Scripps Student Spotlight: India Dove

A recently-graduated marine biology student analyzes the changes in the population size structure of Nassau Grouper to assess their recovery from overexploitation

India Dove is a recent graduate from UC San Diego with a bachelor’s degree in marine biology. She is originally from Poway, Calif., with parents from West Yorkshire, England, and Lubbock, Texas. Throughout her undergraduate years, India conducted research in Brice Semmens’ Lab at Scripps Institution of Oceanography involving the conservation of Nassau Grouper.


explorations now: Why did you choose to attend UC San Diego?

India Dove: For students seeking an undergraduate degree in marine science, UC San Diego is a great choice because of the phenomenal education and research opportunities available at Scripps. Therefore, I chose to attend school here to be a part of an amazing community of students and scientists who are all passionate to learn about the ocean. Aside from academics, the campus is beautiful and La Jolla is an ideal location for getting out in the water – be it to swim, snorkel, or kayak!


en: What did you research at Scripps?

ID: Over the past three years, I researched the changes in the population size structure of Cayman Islands Nassau Grouper via photogrammetry. Nassau Grouper have declined throughout the Caribbean primarily due to overexploitation of their fish spawning aggregations (FSAs). In the Cayman Islands, however, the government placed protections on historical and active FSA sites in 2003 and established long-term monitoring of the largest remaining FSA off the west end of Little Cayman Island. Brice Semmens’ lab is involved in research efforts to help monitor the recovery of Nassau Grouper. Ongoing recovery of fish populations can be indicated via recruitment when young fish at sexual maturity enter the spawning stock. 


en: How did you conduct this research?

ID: One method to assess this recruitment is via noninvasive laser length measurements. For this, scuba divers use a laser caliper system to visually mark individual fish with two laser dots calibrated a certain distance apart. Back in the lab, still images of these fish can then be captured and lengths measured accordingly. I conducted length-frequency analyses of the Little Cayman and Cayman Brac Island FSA from underwater laser caliper video. Essentially, I watched many hours of footage in order to compile thousands of fish lengths into a large dataset which I could then analyze in the context of a longer time-series. Results were very exciting! For example, in 2017 a strong recruitment event was detected off Little Cayman Island and the 2018 and 2019 FSA size structure solidified this understanding. I also worked on a second project in the lab. Namely, I investigated the potential of using the unique facial patterns of the Nassau Grouper as a means of individual identification for a high tech mark-recapture method. 


en: How did you become interested in this field?

ID: Growing up, various books and documentaries inspired my initial interest in marine biology. Then in high school I participated in a conservation project working with leatherback sea turtles in Costa Rica. Since then, marine life conservation has been my principal motivation for pursuing studies in this field. Once at Scripps, I was excited to learn about the conservation efforts underway in the Semmens Lab for the Grouper Moon Project. I first started to volunteer in the lab during my freshman year. In the summer of 2017, after sophomore year, I was offered a research position as part of the SURF program; this opportunity was foundational for my long-term commitment to the length-frequency research because seeing the 2017 recruitment pulse really sparked my interest. I then continued as a research assistant during my junior and senior year and also was part of the UC Scholars Program in the summer of 2018.


en: What’s the most exciting thing about your work?

ID:  The most exciting part about the work I’ve done at Scripps is that the research findings have contributed towards a better understanding of the population status of Nassau Grouper in the Cayman Islands. I’m glad that my time dedicated to research had an important conservation use in the end.


en: What’s life like as a Scripps student? Describe a typical day.

ID: During the school year, my days consisted of attending class (either on main campus or down at Scripps), studying, and then working on Semmens Lab research (in lab or remotely). One of my favorite places to study at Scripps was the Eckart Lounge because of the incredible views of the ocean and pier. 

In the summertime, I was fortunate to be a part of programs where students lived on campus and could focus their time on research. A typical day then included going into the lab in the morning to start on the day’s work (usually compiling length data or writing/editing code in R), having lunch out on Hubbs Hall balcony with lab members, getting back to work in the afternoon, and then heading down to the beach for a run or swim.


en: Are there any role models or mentors who have helped you along the way?

ID: Yes, absolutely! I’m very grateful to have been part of the Semmens Lab. Over the past few years, I’ve met the most incredible people who have kindly been mentors to me. Brian Stock and Lynn Waterhouse, who are former graduate students of the lab, taught me to code and analyze results. They also offered advice for conference presentations and about graduate school. Dr. Semmens encouraged me to develop my quantitative skill set; this led me to taking extra math courses and completing independent study on Bayesian statistics, a statistics theory that interprets probability. Kerri Seger, who was a Scripps graduate student I met on the triathlon team, was an outstanding mentor to me at a time in college when I needed advice. I also found support through family and close friends. Lastly, to this day, I’m very appreciative of the mentorship I received in high school from teachers including Aimee Ricken, Amy Irwin, January King, Beverly Kanawi, Jen Mosley, and Carrie Burdict-Rutz.


en: What are some of the challenges you face as a student?

ID: While in school, I was a commuter to campus the last two years of my degree. So with that, I think there are some challenges with logistics and also health. Factoring in a long drive, traffic, and finding parking could sometimes compound on the fatigue and stress of a long day. Quite honestly though, mental health has been the biggest challenge I faced as a student and especially now post-graduation. It’s a time of immense uncertainty for me as I try to secure employment in my field and also pursue future graduate school opportunities. I trust in myself, however, to navigate this part of my life. I’m very thankful for the training, education, and relationships I’ve developed at Scripps because that foundation is invaluable.


en: What are your plans, post-Scripps?

ID: I absolutely intend to continue my education. Recently, I just applied to graduate programs in marine science and conservation. Career-wise, I hope to become a researcher at a respected institution who pioneers quantitative understanding of the population dynamics and spatial ecology of pelagic marine species.


You can find India on Facebook and Instagram.

Sign Up For
Explorations Now

explorations now is the free award-winning digital science magazine from Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Join subscribers from around the world and keep up on our cutting-edge research.