Community through science: Foster Scholar Nissa Kreidler sheds light on deep-sea habitats

By Yaamini Venkataraman

September 2017

Dive under the waves, and you’ll find vast communities of marine organisms. From busy kelp forests to vibrant coral reefs, marine communities rely on each other for food and shelter. Communities and support networks are equally important for graduate students, albeit more difficult to establish at first. The Dr. Nancy Foster Scholarship Program provides just that: a tight-knit community of peers and mentors. It's this sense of togetherness that brought Nissa Kreidler to the Dr. Nancy Foster Scholarship Program.

kreidler with a mask and snorkel on
Kreidler collects seagrass samples while working in the Philippines. As an undergraduate, she worked on seagrass conservation research, examining the impacts of land management on nearshore ecosystems. Photo courtesy of Nissa Kreidler

An incoming master’s student at Humboldt State University, Kreidler hopes to shed light on deep sea corals in Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary in Southern California. Since 1999, deep sea data around the Channel Islands have been collected to better understand the habitat. One of her advisors, Mark Henderson, has been working with Mary Yoklavich at of NOAA’s Southwest Fisheries Science Center to examine deep sea corals and the bottom-dwelling fish communities that live in these deep habitats.

purple hydrocoral growing on a rock shelf
Purple hydrocorals are some of the many coral species found in the rocky depths of Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary. Kreidler will examine how different corals affect the fish species interacting with them. Photo: Cindy Shaw

Deep sea corals are treasures hidden at the bottom of the ocean — researchers need to use remotely-operated vehicles (ROVs) or submarines to access them. Using information like depth and water temperature, Kreidler will see how environmental conditions impact the fish and coral species present in these habitats. With a vast amount of information on fish presence inside and outside the sanctuary, Kreidler can evaluate how well the sanctuary protects these species.

Deep sea habitats "are beautiful. They have sea fans and feathery corals," Kreidler says. "It’s really hard to study them, so [doing] research to fill that understanding is important. It's just amazing to know they’re down there, and humans don't normally get to see them. [I'm] helping bring those things to light, showing they exist, and sharing that information."

kreidler underwater with mask and scuba gear on
Kreidler undertakes a research dive in the Philippines. Photo courtesy of Nissa Kreidler

Community ecology and island research are nothing new for Kreidler. As an undergraduate, she worked on seagrass conservation research in the Philippines to understand how land management affected nearshore seagrass beds. She’s even worked in the Channel Islands before — she studied the impacts of invasive sheep on terrestrial habitat on Santa Cruz Island.

"I've always been a marine biologist that's been pulled to land," Kreidler says. "I grew up on the California coast in Half Moon Bay. I grew up helping our good family friends that are fisherman, and fishing was an integral part of that community. I would bring my Barbies down to the ocean and play with them on the beach and dug around in tidepools. I've always had a deep connection to marine science — it's almost like I get pulled up onto land and [then] get pulled back down."

The Half Moon Bay fishing community not only developed Kreidler’s love of the ocean, but also of community. She saw how the fishermen and other residents worked together to preserve their piece of the Pacific, and realized that togetherness was crucial for success of any kind.

kreidler surrounding by schoolchildren
Kreidler taught schoolchildren about San Francisco marsh ecology at her previous job. "Being able to communicate science is really important," Kreidler says. "The more they understand, the more they’re willing to be active in conservation themselves." Photo courtesy of Nissa Kreidler

"I really believe in community: the scientific community, communities of people like sustainable fisheries, and the community I grew up in," she says. "I’ve become as successful as I have because of the people I’m surrounded by. Being around people that are passionate about their work, and are collaborative and supportive, has made me who I am."

Kreidler credits her success as an undergraduate with her participation in a STEM diversity program. Without this community, she would not have had research funding, mentorship, or a supportive peer network. When she heard about the Dr. Nancy Foster Scholarship program, she quickly realized it would help her establish the community she wanted for her master’s program.

"I am looking forward to meeting the other scholars, learning about the work they do, and meeting more of the NOAA family as well. I think NOAA’s work is so critical to our nation and the world, and being a part of that agency is really honoring to me. I’m excited to contribute and be a part of that."

Yaamini Venkataraman is a social media intern at the NOAA Office of National Marine Sanctuaries and a graduate student at the University of Washington.