2020 Education Section OSPA Winner - Angel Reyes Delgado

Curiosity about Marine Life from the Tropics to the North Atlantic Leads a 2020 AGU OSPA Winner to Success in Science and Communication

Science often starts with curiosity, leading to observations of the surrounding world and, ultimately, discoveries that can be shared with other people. Angel Reyes Delgado cites firsthand experiences with the marine environment as a source of motivation for his scientific career. His recent work involves image analysis methods within the field of fish morphometry, which focuses on ways to measure the external shape and dimensions of fish. Angel recently completed a study specifically about morphometric characteristics of cod, derived through image analysis and statistical models. He shared his work through a presentation at the 2020 AGU Fall Meeting, titled “Cod Morphometric Analysis Reveals Physical Differences Among Sub-populations in the Georges Bank Fisheries Stock, Northwest Atlantic”, For his well-structured and enthusiastic presentation, Angel earned an Outstanding Student Presentation Award (OSPA) at the AGU 2020 Fall Meeting.

Becoming a marine scientist was not always part of Angel’s formal career plans; yet, he began exploring early in his life. Angel started to build observation skills at a young age, living a short distance from the coast on the island of Puerto Rico. His location provided opportunities to regularly visit and explore the coastal marine ecosystem. The explorations first began as a recreational activity, and, with time, evolved to include scientific aspects through observation of specific details, such as how some species preferred certain areas and how some fish moved in schools while others were more solitary. These observations of organismal behavior, initiated because of curiosity about the marine environment around him, led Angel to ask more questions and to form hypotheses about the organisms’ behaviors. Angel was not only enthusiastic about his observations for himself but he also was eager to share his experiences and realizations with other people. He took his enthusiasm one step further through university studies, earning a biology degree from Ana G. Mendez University at San Juan, Puerto Rico in December 2020.

Angel Reyes Delgado holds a baby leatherback sea turtle while monitoring turtle nests for the Chelonia research and conservation organization. (Photo credit: Chelonia staff)
Angel Reyes Delgado holds a baby leatherback sea turtle while monitoring turtle nests for the Chelonia research and conservation organization. (Photo credit: Chelonia staff)

Cod, the subject of Angel’s OSPA-winning morphometry study, is a historically important marine food resource in the Northwest Atlantic Ocean. This economically, culturally, and ecologically important species is threatened and stressed by overfishing and rapid climate change. Therefore, understanding their current stock structure is critical in order to set harvest regulation guidelines (HRGs) that match population dynamics and ecology. Sustainable and productive cod fisheries depend on appropriate HRGs, and both (sustainable fisheries and HRGs) may benefit from scientific research and knowledge produced by scientists like Angel and his colleagues.

Angel’s technical study focused on one of two Atlantic cod stock populations: the Georges Bank (GB) stock Atlantic cod population, which has generally declined due to overfishing and rapid climate change. However, the abundance of the Southern New England (SNE) subpopulation within the larger GB stock has surprisingly increased over the past decade. This pattern raises two questions: “How appropriate is it to group SNE cod in the larger GB stock?” and “Should these two groups be managed separately to promote sustainable harvest?”. Scientific studies like those by Angel and his colleagues can provide information that supports solutions to real-world challenges in fisheries management.

In his work, he utilized the program “ImageJ” and the box-truss network technique to analyze ecologically relevant physical characteristics of body shape and size of cod, using images from both groups as inputs. Statistical analysis showed physical differences from the GB and SNE groups based on the images, with the model correctly classifying cod to their regional groups in 83% of cases. The findings from Angel’s study show real and morphological differences that have implications for fisheries management. The results of the study led by Angel are consistent with findings from other studies, lending support to the idea that these two groups may actually need to be managed separately for sustainability and maintenance of coastal economies.

Angel’s presentation at the 2020 Fall Meeting provided him an opportunity to present his work at a scientific conference for the first time. Like most things in 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic posed challenges to presenters at the AGU Fall Meeting. However, with motivation, determination, and tutorials when needed, he navigated the iPoster platform, successfully creating a poster in virtual spaces from scratch. Despite limited networking and opportunities for interaction in virtual spaces, Angel was still able to share his work and experiences with attendees from different types of communities and various backgrounds. Through the 2020 AGU Fall Meeting, Angel also gained valuable feedback from OSPA judges, which will allow him to improve sections of his project.

For colleagues, peers, and anyone else who may aspire to be a successful science communicator, Angel advises being determined towards your goals and building self-confidence. With determination, success depends on motivation and effort, not where you come from or the skills you have when you begin on a path towards achieving a goal. Angel notes that successful communication in STEM fields requires practice for all, and especially for scientists whose first language is a language other than English and for scientists from underrepresented communities like himself. Mistakes will be made along the path to success, but they are necessary to improve both as a professional in your career field and as a person. In summary, always give your best, because your own success totally depends on you.

Read more about Education Section OSPA winners here!