Author: Kayla Mladinich

A History of the R/V Connecticut

Prior to the launch of the original R/V Connecticut in 1998, the University had operated a former U.S. Army-Transport boat (a T-441) acquired from Scripps Institution in 1969 and renamed the R/V UConn. Because it had a limited capacity for research instrumentation, it only spent about 20 days per year at sea. To develop modern marine research, the Department of Marine Sciences (DMS) and the former Marine Sciences and Technology Center eventually proposed a purpose-built coastal research vessel.

In 1996, Roger Long and the Elliott Bay Design Group designed the R/V Connecticut followed by construction in the fall of 1997. J. Turner Cabaniss, our current Marine Operations Manager, was hired in 1998 as captain and to provide onsite supervision of the construction. The boat’s design and construction were funded by state economic development funds through a state agency called Connecticut Innovations in addition to a loan from the University. The original R/V Connecticut was a 76’ research vessel with 12 bunks and a small lab space. It was equipped for heavy-duty oceanographic research with features like a stern A-frame for lifting buoys and a deck crane. It could house 7 scientists and 5 crew members and spent about 125 days at sea a year; being repeatedly chartered by other research institutions and federal agencies including NOAA, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, and the University of Maine.

The vessel operates as a university service center that is largely self-supporting through funding from federal agencies, making it realistic for UConn to house the boat, charter it to other researchers, and use for DMS research. The R/V Connecticut is well traveled along the east coast, particularly in Long Island Sound and Gulf of Maine waters. It has even spent some time in the great lakes, when Dr. Bob Ballard chartered the vessel for ROV work in the Thunder Bay NOAA Marine Sanctuary. To support Ballard’s work, NOAA provided funds to incorporate dynamic positioning into the R/V Connecticut’s existing propulsion. Dynamic positioning works through a computer integration of the bow and stern thrusters to maintain the boat’s position above ground. For a small research vessel, this is an extraordinary feature.

However, more recently the ship’s limited bunk and lab space proved to be an obstacle for larger collaborations and research expeditions. According to Dr. James O’Donnell, this was apparent during projects like the LISICOS program (Long Island Sound Integrated Coastal Observing System, 2004-2006), a large interdisciplinary estuarine project with more than a dozen researchers involved. People had to be shuttled on and off the ship throughout an expedition to meet project needs. With funding from the Provost and the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the R/V Connecticut was refitted in 2017, with the addition of a 14′ mid-body extension, making it a 90’ vessel. The ship now holds double the lab space and 18 bunks for 5 crew members, a technician, and 12 scientists. The refitted boat is already benefiting DMS’s education program in the form of a graduate level course for ocean expeditions and will allow for greater collaboration opportunities at UConn and other marine research programs.

Read more about the recommissioning here

The R/V Connecticut out on an expedition,  Photo Credit: James O’Donnell
The R/V Connecticut,  Photo Credit: Turner Cabaniss

Where Are They Now? One Year After Avery Point

In 2018, seven graduate students from the Department of Marine Sciences completed their degrees, five with master’s and two with doctorates. We checked in a year later to see what they’ve been up to.

Michelle Fogarty landed a postdoctoral researcher position in Marine Energy Resource Characterization at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Boulder, Colorado. On the other side of the country, Ellen Johnson is in San Diego, California working as a content writer and science communicator. Check out her blog,, to read some of her articles about sustainability and the ocean. After completing his undergraduate and master’s studies at UConn, Matthew Lacerra began his doctorate at Princeton University where he is studying paleo-oceanography in Dr. Daniel Sigman’s group. Almariet Palm scored a position as a Project Geologist with HRP Associates Inc in Farmington, Connecticut. Gihong Park conferred his doctorate and continued at Avery Point as a postdoctoral research associate with his PhD advisor, Dr. Hans Dam. Julie Pringle moved back to Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts and began working as a Field Science Coordinator for a local non-profit called the Great Pond Foundation. She commented on being back in the field, “after spending the majority of my graduate research in the lab, I’m really enjoying all the field work!”  Last but not least, Heidi Yeh started her doctorate studying oyster aquaculture at Rutgers University in New Jersey. She is “employing genetic techniques to promote sustainable seafood production.”

