Next Generation: Matthew Spitznagel

December 1, 2017
Matthew Spitznagel is working to understand a virus that kills blue crabs raised in aquaculture, including how it passes between crabs. Photo by Cheryl Nemazie

Hometown: Laurel and Parkton, Maryland
Adviser: Eric Schott, Institute of Marine and Environmental Technology

What are you researching? A single virus of Atlantic blue crabs called CsRV1 kills the majority of Chesapeake Bay crabs that are raised in aquaculture and fail to molt into the soft shell crabs sold in local markets and restaurants. I study how CsRV1 passes from crab to crab and what about crabs and soft-shell aquaculture triggers more death from the virus.

Why it makes a difference: Knowing how crabs catch CsRV1 can help us identify fisheries practices that increase transmission of the virus in the wild, such as disposing dead diseased crabs directly back into natural waters. Then we can identify additional crab factors—such as injury or water source—that increase the rates of crab death, both from CsRV1 and independently. Through this, we can work together with watermen to reduce the spread of the disease, boost the survival of a key scavenger species, and improve the harvest and aquaculture yields of the $200 million blue crab fishery.

There are at least a half dozen crab reoviruses that we know of and hundreds likely still to be identified and studied. That almost certainly impacts every single global crab and crustacean species.

 

How did you get interested in environmental science? I grew up in rural west Texas, lush with canyons, rivers, hummingbirds, bluebonnets, and man interacting with nature in abundance. My perpetual state of wonder from this only increased as I moved east and became a SCUBA diver and pilot. I learned early that humanity’s fate is tied to that of the environment.

Why choose the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science? I originally came to UMCES as a research diver and technician for Dr. Kennedy Paynter’s oyster restoration ecology lab back in 2013. Over time, this led to a graduate assistantship with Dr. Eric Schott, which started full time in 2016. The ebullient energy and focus toward conservation and fisheries management that Dr. Paynter, Dr. Schott, and others within UMCES possess made it an easy choice to work for the organization.

Matthew Spitznagel credits the energy and focus of his adviser Eric Schott for his decision to come to UMCES. Photo by Cheryl Nemazie

Share an experience that stands out most about your time with UMCES. The experience that ties everything together is diving on oyster reefs on the Chesapeake Bay. You see with your own eyes everything the makes up the Bay ecosystem. You see all the species, including algae, sea sponge, oysters, crabs, striped bass, osprey, and dolphins. You watch and feel things change. To anyone and everyone with the ability, go boat and dive on the Chesapeake. It brings the sum of what is done at UMCES into tangible perspective. Diving in the Bay brings life into perspective.

What’s the most important thing people can do to help the environment? Efficiency as a central mantra. This applies to anything in the subsistence level of human life, be it time, food, fuel, energy, waste reuse and recycling. If one makes the way they deal with basic functions as efficient as possible, the more individuals and humanity as a whole can ensure a brighter future and enjoy the higher creative levels of life.

What are your future plans? I intend to continue studying crustacean viruses, their diversity, how they pass between animals, how they kill, and what might be done to lessen their effects on aquaculture and the environment. Branching out to two other globally important crab fisheries (Portunus spp.) would be excellent, as well. Along with Atlantic blue crabs, portunids (swimming crabs) comprise more than half of all the world’s crab fishery landings. On the side, I would like to continue my research diving career and step into the world of scientific and environmental education. It’s time for me to start fostering interest and care for science and the environment in future generations.