Global Environmental Science graduate hopes to help reef managers and Hawai‘i’s keiki

In the final three years of her undergraduate Global Environmental Science (GES) degree, Tina Huynh-Nguyen not only carried a full course schedule, but also conducted research on a non-native, invasive seaweed, Avrainvillea lacerata, that is threatening Hawai‘i’s native marine biodiversity. 

As a student in GES Bachelor of Science degree program in the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, Department of Oceanography in the School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology (SOEST), Huynh-Nguyen investigated this bio-invader in the hopes of helping Hawai‘i reef managers gain better insight into environmental drivers that contribute to the expansion of A. lacerata.

Huynh-Nguyen was born and raised in Honolulu and has long enjoyed exploring Hawai‘i’s natural environment. 

“I was first introduced to intertidal monitoring from the Our Project In Hawai‘i’s Intertidal program and the Coral Bleach Watch with the Marine Option Program at Kapi‘olani Community College,” she said. “This really sparked my interest in pursuing a degree in marine or environmental science.” 

For her research thesis in the GES program, Huynh-Nguyen worked with UH Mānoa’s new School of Life Sciences Professor and marine botanist Celia Smith. Huynh-Nguyen was funded for this work via a University Research Opportunity Program (UROP) award. With that funding, they analyzed natural-occurring isotopes of nitrogen in the seaweed blades of the  A. lacerata population from Kualoa and then compared with another UROP studentʻs work with the same plant at Paikō Reef. 

Together, these findings suggest that the alga is adept at acquiring nutrients from various nitrogen sources—making the species particularly competitive against native algae, or limu.  With information such as this, marine resource managers are better informed to protect Hawai‘i’s reef ecosystems. 

Having graduated earlier this month, Huynh-Nguyen is the first in her family to receive a college degree and her future plans will allow her to inspire others to follow in her footsteps. She enrolled in the UH Mānoa Post-Baccalaureate Certificate in Teacher Education in Secondary Education Pathway program while working toward her GES degree. After graduation, Huynh-Nguyen plans to teach full-time in a Hawai‘i Public School—preparing and encouraging students to follow their dreams. 

The GES program trains high-quality, passionate, dedicated students to be knowledgeable in Earth-system science and to think creatively about the challenges facing communities and natural resources now and in the future.  As a GES degree requirement, each student is guided by a faculty mentor and performs original scientific research, writes a research thesis and presents their findings publicly. Mentors include SOEST faculty, global leaders in the fields of ocean, earth and space science, as well as technology. Throughout the GES degree program, students are engaged in fieldwork, laboratory work, and field trips, and have access to deep ocean and coastal research vessels, SOEST’s world-class Hawai‘i Institute of Marine Biology, and an active volcano.