Some recent alumnae/i entered the next step in academia, while others moved into the work force. This just goes to show that a graduate degree from the Department of Marine Sciences can prepare you for a variety of career paths. It will be interesting to see where they wind up next!


Molly James

Getting to know our staff: Bob Dziomba – Machine Shop

After a 13-year stint working on nuclear reactors for the US Navy, Bob has been our marine research technician in the machine shop for 26 years. After Gary Grenier’s retirement in 2017, he now has to manage the workload in the shop himself. Bob simply describes his day-to-day job as “fix and repair,” which is an understatement. Without his skills, the Department of Marine Sciences (DMS) would be at a loss.

As a trained machinist, Bob has contributed to a majority of DMS research projects by helping faculty design, build, and test prototype equipment, while also maintaining and repairing it when it breaks. Earlier during his tenure, Bob also enjoyed servicing the departments’ small submersibles and remotely operated vehicles (ROV), which required particular care due to the nature of high-pressure equipment. Over the years, he helped shape the machine shop into the highly functional facility that it is today.

Major experimental setups like the flow-through system in the Rankin Seawater Lab were constructed with Bob’s input and hard work. Bob also helped building the Larval Fish Rearing System that allows experimental manipulations of water temperature, CO2 and oxygen levels to study potential effects of marine climate change on marine organisms. In Bob’s spare time, he helps other technicians with repairs on our marine vessels and teaching laboratories. Outside the machine shop, Bob’s friends and family value his mechanical skills.

DMS research operations rely on Bob’s expertise to construct prototypes and conserve functional equipment. As a department we fortunate to have such a skilled and caring technician.


Bob Dziomba in the machine shop
The automated Larval Fish Rearing System in Rankin Lab. Photo credit: Hannes Baumann

The First Ocean Expedition Course

On October 17-19, 2018, six graduate students from Department of Marine Sciences participated in the first ocean expedition course ever offered by the university. Students have long lobbied for a course that teaches ship-based oceanographic methods, and after much logistical and scientific preparation by faculty, staff, and students, the team set sail aboard the R/V Connecticut. The objective of the cruise was to sample oceanographic data from Long Island Sound outwards to the continental shelf break. The team was led by Professors Jim O’Donnell, Frank Bohlen, Samantha Siedlecki, and Hannes Baumann, with research support from Kay Howard-Strobel and David Cohen. The student participants were Molly James, Jimmy deMayo, Alec Shub, Michael Mathuri, Amin Ilia, and Callie Concannon.

The course was designed to give students a chance to experience data collection aboard a research vessel from all oceanographic disciplines. Students oversaw around-the-clock deployment of CTD/rosette casts, sediment grabs/cores, Methot net trawls, and vertical plankton tows at a total of 7 stations. On board the ship, students analyzed pH and prepared samples for later analysis. Unfortunately, weather conditions limited the trip to just 36 hours instead of the intended 48 hours, but the team still managed to collect the data they intended to analyze. With the help of Dr. Claudia Koerting, students used analytical spectroscopy techniques to measure dissolved oxygen, nutrients, and chlorophyll concentration. After all the data was analyzed, the final cruise report was constructed, and the results were presented the following semester at the weekly Brown Bag seminar series hosted by the Marine Sciences Graduate Students. This course provided students with great hands-on experience and introduced the students to areas of oceanography previously beyond their knowledge levels.

