Yaniela Lorenzo grew up wondering why sharks attack people, but the more she learned about them, the more she realized they are essential to our oceans.
Growing up in Havana led her to respect the water and appreciate the importance of marine conservation. Her curiosity sparked her to pursue a degree in marine sciences.
“Living so close to the beach – both in Cuba and Miami Beach – I always hear about shark attacks,” Lorenzo said. “I continued to learn as much as I could about them by reading many research articles. But the more I read, the more questions I had.”
The recent graduate spent her senior year interning with the Predator Ecology and Conservation Lab under the guidance of Ph.D. Candidate Laura Garcia Barcia.
When in the field at Tarpon Bay, Lorenzo collected samples from sharks including fin, muscle, plasma and blood to be processed in the lab. There, she prepared the samples for stable isotopes which consisted of drying, crushing and weighing them.
Garcia Barcia urged her to apply for the Dr. Mike/Doc Gruber Marine Science Essay Contest, created by the Gruber family to honor the contributions of Mike Heithaus and Sam Gruber to the field of marine conservation.
Marine science undergraduate students were asked to submit a 1,000-word entry on the theme: Marine conservation in the present and moving into the future.
"More than 20 years ago, I was fortunate to receive an award sponsored by Doc Gruber at the American Elasmobrach Society meetings and I’m so grateful for the opportunities that award opened up for me,” said Heithaus, a marine ecologiest and dean of the College of Arts, Sciences & Education. “It helped launch my career in marine biology, and I hope the generosity of the Gruber family will help these students do the same.”
Today, Lorenzo gets a similar opportunity thanks to the newly established contest. Her essay won first place which includes a $5,000 prize. She’s using the funds to pursue a graduate degree in marine biology and wants to focus her research on shark conservation.
Eventually, Lorenzo hopes to earn a Ph.D. and teach the future generation of marine scientists about the importance of our oceans.
“The younger generation is our future,” Lorenzo said. “They are going to be the ones responsible for fixing problems we can’t fix today. We have to make sure we educate them on the role our oceans play and how we can help.”
Kevin Pinto received second place along with a $2,500 prize. Stormie Collins and Caroline Ronveaux tied for third place and received $1,000 each.
Heithaus has spent most of his career studying the ecological importance of sharks and other large marine species. His work in Shark Bay, Australia is the world's most detailed study of the ecological role of sharks.
Sam "Doc" Gruber was dedicated to advancing knowledge of sharks and the organization of shark research throughout his life. In 1983 he initiated the idea of the American Elasmobranch Society, a nonprofit advancing the study of sharks, rays and related species. He was also the founder and director of the Bimini Biological Field Station, a Bahamas-based nonprofit engaged in shark research and education. He taught as a professor at the University of Miami. Gruber passed away in 2019.