Chela Zabin

University of Hawaii at Manoa

  • Zoology (PhD) - 2005

University of California at Santa Cruz

  • Biology (B.A.) - 1998

In 2005, while I was writing the last bits of my dissertation at UH, a job offer from the Smithsonian arrived in my email inbox.  It was an opportunity to continue to do research on invasive marine species, work with some of the top people in the field of invasion biology, and help to develop a laboratory based in the San Francisco Bay Area.  It seemed like my dream job.  The down side: it was a soft-money position with only two years of funding.

Amazingly, somehow, ten years later, I'm still studying invasive specieas at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (SERC) lab in Tiburon, CA.  I now also hold a research position in the Environmental Science and Policy Department at UC-Davis.  While most of my research focuses on San Fransisco Bay and the central California coast more generally, relationships that I developed while a student at UH have continued to keep me connected with Hawaii and the Pacific region.  Here's a sampling from the past 10 years.

Ships and boats as vectors of non-native marine species

Shipping is undoubtedly the major vector by which non-native marine species are moved around the world, in ballast water and attached to the outsides of vessels. SERC studies shipping and boating patterns, and we dive on vessels to sample the biota attached to the bottom. My first dive on a commercial vessel was while I was at UH, at Barber’s Point with Scott Godwin from the Bishop Museum. I’ve now dived on a variety of ship types in Guam and California. The enormity of commercial cargo ships is amazing, and even with most engines shut down, the sound underwater can be overwhelming at times.

Community science

While at UH I worked with teacher partners to involve high school and middle school students in collecting data on species living in the intertidal zone, some of which we have used in science and education publications over the past 10 years. That project, which we called OPIHI, has involved dozens of students on Oahu and neighbor islands. I still do a lot of community (citizen) science, including helping SERC set up an early detection system in Alaska for invasive marine species that are moving north along the West Coast, involving volunteers in removals of alien kelp and building substrates for native oyster restoration.

Conservation of Pacific Island ecosystems

Working with UH alumnis Aaron Hebshi and Sheldon Plentovich, I traveled to Wake Island to survey the intertidal zone ahead of a planned rat eradication there. I also traveled to multiple destinations in Micronesia with the Bishop Museum’s Lu Eldredge to collect information for a risk assessment for marine invasions connected with the military buildup in Guam.

Habitat restoration

A nice balance to my work on invasive species (which can sometimes be depressing!) is my involvement in restoring native estuarine species and habitats. Over 3 million oysters settled at this restoration site in San Francisco Bay, where we also restored native eelgrass.  We are testing an additional seven locations in the bay for projects that would restore native foundation species from the shallow subtidal to the high marsh.

Finding a job in biology can be challenging. Building relationships and getting involved in collaborations outside of the university while a graduate student are great ways to network, learn about job and funding opportunities, and find other scientists who share your interests. I also made it a practice early on to attend key scientific meetings in my study area of invasion biology and to give talks at those meetings. This allowed me to meet and have ongoing conversations during my graduate career with key scientists in my field and this helped get me where I am today.

Content Type: 
Alumni Blog
Last Modified: 
11/03/2015 at 7:46am