To access all the data that was collected during the expedition, log on to

The graduate student class with faculty

Nighttime sampling station


Jimmy deMayo

Climate change is rapidly reshaping the Long Island Sound, as citizen science data shows

DMS scientists digitized old records from Project Oceanology and discovered a treasure chest of data on warming oceans and shifting marine populations

For more than 45 years, the non-profit Project Oceanology on UConn’s Avery Point Campus has inspired middle and high school students to care about the ocean. Students learn how measure water temperature, pH and oxygen and sift through trawl catches of fish and crabs that many have never seen for real before. Thereby, Project Oceanology did something else of enormous value: it routinely collected data for decades. Steel cabinets swallowed the student’s records and obliviously guarded this growing treasure.

In 2016, Master’s student Jacob Snyder and Professor Hannes Baumann decided to lift the treasure. They painstakingly entered every recording from every data sheet they found, anxious for the time, when the data would finally speak. The study, published in April 2019, shows how rapidly temperatures in eastern Long Island Sound have increased over the past four decades (+0.45C per decade), at a rate four times faster than in the global ocean (Levitus et al. 2000). This is also true for the larger Northwest Atlantic shelf, of which Long Island Sound is a part, where some areas have warmed faster than 99% of all ocean waters on earth (Pershing et al. 2015).

Another symptom of marine climate change is ocean acidification, measured as a pH slow decline in the ocean which swallows the increasing amounts of carbon dioxide emitted by humans (Doney et al. 2009). In coastal waters, nutrient pollution (e.g., nitrogen, phosphate) from sewers, waste water treatment plants and fertilizer runoff can intensify acidification. The Project Oceanology data revealed that pH declined much more rapidly in Long Island Sound than globally, which could imply worsening conditions for shellfish farmers.

Trawl records were particularly telling, showing that cold-water species such as American lobster, rock crab or winter flounder became less frequent over time. This is exactly what long-time instructors at Project Oceanology said they had noticed too. Lobsters once supported a proud fishery in Long Island Sound, but warmer, more acidic waters, shell disease, and overfishing have now decimated them to nearly complete absence.

However, a winner of dubious qualities emerged too. Over the past decades, spider crabs have moved into Long Island Sound from the south and are now the dominant crab species in the trawls. Spider crabs are no equivalent to lobsters, humans do not like to eat them and they can alter the ecosystem, as they eat much more plant-based food than lobsters.

Long Island Sound has been rapidly changing, and the data collected by generations of middle and high school students re-affirmed this. Other time-series from Norwalk Harbor and the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (CTDEEP) have shown similar trends. It is therefore undeniable that marine climate change is happening right now in Long Island Sound.


Snyder, J., Whitney, M., Dam, H., Jacobs, M., and Baumann, H. Citizen science observations reveal rapid, multi-decadal ecosystem changes in eastern Long Island Sound. Marine Environmental Research 146:80-88


Hannes Baumann, Assistant Professor, Department of Marine Sciences, University of Connecticut, 1080 Shennecossett Road, 06340 Groton, CT,, Twitter: @Baumannlab1, 860-405-9297

Project Oceanology: 1084 Shennecossett Road, 06340 Groton, CT, Twitter: @Proj_Oceanology


Department Award and Publication Highlights

Graduate Student Publications:


Ilia, A., & O’Donnell, J. (2018). An Assessment of Two Models of Wave Propagation in an Estuary Protected by Breakwaters. Journal of Marine Science and Engineering, 6(4), 145. doi:10.3390/jmse6040145


Hedley, J.D.; Mirhakak, M.; Wentworth, A.; Dierssen, H.M. Influence of Three-Dimensional Coral Structures on Hyperspectral Benthic Reflectance and Water-Leaving Reflectance. Appl. Sci. 2018, 8, 2688.


Sasaki, M., Hedberg, S., Richardson, K., & Dam, H.G. (2019). Complex interactions between local adaptation, phenotypic plasticity and sex affect vulnerability to warming in a widespread marine copepod. R. Soc. open sci., 6(3).


Faculty Awards:


Sandra Shumway was awarded the FUCOBI Foundation Award for Outstanding Contributions by Women in Aquaculture, the APEX Award for Publishing Excellence (Journal of Shellfish Research) and the Association Trends Gold Award (Journal of Shellfish Research).


Senjie Lin (PI) and Huan Zhang (Co-PI) received a two-year grant from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation to develop a CRISPR/Cas9 genome editing technique for studying dinoflagellate gene functions. Titled “Moving from transformation to CRISPR/Cas9 gene knockout for dinoflagellates.”


Michael Whitney, has been awarded a Fulbright fellowship at the University of Iceland, set to start in 2020.



Samantha Siedlecki was awarded a NCAR (National Center for Atmospheric Research) fellowship.




Student Awards:


Jo-Marie Kasinak was awarded the Torrey Botanical Society’s Greller Graduate Student Research Award for the Conservation of Local Flora and Ecosystems.


Incoming graduate student, Monica Garity was awarded a Harriott Fellowship through the UConn Graduate School.


Amin Ilia, Matt Sasaki, and Brittany Sprecher received awards from the William A. Lund, Jr. Fellowship in Marine Sciences and the Andrew J. Nalwalk Memorial Award.


Tyler Griffin, Yipeng He, Amin Ilia, Molly James, Ewaldo Leitao, Michael Mathuri, Patricia Myer, Sean Ryan, Matt Sasaki, Emma Shipley, Sue Smith, and Mengyang Zhou received UConn Graduate School predoctoral fellowship awards through the department of Marine Sciences.


Graduate students Halle Berger, Sean Ryan, and Lingjie Zhou received awards from the John Rankin Scholarship Fund, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology.


Mystic Aquarium-UConn Research Experience for Undergraduates

This summer, we completed the second year of our new Research Experience for Undergraduate program (REU), funded by the National Science Foundation. This program is an exciting partnership between the Mystic Aquarium and the Department of Marine Sciences (DMS) at Avery Point; co-directed by the aquarium’s chief scientist Dr. Tracy Romano and DMS alumni and collaborator Dr. Michael Finiguerra. The goal of the REU program is to immerse underrepresented students and students that that do not have access to research to the scientific process. REU students are mentored by DMS faculty and aquarium scientists over ten weeks during the summer, while participating in behind-the-scenes professional development activities at the aquarium. Students presented their projects at a scientific symposium on campus and to the public at the aquarium.

The REU students from this past summer (2018)



Contributor: Dr. Michael Finiguerra

STEM Success at Avery Point

STEM Success is a new undergraduate retention program that began this past summer.

The initiative targets incoming first-generation students, students from low-income households, minority students, and those in need of extra academic support. The goal of the program is to increase undergraduate retention and graduation rates, as well as aid in the students’ transition from high school to college.

Eighteen students were enrolled in the STEM Success program and experienced eight workshops, twice a week for four weeks. The workshops were designed to promote dialogue and discussion amongst peers and with graduate students, who led the workshops, on STEM subjects. Activities ranged from performing titrations, carrying out plankton tows, learning how to use a microscope and touring the R/V Connecticut. Incoming undergraduates thereby became familiar with basic scientific concepts and exposed to STEM resources on campus such as the laboratories and research vessels. The primary goal was to build a student support network for these incoming freshmen by connecting the students to their peers and future teaching assistants here at Avery Point.

The STEM Success program was designed by Dr. Emma Cross and Dr. Alejandro Cifuentes-Lorenzen, two Postdoctoral Associates in the Marine Sciences department, alongside Elizabeth Kading (previous Continuing Education Counselor) as a new initiative for the Student Support Services (SSS) summer program, directed by Aaron Collins. Marine Sciences graduate students Molly James, Kayla Mladinich, Emily Seelen, Gunnar Hansen, Vena Haynes, Matt Sasaki, Jimmy deMayo, Sue Smith, Lingjie Zhou and Brittany Sprecher contributed time and expertise. Undergraduate participants responded enthusiastically to the program, thus ensuring that the STEM Success initiative will become a regular aspect of the SSS summer program!


