MasterNaut Projects

As Nauts build their knowledge and skills in diving, science and leadership, they move through a ranking system. The prestigious rank of MasterNaut recognizes elite students who have achieved their advanced, rescue and nitrox certifications; conducted more than 100 lifetime dives, including at least 60 scientific dives; performed 150 community service hours; and completed a large-scale conservation or research project.

The MasterNaut project is a keystone of this distinguished rank. Students propose a research or conservation project then work with Science Education volunteers to develop the methodology, train their peers, then execute the project. Each project culminates in a written paper and two presentations– one within SCUBAnauts to their peers, and one external. This encourages students to effectively communicate about science to a variety of audiences.

Projects range from dive physiology to coral disease to the creation of training materials for fellow students. Many students are able to obtain grant funding for their projects and some have even gotten job offers based on their work!

Ongoing projects include:

  • Do successful seagrass mitigation sites create usable habitat for fish and invertebrate species?
  • Do parrotfish graze on corals with active disease and how might this impact the spread of Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease?
  • Current regulations require man-made oyster reefs to be constructed 50ft away from existing seagrass beds. Both of these ecosystems are key to aquatic health in Florida and interact with each other. We think this is more space than needed. Can we demonstrate this by monitoring oyster health in naturally occurring areas close to seagrass beds?

Comparative Study of Seagrass Bed Habitat Along the Skyway Bridge


nitrox physiology study masternaut collecting data in a tentDiana P., St. Petersburg Chapter, 2020

Seine nets, core samples, and roaming mollusk surveys were conducted in seagrass beds at three locations near the Skyway Bridge in St Petersburg, FL. The surveys were used to assess if the habitat in the mitigated seagrass bed was restored to the level of the habitat in the surrounding natural seagrass beds. The data set determined that the difference in richness and abundance of species found between the natural and mitigated sites was insignificant. Therefore, the habitat in the mitigated seagrass bed was successfully restored to the level of the surrounding natural seagrass beds. However, there were no living mollusks found in the roaming mollusk surveys, suggesting there could be a problem with the health of the habitat in all sites along the skyway bridge. Another concerning finding was that several mollusk species recorded at the site 10 years ago were not found, meaning the richness of mollusk species in the area has been decreasing since mitigation occurred.

The Implications of SCUBA diving with Air vs. Enriched-Air Nitrox on Mental and Physical Fatigue


nitrox physiology study masternaut collecting data in a tentEmma Z., Tampa Chapter, 2019

It is commonly “known” among SCUBA divers that breathing gas mixtures with an increased fraction of oxygen, called nitrox, reduces post-dive fatigue, however, little to no empirical data exists to support this claim. Those studies that have been conducted do not account for a placebo effect. This study aims to find whether the reported extra benefits of nitrox are due to the physical impact of the gas composition or a placebo effect that has permeated the SCUBA diving community.

Divers in a blind study breathed either a standard air mixture or a mixture of nitrox. Pre- and post-dive fatigue were measured using EEG brain scans and counter-movement jump tests. Analog self-evaluation surveys are also given pre- and post-dive to track subjective feelings of pain and gauge whether divers could consistently decipher what gas mixture they were breathing based on previous experience. Results indicate no statistically significant difference in post-dive fatigue between air and nitrox divers and most divers could not accurately determine which gas they were breathing.

A Comparative Study on Seagrass Coverage in Natural and Mitigated Sites in Tampa Bay, FL

This project received the Tampa Bay Estuary Program’s Golden Mangrove Award for best project awarded a TBEP Mini-Grant in 2018.

SCUBAnauts collecting water for seagrass study

Zack M., St Petersburg Chapter, 2019 

Seagrass coverage surveys were conducted at two locations along the South Skyway Bridge Rest Station during the fall to investigate growth over time of a released mitigation site and compare its most current coverage to a natural seagrass bed. Snorkeling surveys displayed that the mitigated site possessed slightly higher total vegetative cover than the natural seagrass bed. The released seagrass mitigation site had a coverage increase of 18.5 percent from 2011 to 2018, indicating seagrass mitigation efforts are indeed successful. Moving forward, it may prove useful to expand research to the other side of the Skyway Bridge to evaluate differences in seagrass species and coverage in the overall region.

A Practical Fish Identification Guide for the Florida Keys


four eye butterflyfish

Vivian F., Tarpon Springs Chapter, 2019

SCUBAnauts have been conducting fish surveys in Florida and other areas of the Caribbean for more than 15 years. Each year, we spend a significant amount of time learning and practicing our fish ID in the classroom and in the field, but traditional field guides ignore a critical portion of this learning process. I decided to collect my own pictures and create a new field guide because I felt it is hard to translate what you see in a professionally done photograph into the field where the fish may seem different because of natural variation in visibility, light, coloration, and distance. One of my main goals in this project was to make this field guide open to the public, which is YOU. Please enjoy this website and blog I have created to help novice and intermediate fish surveyors improve their skills!

Palythoa Abundance in Relation to Depth

diver collecting data on palythoa

Mia F., Tarpon Springs Chapter, 2018

Palythoa abundance and coverage was quantified in June of 2017 at six different dive sites to research the hypothesis that Palythoa cover decreases with depth. Surveys conducted at Looe Key reef balls 12, 19, 20, 25, 33, and 34 showed that there was a small negative correlation between depth and Palythoa abundance as well as a strong negative correlation between depth and Palythoa coverage (as depth increased, Palythoa abundance and coverage decreased). Aproximately, 58% of average area of Palythoa coverage per transect was explained by the average depth per transect. Approximately 29% of the number of Palythoa colonies were explained by depth. When continuing this research, methodology should be revised to prevent errors in data.

Phytoplankton’s Effect on Fish Populations

diver towing plankton off side of boat

Shaian B., Tampa Chapter, 2017

Plankton and fish surveys were conducted at four different artificial reef sites off the coast of Florida during summer and fall to investigate potential correlation between phytoplankton and fish populations on the Gulf Coast. Surveys at Treasure Island Reef, St. Petersburg Reef, Veterans Reef, and Dunedin Reef showed that there was a positive correlation between the amount of plankton and number of fish. Greater numbers of plankton and fish were observed in summer than during fall. Treasure Island Reef exhibited the greatest numbers of both fish and plankton. Of feeding types, the strongest positive correlation existed between the number of plankton and omnivorous feeders.