Current lab members

Erin Easton on Rapa Nui coast.

Erin E Easton, PhD, Biological Oceanographer

Assistant Professor at UTRGV in SEEMS.

Research interests: Benthic ecology and evolution with a focus on mesophotic and deep-sea soft- and hard-bottom communities and taxa.

Contact details here.


I am seeking undergraduate and graduate students to work in the lab. If you are interested in joining the lab, email me your CV and statement of research interest.

Kara scuba diving

Kara Eckley, Ocean, Coastal, and Environmental Sciences Masters student

I started studying ecology at Seattle Pacific University and have been focused on marine ecology and conservation for some time now. I graduated in 2019, after having the chance to take courses in the Galapagos Islands, as well in the San Juan Islands in Washington State. After my graduation, I took a gap year to travel and complete my divemaster’s training in Thailand, along with an internship in marine conservation. During this time, I was able to conduct a study on the diversity of a local shipwreck and assist with assessments of fisheries around the time of the coronavirus lockdown event.

I am currently in my first year of pursuing my MS in Ocean, Coastal, and Earth Sciences at UTRGV. I am studying the benthic community composition of seamounts near Easter Island, using video, environmental, and genetic data collected from a research cruise in 2019. I hope to look at the effects of environmental factors such as depth, substrate type, and slope on changes in community composition.

Ted Gniffke kayaking

Ted Gniffke, Ocean, Coastal, and Environmental Sciences Masters student

I graduated from Western Washington University in 2016 with a BS in Cell & Molecular Biology and a minor in Economics. After graduating I spent time working in biotech, volunteering with the National Park Service on sea turtle conservation and working as a research associate studying neuroscience and COVID-19. After gaining experience in these roles, I realized that my true passion for research was at the intersection of molecular, marine, and conservation biology. 

I am in my first year of the Ocean, Coastal, and Earth Sciences MS program at UTRGV and am a NOAA CCME Scholar. My research is focused on characterizing the microbiomes of octocorals from mesophotic reefs in the Western Gulf of Mexico using 16s rRNA sequencing.  Additionally, I hope to take part in work aimed at better characterizing the diversity of poorly understood Scleracis spp. in the region. My hope is that this work will lend to greater management and conservation outcomes for these understudied yet foundational ecosystems. 

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