Students from the SSS program perform titrations during the chemistry workshop

Contributor: Dr. Emma Cross

UConn R/V Connecticut Recommissioned

The UConn Avery Point Campus was a buzz on Thursday as the university celebrated the recommissioning of its 19-year-old research vessel, the R/V Connecticut. In attendance were key faculty and staff from the Avery Point campus along with President Susan Herbst, Provost Craig Kennedy and local state representatives.

Over the last year, the R/V Connecticut was decommissioned and underwent extensive work which included increasing its length from 76 feet to 90 feet. This expansion allowed for a doubling of laboratory and storage space and an increase in the number of sleeping quarters from 12 to 18. Due to these renovations, the ship can now undertake missions lasting up to two weeks.

As noted by President Herbst, these improvements are significant as the R/V Connecticut not only serves the university’s research needs but is essential to marine research operations for many state and regional organizations. As one of the few vessels of its kind on the east coast, the R/V Connecticut boasts a charter list that includes the U.S. Navy, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

The R/V Connecticut is also an essential part of the research community at Avery Point. The vessel has been key to fulfilling the department of Marine Sciences’ commitment to quality oceanographic research. Over the last 18 months, faculty from the department have received over $10 million dollars in federal and state funding, making the department one of the most successfully funded at the university. Head of the Department, Dr. Evan Ward emphasized that the improvements to the R/V Connecticut will further the growth and excellence of undergraduate and graduate research within the department.

Students at the Avery Point campus will not have to wait long to benefit from the upgrades. A new interdisciplinary graduate course began this fall and included a three-day, two-night cruise out on Long Island Sound. The expedition will provide hands on, integral research experience and is just a glimpse into the exciting opportunities that lie ahead with the improved Research Vessel Connecticut.

The R/V Connecticut at the Avery Point campus on Sept. 13, 2018. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)
A porthole view of the recommissioning ceremony (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)


Contributor: Anna lisa Mudahy

Marine Science Day: Another Successful Year!

The 15th annual Marine Science Day was hosted on May 9th, 2018 at the Connecticut River Museum in Essex, New England Science and Sailing in Stonington, and our very own, Avery Point campus. In a combined effort, staff from the Mystic Aquarium, Project Oceanology and Department of Marine Sciences pulled together a day of exciting marine topics. Students in grades 4 through 8 from Ethel Walker in Simsbury, Washington Middle school in Meriden and Tyrell Middle School in Wolcott were welcomed to the Avery Point Campus to learn about the diverse marine life of Long Island Sound.

Educational workshops discussed topics from food chains in Long Island Sound to the unforgiving ecosystem that is the rocky intertidal zone. The activities worked to emphasize the importance of our oceans, particularly our local marine systems. Both students and teachers were engaged in the activities, asking questions and participating in events throughout the workshops. Members of the marine sciences department hosted workshops on plankton, DNA and the benthic food chain. The Mystic aquarium team dissected squid with the students, while an intertidal-zone exploration and a trip out on the R/V Envirolab was led by Project Oceanology. In the “Meet the Plankton” workshop hosted by Drs. George McManus and Michael Finiguerra, the students watched phytoplankton and zooplankton scurry and bounce around under a dissecting microscope and learned about the importance of these tiny critters in marine ecosystems. Dr. J. Evan Ward and his laboratory group hosted a workshop titled “Clams, Crabs and You” where students learned about particle selection in oysters (pictured below) and watched the food chain in action as crabs gobbled up mussels with the aid of their chelae. Dr. Senjie Lin’s laboratory group extracted DNA from strawberries, which the students converted into trendy necklaces, marching onto the next workshop in style.

The variety of workshops available allowed many opportunities for the students and their teachers to be engaged in hands-on marine education. The day was a filled with adventures and will be continually hosted at Avery Point to instill curiosity for the marine environment in our local school programs.

Dr. J. Evan Ward lecturing about bivalve feeding and how particles interact with the gills.
A student from Tyrell Middle School observing phytoplankton with a dissecting microscope.