Our team includes, among others, individuals from Universidad Metropolitana (UMET) and Universidad del Turbo (UT) in Puerto Rico, and Maryland Sea Grant (MDSG) and the University of Maryland center for Environmental Science (UMCES) in Maryland. We seek to establish a research and education center that will build links between research and non-research institutions, strengthening research capacity at non-research institutions, and create on-going educational programs for teaching research skills to undergraduates in STEM fields.


Maria F. Barberena-Arias

Dr. María F. Barberena-AriasRole: Co-Program Director and Principal Investigator

Location: Universidad del Turabo – Gurabo, PR

Dr. Barberena teaches academic year courses for Centro TORTUGA and co-teaches the summer workshop and summer course. She is also the primary contact for recruiting students for Centro TORTUGA, and coordinating with entire team during the academic year and summer activities. Universidad del Turabo students are encouraged to contact Dr. Barberena if they are interested in learning more about the program and the exciting opportunities in the Centro TORTUGA.

María F. Barberena-Arias is a biologist who loves invertebrates, she did a BS in biology with a minor in entomology, the study of insects, since then she boosted her curiosity on terrestrial arthropods.  Her interests lie in arthropods and ecosystem processes.  Arthropods are invertebrates of the most biodiverse group on the planet, the Phylum Arthropoda, some examples are spiders, ants, bees and beetles. In an ecosystem, these organisms participate in processes that represent movement of matter and energy; examples of these processes are predation, seed dispersal, pollination and decomposition. In forests, decomposer arthropods modulate the decomposition process of litter.
The goal of Barberena-Arias’ work is to better understand the role of arthropods in ecosystems. For this she combines field and laboratory work, across diverse ecosystems in Puerto Rico.  During her graduate and post-graduate work, she studied dry and wet tropical forests, and in coastal forests better known as mangroves.

For example, she studied arthropod diversity and nutrient dynamics in the Guanica Dry Forest, and the interactions between microbes (such as fungi and bacteria) and arthropods during decomposition in relation to the resulting mineralization of nutrients in El Yunque Wet Forest.  She also studies how geologic substrate and soils affect vegetation types, and decomposer arthropods in tropical urban forests. Recently she is involved in coastal forests, where litter mangrove decomposition not only recharge nutrients to the soil, but also decomposition by-products dissolve in water, therefore linking land and oceans. This work is particularly pertinent to the research Centro TORTUGA scientists and students conduct in bioluminescent lagoons and their watersheds in Puerto Rico.



Lora A. Harris

Role: Co-Program Director and Principal Investigator

Location: UMCES Chesapeake Biological Laboratory – Solomons, MD

Research topics: Coastal ecology, biogeochemistry, numerical modeling, metabolic rates

Planning, coordinating, and leadership for spring field workshop. Coordination with entire team for curriculum development and mentorship of student cohorts. Logistical efforts t secure equipment and organize research efforts.

Lora A. Harris is an associate professor at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, based at the Chesapeake Biological Laboratory. She is an estuarine ecologist who applies field and modeling approaches to address important questions regarding nutrient dynamics, primary production and ecosystem structure and function in a range of estuarine ecosystems. She is interested in climate impacts on estuaries and lagoons, with a particular focus in wetland and seagrass ecosystems. Some of her most recent work has involved participatory modeling efforts involving stakeholders and managers seeking solutions to improve water quality and restore seagrasses in Delmarva coastal lagoons and a collaboration with wastewater engineers to understand the restoration trajectories of hypoxic estuaries.

Dr. Harris works closely with state and regional agencies in both a research and advisory capacity. She received her B.S. from Smith College and her Ph.D. from the University of Rhode Island.


Pedro M. Maldonado

Pedro M. MaldonadoRole: Co-Program Director and Principal Investigator

Location: Universidad Metropolitana – San Juan, PR

Taught two academic year courses for Centro TORTUGA and co-taught at the summer workshop. Recruited students for Centro TORTUGA.


Fredrika Moser

Portrait of Fredrika MoserRole: Program Director and Principal Investigator

Location: Maryland Sea Grant College – College Park, MD

Managed project including coordination across institutions, material preparation, budgeting and financial oversight, oversight of translation materials, web and logo development, organize and lead biweekly calls.

Dr. Fredrika Moser is director of Maryland Sea Grant College, one of 34 university-based programs in coastal and Great Lakes states that support research, education, and public outreach on marine and coastal issues. A marine research leader and policy analyst, Moser has been director since 2012.

