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June 22, 2022

Michelle Johnston, Research Ecologist at the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary

Michelle Johnston, Research Ecologist at the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary
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We are proud to support the National Marine Sanctuaries, as they celebrate 50 Years of ocean conservation and stewardship.

Our guest today is Dr. Michelle Johnston.

Michelle is a Research Ecologist  and NOAA dive master at the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary.

She completed her B.S. with honors in Marine Biology at the UNCW, and her M.S. and Ph.D. degrees from the Univ. S Carolina, where she conducted research at NOAA's Center for Coastal Health and Biomolecular Research.

Michelle was awarded a NOAA Sea Grant Knauss Marine Policy fellowship with NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, and also served as the Acting Dep. Supt. for the National Marine Sanctuary of American Samoa in 2013. Currently, Michelle is the project manager for the East and West Flower Garden Banks' long-term coral reef monitoring program, as well as the coordinator for marine sanctuary invasive lionfish activities.

Aha Moment -- When I left Ohio to go to North Carolina for school, there was a Sea Turtle Rehabilitation Center, not far from the Wilmington campus. So every Saturday, I got up at 6:00 AM and drove and volunteered my whole Saturday to work with these sea turtles. Not partying on Friday nights, like I was dedicated and love these turtles and it, it was called the Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center. It's one of the best places in the world,  and they still take student volunteers.

But they had a turtle, her name was Coquina who had just come in, been hit by a boat her shell was impacted. So she had like epoxy bracing, you could see her lung. I mean, it was bad. And the lady who ran the sea turtle center said, your job today is to get this turtle to eat. Don't leave the tank until the turtle eats.

And I was just like, oh, okay. And I sat there for two hours with a pair of tongs and this dead squid, going around the tank trying to get her attention. And after two hours, she finally ate. And that was the moment where I was like, I get to work with a turtle, you know, this is amazing.  I'm making a difference. This turtle is not dead because we are trying to get her better.

Insight2Go  -- I would just tell students, as much as you can volunteer, as much as you can say yes to doing things and getting those experiences, getting involved. Working hard, yes. You know, you gotta work hard at your math and your science, and your writing and all of that, but it’s the experiences where you're learning, you know, where you're adventuring, where you're having that time, is what really builds you as a scientist. I can't emphasize that enough.

Student Programs Mentioned by Michelle

Sea Grant Knauss Fellowship
Nancy Foster Scholarship
Karen Beasley Sea Turtle Hospital
Disney College Program:

Click here to learn more about the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary.You can also visit the Sanctuary on these social sites:


Click here to learn more about the NOAA Office of National Marine Sanctuaries.You can also visit the NMS on these social sites: