Bringing together the festive atmosphere of Stony Brook’s annual Earthstock celebration with the serious business of scholarship, Alfredo Esposito ’18 was awarded the Jeffrey Eng Memorial Scholarship in Environmental Studies at the Earthstock keynote event, held April 20 at the Sidney Gelber Auditorium in the Student Activities Center. Alfredo accepted the honor from Jeffrey Levinton, Distinguished Professor, Department of Ecology and Evolution.
For Alfredo, it all began with a gift from his father — a fish tank. The Levittown resident was drawn towards health science, but after caring for the fish in his home he knew that marine biology would be his academic career path.
“I think that I take after my father, who loves animals and the outdoors and I realized that I could not stand to lose such beautiful creatures to human-related causes,” said Alfredo, who chose to major in marine vertebrate biology during the end of his freshman year.
“I decided to get my feet wet with a couple of research opportunities to fully understand what a scientist does in order to suggest solutions for the environmental problems that they find,” he said.
What sealed his commitment was volunteering for the Shinnecock Restoration Program (ShiRP) in the summer of 2016.
ShiRP is dedicated to making the Shinnecock Bay habitable again for marine organisms. Stony Brook University’s School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences (SoMAS), along with its Institute for Ocean Conservation Science (IOCS), founded the program to return the bay to its former health.
Alfredo participated in a biweekly boat trawl surveying 13 stations across Shinnecock Bay, catching and releasing organisms via otter trawl. He and his fellow researchers counted and sorted all of the biomass for lab analysis, ranging from algae to a variety of fish.
Jeffrey Eng was a junior at Stony Brook University when he lost his life in an automobile accident in 2006. His parents established an endowed scholarship in his memory in 2007, which has been administered by the Department of Ecology and Evolution in 2008.
“The scholarship supports a student whose academic focus is on environmental science and who has demonstrated continuing achievement and a willingness to help others and who has financial need,” said Professor Levinton.
“Alfredo has exhibited outstanding aptitudes for scientific work as well as for outreach events, thanks to his passion for the environment, dedication and charismatic personality,” Levinton added.
ShiRP is predicated on the fact that the Shinnecock Bay is deteriorating — water quality is declining, habitats are disappearing and shellfish populations have diminished sharply. The changing ecosystem is impacting marine animals, seabirds and the people who live near to and utilize the bay as well.
For example, many seagrasses are extremely sensitive to decreases in light penetration due to algal blooms. Less seagrass translates to fewer fish and shellfish.
Factors leading to this deterioration include overfishing and nutrient inputs from septic systems and fertilizers.
“I was humbled that I was selected as the recipient for this generous award as I always assume that there are other students tens of hundreds times more qualified than I am who are making world-wide changes,” said Alfredo.
“Last summer a group of United Nations ambassadors visited us on Shinnecock Bay to see the effort that not only scientists and stakeholders but donors and the public have done to restore the once pristine Bay,” said Alfredo. “This includes eel grass restoration, plantings and oyster gardens and the creation of marine-protected areas within the Bay. The results here can further persuade those in higher positions in a way that can effectively cause global change.”
— Glenn Jochum