People

Cynthia Hunter, PhD

My research focuses on fundamental questions in coral reef ecology within the larger context of conservation ecology. Broadly, I am interested in contributing to a better understanding of how coral reef ecosystems function and sustain themselves, particularly within the context of natural and anthropogenic stressors. More specifically, I am interested in forces that affect the biodiversity of coral reef species, and how this diversity may be influenced through time, space and under various physical and anthropogenic regimes.






Current Graduate Students

Angela Richards Donà, MSc

The main motivator for most of what I do in life is beauty. In my opinion, the beauty of a coral reef--gorgeous colors, teeming life, exotic and strange creatures--exceeds all other things and places. Thus it is not surprising to me that after a career in fashion design in New York City and in Italy, I changed my goals and aspirations to help save these amazing, threatened ecosystems.

I earned my MS in Marine and Atmospheric Science at the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences (SoMAS) at Stony Brook University and am now pursuing my PhD in the Marine Biology Department here at UH Manoa. I work on the photobiology of the blue Hawaiian Montipora spp. corals with specific focus on determining the functional roles of the chromoproteins that make corals blue. I aim to use my scientific findings to help the conservation and management of the reefs that have so inspired me and I hope that through these discoveries, future generations will continue to experience the beauty of these reefs. Visit my website for more information on my background. My CV can be downloaded here.

Shreya Yadav

I was getting my undergraduate degree in zoology from Madras University when I went on my first dive off the Andaman islands. Since then, I have kept my head (mostly) underwater. I graduated with a Master's in marine biology from James Cook University, Australia, in 2013. For the past 3 years I have been working with the Nature Conservation Foundation in the Lakshadweep islands, a chain of atolls off the west coast of India. Broadly, the work has focussed on trying to understand reef response to climatic stress.

Specifically, I am interested in the interactions between substrate, structure, and local hydrodynamics in influencing the early post-settlement fate and survival of coral recruits, and the repercussions this can have for reef-scale benthic recovery. I would like to expand on this work for my PhD, exploring questions of coral reef resilience and the mechanisms of coral adaptation and reef recovery in rapidly warming waters.

Scott Goldberg

I have been in love with the ocean for as long as I can remember. It began with family trips to the New Jersey shore when I was a small child and was expanded by tales of the golden age of piracy. This passion would morph into a love of marine science. My first exposure to coral was in the Florida Keys and that experience helped push me towards the field of tropical marine ecology. I see my graduate work at UH Manoa as the next logical step in a life dedicated to studying and protecting our planet’s oceans.

I received my bachelors degree in Biological Sciences from Northwestern University. During that time I worked in a lab studying why corals have different susceptibilities to bleaching. My work in the Hunter Lab focuses on the impact of fish that eat coral. More specifically, I am interested in the difference between the effect these fish have on healthy corals versus their effects on corals recovering from a bleaching event.

Trevor Johannsen

“The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever.”- Jacques Cousteau

The ocean is an incredible thing. How can it be so beautiful, powerful, soothing, intimidating and fragile, all at once? Like many people, I love the ocean and can definitely be counted with those who are held in its net of wonder. Jacques Cousteau also said, “People protect what they love.” My broad interest and passion is in wildlife conservation and the ocean and all of its wonders needs our protection now more than ever.

For my Masters research, I am replicating a survey of the mushroom coral, Fungia scutaria, to find a long term trend in the population. Early data suggests that the population has increased significantly in the last 20 years, probably due to the decline of invasive algae. It has been a great project because I have been able to apply my experience in ecology, conservation, and resource management and it’s allowed me to spend lots of time under water, still in wonder of the sea.

Rebecca Weible

I have always wanted to be a marine biologist. I have a fascination for coral reefs and a strong desire to learn how such an intricate and sensitive ecosystem functions as a whole. At Castle High School, I developed a seagrass trampling project with Dr. Mark Heckman and Dr. Kimberly Peyton. I then went to the University of Hawaii at Manoa to study marine biology and get involved in many diving activities such as the Quantitative Underwater Ecological Surveying Techniques (QUEST) course that the Marine Option Program offers. I've had the privilege of going on NOAA Research Cruises with the Maritime Archaeology and Fish Teams to the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands and the Main Hawaiian Islands.

As part of the Ha’ena CBSFA joint project with DAR and the Coral Reef Ecology Laboratory, I am researching resource fish inside and outside the CBSFA for my thesis. I will be looking at the spawning and maximum sizes of these fish and comparing these to data from the past to see whether or not the resource fish of Ha’ena are reaching their reproductive potential. This information will allow the local people, who regularly fish these waters, to make necessary management decisions in preserving their resource fish.

Lev Gerstle

Stops at the national aquarium and visits to my grandparents on Cape Cod were what sparked my passion for the ocean. Studying at Dickinson College gave me the chance to travel to Australia and learn directly from scientists conducting research at Heron Island, Moreton Bay, and in the Whitsundays, which only increased my passion and desire to study marine science. After graduating, I moved to Massachusetts to work for the Center for Coastal Studies, looking at marine systems impacted by Hurricane Sandy.

My research focuses on coral acclimatization, specifically coral's ability to build resilience across generations. I am performing stress tests of adults to see if there is any change in their planulae's biology, and looking for any potential trade offs that might come as a form of compensation. This will allow us to better understand how reef systems react to multiple bleaching events in quick succession.

