Erica Burton headshot photo

Erica Burton

Scientist Ashore
Research Specialist
Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary

Tell us about your work/research. What kinds of things do you do?

As a Research Specialist for Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary (MBNMS), I am responsible for characterizing biological communities, characterizing historic shipwrecks, assessing impacts from vessel groundings, providing programmatic support to the MBNMS Research Activity Panel, co-authoring peer-reviewed and technical publications, and maintaining research program web pages. Field activities include biological characterization of Davidson Seamount and Sur Ridge, characterization of the USS Macon and SS Montebello, and assessing impacts of a lost shipping container in the deep sea.

What sparked your initial interest in your career?

(See earlier influences below). As a graduate student, I participated in a project to characterize deep-sea benthic fishes and invertebrates (using video footage) at the U.S. Navy Ocean Disposal Site west of the Farallon Islands. It was my first hands-on experience with deep-sea animal identification using imagery. The remote nature of the sea floor and the animals that lived there were intriguing. 

Who influenced you or encouraged you the most?

My father encouraged me to get SCUBA certified, along with him and two of my classmates. During that time, I took two science classes as an undergraduate student; Marine Biology and Marine Botany. The professor was very dynamic and encouraging; and I did very well in those classes. I changed my college major from Tourism to Marine Biology as a result of those two events. While taking undergraduate chemistry courses at CSU Long Beach, the chemistry professor invited me to co-author a paper on fish swim bladder chemistry.  

What element of your work/study do you think is the most fascinating?

Observing deep-sea animals in situ, and using technologies to track and record our observations.

What other jobs led you to your current career?

During graduate school I participated in funded projects that required skills shared with my thesis research. These other projects included: radiometric age determination of the Bocaccio Rockfish, Atlantic Tarpon, and Atlantic Sturgeon. I also volunteered for several NOAA Fisheries research cruises, including midwater rockfish surveys. In addition, I created webpages and catalogued bibliographic records for the MLML Ichthyology lab. These opportunities were invaluable.  

What are your degrees and certifications?

Bachelor of Science in Marine Biology – California State University Long Beach 1991; Master of Marine Science – Moss Landing Marine Laboratories, San Francisco State University 1999.

What are your hobbies?

Genealogical research for family and friends.

How did you get involved with the Nautilus Exploration Program?

As a Research Specialist for MBNMS, my job responsibilities include at-sea fieldwork to explore and characterize deep-sea habitats to better understand and manage MBNMS.

What advice would you give someone who wants a career like yours?

Interview various professionals working in the field of study that interests you. Ask them about their roles and responsibilities, and how they got the job. Volunteer for various research projects by your fellow classmates, professors, and institutions. Everyone has a different path, and the details may surprise you, and hopefully, those discussions and volunteer experience will help develop your own path forward.


Erica participated in the following Ocean Exploration Trust expeditions:

Selected Publications


Barry, J.P., Litvin, S., Devogelaere, A., Caress, D.W., Lovera, C., Kahn, A., Burton, E.J., King, C., Paduan, J., Wheat, C.G., Girard, F., Sudek, S., Hartwell, A.M, Sherman, A.B., (2023). Abyssal hydrothermal springs—Cryptic incubators for brooding octopus. Science Advances