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Since 2003, Mote Marine Laboratory has been a host site for the National Science Foundation's Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) Program. The NSF REU Program offers paid research training experiences in estuarine science to 10 undergraduate students during a 10-week period between May and August. NSF REU participants are paired with Mote scientists and conduct mentored research projects related to their advisor's expertise. Students gain experience in science communication by presenting the results of their project in a manuscript-style research paper and orally at a laboratory-wide research symposium. Participants attend research seminars and workshops on career skills in science. Students may also have the opportunity to present their research findings at professional conferences.


NSF’s goal is to broaden participation in research through the NSF REU program.  Individuals historically underrepresented in STEM are encouraged to apply, including: underrepresented minorities (African Americans, Hispanics, American Indians, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians or Other Pacific Islanders), persons with disabilities, first-generation college students, women and veterans of the U.S. Armed Services.

To be eligible for the NSF REU Program, students must be:

  • U.S. citizens or permanent residents of the U.S. or its territories
  • Currently enrolled* in a degree program (full-time or part-time) leading to a baccalaureate degree.
  • First-time NSF REU participants. If you have already completed an NSF REU internship, you will not be considered for the program.
  • Available for the full duration of the program, from May 30 - August 7, 2021

*Students may NOT have already graduated at the time of participation in the NSF REU internship.

In addition, applicants should:

Possess a cumulative grade point average of 3.0 or higher (on a 4-point scale).
Make efforts to receive academic credit for participation in the NSF REU Program.


  • Conduct mentored research projects under the direction of a Mote scientist.
  • Gain experience in the development of research plans by completing a research proposal.
  • Gain experience in scientific writing by completing a "manuscript-style" final research paper.
  • Gain experience in oral presentation of scientific data by presenting their research results in a laboratory-wide poster presentation.
  • Attend research seminars on ocean science.
  • Learn about opportunities for graduate study, careers in marine science, and communication skills in science by participating in student workshops.

Stipends, travel and housing information

Students participating in the NSF REU Program receive:

  • $5,500 stipend over the 10-week period
  • Free housing in a local dormitory
  • Financial support for travel expenses between Mote and their home institution

Note: Provided dorms are approximately 5 miles from Mote’s campus. Bringing a car is highly recommended but public transportation between Mote and most local areas is available through the Sarasota County Area Transit bus system. Interns are responsible for providing or making arrangements for daily transportation to Mote.


The 2021 NSF REU program will run from May 30-August 7, 2021.

*Participants must be available for the full duration of the program.

Application Procedure

Applicants must complete the online application form.  Select the NSF REU application and upload a one-to-two page Statement of Interest, a resume or CV, and unofficial transcript. Applicants must also request two letters of recommendation, which must be uploaded directly by their recommenders. More detailed instructions for preparing and submitting these materials are provided on the application page.

Research Programs & Participating Mentors

Please note: The specific project each NSF REU student will undertake will be determined after the student's acceptance.

The following mentors will be participating in the 2021 NSF REU session:

Dr. Emily Hall, Ocean Acidification Program  

This program focuses on the effects of ocean acidification (OA) and climate change (CC) on marine organisms and their ecosystems. Potential projects include the effects of OA and CC on corals, bivalves, or other important marine organisms, the effects of OA and CC on red tide blooms, and monitoring coastal acidification at the riverine-coastal interface of the surrounding bay areas. NSF REU students will predominantly be working with one of two OA and CC testing facilities, assisting with field collection of samples, data entry, and laboratory analysis. Some travel to the Summerland Key field station might be required. Students with a chemistry background preferred. One student will be selected for this research experience.

Dr. Aileen Maldonado, Ecotoxicology Program

The mission of the Ecotoxicology Research Program is to investigate the source, fate and effects of toxic substances in the environment, including natural biotoxins (harmful algal toxins) and chemical pollutants (pesticides, petroleum, industrial contaminants, pharmaceuticals), to develop and implement new technologies for identification and monitoring toxic substances, to assess impacts from exposure to living natural resources and to work with federal, state and local stakeholders to identify ways to reduce ecological risks while protecting public health and enhancing Florida's economy. Another part of our research is understanding chemical communication between organisms and how pollutants can impact those chemical cues. 

Dr. Willie Haskell, Ocean Technology and Marine Biochemistry Program

The Ocean Technology Program develops new technology for various applications in ocean observing. The Marine Biogeochemistry Program uses field observations to study the processes controlling elemental cycling in the oceans, often using novel sensors or platforms developed/maintained by the OT program. REU students will predominantly be working with engineers in our lab, assisting with sampling operations in the field, and performing data analysis/interpretation. Potential projects include: assisting in building/integrating and deploying in-situ instruments, analyzing datasets collected by our buoyancy-driven underwater gliders, and using moored instrumentation for monitoring environmental parameters. Some sea-going work on small vessels may be necessary. Students with a background in marine science/oceanography, engineering or chemistry/biology preferred. We anticipate selecting one student for the NSF REU program in 2021.

Dr. Vince Lovko, Phytoplankton Ecology Program  

Projects under this program will focus on the biology and ecology of phytoplankton, typically with an emphasis on the red-tide dinoflagellate, Karenia brevis. Projects may include laboratory and/or field-based studies exploring population and bloom dynamics, species interactions, or phytoplankton community composition and species distribution. REU students will have opportunities to learn aspects of phytoplankton culture, identification and enumeration, bioassay techniques, light and fluorescent microscopy, field sampling of phytoplankton communities and data analysis techniques.  

Dr. Cathy Walsh, Marine Immunology Program

Dr. Walsh conducts basic research related to innate and acquired immune function in marine organisms. She also conducts applied research geared towards developing bioindicators of immune compromise associated with exposure to environmental and anthropogenic stressors in marine mammals and sea turtles and marine natural products derived from elasmobranch (sharks, skates, rays) fish. Past NSF REU students have worked on projects related to effects of algal toxin exposure on immune function in marine vertebrates (Florida manatee, sea turtles, sharks, fish). Other projects have also investigated cellular effects of proteins isolated from shark immune cells on target tumor cells. Research projects are primarily laboratory-based and focus on cellular effects of algal toxins, or other environmental stressors. Other research projects may include various cell culture approaches to establishing cell lines from various marine species. Successful students exhibit a desire to learn more about laboratory-based research related to marine science. Laboratory techniques students may learn include cell culture, electrophoresis, western blotting, microplate based assays, qPCR, and cell flow cytometry, etc. Dr. Walsh has mentored more than 20 REU students since 2003.

Gretchen Lovewell, Marine Mammal and Sea Turtle Strandings Investigation Program 

This program provides response to reports of marine mammal and sea turtle strandings 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Live and dead cetaceans (whales and dolphins) and sea turtles are rescued and/or recovered and transported to Mote for rehabilitation or detailed post-mortem examination. Interns will assist in responding to stranding calls, documenting stranding events and collecting samples and data.  Interns will also assist researchers and program staff with other projects, such as sample processing, assisting in the Ruth DeLynn Cetacean Osteological Collection and general maintenance of stranding equipment. REU interns will be expected to create, implement and present a research project. We encourage students to "think outside of the box" to be creative and innovative. Looking at human interactions with the animals SIP recovers is not a research project, those are data we collect on every animal we respond.

Dr. Andrea Tarnecki, Marine Microbiology Program

Dr. Tarnecki’s research focuses on the relationship between marine bacteria and their hosts. Her primary goal is to decipher the complex interactions between an organism’s microbiome, i.e. community of associated microorganisms, and host health. Students working with Dr. Tarnecki will learn various microbiological techniques including culture media preparation, bacterial culture maintenance, aseptic technique, and polymerase chain reaction (PCR). Students will explore culture-based and molecular methods to gain a deeper understanding of the activities of beneficial bacteria and how they contribute to marine animal health. Potential research topics within this program are vast, with previous projects including the effects of probiotics on larval fish survival, the blood microbiome of fishes, the benefits of disinfection on fish egg production, and the effects of captivity and parasite treatment on the fish microbiome. Projects will involve occasional field sampling as well as sample collection from captive animals. REU students will be primarily based on Mote Marine Laboratory’s Aquaculture Research Park where they will also have the opportunity to be involved in aspects of applied aquaculture including husbandry, live-food culture, nutrition, health management, and maintenance of recirculating aquaculture systems.

Dr Cindy Heil, Red Tide Institute at Mote Marine Laboratory

Dr. Heil’s research focuses on the ecophysiology of Harmful Algal Bloom (HAB) species, especially the Florida red tide dinoflagellate Karenia brevis, and the relationship of HAB species with coastal water quality and eutrophication in a changing 21st century ocean.  Her program currently has projects focused on testing potential compounds for K. brevis cell, toxin and aerosol mitigation, developing new molecular based methodology for the detection of K. brevis, determining the bioavailability of nearshore nutrient sources (e.g. stormwater and wastewater) to K. brevis and examining the factors which determine K. brevis bloom expansion and termination in the eastern Gulf of Mexico.  Both laboratory and field HAB based projects are available for interns, who will also assist Red Tide Institute staff with regular monthly field based HAB sampling and sample processing.

Dr. Jake Lasala, Sea Turtle Conservation and Research Program

The Sea Turtle Conservation and Research Program (STCRP) at Mote has documented nesting trends on 35 miles of Sarasota, Florida beaches since 1982. The program has documented nearly 120,000 sea turtle crawls and almost 3 million hatchlings leaving the beach. Dr. Lasala is creating and implementing research projects that focus on these nesters and their offspring to ask questions about behavioral shifts over time. The core of his projects focus on genetic proxies to identify how individual behavior affects these local and global species populations. NSF REU students will primarily assist in the field at night to collect samples, but will also learn how to enter and work with raw data, genetic analysis techniques, and statistical techniques. This population of sea turtles is growing in the region and provides an excellent opportunity to ask novel and insightful questions moving forward.

Dr. Ryan Schloesser, Fisheries Ecology and Enhancement Program

Dr. Schloesser’s interests include various aspects of population biology and ecology for estuarine and marine fishes. His research is guided by the use of hatchery-reared fish (primarily snook) as ecological probes, for which individual fish are tagged with passive integrated transponder (PIT) tags and monitored by autonomous antenna arrays.  Projects focus on interpreting the data generated from 14 antenna arrays in southwest Florida, so the selected REU will have the opportunity to learn a variety of data management and statistical techniques using R statistical software. Projects may also include assessing habitat quality and the associated composition of fish communities, comparing nutritional or physiological aspects of hatchery and wild fish, or revealing life-history information from fish otoliths. REU students will also have opportunities to learn about best aquaculture practices, field sampling procedures, water quality monitoring, and mark-recapture techniques.


Email your questions to

Note: All students who are offered a position at this NSF REU Site have until March 15th or later to accept or reject the offer. This NSF REU Site is funded by the National Science Foundation's Division of Ocean Sciences located in Arlington, VA (Award #1757419). The NSF contact for this program is Elizabeth Rom; however, NSF does not handle REU applications; please contact each REU site directly for application information. [Renewal funding for 2021 is pending]