Principal Investigator: Dr. Jennifer Smith

Jennifer Smith is an Professor in marine ecology and conservation in the Center for Marine Biodiversity and Conservation at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego. Dr. Smith’s lab studies human impacts on marine ecosystems from coral reefs to kelp forests. Her research often goes beyond basic ecology by integrating conservation, restoration, management, and sustainability. While much of the Smith lab is focused on addressing pressing issues in marine ecology, lab members are increasingly interested in seafood sustainability, coastal aquaculture and habitat restoration. Dr. Smith and her team are largely focused on the study of seaweeds because of their immense potential to improve global sustainability and contribute to a carbon neutral future.




Research Interests

  • Phycology, the Study of Seaweeds
  • Coral Reef, Intertidal and Kelp Forest Ecology
  • Conservation Biology
  • Aquaculture
  • Human Impacts on Marine Communities
  • Global Change
  • Ocean Solutions, Sustainability
  • Blue Carbon

Dr. Jennifer Smith Curriculum vitae

Dr. Jennifer Smith Google Scholar Page and Research Gate




Post Docs


Postdoctoral Scholar: Dr. Or Ben-Zvi

Or has studied coral fluorescence and the ecophysiology of mesophotic corals (30-150 m) during her MSc and PhD (Tel-Aviv University, Israel). In her various projects she explored how physiological processes may impact corals’ ecology in the underexplored ecosystems inhabiting depths that are beyond the recreational diving limits. Or has joined the Smith lab in a joint project with the Jaffe lab in order to develop and implement a new underwater photosynthesis assessment tool. She enjoys dancing, music, baking, and spending time on the beach.





Postdoctoral Scholar: Dr. Adi Khen

Adi recently completed her PhD in the Smith lab studying coral reef ecology. For her dissertation, Adi used a time series of permanent photoquadrats taken on Palmyra Atoll, in the remote Central Pacific, to study the long-term responses of corals and algae to heat stress. She also interned with The Nature Conservancy’s Hawaiʻi and Palmyra Program and has helped teach Phycology (Marine Plant Biology) at UCSD. Adi’s postdoctoral work focuses on the Tribal Intertidal Digital Ecological Surveys (TIDES) project along with curating and digitizing SIO’s herbarium (i.e., pressed seaweed) collection. Adi is passionate about using art to communicate science, and she makes scientific illustrations of marine life in her spare time. She also enjoys taking care of lab “pets” and volunteers in animal husbandry at the SIO experimental aquarium.

Check out her blog!

Selected Publications:

Khen, A., Johnson, M.D., Fox, M.D., Clements, S.M., Carter, A.L., & J.E. Smith (2022) Decadal stability of coral reef benthic communities on Palmyra Atoll, central Pacific, through two bleaching events. Coral Reefs, 1-13. [pdf]


Postdoctoral Scholar: Dr. Lingjie Zhou

Lingjie studied the transcriptome of the green tide algae (Ulva), which contributed to understanding why the massive algae bloom annually in China’s coastal water during her MSc (Shanghai Ocean University). She developed an efficient method to estimate the phytoplankton carbon biomass using DNA by establishing robust correlations between cellular DNA content, Carbon content, and rDNA copy numbers in phytoplankton during her Ph.D. (University of Connecticut). Now she is a postdoc at Smith Lab working on the cultivation and population genetics in the Asparagopsis project. She enjoys movies, painting, table tennis, and hanging out with friends.



Postdoctoral Scholar: Dr. Laís Lima

Lais joined the Smith lab/Wegley Kelly lab in a collaborative project that aims to investigate the carbon sequestration potential of kelp forests. She will be quantifying the amount of dissolved organic carbon (DOC) released by kelp that could resist microbial consumption and be potentially sequestered. Before joining the Smith lab, Lais completed a post-doc on seaweed microbiome research for the Networked Blue Economy track of the NSF Convergence Accelerator grant (2021-2023, San Diego State University). She earned her joint PhD degree in Ecology (SDSU/UC Davis) by showing that coral microbiomes can be modeled according to temperature fluctuations and provide beneficial services to the coral host (2016-2021). She enjoys writing, beach time, travelling, exercising, and hosting friends and family.

More information:



PhD Students


PhD Student: Daniel Conley

Daniel Conley is a PhD candidate studying coral behavior and photo-physiology in the Smith Lab. Prior to starting his PhD, Daniel received a BA in Japanese language and Literature and a BS in Biological Sciences with a minor in Theatre Arts from the University of Pittsburgh. He then went on to receive an MAS in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation and an MS in Marine Biology from Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Daniel primarily focuses on experimental designs which are completed in a laboratory setting. To this end, he has started and is currently maintaining a coral farm to supply his experiments with specimens. Daniel is interested in what makes corals behave the way that they do and how those behaviors influence how we observe them. This is to better inform the field of remote sensing where the goal is to understand what is happening on the surface of the Earth from space using satellites.



PhD Student: Orion McCarthy

Orion graduated from the University of Maryland in May 2015 with a BS in Ecology and Evolution and a minor in Geographic Information Systems. His interest in conservation drew him to study abroad in Australia at James Cook University, where he got involved with coral research. Since then, Orion’s research interests have focused primarily on the intersection between ecology and marine conservation. He has conducted applied research related to fisheries management and coral reef resilience while at the International Pacific Halibut Commission and the World Wildlife Fund, respectively. More recently, he worked as an Ocean Policy Fellow at the Meridian Institute, a DC based non-profit that works to design collaborative processes to address environmental policy challenges. Now at Scripps, Orion is interested in studying how coral reefs in Maui change over time in response to disturbance events, and in exploring the utility of 3D modeling technology for coral reef conservation. Outside of the lab, Orion enjoys making pottery, going to the beach, and exploring sunny San Diego.

Selected Publications:

Harris, JL, E Estradivari, HE Fox, OS McCarthy, GN Ahmadia (2017). Planning for the future: Incorporating global and local data to prioritize coral reef conservation. Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems 27 (S1), 65-77. [pdf]


PhD Student: Dani McHaskell

Dani started her academic career at Mt. San Antonio college later transferring and graduating from Cal Poly Pomona with a BS in Biology- zoology option and a minor in French. Prior to graduating, her interest in animal behavior led her to an REU at Rutgers University Marine Field station determining settlement cues for the larval stage of the Atlantic horseshoe crab. She went on to earn a MS degree in Biology at Cal Poly Pomona continuing her undergraduate research in determining the feeding rates of the black sea hare when offered brown macroalgae common in southern California while also completing long term monitoring surveys with the Multi-Agency Rocky Intertidal Network (MARINe). As a PhD student, she is interested in how the native algal assemblage in southern California may be affected by invasive macroalgae with particular interest in preserving native kelp species. To relax, Dani enjoys taking Hip-Hop dance classes, reading, tide pooling, snorkeling and rolling in sand with her dog, Tiramisu.

PhD Student: Sarah Romero

Sarah started in community college and transferred to UCSD where she graduated with a B.S. in Marine Biology and co-led the Scripps Education Association (SEA). Her interest in coral reefs started when she volunteered in the Smith and Sandin labs and explored research as an undergraduate. Now, her project focuses on calcification accretion units (CAUs) to evaluate reef growth, benthic community composition, algal succession, and coral recruitment on Palmyra Atoll, in the remote Central Pacific. She is interested in how coral recruitment changes over time in the context of disturbances such as coral bleaching events. Sarah enjoys playing music, spending time with her cat, snorkeling, and hanging out with family.



PhD Student: Mohammad Sedarat

Mohammad’s PhD research explores the impact of climate change on the kelp forest environment across varying spatial scales. The knowledge gained from this examination is crucial when dealing with endangered species, and it is especially relevant to white abalone population restoration, which is the focus of his work at the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Mohammad earned a Bachelor of Science degree in marine biology at UC San Diego and conducted fisheries research at NOAA before beginning graduate school at Scripps Institution of Oceanography. As a marine ecologist, Mohammad places strong emphasis on field techniques and observation.

Check out his website to learn more:


PhD Student: Dillon Dolinar

Dillon’s journey in marine ecology began during his time as an undergraduate at San Diego State University. Here, he enrolled in SDSU’s scientific scuba diving course and his curiosity of the sea and its inhabitants quickly turned into a passion. This drove him to join Dr. Matt Edwards’ kelp forest ecology lab where he worked on projects in San Diego, Catalina Island and Carmel Bay.  Upon graduating from SDSU in 2020, Dillon joined the Reef Check California staff as the Southern California Survey Coordinator and later became the Southern California Regional Manager. He oversaw the long-term monitoring efforts of sites from Santa Barbara to San Diego and also surveyed sites from Monterey, CA to Magdalena Bay , BCS. Dillon is excited to continue working in kelp forest community ecology in the Smith Lab.

Check out his website to learn more:



Master’s Students

MS Student: Marie Diaz

Marie is a Master’s student utilizing large scale photoimaging techniques to study Diadema antillarum density thresholds and their effects on the recovery potential of degraded coral reefs in the Caribbean.  Marie graduated from UCSD in 2016 with a BS in Marine Biology. As an undergrad, she volunteered in the Smith and Sandin labs working with large-scale imaging techniques to quantify benthic composition on coral reefs.  As a volunteer, Marie found a passion for research and science communication. After graduating, she worked for Reef Environmental Education Foundation, as their Invasive Species Program Manager, educating and engaging volunteers in invasive lionfish mitigation efforts.  She now works for San Diego Coastkeeper as their Marine Debris Coordinator, where she strives to connect San Diegans to hands-on environmental stewardship opportunities and marine debris prevention strategies. In her free time, Marie enjoys surfing, painting, and playing with her giant golden retriever, Maverick.



MS Student: Will Schneider

Will is a Master’s student studying the red alga Asparagopsis taxiformis, the role it could play in methane mitigation and its potential for aquaculture. He graduated in 2016 from California State University East Bay with a BS in Ecology and Conservation Biology and Minor in Chemistry. He began as a volunteer in the Smith Lab working on experimental aquaculture, and quickly became fascinated by the myriad possible applications of algae, particularly in regards to tackling climate change. Will is currently studying the relationship between genetics and environment to the quality of algae that can be produced. In his free time he’s in the ocean, reading a book or hiking with friends.



MS Student: Mitch Smelser

Mitch is a Master’s student studying coral reef ecology and population genetics on reefs across the Maui Nui region. His research currently focuses on using molecular approaches to better understand species boundaries between Porites lobata and Porites compressa and their respective reproductive strategies. Centering around long term-monitoring sites, Mitch works with Structure-from-Motion and Large-area imaging technology to map demographic patterns across time onto 3D models made for coral reefs. Pairing his genetic findings with morphometric and photometric color data, he hopes to offer more-concrete evidence for field identification used for in-situ management practices. Mitch completed his B.S. in Zoology at Miami University in 2018 and worked as a trainer and diver for the Navy Marine Mammal Program prior to joining the lab. In his free time, Mitch enjoys mountain biking, trail running, playing the drums, and his favorite – visiting National Parks!


BS/MS Student: Kanisha Contractor

Kanisha is a Master’s student studying the chemical ecology of Asparagopsis taxiformis. In 2022, she graduated from UC San Diego with a B.S. in Environmental Systems with a specialization in Ecology, Behavior, and Evolution, and a minor in Climate Change Studies. In her senior year of college, she took Dr. Jennfier Smith’s phycology class and was introduced to A.taxiformis as a unique climate change solution. Kanisha is specifically interested in investigating the alga’s response to grazing, its associated chemical cues, and how it might affect the production of bromoform. Before she got involved with A.taxiformis, Kanisha volunteered with PhD student Orion McCarthy on a project exploring the utility of Structure from Motion (SfM) modeling technology for coral reef conservation. In her free time, Kanisha enjoys music, spending time outdoors and the Arts.


BS/MS Student: Tess Rounds

Tess is a Master’s student in the Marine Biology BS/MS program at Scripps Institute of Oceanography. In 2022 Tess graduated from UCSD with a BS in Marine Biology. During her time as an undergraduate, she volunteered in the Smith Lab working to develop the seedbank of Asparagopsis taxiformis. This volunteer position allowed Tess to discover her passion for the Asparagopsis taxiformis project and hands-on lab work involving cultivation and husbandry. Tess now works as a student employee in the Smith Lab as  Seaweed Technician with a focus on establishing the seedbank of A.taxiformis. As a Master’s student, Tess aims to sequence the microbiome of A.taxiformis in hopes of gaining a more comprehensive understanding of the factors influencing A.taxiformis’ life cycle. Tess is a member of the UCSD NCAA Division I Women’s Cross Country and Track teams. In her free time she enjoys reading, exploring San Diego’s tide pools, and spending time with friends and family.



BS/MS Student: Katelyn Meyer

Katelyn is a Master’s student in the Marine Biology BS/MS program at Scripps Institution of Oceanography studying the thermal tolerance of Macrocystis pyrifera. As an undergraduate student, she volunteered in the Smith lab, working with Asparagopsis taxiformis and Macrocystis pyrifera. This volunteer position allowed Katelyn to discover her passion for M. pyrifera and explore the thermal tolerance of this species in order to better understand the impact of climate change on kelp forests. With this research, she hopes to determine the natural variation of thermal tolerance for M. pyrifera and better determine which populations are more naturally adapted and have the best potential to survive future marine heatwaves. Katelyn graduated from UC San Diego with a BS in Marine Biology in 2023, and was a member of the NCAA Division I Women’s Soccer team. In her free time, Katelyn enjoys surfing, hiking, camping, playing soccer, snorkeling, and exploring San Diego’s tide pools.



BS/MS Student: Elayna Osterman

BS/MS Student: Conor Elliot

BS/MS Student: Natalie Zembsch


Staff Researchers


Lab Manager & Staff Research Associate: Sam Clements

Sam graduated from UCSD in 2012 with a B.S. in Ecology, Behavior, and Evolution and a minor in Studio Art. She completed her M.S. research in the Smith lab in 2015, where she studied the functional roles of herbivorous fishes on coral reefs of Maui. In addition to her current role as the Smith Lab manager, Sam oversees the Scripps Ocean Acidity Real-time (SOAR) Monitoring Program. She also assists with a variety of projects, including the 100 Island Challenge, as a coral reef benthic scientist identifying coral, algae, and other benthic invertebrates. In her spare time Sam enjoys painting, beach volleyball, and competitive sandcastling.



Staff Research Associate: Kalani Ortiz



  • Hayley Hall
  • Cai Rahman
  • Nicole Lopez
  • Cali Lingle
  • Cal Costa
  • Emmaline Ocain
  • Madison Churchill
  • Yulisma Martinez
  • George Nassar
  • Isabella Wu


Past Members


Postdoctoral Scholars

  • Dr. Matthew Hargrave (2023)
    -Currently employed at Volta Labs
  • Dr. Gal Dishon (2022)
    -Currently employed at Blue Ocean Barns
  • Dr. Emily Kelly (2018)
    -Currently a Postdoctoral Fellow with Stanford’s Center for Ocean Solutions and World Economic Forum’s Center for the Fourth Industrial Revolution
  • Dr. Ryota Nakajima (2018)
    -Currently a Principal Investigator at JAMSTEC (find his website here)
  • Dr. Nichole Price (2014)
    -Currently a Principal Investigator at Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences
  • Dr. Andi Haas (2013)
    -Currently a Principal Investigator at NIOZ Royal Institute for Sea Research and Utrecht University


PhD Students

  • Dr. Adi Khen (2022)
    Currently a Postdoctoral Researcher with Dr. Jennifer Smith at SIO
  • Dr. Abigail Cannon (2019)
    Currently a Postdoctoral Fellow at Salk Institute for Biological Studies
  • Dr. Amanda Carter (2018)
    Currently employed at the National Science Foundation 
  • Dr. Michael Fox (2018)
    Currently an Assistant Research Professor at KAUST
  • Dr. Levi Lewis (2016)
    Currently a Postdoctoral Scholar at UC Davis Bodega Marine Laboratory
  • Dr. Maggie Johnson (2016)
    Currently an Assistant Professor at KAUST
  • Dr. Emily Kelly (2015)
    -Currently a Postdoctoral Fellow with Stanford’s Center for Ocean Solutions and World Economic Forum’s Center for the Fourth Industrial Revolution
  • Dr. Jill Harris (2015)


Master’s Students

  • Isabella Doohan (2022)
  • Sabrina Sauri (2022)
  • Hannah Resetarits (2022)
    Currently employed at Blue Ocean Barns
  • Jonathan Charendoff (2021)
    Currently employed at JIMAR 
  • Corinne Amir (2019)
    Currently employed at JIMAR 
  • Christina Jayne (2018)
    Currently employed at DAR Honolulu 
  • Gideon Butler (2016)
  • Nicole Pedersen (2016)
    Currently employed at SIO with Dr. Stuart Sandin
  • Sam Clements (2015)
    Currently Lab Manager & Research Associate in the Smith Lab at SIO
  • Molly Gleason (2013)
  • Susan Kram (2013)
  • Clinton Edwards (2013)
    – Currently a Ph.D. student at SIO with Dr. Stuart Sandin


Research Staff

  • Isabella Doohan – Research Associate (2023)
  • Hannah Resetarits – Research Associate (2023)
  • Kyra Black – Research Associate (2022)
  • Brant Chlebowski – Research Associate (2020)
    – Founder of California Seaweed Co. 
  • Kelsey Miller – Research Associate (2019)
    – Currently a Ph.D. student at Simon Fraser University
  • Niko Kaplanis – Research Associate (2017)
    – Currently a Ph.D. student at UC Santa Cruz
  • Clinton Edwards – Research Associate (2016)
    – Currently a Ph.D. student at SIO with Dr. Stuart Sandin
  • Susan Kram – Lab Manager & Research Associate (2016)
  • Tiffany Teng (2013)
  • Currie Dugas – Lab Manager (2011)
  • Jackie Tran – Research Assistant (2011)


Past Volunteers

  • Kaycey Bui (2023)
  • Ailish Ullmann (2023)
  • Lindsay Carroll (2023)
  • Haley Chasin (2023)
  • Kat Guerrero (2023)
  • Megan Patton (2023)
  • Beverly Scharnhorst (2023)
  • Charlotte Sue (2022)
  • Jenny Grossman (2022)
  • Lindsey Badder (2022)
  • Anna Custodio (2022)
  • Brandon Tsai (2022)
  • Andre Lai (2022)
  • Victoria Vasquez (2022)
  • Solomon Chang (2022)
  • Varun Sachin Shirhatti (2022)
  • Zach Yamada (2021)
  • Elise Gonzales (2021)
  • Steven Shuster (2021)
  • Kimi Rogers (2021 – MAS Student)
  • Jack Ewing (2021)
  • Brooke Denney (2021)
  • Kaniela Zhen (2021)
  • Ashley Pries (2020)
  • Chelsea Eckhart (2020)
  • Conor Elliot (2020)
  • Ella Kim (2020)
  • Emily Bornhop (2020)
  • Faith Huang (2020)
  • Giulia Luerti (2020)
  • John Carson (2020)
  • Lauren Cho (2020)
  • Lizzie Raphaels (2020)
  • Peter Pham (2020)
  • Alyssa Cohen (2019)
  • Erin Hollander (2019)
  • Jilian Goguen (2019)
  • Sabrina Phan (2019)
  • Claire Kosinski (2019)
  • Sarah Romero (2019)
  • Ryan Hur (2019)
  • Kristina Dizon (2019)
  • Emily Lever (2019)
  • Shania Schull (2018)
  • Katya Reshatoff (2018)
  • Julie Kring (2018)
  • Karina Arzuyan (2018)
  • Will Schneider (2018)
  • Chloe Kotik (2018)
  • Matthew Pawinski (2018)
  • Amanda Leu (2018)
  • Michelle Loewe (2018 – MAS Student)
  • Kelsey Miller (2018 – MAS Student)
  • Michael Carlson (2018)
  • Cassie Paumard (2018)
  • Sara Borchers (2018)
  • Michelle Prieto (2018)
  • Cynthia Zhang (2017)
  • Jessica Glanz (2017)
  • Mario Gaytan (2017)
  • Ellis Juhlin (2017)
  • Maurizio Martinelli (2017 – MAS Student)
  • Marelle Arndt (2017)
  • Alexandra Reich (2017)
  • Spencer Breining-Aday (2017)
  • Mackenzie Brandt (2017)
  • Annika Vawter (2017)
  • Carolina Carpenter (2016)
  • Ellie Williams (2016)
  • Stephanie Lee (2016)
  • Nathalie Staiger (2016)
  • Aaron Keohane (2016 – MAS Student)
  • Amelia Scharp (2015)
  • Temur Imam (2015)
  • Macey Rafter (2015)
  • Mallory Morgan (2015 – MAS Student)
  • Lenell Sagastume (2014)
  • Jennifer Le (2014)
  • Bella Doohan (2014)
  • Garrett Stewart (2014)
  • Alex Neu (2014)
  • Laurence Romeo (2014 – MAS Student)
  • Carolyn Kim (2013)
  • Elena Perez (2013 – MAS Student)
  • Conner Holland (2013)
  • Erika D’Andrea (2013)
  • Eric Engel (2013)
  • Daniel Conley (2012)
  • Krista Catelani (2012)
  • Sarah Urata (2012)
  • Ashley Cunningham (2012)
  • Zoe Dagan (2012)
  • Daniel Coffee (2012)
  • Abigail Cannon (2012)
  • Jennifer Bone (2012)
  • Sierra Basegio (2011)
  • Portia Seautelle (2011)
  • Rachel Graham (2011)
  • Grace Koyama (2011)
  • Ellen Umeda (2011)
  • Rachel Levin (2011)
  • George Balchin (2011)
  • Kevin Moses (2011 – REU Student)
  • Karen Dunleavy (2011)
  • Avantika Sinha (2011)
  • Rebecca Soloway (2011)
  • Shino Ogawa (2010)
  • Javier Cuetos-Bueno (2011- MAS Student)