulations and laws that protect marine resources and participating in a variety of committees and organizations that aim to promote ocean conservation through science.
Last but not least, I’m currently working in collaboration with researchers from the Optical Oceanography Lab at CMS to develop a red tide monitoring system for Central America using operational data from the new NASA mission called PACE.
Q: Favorite memory from your time at CMS?
A: Too many to list, but some include traveling all over the world for meetings and conferences, a summer in Puget Sound learning about high frequency acoustics, publishing my first paper, oceanography classes, Saturday’s at Sunset Beach with friends, getting to know so many great teachers who have influenced my career in different ways, meeting lifelong friends, and the birth of my first daughter.
Q: What excites you about your current job? What are you looking forward to in your future career?
A: What I love most about my job is that it allows me to combine scientific research with work done directly with our communities to make an actual difference for our oceans. The type of work we do has tangible applications and seeing the difference it is making for the oceans in Central America as well as for the people who rely on it has been very rewarding.
Q: Are you in your dream job? If not, what would it be?
A: Yes, I love my job! I really feel like my work can make a difference in many ways, but it also challenges me and allows for constant learning. If I wasn’t doing this, I would be back in Argentina working with satellite data in relation to ocean dynamics and fisheries with a great group of people I still collaborate with on a variety of projects.
Q: How did your work and education at CMS prepare you for the career you've built to date?
A: The academic knowledge I acquired was of course important and besides offering a broad and comprehensive education, it allowed me to explore a variety of research topics that were new to me. But most importantly, the hands on experiences, the opportunities to travel and collaborate with researchers around the world, and the mentorship from my advisor and committee were instrumental in defining my interests and the work I do today.
Q: Have there been any surprises along the way in your career path? Or, what were the biggest eye-openers?
A: After graduating from CMS I had planned to return to Argentina, but the opportunity to spend two years at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center as a postdoctoral fellow came along, and I took it. There I learned a lot about using satellite data as a tool to characterize the ocean and examine its variability. After that, moving from the US to Costa Rica was a new opportunity I had not planned for originally, but again, it turned out to be a great experience both professionally and personally.
Q: What has been a career highlight to date?
A: I’ve had a fulfilling career so far and was lucky to run across great mentors and colleagues along the way. If I have to pick a few milestone moments I would say leaving Argentina to move to the US for the first time, defending my dissertation, and working at NASA would be in the top three.