Cayman Islands Twilight Zone 2007 Explorers


Cristina DiazCristina Diaz
Research Associate
Museo Marino de Margarita – Venezuela

I am interested in marine sponge biodiversity, from the perspective of current and historical distributions. I am fascinated by how and why the shapes, skeletons, and symbionts vary, and the consequences of these features. During the past 25 years, I have reviewed the taxonomic classification of various sponge taxa, described unknown species, created sponge guides, applied molecular tools to reveal microbial associates to sponges, and measured nitrification rates of Caribbean sponges.

I first studied biology at the Universidad Central de Venezuela in Caracas, and then completed a doctoral program in organismal biology at the University of California in Santa Cruz. I have taught undergraduate courses in biology and marine sciences, and a graduate field course in sponge taxonomy and ecology in Panama. Over the years, I have collaborated as a taxonomist with various marine natural products researchers, exploring the Caribbean, the South Pacific, and the Indian Ocean. Currently, I am a research associate to the Museo Marino de Margarita in Venezuela and a visiting scientist to the National Museum of Natural History in Washington D.C.



Deborah GochfeldDeborah Gochfeld
Senior Scientist
National Center for Natural Products Research
University of Mississippi

My research interests focus on ecological interactions among coral-reef organisms and the health and condition of these diverse communities. I am interested in how chemical defenses (natural products) mediate predator-prey, competition, and pathogenesis in coral-reef animals. In particular, I look at the effect of pathogenesis on marine invertebrates (corals and sponges) at the individual, population, and community levels of organization. I also examine natural and anthropogenic (human-caused) disturbances, such as pollution and disease, and the affect they have on coral reef animals. My research has taken me to reefs throughout the Indo-Pacific and Caribbean.

I received a BA in biology from Vassar College and a PhD in zoology/marine ecology from the University of Hawaii at Manoa. I then served as resident director at the Hofstra University Marine Laboratory in Jamaica. After an National Institutes of Health National Research Service Award provided postdoctoral training in natural products chemistry, I joined the research faculty at the National Center for Natural Products Research at the University of Mississippi, where I am now a senior scientist.

Beth HinesBeth Hines
Marine Science Teacher
Mountain Brook High School
Birmingham, Alabama

I am a marine science teacher at Mountain Brook High School in Birmingham, Alabama, where I immerse my students in the process of science by bringing the research experience to the classroom. My interests include marine biodiversity, exploration, and conservation. I recently participated in a Center for Ocean Sciences Education Excellence/Naval Oceanographic Office (OSEE/NAVO) Sea Scholar’s Trip from Honolulu, Hawaii, to Portland, Oregon, mapping the ocean floor and studying acoustics and meteorology. I am looking forward to this NOAA Ocean Explorer opportunity during which I will be the Educator at Sea.

I received a BS in biology and microbiology from the University of Alabama, an MS in developmental biology from the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), and an MA ED in secondary science education from UAB.

Elizabeth KintzingElizabeth Kintzing
Diving Safety Officer
University of New Hampshire

I am the diving safety officer for the University of New Hampshire program. I have been actively involved in research diving since 1979, and these projects have taken me from the clear cool waters of Antarctica to the warm blue tropics. In 2002, I trained with Michael Lesser and Marc Slattery on the deep Trimix procedures we will use on this project, and we teamed up again last year for rebreather technical diving.

I received both a BS in biology and an MS in environmental physiology from the University of New Hampshire.

Michael LesserMichael Lesser
Research Professor
University of New Hampshire

My research interests can be best described as the physiological ecology of marine organisms. As a physiological ecologist, I want to examine proximate causes (i.e., acclimatization processes, evolutionary adaptations) for the distribution and abundance of marine organisms. My work on coral reefs explores various aspects of symbiosis of microbes with corals, including the well-known symbiotic association with zooxanthellae. My laboratory uses tools of investigation that span from molecular genetics to biochemistry, cell biology, and organismal physiology. In particular we are interested in the effects of environmental stress on the stability of the coral symbiosis and the effects of well-known stressors, such as elevated temperature and exposure to ultraviolet radiation on oxidative stress

I received a BS and an MS in microbiology from the University of New Hampshire (UNH), and a PhD in zoology/coral biology from the University of Maine. I am currently a research professor at UNH, and I am on leave to work as a program officer at the National Science Foundation.

Julie OlsonJulie Olson
Assistant Professor
University of Alabama

My research interests focus on characterizing the microbial communities that inhabit a variety of marine and freshwater environments. Other areas of interest include increasing the recoverability of microorganisms and examining host-microbial associations, particularly of sponges and corals. I will be examining the microbial communities associated with both shallow- and deep-water corals and sponges during this exploration.

I completed undergraduate work with a degree in microbiology at Miami University, Oxford, Ohio, prior to obtaining a doctorate in microbial ecology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. I then received a postdoctoral fellowship with the Biomedical Marine Research group at Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution and was introduced to, and fell in love with, deep-water marine research. I joined the faculty at the University of Alabama in 2001 as an assistant professor of microbial ecology.

Nicolás G. Alvarado QuirozNicolás G. Alvarado Quiroz
Web Coordinator/Data Manager
NOAA's Office of Ocean Exploration

My role in NOAA's Office of Ocean Exploration (OE) is to oversee the competitive-driven proposal process, and I am representing the OE program on this project. I have been diving since 1993, and became an American Academy for Underwater Sciences scientific diver in 2002 while at Texas A&M University and volunteered with Texas Parks & Wildlife as a scientific diver in the Gulf of Mexico. I am currently a divemaster and an assistant instructor on the weekends in Alexandria, Virginia. I also am a volunteer diver at the National Aquarium in Baltimore, feeding fish, rays, moray, and turtles. I have been involved in technical diving since 2004 and have videotaped cave diving in Florida and deep-wreck diving off North Carolina.

I received a BS in chemistry and an MS in Earth sciences from the University of Ottawa. I received a PhD in chemical oceanography from Texas A&M University, where I studied the natural products from Gulf of Mexico microbes.

Marc SlatteryMarc Slattery
Chief Scientist – Cayman Islands Twilight Zone 2007
Associate Professor
Department of Pharmacognosy
University of Mississippi

My research interests fall within the concept of “phenotypic plasticity”; essentially variation in the trait(s) of an organism in response to environmental factors. I’m interested in this concept since it represents the interface between ecology and evolution. My group has focused primarily in chemical defenses from sponges and soft corals, and their change in response to predation, competition, and disease. An added benefit of this research is that many of the chemical compounds we study have potential to become new drugs from the sea. While much of this work has occurred on shallow coral reefs around the world, I am also drawn to extreme environments that can result in organisms with unusual chemical adaptations. We have looked at samples from under the ice in the Arctic and Antarctic, from marine caves in the Bahamas, from deep-sea hydrothermal vents, and from deep reefs of the Caribbean and Indo-Pacific.

I received a BS in biology from Loyola Marymount University, an MS in marine biology at the Moss Landing Marine Laboratories, and a PhD in chemical ecology from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. I am currently an associate professor of pharmacognosy at the University of Mississippi (UM), and director of the National Institute for Undersea Science and Technology Ocean Biotechnology Center and Repository. I also serve as the diving safety officer for UM.