Tell us about your work/research. What kinds of things do you do?
I am currently in my third year at the University of Hawai’i at Hilo working toward a Bachelor of Science degree in Marine Science with a minor in Chemistry and certificate in the Marine Option Program. My most recent research has focused on studying the abundance and distribution of Pelagathoria, the only known species of pelagic holothurian. Most of this research took place during the summer of 2018 where I interned at the NOAA Office of Exploration and Research in Silver Spring, Maryland. There, I reviewed ROV video from the NOAA 2017 Mountains in the Deep Expedition as my mentor had observed the poorly documented species in a high abundance during this cruise. Every time I observed Pelagathoria, I recorded its corresponding location, depth, temperature, salinity, and concentration of oxygen as noted on SeaTube, the video replay tool I was using. This allowed me to map out the observations along with a few other documentations from other studies to establish a baseline habitat characterization of the species. In February of 2019, I was able to present my results at ASLO, an aquatic science conference in San Juan Puerto Rico. I am also working with my previous mentor, Dr. Amanda Netburn to publish the findings in Frontiers in Marine Science. When I’m not working on manuscript edits, I complete monthly assessments of marine organisms (usually corals) as a scientific diver on the westward side of the Big Island of Hawai’i.
What sparked your initial interest in your career?
Growing up in South Dakota, I didn’t have a lot of opportunities to see the ocean so often I would watch documentaries such as Blue Planet to learn more about this mysterious environment. After learning that we know more about the moon than our own oceans, I knew that a career in marine biology was meant for me. When I was in high school, a temporary dive shop opened and allowed me to earn my SCUBA certification. My first dive was at a lake in the middle of November which is probably not ideal dive conditions for most but opened up an entirely new world for me. Shortly after, I dove in Mexico during a family vacation which propelled my motivation to study marine science in a tropical environment. The University of Hawai’i at Hilo became the best option which has opened many doors for opportunities in my field.
Who influenced you or encouraged you the most?
My AP Physics teacher in high school was very supportive of my goal to study marine biology. As I didn’t have the opportunity to study marine biology in high school, he helped me find summer internships in environmental science and a scholarship opportunity that allowed me to gain research experience early on.
What element of your work/study do you think is the most fascinating?
The most fascinating element of my work thus far is utilizing NOAA ROV video data to learn more about a species of pelagic sea cucumber, Pelagathoria. This past year, I have been investigating the species latitudinal and vertical distributions in the Central Pacific and have found similarities in-depth, salinity, temperature, and oxygen concentrations of observations between mine and a previous study.
What other jobs led you to your current career?
In high school, I had multiple summer jobs which opened doors to new opportunities closer to my field. My first was working at a drive-through zoo known as Bear Country USA. There, I worked as a cashier in the gift shop and occasionally got to lead bus tours through the park providing information about the animals to visiting tourists. Gaining the interpersonal skills, I learned at my first job allowed me the opportunity to next intern at an environmental engineering firm, RESPEC. There, I worked with a civil engineer to help restore a residential stream. When I entered my first year of college, I knew that gaining a diverse skill set would help me in my future career, so I applied to be a writer at my school’s student let news publication, Ke Kalahea. There, I worked as a news writer interviewing students and covering stories on events happening in Hilo. Later, I was able to attend a journalism conference in New York City. Developing these writing skills led me to attain my next job which was being an outreach and education intern for The Marine Mammal Center Ke Kai Ola. I was one of the organization’s first intern and worked with them for a year helping to connect their new middle school curriculum to the common core standards. My latest job has been mentoring first-year students in my universities STEM program. I believe my diverse experiences have allowed me to become more well-rounded and given me a better idea of what I want the focus of my career to be.
What are your degrees and certifications?
I am currently pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Marine Science which a minor in Chemistry and a certificate in the Marine Option Program. I am also an Authorized scientific diver at the University of Hawai’i Hilo.
What are your hobbies?
When I’m free, I love to explore beaches and hiking trails on the Big Island of Hawai'i. I also love to explore my creative side. Recently, I have been creating music with my keyboard and online software. I also love to paint anything ocean related as well as write fictional short stories.
How did you get involved with the Nautilus Exploration Program?
As part of my summer of 2018 internship at the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, I was able to conduct a site visit at the University of Rhode Island’s Inner Space Center. There, I met a few of OET’s videographers, Nicole Raineault, and Robert Ballard. When talking with Nicole, she told me about the Nautilus internship opportunities.
What advice would you give someone who wants to have a career like yours?
I would advise gaining research experience and scholarships early on. Apply to scholarships and internships even if they are very competitive. Don’t sell yourself short or let others sway your opinion on where you should go to college or major in if you know that is what you want to do. Listen to your intuition and don’t get discouraged if you don’t get a scholarship the first time around. Diversify your skillset and don’t be afraid to go out of your comfort zone. Also, make time for the things that make you happy such as hobbies, friends, and family.
Gina participated in the following Ocean Exploration Trust expeditions: