ST. PETERSBURG, FL – Having sat in classes as a College of Marine Science (CMS) student through two degrees, and having taught as a professor of biological oceanography for a decade at CMS, Dr. Ernst Peebles is an excellent fit as the next chair of alumni outreach.
Dr. Peebles’ work began in various ecosystems of southeast Louisiana, where he earned a bachelor’s degree from Tulane University. Working in creeks, rivers and other freshwater bodies, he surveyed fish in both pristine and agriculture-impacted areas to better understand baseline ecosystem conditions. Later work in estuarine waters led to an interest in the early-life stages of fish.
The appeal of estuarine work steered him towards pursuing a Master’s degree and eventually a Ph.D. at CMS. After getting his Master’s degree, he did extensive work for Florida’s water management districts, for environmental engineering firms, and for the FWC, and this public- and private-sector experience greatly enhanced his ability to apply the principles of marine science and ecology to practical problems. Completing his Ph.D. eventually led to the opportunity for a tenure-track position at CMS as a fish ecologist. Although his central focus remained on estuaries, Dr. Peebles’ winding career path provided first-hand study of the ecology of both freshwater and oceanic end-member ecosystems, allowing the kind of big-picture perspective that was necessary for understanding why coastal aquatic animals require different habitats at different stages in their lives. Novel methods (eye-lens isotope records) allowed this effort to expand to studies of the lifetime movements of individual organisms, including attempts to compare and contrast the health conditions of individual fish that had different habitat-use histories.
Another tool, DNA barcoding of fish eggs, has been highly effective in locating fish spawning grounds; this work is being done in conjunction with Dr. Mya Breitbart’s lab at CMS. Newly fertilized eggs collected by plankton net give the location of fish spawning, but the problem has been that no one could visually differentiate the eggs of different species, which often look alike. Comparing fish-egg DNA with an online database provided the solution.
Message to Alumni
Over the decades, CMS has experienced continual improvement. The core courses are in their best shape ever, thanks largely to the feedback provided from student evaluations. A new, shared analytical instrument center is under construction, and a new vessel in the FIO fleet, the R/V Hogarth, offers an improved research and education platform over the well-loved R/V Bellows, which has since been retired. The alumni support and genuine interest in the college has always been great, and we look forward to continued strong interactions between alumni and CMS’s students, researchers and professors. In future editions of Rising Tides, we hope to include articles highlighting alumni in each generation of CMS, from the ′70s to the present.
Ernst loves outdoor activities, especially fishing and hiking; his love of being in remote locations is “almost an obsession.” Although Pinellas County does not offer much in the way of remote living, Ernst finds solitude in offshore excursions on his Calcutta catamaran, through visiting the more pristine locations in Florida, and by planning his “off-the-grid” retirement, which may be awhile coming due to the steep investment required to go off the grid in a remote setting with reasonable comfort. In the meantime (and while he still has ample access to electricity), Ernst enjoys all kinds of woodworking, whether it’s furniture making, renovation carpentry or even making his own wooden fishing lures, with which he has recently caught several king mackerel. He and his artist/illustrator wife, Diane, have two teenage children who don’t quite understand why their parents are fixated on fish, but tolerate them anyway.
Please contact Ernst Peebles if you have any exciting alumni news to share with the college. We would like to hear from you.
Article written by: Sean Beckwith