Featured Student: Jessica Valenti
Growing up along the coast of New Jersey my interests in the ocean reach as far back as I can remember. Going to the beach was always my favorite thing to do no matter the season. To this day I still have boxes upon boxes filled with sea shells and other beach treasures.
I decided to attend the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey (now Stockton University) to study marine science. Stockton is a small, but growing, liberal arts school in southern New Jersey that is situated on a large tract of mostly undeveloped land in the Great Bay - Mullica River watershed. This estuary system is one the most pristine in the northeast and potentially one of the most pristine along the east coast of the United States. Luckily Stockton’s field station was located right on Nacote Creek which drains into the Mullica River, allowing us easy access to the system for class field trips. However, occasionally we would venture into Barnegat Bay which is completely unlike the Great Bay Mullica River estuary. Barnegat Bay is highly urbanized with development in the watershed as far as the eye can see. The contrast between these two systems got me interested in anthropogenic effects on the marine environment.
The number of people in the world is continuing to grow exponentially, human accelerated climate change is happening, and we are potentially in the midst of a sixth major extinction driven by humans. Therefore, it has never been more pressing to understand the extent of human impacts on the natural world. Broadly speaking, I am interested in the effects of anthropogenic stressors on the marine environment. My research as a graduate student allows me to dig into these interactions between humans and nature. I study interactions between fish within Barnegat Bay (NJ) and its surrounding urbanized watershed with the help of my advisors Ken Able and Thomas (Motz) Grothues. I am based at the Rutgers University Marine Field Station in Tuckerton which is conveniently located right on the water, providing us easy access to our study system and study subjects.
In addition to my research I also enjoy participating in education and outreach programs. I am currently a graduate fellow on the Rutgers Science Bus which brings hands on STEM activities to middle school students in New Jersey.