The workshop is now embedded within the partnership and a portion of the training is held aboard ANGARI. The result is a strong, tightly bonded team that can seamlessly work up a shark and collect valuable data — with both the crew’s safety and shark’s safety in mind.
The data collected also benefits FIU graduate research. So far, samples have helped a part of García Barcia’s dissertation examining mercury levels in bull sharks, Spencer’s research using tags to understand the movements of critically endangered great hammerheads, as well as Jessica Quinlan’s research on secondary fins.
Additional samples are being taken and added to an inventory other students can access for their own research.
HANDS-ON RESEARCH EARLY-ON
The partnership also benefits undergraduates — something García Barcia has always been passionate about. She’s mentored several undergraduate students over the years. It’s her way to give back. After all, it was as an undergraduate where García Barcia volunteered in the Heithaus lab and realized her desire to work in ecotoxicology.
García Barcia wants other undergraduates to get this type of research experience, so the goal is for at least two FIU undergraduates to help with the program throughout the academic year.
FIU freshman Sophia Hemsi, who is majoring in marine biology and interested in doing shark research, was one of the first undergraduates to join the expeditions.
“Opportunities like this to get out into the field under the mentorship of such an experienced, passionate team and gain hands-on experience have been some of the most impactful moments of my life,” Hemsi said. “Everyone on the team went out of their way to show me the realities of continuing on their career path, which helped solidify my resolve to continue towards pursuing research, a Ph.D., and a career in marine ecology.”
ON THE HORIZON
García Barcia brought a lot of moving parts together in a short amount of time. Yet, it’s still the early phases of partnership, she says, almost as a reminder to herself as much as a promise of what’s to come.
The long-term goal is to find enough sponsors and donors to expand the program, especially schools supporting lower income students.
In the meantime, other ideas are in the works. One involves bringing fieldwork to the classroom. García Barcia and Spencer plan to develop curriculum, based on their research, which will be a part of Mission Inspire — an educational toolkit created by the Education Outreach team in FIU’s College of Arts, Sciences & Education.