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  • Sincerely, Southern

Living by the tides: Dr. Carroll's student-oriented lab

Updated: Apr 25, 2023

By: Jacob Zari, Multimedia Reporter

From fish tanks to the Georgia waters, Georgia Southern's John Carroll has described his journey towards a career in Benthic Ecology as “definitely not a straight path.”

Carroll has taken his passion for Benthic Ecology and turned it into a career to not only live out a childhood hobby, but to also provide students with hands-on experience in the field.

Growing up, one of Carroll’s favorite hobbies was being around fish. Carroll loved having fish tanks around and even landed a job at his local pet store. By the time college rolled around, he had 20 fish tanks around him and realized that he could turn a hobby into a career.

From receiving his scuba certification while in college, to getting a scuba diving job in Florida with USGS (United States Geological Survey), to getting his PhD at Stony Brook, Carroll was able to narrow down and decide what his career path would look like.

Dr. Carroll’s research program is the CRABEY Lab (Carroll Restoration and Benthic Ecology), which primarily studies different species of shellfish, such as scallops and oysters, along the Southeastern Atlantic coast.

The lab was started back in August of 2015, around the time that Carroll washed up in Statesboro. Since the start of the CRABEY Lab, Carroll has brought in close to 25 graduate and undergraduate students to work in his lab.

In Carroll’s research, oysters are the main focus of study. That means that while Carroll is out in the field, time is of the essence, since studying oysters is determined by the tides.

Carroll explains he can study oysters at low tide, which means if low tide is early in the morning, then Carroll has to be up earlier, and if it is later in the day, Carroll says that he can sleep in.

“I’m definitely not a morning person, so if I could have it my way, low tide would be later in the day, every day, but it is fine in the morning because I can get my work done earlier in the day,” Carroll said.

Oysters are a main point of focus for ecologists all around the southeast, but Carroll said that it’s the people that make his lab unique.

“I think the main thing that separates our lab from others in the area is that I really push my students to have their own interests and ask their own questions,” said Carroll. “It’s a very niche-filled field.”

Luke Sundquist is a graduate student pursuing his master's degree in biology, and gearing his research towards nesting sea turtles and what makes their nests successful.

“Last summer [Carroll] joined me for a day on Ossabaw Island, where we patrolled for new nests and hatchling sea turtles on a long, hot day on the beach,” said Sundquist. “He was eager to help and learn about my project in a firsthand experience, and I appreciated him taking the time to spend the day with me and the turtles and to directly participate in and contribute to my thesis research.”

“When you can have that 1 on 1 impact with students, it is a very powerful thing,” said Carroll

Wil Atencio is also a graduate student pursuing a master’s degree in biology. Atencio looks at how the quality of the water on Sapelo Island affects the lives of the Crassostrea virginica, a species of oyster seen on the east coast.

“When reaching out to him in a cold email about being a prospective student in the lab, he was open and willing to listen where my interests lie within the realm of marine ecology and why I wanted to attend graduate school in the first place,” said Atencio.

Even though the path to get to where he is now may not have been the straightest one, Carroll feels like everything leading up to now has definitely shaped him into the person he is today.

“I had amazing professors throughout my time in school, who were very inspiring to me, and I just want to do the same with my students,” says Carroll.

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