Marine Biologist Continues DEEPEND Gulf Research

A photo of some of the research team members from a 2015 DEEPEND Consortium cruise in the Gulf of Mexico studying specimens

From right to left: Heather Judkins, Travis Richards, Jon Moore, Alisha Stahl, and Katie Bowen study and photograph specimens during a 2015 DEEPEND cruise.

A USF St. Petersburg professor shipped out Aug. 5 on a cruise with researchers from institutions around the U.S. as part of the Deep-Pelagic Nekton Dynamics (DEEPEND) Consortium. For 15 days, the research team will continue their work on a three-year project that explores the deep ocean layers of the northern Gulf of Mexico and will return early on Saturday, Aug. 20.

“As a marine biologist, the DEEPEND project as well as the other fieldwork opportunities I have taken part in over the years have allowed me to explore, analyze, and publish on many aspects of cephalopod systematics, biogeography and other collaborative effects,” said Dr. Heather Judkins, assistant professor of Biology who serves as a co-principal investigator of the consortium. This will be her second DEEPEND cruise, and this trip marks the fourth cruise for the project overall. “Long-term projects such as DEEPEND are vitally important to understand the biological, chemical, physical dynamics of the Gulf of Mexico in the face of possible future natural or man-made catastrophes.”

A photo of Heather Judkins looking at specimens

Heather Judkins during a 2015 DEEPEND cruise.

The DEEPEND Consortium was created in response to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill of 2010 that spewed oil into the gulf for 87 days and the lack of baseline data for the deep Gulf of Mexico water column. The consortium was formed in 2015 through Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative (GoMRI) funding to allow researchers to examine deep sea biodiversity, which includes fishes, gelatinous organisms, crustaceans, and cephalopods through the use of a midwater trawl net system. The waters in the Gulf of Mexico constantly change in terms of current flow, current speed, freshwater influx from the Mississippi River, and eddies that break off.

“We are able to investigate these phenomena in real time over a span of three years, focusing in on the deep ocean layers, not just the surface waters,” said Judkins. “We will be comparing this data to data collected in 2011, which was just after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill of which many of us in the consortium are a part of.”

As a marine biologist who specializes in cephalopods—marine mollusks such as squids, cuttlefishes, octopuses—Judkins said she is excited to be out on the water again.

“My goals for this cruise are to collect as many cephalopods as possible, as many of the projects my graduate students and I are working on for DEEPEND involve having multiple individuals of each species we are targeting for genetic, biogeographic, and vertical distribution projects,” she said.

Follow the progress of the DEEPEND cruise and view the ship tracker on the DEEPEND Consortium website.