As Maryland Sea Grant’s research leader from 2001 to 2011, Dr. Moser helped develop several of the program’s signature efforts to assist policy makers and natural resource officials in making management decisions in the Chesapeake Bay and Mid-Atlantic regions. One such multi-state project convened scientific workshops to improve understanding and management of aquatic invasive species, including zebra mussels, Chinese mitten crabs, and unwanted “hitchhiker species” spread by the live bait trade. She has also led a long-running NSF funded Research Experience for Undergraduates and spearheaded innovative programming to increase participation of underrepresented and underserved students in marine science education and careers.


Carlos Olivo

Role: External Evaluator

Location: Colorado State University – Fort Collins, CO

Carlos obtained his BS in Chemistry in 2001.  As an undergraduate, he conducted research on vanadate-mediated enzyme catalyzed reactions in biological systems, having his work presented in multiple scientific meetings.  In 2003, Carlos finished an MS in environmental chemistry at Universidad del Turabo, and then attended the University of Puerto Rico–San Juan where he received his doctorate in Chemical Education in 2007. In 2017, Carlos completed a second doctorate degree in History.

Since 2003, Carlos has been teaching general chemistry and upper-division laboratories at public and private institutions of higher education.  He was coordinator and graduate application advisor for the McNair Scholars Program for the University of Puerto Rico in Humacao.  From 2011 to 2015, he was Associate Dean of Science at Universidad del Turabo, supervisor of the graduate teaching assistants and coordinator of the general chemistry program.  Back in his research laboratory, he was investigating the effects of waterborne lead and copper ions on the serotoninergic and dopaminergic systems of zebrafish; and the early engagement of veterinary students into chemical research.  Carlos also likes to research on waterborne pollution.

Dr. Olivo will work in collaboration with the University of Maryland Sea Grant on training the students in the geosciences.  Carlos acts as one of the lead scientist in this project and also as the evaluator of the educational component.  Carlos found a new home in Fort Collins and joined the faculty of Colorado State University as Key Academic Advisor/Instructor in the Department of Chemistry in 2015.


James J. Pierson

Headshot of Jamie PiersonRole: Co-Program Director and Principal Investigator

Location: UMCES Horn Point Laboratory – Solomons, MD

Research topics: Biological Oceanography, Plankton Ecology, Trophic Dynamics

Mentoring undergraduate students, assisting with travel and workshop coordination.

James Pierson is a biological oceanographer that focuses on zooplankton ecology. Of particular interest to his research is the interactions between zooplankton, their predators and prey, and their habitat. Copepods are crustacean zooplankton that are likely the most numerous organism on earth, and they mitigate the flow of energy and material from primary producers like algae, which harness the energy of the sun for growth, and economically and ecologically important fish and shellfish.

The overarching goal of Pierson’s work is to better understand how to integrate information gleaned from small-scale measurements of individual copepod behavior and biology with population and ecosystem level observations. To do this, he combines field work, laboratory experiments, and numerical modeling to test specific hypotheses about copepod feeding, vertical migration, and response to hypoxia and climate change.



Juan Alvarez-Rosario

image placeholderRole: Peer Mentor and Field Assistant

Location: UMCES Horn Point Laboratory – Solomons, MD

Mr. Juan Alvarez-Rosario is the advisee of Pierson and Harris, co-principle investigators of Centro TORTUGA. Alvarez-Rosario is a member of his graduate committee. His PhD dissertation research is on the ecology of bioluminescent lagoons in Puerto Rico.

Alvarez-Rosario provided mentoring advice during the workshop and has visited the students’ classes during the academic year to discuss geosciences research and professional development activities (e.g. applying to graduate school, career opportunities, internships off of Puerto Rico). He is an important role model for the students. He can also share his experiences as a native Puerto Rican who is pursuing a geosciences graduate program in the continental United States.

Mariana León-Pérez

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Location: NOAA Coral Reef Conservation Program – Puerto Rico





Isabel Sanchez

image placeholderRole: Peer Mentor

Location: UMCES Horn Point Laboratory – Solomons, MD

Ms. Isabel Sanchez helped as a near-peer mentor during the summer workshop. Sanchez is an important role model for the students. She can share her experiences as a native Puerto Rican who has completed an REU program in the geosciences in the continental United States. She has also worked for a couple of years as a research technician in academic labs on the mainland and is herself applying for graduate programs. She provided another excellent source of information and someone who related well to the undergraduates.


Jan P. Zegarra

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Location: US Fish and Wildlife Service – Boquerón, PR