Feature Stories 2023: Juan Gutierrez Bravo '24: On the frontier of science

Juan Gutierrez Bravo with his research poster at the 2023 IMS Symposium
Juan Gutierrez Bravo '24 won first place prizes for Best Poster and Best Lightning Talk at the 2023 UMass Intercampus Marine Science Symposium.
Feature Stories 2023: Juan Gutierrez Bravo '24: On the frontier of science
Juan Gutierrez Bravo '24: On the frontier of science

Marine Science and Technology student Juan Gutierrez Bravo conducts research at sea, studying oxygen minimum zones in different parts of the world.

Juan Gutierrez Bravo came to the U.S. from Veracruz, Mexico to study marine science and technology at SMAST. His research on fish in oxygen minimum zones has allowed him to travel all over the world.  

Why did you decide to come to UMassD/SMAST?  

"In December 2021, during my undergraduate program at the Universidad Autonoma de Baja California Sur, I was invited to join a research cruise from Costa Rica to San Diego that was led by SMAST Professor Mark Altabet. My undergrad advisor knew Dr. Altabet and introduced us. That experience led me to want to continue working with him, and the next year I was accepted to the master's program at SMAST."  


Research group at sea
Professor Mark Altabet, Juan Gutierrez Bravo and research team, January, 2022. Photo credit: Twitter @SR21142

How did you become interested in marine science? 

"My hometown in Mexico is a coastal city so I grew up spending time around the ocean. I learned scuba diving with my father when I was sixteen. I was always interested in science, I participated in the National Biology Olympiad, and decided to study marine biology."  

Tell us about your research 

"The research I'm conducting at SMAST is focused on the development of fish in the eastern tropical Pacific oxygen minimum zone. Fish need oxygen to survive, and oxygen minimum zones are areas where the oxygen levels in the seawater are very low.  The life cycles of fish change in relation to oxygen distribution. This research is important for fisheries and for the preservation of biodiversity."   

Juan's research earned him the first-place prize for Best Poster and Best Lightning Talk in the Species Distribution/Selectivity category at the 2023 UMass Intercampus Marine Science Symposium. His poster was titled: "Distribution of Fish Larvae and Juveniles Across the Eastern Tropical North Pacific Oxygen Minimum Zone, from Costa Rica to Baja, California." 

He has also published a paper in the Journal of Plankton Research titled "Three-dimensional distribution of larval fish habitats at the entrance of the Gulf of California in the tropical-subtropical convergence region off Mexico."  

Juan and fellow researchers on research vessel at sunset
Photo credit: Twitter @SR21142

What has been your experience working with faculty at SMAST? 

"I very much enjoy working with Dr. Altabet; I have the freedom to develop my own research project while receiving guidance at the same time. He's a chemist and I'm a biologist, so I've learned a lot from him. " 


Juan and Prof. Mark Altabet playing chess on board the research vessel the Sally Ride
Juan Gutierrez Bravo and Professor Mark Altabet playing chess on the research vessel. Photo credit: Twitter @SR21142

Tell us about your field experiences. What is it like doing research at sea?  

"My fieldwork typically involves taking samples to examine under a microscope, conducting isotope analyses, and determining where these organisms are in the food web. We can deploy plankton nets up to 1000 meters deep and record real-time temperature, oxygen, and other environmental data. Trips can last anywhere from 10 days to 30 or 40 days at sea on board large research vessels with other scientists from all over the world." 

"My most recent trip was in March 2023, when I spent 40 days at sea traveling from Costa Rica to Mexico, and I have another trip planned for the fall from San Francisco to San Diego. 

"It's exciting getting to meet people from around the world. It's a bonding experience and we all learn from each other. But, at the same time, you're at work for the duration of the trip. Even during down-time, you have to keep a high level of professionalism.  

"This summer, I will be traveling to Mallorca, Spain for the 2023 ASLO Aquatic Sciences Meeting."  

Any advice for future students? 

"I'd tell them to prepare, have a purpose, and have a plan. If you come to graduate school without knowing what you want to study, it will be time to graduate by the time you figure it out."  

What are you most proud of? 

"I'm proud to be a student here, and to do something that brings me joy every day.  I'm doing what I wanted to do: studying for my master's in the U.S. at UMass Dartmouth and working at the frontier of science."