Kaitlyn Jacobs

I grew up in Southwest Washington, and can't remember a time that I didn't want to work on conserving our wildlife and oceans. I went to undergrad at Washington State University, and fell in love with invertebrates while working on a project with a species of Pacific octopus. Recently I got to spend six months volunteering on Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge, helping with habitat restoration and gathering seabird population data. Being on a remote island for so long got me interested in the ecology of marine protected areas and coral reef restoration, especially in Hawai'i, where the ecosystems are affected greatly by invasive species.

My research will be focused on the ecology and methods of controlling invasive invertebrates, how we can restore reefs after removal, and how environmental changes facilitate these infestations.


Shandell Brunson

Growing up in rural Idaho, I knew very little, if anything, about sea turtles. What I did know after a visit to the Oregon coast was that I had a desire to work within and around the ocean. I applied for the opportunity to do a Student Exchange with the University of Hawaii at Manoa as an undergrad that led me to Hawaii without looking back. As an undergrad, I started volunteering with NOAA's Marine Turtle Research Program, particularly with strandings, necropsies, and rehabilitative care. Continuing with my work and experience in the program, I became the Sea Turtle Stranding Coordinator for Hawaii and the Pacific Island Region in what is now the NOAA Marine Turtle Biology and Assessment Program (MTBAP). Wanting to further my skill set and knowledge in research, I decided to return to academics and the University of Hawaii to pursue my Masters in Zoology, with a particular focus on sea turtle foraging ecology.


Former Graduate Students

Maya Walton, MSc

Maya completed her MS in Zoology in the Hunter Lab at the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa where she researched coral reef ecosystem health and Marine Protected Areas in Oahu. She examined differences in coral disease prevalence across protective boundaries of Oahu’s Marine Life Conservation Districts and utilized statistical models to investigate whether disease levels were linked to biological and environmental parameters, and protection status. Her graduate research was supported through funding from the University of Hawai’i Sea Grant College Program.

In 2014, following completion of her MS at University of Hawai’I, Maya completed a John A. Knauss Marine Policy fellowship in NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries headquarters office as a member of the Conservation Science Division. Currently, Maya is a University of Hawai’i Sea Grant extension agent who serves as the Coordinator for the NOAA Hawaiian Islands Sentinel Site Cooperative (HISSC). In addition to her extension work Maya also serves as the UH Sea Grant Research Coordinator and science writer.

Joshua Levy, MSc

Although a UK citizen, Josh’s quest for a career in marine biology led him halfway across the globe. Since immigrating to the US at the age of 13, his home base has been New York, and his education and career have taken him to Florida, Maine, Iceland, Portugal, Brazil, and South Africa. Although he has been involved in projects across several fields within marine science, his general research interests involve coral reef ecology, and the dynamic relationship between coral and their biotic and abiotic environment.

Josh’s master’s research focused on using recent technological advances in aerial imagery as a low-cost, efficient, alternative method for conducting reef surveys in Kaneohe Bay. His work recorded differences in reef-specific responses to elevated seawater temperature during the global bleaching event in 2015. He is now working on a project to monitor pier construction impacts on a fringing reef in Kaneohe Bay and looking forward to applying sUAV technology to a number of research and educational projects.

Rachel Dacks, PhD

Growing up in South Florida, I was exposed to coral reefs from a young age and have since been fascinated with the rich biodiversity that make up these ecosystems. It wasn't really until I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Fiji, where I lived in a village in which people lived subsistence lifestyles, completely dependent on natural resources, that I started thinking of coral reefs as complex social-ecological systems.

Rachel earned her doctoral degree in May 2018. She continues to focus on human dimensions of resource management and is currently a post-doctoral fellow working on the Stewardship Mapping & Assessment Project of Oʻahu (STEW-MAP).

Tayler Sale (Massey), PhD

My introduction to the ocean came from annual trips to the coast with my family in Texas. There, a fear of fish turned into a love for the ocean, which grew stronger once I discovered coral reefs in the Cayman Islands. I decided then I wanted to learn everything I could about these mesmerizing environments. I am interested in coral reef ecology, the relationships between corals and the surrounding reef environment, and how those relationships contribute to overall reef health and resilience to future stressors.

My current research focuses on the complex and variable response of corals to thermal stress and the identification of drivers responsible for differential bleaching patterns. I utilize ecological monitoring and molecular analysis to characterize and attempt to explain the patterns of bleaching seen at A’alapapa Reef. Additionally, I am working with Malama Ka’ohao, a local community organization dedicated to restoring and protecting the A’alapapa Reef for future generations.

Anne Rosinski, PhD

As a little girl on the Jersey shore, I was the only kid in the boat that wanted to hold a tarantula-like spider crab. Not only did I want to hold it, but was so curious about its every part and alien-like movements. Since then that curiosity has driven my exploration of marine biology and has led me to study several aspects of marine ecology and the management of natural resources. I have recently worked as a NOAA Coral Reef Conservation Program fellow with the Hawaii Division of Aquatic Resources focusing on curriculum development, management planning, and responding to damaging coral reef events including disease and bleaching.

My research will focus on how managers can effectively respond to these types of events by developing new, practical management tools and methodologies. I am specifically interested in coral restoration techniques and integrating science with policy to solve practical conservation obstacles.