Zach Taylor headshot photo

Zach Taylor

Ocean Science Intern
Graduate Student
University of Hawai‘i at Hilo

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

Currently, I am working on developing new approaches to coral reef fish surveys, by incorporating the use of a live stream camera on the reef (MEGA Lab Cam) and freediving surveys. Hawai‘i serves as a unique region compared to many due to the absence of recreational catch reports and fishing licenses; therefore, SCUBA surveys currently serve as the sole method for population estimates of coral reef fishes and are heavily relied upon. Knowing that fish behavior varies based on the activity and methods used in areas of high fishing pressure, the objective of this work is to ultimately determine the accuracy and limitations of each survey method, allowing for more comprehensive and inclusive surveys in the future. Throughout my journey prior to my current work, I’ve gained extensive research experience working with a variety of marine animals, a few being various species of shrimps and octopuses. During this time, I focused primarily on improving breeding techniques and developing methods to close life cycles.

What sparked your initial interest in your career?

When I was 13 years old, I was fortunate enough to try SCUBA diving for the first time, and it was a life-changing experience that sparked my interest and fueled my passion for marine environments. Growing up in a landlocked state, I had limited exposure to the ocean, but this experience opened my eyes to a whole new world of possibilities. Since I have been constantly seeking opportunities to deepen my knowledge through my education and professional experiences, and this same passion and curiosity continue to drive my work today.

Who influenced you or encouraged you the most?

The person who has influenced me the most in my life is my family. From a young age, my parents and siblings have always been incredibly supportive and encouraging of my interests and passions. They instilled in me a sense of curiosity and a love of learning and challenged me to pursue my dreams. Today, as a researcher, I continue to draw on the lessons instilled in me by my family, and I am incredibly grateful for their influence in my life.

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

I think the most fascinating element of my work is taking a step back and comparing the undisturbed reef environment through cameras versus what we as humans see when we swim along a reef. Witnessing large predators on a routine basis, large schools of fish, relationships between individuals, and their collaborative hunting tactics are just a few aspects that continually fascinate me. I think oftentimes, it’s easy to be biased based on personal experiences, and having the opportunity to monitor coral reefs in a less invasive way has been insightful and something that gets me excited as I continue my work.

What other jobs led to your current career?

As an undergraduate, I took advantage of all of the opportunities I could be in the field to assist professors and mentors with data collection. I worked a few years as a research assistant and deckhand aboard the university’s research vessel and was introduced to a wide array of methods and research. The opportunities ranged from oceanography skills to marine mammal photo-ID, and water quality to animal tagging projects. This introduction set me up with a solid foundation of the different opportunities as a marine scientist. Following undergraduate work, I had a strong interest in research and development and spent five-plus years focused on establishing new methods for system designs and animal husbandry. All of these experiences have played a significant role and have been stepping stones to my current career.

What are your degrees and certifications?

Currently working towards my M.S. in Tropical Conservation Biology and Environmental Sciences (TCBES) program at UH Hilo. I expect to graduate in December of 2023.
B.S. Marine Science, University of Hawai‘i at Hilo
AAUS Scientific Diver 

What are your hobbies?

I really enjoy underwater photography, and have a strong passion for diving of all sorts (freediving, SCUBA, spearfishing) and surfing. And when I’m lucky enough I really enjoy making a nice meal out of my fresh catch and sharing it with friends and family!

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

The best advice I can give is to surround yourself with people who are going to challenge you and push you to do your best work. I know for certain I would not be in the current position I’m in if it wasn’t for the network of people I’ve been fortunate to surround myself with who have been there for me and pushed me along the way. Next bit, never stop learning. It’s crucial to always be developing new skills, gain new perspectives, and seek out mentors who can provide guidance and support. In today's rapidly changing world, I believe staying up to date with the latest trends and technologies is essential to being successful. Lastly, don’t forget to have fun! Science and research can be challenging and demanding, and it's easy to get caught up in the stress and pressure of the job. But taking the time to enjoy the process and having fun as a scientist can inspire new ways of thinking and exploration -in my opinion, a necessary component of a fulfilling career.

How did you get involved with the Ocean Exploration Trust?

I heard about the opportunity from my advisor and the lab I am a part of in graduate school, the Multiscale Environmental Graphical Analysis (MEGA) lab. Big shoutout and thanks to my advisor and head of the lab, Dr. John Burns for encouraging and supporting me to apply for the position, and to my colleagues Kainalu and Kukui for discussing their experience aboard E/V Nautilus on previous expeditions and also encouraging me to apply. 


Zach participated in the following Ocean Exploration Trust expeditions: