Meet The GBR Biology Team

Research and Education on the Reef

Current Team Members

Eric Reef Research and Monitoring

Eric Fisher

Biology Manager - Master Reef Guide

Biology Manager
Bachelor of Science (Honors Marine Biology), PhD Candidate, JCU

Eric grew up in North Queensland and graduated from James Cook University in Townsville 1992 with a Bachelor of Science degree with Honors in marine biology. Following university and extensive travel overseas, Eric has settled back in North Queensland and has followed his passion for understanding and exploring the Great Barrier Reef and has worked extensively in Tourism. Eric has extensive in-water experience with snorkellers in taking ~60 000 people on guided snorkel tours and has a passion for creating historical data sets on fish aggregations and large herbivorous fish movements. The long-term fish aggregation data set compiled at Moore Reef has been used to create a PhD project.

Favourite thing on the reef:

Eric’s favourite thing to see on the reef is fish aggregations. This is where fish repeatedly gather at the same time and place, to perform vital tasks, such as feeding or reproduction. In coral reef ecosystems fish aggregations are often multi-species and species assemblages at these sites can change seasonally. Fish aggregation sites are often found on the outer edges of coral reefs at the transition, where coral meets the open water. Ecologically, fish aggregations play two important roles on coral reefs which is imputing oceanic nutrients into coral systems and replenishing fish populations. The other and often overlooked thing about fish aggregations, is that they are incredibly wonderful to see and they are constantly changing.

Caitlin Younis Reef Research Biologist

Caitlin Younis

Marine Biologist

When Caitlin was young, she was fascinated with the intertidal rock pools along the Victorian coast and would spend many weekends discovering the different creatures that inhabit these areas. She started scuba diving at a young age which gave her an appreciation of different marine habitats and a greater insight into how diverse underwater life really was. However, it wasn’t until a dive trip to the Great Barrier Reef that her passion really started to take over. She went home, quit a long standing career and moved to Cairns to become a dive instructor. After literally thousands of dives, spending 5 to 11 days at a time on various live-aboards, training divers and acting as an underwater photographer, her instinctive curiosity led her to take up a degree in Marine Science and Management.

There are so many different marine organisms that are truly fascinating, however Cephalopods stand out as one the most intriguing. Squid, of which some are able to swim faster than any other invertebrate. Nautilus, with there incredible chambered shell and over 90 suckerless arms. The hypnotic display of the Cuttlefish that truly memorises its prey is certainly a sight to see. The Octopus’ ability to mimic other organisms and adapt to the surroundings by changing shape, colour and texture is truly unique. Watching one solve complex problems or work with other species like a coral trout to obtain food, shows a level of intelligence far beyond most other marine creatures.

Michelle Janssen Reef Snorkel

Michelle Janssen

Marine Biologist - Master Reef Guide

Michelle, originally from the Netherlands, has been interested in the marine world and conservation ever since she first learned about the endangered Florida manatee when she was nine years old. During a study abroad university course in the Bahamas, she first got to snorkel around coral reefs and discovered the incredibly diverse ecosystem found just under the surface. This experience confirmed her desire to study marine biology further. While pursuing a master’s degree in marine biology at James Cook University in Townsville, she was able to visit the Great Barrier Reef for the first time and also learned a great deal about the conservation efforts needed to protect it. She found herself becoming more interested in public education and scientific communication, and finds it incredibly important to tell people about coral reefs and why we need to protect them. Luckily, she gets to do this every day with tourists from all over the world.

Favorite thing on the reef
Michelle’s favourite reef animal is the Bumphead Parrotfish. As the largest species of parrotfish in the world, they use their large parrot-like teeth to bite off large chunks of coral. Their extra set of jaws crushes up the coral’s limestone skeleton, so after the nutritious live tissue is digested the skeleton is passed out as sand. When groups of Bumphead Parrotfish feed on areas of coral, large clouds of sand are produced behind them. They are mesmerising to watch, especially in large groups, as these parrotfish are often over one metre long, and are not bothered by human presence at all. The process of turning coral skeleton into sand is also important for the bioerosion of the reef ecosystem, as it produces much of the sand found on coral reefs and has even contribute to the formation of coral islands such as Green Island.

Danielle Gleason Snorkel Reef

Danielle Gleason

Marine Biologist

BA (Biology)

Hello, my name is Danielle Gleason and I have wanted to be a Marine Biologist since I was little girl. Of course if you would have asked young Danielle I would have most likely said “I just want to swim and play with the dolphins,” but that was a pretty good indication I was headed in this direction. Even though I grew up nowhere near the sea, I made my way to the coast and pursued the education needed to work in the field of my dreams. I may have strayed from playing with dolphins but, now more than ever, give my all to gain more experience and knowledge in the area of study that I love.

Favourite thing on the reef:
The Stomatopod (otherwise known as the Mantis Shrimp) is one of my favourite organisms that inhabit the sea. They are benthic marine crustaceans that are generally found in tropical waters. I think they are extremely fascinating creatures that hold some incredible abilities. They have the ability to create such a force “punch” in the water that it generates a sound so extreme that it results in a miniature explosion that gets so hot that it evaporates a part of the water creating an air pocket right with the punch that has a force that equals to a bullet being fired from a weapon. Along with the punch comes their ability to see better than any organism that is known to man at the moment. Most crustaceans have retinas that contain the ability to process only one class of photoreceptors while the adult Mantis Shrimp can process up to sixteen photoreceptor classes.

Daniel Team Photo Underwater

Daniel Johnson

Marine Biologist

BSc

Daniels fascination and intrigue for the marine environment began at an early age when he was first introduced to the aquarium hobby. Since then, his desire to pursue a career in marine biology has grown into a lifelong passion. In particular, Daniel is an enthusiastic shark conservationist. After completing a bachelors’ degree in biology at Macquarie University, Daniel also volunteered as a research assistant investigating olfactory navigation and social learning of Port Jackson sharks. He hopes to use his knowledge to help educate others about the amazing biology and behaviour displayed by sharks and thus inspire people to help protect them. During a university field trip on the Great Barrier Reef at Herron Island, Daniel learned how crucially important reef ecosystems are for an immense diversity of life, including over 130 species of sharks and rays. In summary, working with GBR Biology to promote reef conservation and shark education is a dream come true for Daniel!

Favorite thing on the reef
Daniels favourite species on the Great Barrier Reef is the tiger Shark (Galeocerdo cuvier). A particularly large species of fish, tiger sharks can grow to over 6 metres long and weigh up to half a ton! These amazing apex predators are known to migrate incredible distances for both feeding and reproduction, with larger females having been recorded travelling over 4800km’s in a single journey over less than 5 months. Their reproductive biology is also rather fascinating. Tiger shark eggs will hatch inside their mothers before their born. While inside the womb these shark pups are known to eat unfertilized eggs and even their own siblings before birth, how cool is that!!!

Justin teaching Snorkelling on the reef

Justin Bovery-Spencer

Marine Biologist - Master Reef Guide

B.Env.Sc. (Hons)

Justin is from Victoria where he graduated from Deakin University with a Bachelor of Environmental Science with Honours in Marine Biology. During this time, he also completed a part of his studies in Hawaii at Hawaii Pacific University.

Justin first fell in love with coral reefs in 2004, when a family holiday to Fiji saw him undertake his first scuba dive. He first visited the Great Barrier Reef in 2006 on a diving trip and was instantly taken by the diversity of life he saw.

Eager to get back to the Great Barrier Reef he traveled to Heron Island to undertake a research project on Green Sea Turtle nesting behaviour and upon completion of his studies relocated to Cairns in 2015. He has worked for Reef Magic since and on the merger into the Experience Co. group diversified to the other products and projects as they arose.

He currently fills a senior role within the GBR biology team and can often be found on one of our vessels leading interpretation of the stories the Great Barrier Reef holds to passengers from all over the world. He is also a leading member of the Reef Education program and works with local, national and international schools and universities leading educational trips to local reefs and islands.

Justin has a great deal of involvement in the monitoring and research conducted at our reef sites with a focus on Crown of Thorns Starfish research and control and the ‘Eye on the Reef’ monitoring program in association with The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority.

Favourite thing on the reef:
Justin’s favourite thing to see on the reef is Mollusc, which definitely represent the weird and wonderful of the Great Barrier Reef. Often something that first timers to the reef will miss they are at the top of the ‘must see’ list for seasoned visitors.

A closer look at coral reefs shows that Mollusc actually represent a huge proportion of the life that can be found. Invertebrates make up around 98% of the life on a coral reef and Mollusc are a fantastic part of this group to look out for.

The largest to be found is surely the Giant Clams. Measuring up to almost 1.4m across, weighing up to 300kg and living to be more than 100 years old.

Cephalopods (octopus, squids, cuttlefish, nautilus etc.) are incredible animals that represent some of the most intelligent invertebrates on earth. They employ a fantastic range of predator avoidance techniques from bursts of ink to the ability to rapidly change colour. Some will build themselves a home from debris (like coconuts) and others even rip tentacles off jellyfish to use as defence!

A crowd favourite is always the tiny yet terrific nudibranchs. These little animals often called ‘sea slugs’ come in a dazzling array of bright colours used for camouflage or even a warning to anything that may try to eat them. Some can even eat stinging hydroids and steal the stinging cells to defend themselves.

Even the snails underwater are amazing. Stunningly decorated cowrie shells, intricate spider conch and the amazing Triton Snails can all be seen exploring under the coral. The Triton Snails are the major predator of the coralivorous (coral eating) Crown-of-Thorns Starfish. Not only are these animals diverse and a treat for the eyes but they play many vitally important roles in a coral reef ecosystem.

Marie snorkelling at the reef

Marie Taylor

Reef Education Manager

Reef Education Manager (B.Env.Sc, ME)

Marie Taylor is a Marine Biologist with a Masters of Education for Sustainability. Marie has 20 years’ experience working on the Great Barrier Reef from Lady Elliot Island in the south to Lizard Island in the north. Marie is the Reef Education Manager at Experience Co.
Marie specialises in facilitating partnerships with local reef stakeholders, government and the education sector to promote “place-based learning” pedagogy. The reef education programs present opportunities for students and teachers to connect to the reef, focusing on the local community as a primary resource for learnings. Marie has partnered with James Cook University and the Gunggandji, Djunbunji and Yirrganydji Land and Sea Country Ranger groups in presenting Indigenous Sea Country education to local and international students.

Favourite thing on the reef:
Whales are intelligent and sentient beings that exhibit some of the most complex behaviours in the animal kingdom. When it comes to the environment and oceans ecosystems, whales help regulates the flow of food by helping to maintain a stable food chain, recycling nutrients and enhance primary productivity in areas where they feed. They do this by feeding at depth and releasing faecal plumes near the surface. This supports plankton growth and plays a large role in the environment by helping to offset carbon in the atmosphere.

Andrea reef education

Andrea Varela Sanchez

Marine Biologist

BSc, MSc

My name is Andrea Varela. After obtaining my biology degree in Spain I went to Mexico to study lion fish populations. There is where I discover my passion for marine biology. For this reason, I started working in Costa Rica with my favourite animals, the brittle stars, for my Master´s degree in Biodiversity in Tropical Areas and its Conservation.

Now, because of my work with GBR Biology, I am able to enjoy the Great Barrier Reef every day and to make people know the great importance that preserving this exceptional ecosystem has for our planet.

Favourite thing on the reef:
Brittle Stars

Caitlin snorkelling on the reef

Caitlin Kensett-Smith

Marine Biologist

B.Env.Sc

The marine world has always fascinated Caitlin and ever since she was young, she has loved being immersed in water. As she learned more about the marine world, and still continues to, her passion and interest in marine biology has grown. Caitlin comes from an environmental management background with a focus on marine biology, therefore she loves the intricate processes and delicate balances within ecosystems that allow different environments, such as coral reefs, to be so productive and in turn produce such an abundance and diversity of life.

Favourite thing on the reef:
One of the coolest interactions in a coral reef, to Caitlin, is that of coral colonies themselves - the symbiotic relationship between coral polyps and microscopic algae (zooxanthellae). This might seem trivial and not that important, but to Caitlin it’s remarkable. Think about it like this, if there wasn’t this relationship between a tiny animal and an even smaller plant, then about 25% of all marine species would seize to exist.

Through the complex structures that these coral colonies create, they provide a habitat for an abundance of species from large colourful fish like parrotfish and Maori Wrasses to smaller organisms like Christmas Tree Worms and Nudibranchs. As well as this, it allows for larger species like epic reef sharks and rays and our beautiful migratory mammals the Dwarf Minke Whale. It might sound a bit cliché, but this tiny interaction between an animal and a plant is the reason we have the incredible Great Barrier Reef and other coral reef ecosystems, therefore to Caitlin, it is the coolest aspect of coral reef environments.

Julio Reef Snorkelling class

Julio Rodriguez

Marine Biologist

BSc., MSc.

I’m Julio Rodríguez. I’m a Spanish guy that studied a biology degree in Madrid and a Master’s degree in Conservation in Tropical Countries, focusing my career in science communication and the relationships between natural ecosystems and human environments.

I became a marine biologist to share my love for the Great Barrier Reef with the passengers of our boats. Also I really like to guide them around one of the most unique places in the world and, if we are really lucky, spot a Moorish Idol which is my favorite animal of the GBR.

Cale Goulding GBR Biology

Cale Goulding

Marine Biologist - Master Reef Guide

BSc., MSc.

Since reading 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea as a child, Cale has been fascinated by the marine environment. Coupled with a love-affair with swimming and family trips to the NSW coast every summer, it was only natural that I would be drawn to study the ocean. I completed my Bachelor’s degree in Marine Science, but the more I learnt about the marine world, the more I realised that we need to conserve it, so I went back to university to complete a Master’s Degree in Tropical Ecology and Conservation Biology. I moved to Madagascar and spent the next three years working on a marine biodiversity and conservation project there, before heading back home to Australia and the Great Barrier Reef.

Favourite thing on the reef:
My favourite marine animal is the nudibranch, a colourful marine gastropod. Not only do they come in a dazzling array of bright and contrasting colours, but they adopt the defences of the animals they eat, from the stinging cells of jellyfish to the toxins of sponges. They then integrate these defences into their own bodies to increase their own defences.

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