Making a Career Out of Going to the Beach
Inspired by her love of marine life, West Babylon native Tyler Abruzzo '13 looks forward to becoming a fisheries biologist
For marine science student Tyler Abruzzo, life’s been a beach. The West Babylon native started going to the shore with her dad when she was four months old. Over the years the two spent many wonderful days fishing, crabbing and exploring the ocean together.
“In my senior year, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do or be, but I knew I didn’t want to sit at an office desk,” says Tyler. “So I went to the beach with my dad one day and I said, maybe I can make a career out of this!”
Now a graduate student in Stony Brook’s combined-degree marine science program (BS in marine science/MS in marine and atmospheric sciences) Tyler is well on the path to becoming a fisheries biologist. The highly competitive program, which is part of Stony Brook’s acclaimed School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences (SoMAS), allows outstanding marine science majors to complete both degrees in five years and be better prepared for research careers, most of which require a master’s degree.
“It’s an opportunity for outstanding Marine Sciences majors to start their graduate program early,” explains Mary Scranton, Professor of Marine Science and Undergraduate Director for SoMAS. “Our faculty has broad research interests so this opportunity is available for high-achieving students in many subspecialties of marine science, including fisheries biology.”
“Fish are amazing creatures,” says Tyler, who is also certified as a scuba diver. “We don’t know much about some species of fish, and we rely on them so heavily in our diet. On Long Island it’s a billion-dollar industry. Some species are suffering because we’re fishing them too hard, and some are doing very well, like the striped bass.”
As an undergraduate, most of Tyler’s classes took place on the Southampton campus, where she went out regularly on research vessels to learn about fish in their natural environment. In her junior year Tyler connected with SoMAS professor Michael Frisk, whose research in part focuses on fish ecology and population modeling. She was intrigued and began doing research in fisheries biology. Now as a graduate, she will continue her research by working closely with the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to analyze data related to the Long Island fish population.
A turning point for Tyler was meeting New York State DEC Marine Resources Bureau Chief Jim Gilmore, who earned his doctorate through SoMAS, in her class on fishery management. Here was someone who could name a species of fish and talk about the rise and fall of that species’ population, its relationship to fishermen and consumers, and the surrounding political and economic issues.
“I remember, when I was younger I caught a fluke, and it had to be more than 17 inches. The next year it had to be 18 inches. I always wondered, how do they decide this? And I now have finally met the guy who does that, and it’s absolutely amazing. I’d love to do that.” Tyler’s dream is to go into fishery management and work for the DEC.
To Tyler, the wind and weather and salt spray from the deck of a boat are infinitely preferable to sitting at a desk.
“What I love most about doing research is being out in the field,” she says. “Hauling in nets, identifying fish and being on a boat in rain or shine are exhilarating. And the best part is knowing that you’re making a difference.”
By Toby Speed