Two FAU students awarded Guy Harvey Scholarship for marine science research

Natalia Jaworski and Clark Morgan are the two FAU winners among the eight in Florida who won $5,000 scholarships from the Guy Harvey Foundation for their marine science research they conducted in 2022.


Morgan observing fish. Photographed by Mike Sipos of Florida Sea Grant.

Melanie Gomez, Features Editor

Two graduate students based on the FAU Harbor Branch campus, Natalia Jaworski and Clark Morgan, are among the eight 2022 winners of the $5,000 Guy Harvey Foundation Scholarship Award for their marine science research on predator-prey relationships and the sustainable management of the goliath grouper fishery.

The scholarship was established in 2010 through a partnership between Florida Sea Grant and the Guy Harvey Foundation. Since then, the Guy Harvey Scholarship Award has supported over 74 undergraduate and graduate students from 11 different Florida state colleges and universities, granting over $359,000 in scholarships.

“We work with Florida Sea Grant to provide scholarships for students attending colleges and universities in Florida and studying the biology, ecology, management, and habitat of marine fish within Florida’s ocean environment. So the main point of the scholarship is to award these scholarships to a student helping to study and conserve Florida’s marine fish and marine resources,” said Greg Jacoski, a representative of the Guy Harvey Foundation.

Marine wildlife artist Guy Harvey partnered with Nova Southeastern University to establish the Guy Harvey Research Institute in 1999 and the Guy Harvey Foundation in 2008. The foundation aims to fund scientific and student-conducted marine life research while educating others on marine wildlife conservation.

FAU recipient Natalia Jaworski grew up far away from the ocean and marine life, as she was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois. She discovered her love for marine science during her teenage years.

“It wasn’t until high school when my science teacher was chaperoning a trip to Key Largo to go to their marine lab. So I jumped on that opportunity. I went to the Florida Keys, and we spent a week doing a lot of lab work snorkeling, and that’s when I knew that marine science was what I wanted to do,” said Jaworski.

Jaworski stayed in Illinois for her undergraduate, focusing on biology. She became more exposed to marine science while studying abroad in Costa Rica. Ultimately, she decided to pursue a career in this field and enrolled at FAU for graduate school, studying environmental science.

Natalia Jaworski, courtesy of the Guy Harvey Foundation.

Her research quantifies the relationship between the number of prey eaten by a predator depending on the number of prey that are available, which is known as a predator functional response.

“Functional responses have been researched for decades but are very biased towards certain taxa. These taxa are typically abundant and relatively small in size because of the experimental constraints that come with traditional functional response approaches,” said Jaworski.

According to Encyclopedia Britannica, taxa are any units used in biological classification or taxonomy, such as class, family, and species. Jaworski explained there needs to be more research regarding larger marine taxa’s impacts on their prey populations, which she has set out to expand with her work.

She explained that she had integrated two methods to increase the research on larger marine taxa. The first method she used is under statistical approach that allows the minimum time between feeding events, and the second method uses passive acoustic technology.

Her research started by focusing on white spotted eagle rays predating hard clams. However, challenges still persist when working with large marine megafauna like the white spotted eagle rays. Such factors include unpredictable field seasons that limit opportunities to capture these animals.

“We are shifting more towards a readily available predator that is also found in Florida and consumes the same prey item. We are now quantifying the relationship between checkered puffers and hard clams,” said Jaworski regarding her research progress.

Jaworski mentioned that she had already received the funds from the scholarship earlier this year, which she had used towards the supplies for her research project and other related expenses.

”This research is important because there remains a gap in the literature for a lot of predators. So we know a lot about what predators are eating, but the strength of predator-prey interactions is lacking,” said Jaworski. 

Clark Morgan, another FAU recipient of the Guy Harvey Foundation Scholarship, is a marine science and oceanography doctoral student. He

grew up in Orlando and developed a love for the ocean through scuba diving during his childhood.

Clark Morgan looking at a fish with a CATS-CAM tag. Photographed by Dr. Matt Ajemian.

During his formative years, Morgan wanted to find a career that he would remain passionate about and positively impact the world. As he got older, he invested himself in marine biology.

“I became interested in learning that I could make a positive impact through marine science research. As I continued to evolve with my education, I realized that a very tangible way for me to be able to do that was with fisheries management. And understanding policies and regulations that influence our ocean and the way that humans interact with the ocean,” said Morgan.

In the past, Morgan has worked on researching the stomach contents of small baitfish early on through large sharks, reproductive ecology, and trophic structure to what they eat and when they reproduce. 

His research currently aims to generate knowledge contributing to the sustainable management of the goliath grouper fishery, which Morgan explained is a popular  Florida species and a conservation success story. Historically, the goliath grouper was overfished and was considered endangered until 2018

With the goliath grouper making a strong return population-wise to Florida waters, Morgan has focused his study on how humans learn to coexist with the once-endangered species, as well as researching the goliath grouper’s underlying general movement ecology, such as how the species is using its habitats. Morgan explained that more questions are being developed as the study continues.

“We’re now evolving these questions to understand more about their spawning dynamics. Their reproductive movements and how they move during the fall, summer, and fall, new moons around the Treasure Coast. And now we’re starting to ask questions about trying to find new spawning habitats, certain shipwrecks on the Treasure Coast, that they are meeting up under the new moon to reproduce,” said Morgan.

The underwater shot of the goliath grouper surrounded by fish and winner of FAU’s Art of Science photo contest “Student in the Field” award. Photographed by Clark Morgan.

Morgan explained that they are also studying how to reduce barotrauma mitigation, which affects certain species, such as the goliath grouper when caught by fishermen.  Occasionally, these fish come up bloated from the change in pressure, and the rapid decrease in pressure causes their air-filled organs to over-expand. In many cases, even if the fish is released back into the water, it results in death.

 According to Morgan, by looking at ways that people can adequately handle the fish, it could live as normally as possible after interacting with a human.

The Guy Harvey Foundation has had a positive impact on helping students, citing that past winners have gone on to have successful careers, such as working at environmental nonprofits such as Bonefish and Tarpon Trust and Florida Fish and Wildlife, according to Jacoski.

“We definitely see that these scholarships not only have a positive impact on the students through their research and then their progress through school, but you know, we’re also helping them get on the right path in their professional career as well with their publications and just harrowing narrowing in on their research,” said Jacoski.

The 2023 Guy Harvey Scholarship Award applications will open later this summer. Visit Florida Sea Grant and its student opportunities page to learn about application requirements and upcoming deadlines. For further inquiries, contact [email protected].

Melanie Gomez is the Features Editor for the University Press. For additional questions or inquiries regarding this story and others, contact her at [email protected]