Using art to connect the public with my internship research

I chose to create a digital painting of my Hollings internship research subject — the Caribbean spiny lobster. I studied a nemertean worm that could threaten their reproductive success and long-term population survival. I hope this painting becomes a reminder of the value, not only to our economy and livelihoods, but to the unique beauty of our world. The disconnect between active research and the broader community is one I hope to close during my career in marine ecology. Art connects people from all different backgrounds and interests towards a common beauty. I believe art will help to close the gap between research and the public, sparking interest in marine life while emphasizing the importance of protecting these incredible ecosystems.

A digital painting that looks similar to a watercolour painting of a spiny lobster with its tail curled under its body and its characteristic long, sturdy antennae spread wide.
Heather Bruck, a 2021 Hollings scholar, created a digital painting of her research subject, the Caribbean spiny lobster. (Heather Bruck/Hollings scholar)

More about my research 

Caribbean spiny lobsters (Panulirus argus) are valuable to Caribbean fisheries and the health of coral reef communities as both predator and prey. They are vital to the economic success of southern fisheries, with 2021 landings of Caribbean spiny lobster valued at $42 million. In 2016,  Antonio Baeza, Ph.D.’s lab, who we partnered with on this study, discovered a nemertean (Carcinonemertes conanobrieni) among egg masses of Caribbean spiny lobster. The nemertean preys on the eggs of the spiny lobster, potentially putting Florida’s fisheries at risk — other closely related nemertean species have contributed to crustacean fishery collapses across the United States. 

A photo taken through a microscope. The worm is reminiscent of a flatworm, but more globular in appearance. It has two dark pigmented eye spots.
Nemertean egg-predator, Carcinonemertes conanobrieni. (Heather Bruck/Hollings scholar)
A spiny lobster on the well-lit sandy ocean floor. It seems to look directly in the camera, with its characteristic long, thick, antennae that looks like spines jutting out from either side of its face.
Caribbean spiny lobster (Panulirus argus) in the Middle Florida Keys. (Heather Bruck/Hollings scholar)

For my internship at the Southeast Fisheries Science Center Keys Marine Laboratory, I researched whether characteristics of a Caribbean spiny lobsters’ shelter and social behavior could affect the intensity of a C. conanobrieni infection. Understanding these relationships is important because they provide insight into lobster-nemertean ecological interactions, which is the first step towards forming effective management practices. With the guidance of my mentors and assistance from graduate students at Clemson University and University of Florida, we collected field images and assessed egg-bearing lobsters for infection.

Heather is in full scuba gear just above the sandy ocean floor. Light penetrating the water suggests a fairly shallow depth. She holds a mesh bag with spiny lobsters in it.
Heather Bruck collecting Caribbean spiny lobster (Panulirus argus), which she sampled for her 2022 Hollings scholarship summer internship with NOAA Southeast Fisheries Science Center, University of Florida, and Clemson University. (Natalie Stephens)

Contributions to the studies of C. conanobrieni on P. argus were from members of Antonio Baeza, Ph.D.’s lab at Clemson University (Natalie Stephens, Alyssa Baker, Erin Griffing) and Donald Behringer, Ph.D.’s doctoral student, Lucas Jennings. I could not have pursued this project without the guidance of my mentors, Mark Ladd, Ph.D. (head of the Coral Ecology Unit at the Southeast Fisheries Science Center in Miami) and Donald Behringer, Ph.D. (marine and disease ecology professor at the University of Florida).

Three people in full dive gear float in the water and hang onto the side of a boat, posing for the camera.
Heather Bruck getting ready to dive for Caribbean spiny lobsters (Panulirus argus) with Natalie Stephens (Clemson University) and Lucas Jennings (University of Florida). (Erin Griffin)
Headshot of Heather
Heather Bruck, 2021 Hollings scholar

Heather Bruck is a 2021 Hollings scholar and marine biology major at the University of South Carolina.