Jan Freiwald, PhD
Jan Freiwald is the Executive Director of the Reef Check Foundation. Jan has deep expertise in reef community ecology, marine management, citizen science and marine conservation. Prior to becoming Executive Director, Jan led the Reef Check California program for eight years. He has grown this program into a statewide marine protected area monitoring network of citizen scientists. Jan is responsible for implementing a climate change research project for the Reef Check California program, which is studying the effects of ocean acidification and hypoxic zones on the reefs and kelp forests along the California coast. He studied biology in Germany before receiving a Bachelor of Science in Marine Biology from the University of California Santa Cruz. Prior to joining Reef Check, Jan obtained a PhD in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from the University of California Santa Cruz where he used approaches ranging from acoustic telemetry, to community surveys to genetic analyses to investigate kelp forest community ecology and marine protected area design.
Jenny Mihaly, born and raised in Southern California, graduated from UCLA in 2003 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Marine Biology. In her senior year, she spent a quarter with other UCLA students at the Bodega Marine Laboratory in Bodega Bay, California where she studied sea anemones and flatfish. In 2003, Jenny got her SCUBA certification in beautiful Maui. She looks forward to getting more dives under her belt. Jenny currently works out of Reef Check’s headquarters office in Marina del Rey.
Selena McMillan, PhD
Southern California Regional Manager
Selena McMillan has been involved in marine ecology and research for over 14 years. While an undergrad at the University of California, Santa Cruz, Dr. McMillan began working for the Partnership for Interdisciplinary Studies of Coastal Oceans (PISCO) as a subtidal technician, organizing and performing long-term subtidal monitoring efforts along the California coast. Selena left this position to pursue her master’s at Moss Landing Marine Laboratory (MLML) where she completed a subtidal thesis examining the trophic interactions between giant kelp and snails. While at MLML, she worked as a research assistant for Dr. Rick Starr at California Sea Grant where she was integral in organizing a Data-Poor Fisheries workshop that brought together scientists, policy makers and fishermen from all over the world. Recently, she completed her PhD at The University of Auckland in New Zealand examining herbivorous fishes in the Great Barrier Reef of Australia and the temperate reefs of New Zealand. She is excited to be returning back to her roots in California and diving back into ocean monitoring.
Central California Regional Manager
Dan Abbott, the Central Coast Regional Manager, has been involved with Reef Check California as a volunteer and part-time instructor since 2005, and started working for Reef Check full-time in September 2014. Dan received a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Economics and Policy from UC Berkeley, an interdisciplinary program focused on marine resource management from both scientific and economic aspects. While at Berkeley Dan became an AAUS scientific diver. Most recently, Dan worked as a biologist for Tenera Environmental where he oversaw a large number of monitoring projects in San Francisco Bay, the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and along the California Coast. Additionally Dan spearheaded Tenera’s successful application into AAUS and oversaw their dive program as their Diving Safety Officer. Dan is an active NAUI Instructor, a trained Outdoor Emergency Care Technician, and is a first aid and CPR instructor.
Northern California Regional Manager
Tristin McHugh, the North Coast Regional Manager, began working for Reef Check California in March of 2018 and is based in Fort Bragg. Tristin received her Bachelor of Science in Marine Biology and Legal Studies from the University of California, Santa Cruz in 2013. Following graduation, Tristin assisted and led a number of projects spanning the Pacific Northwest, and gained an appreciation for the divers and researchers involved in protecting such an invaluable resource through the collection of long-term data sets. In 2015, Tristin left Santa Cruz to pursue her Master’s in Biology degree at San Diego State University (SDSU), where she focused on how storm disturbances impact subtidal algal communities, and how the physiology of red algae structures community assemblages. In addition to her thesis, Tristin was a Divemaster and Boating Safety Officer for projects based Alaska and Mexico, and was the Graduate Student representative for the Diving Control Board at SDSU until her graduation in December 2017. Tristin is ready to get back in her native California waters, especially in the North Coast.
Southern California Volunteer Coordinator
Dillon Dolinar has spent the last five years in Southern California where he attended San Diego State University and earned a Bachelor’s degree in biology with an emphasis in zoology. The backbone of his college experience was built around his discovery of scuba diving. He became a scuba instructor roughly two years after discovering his passion and has enjoyed every minute exploring the underwater world whether that is guiding tours or conducting research. Throughout his college experience, he worked abroad in South Africa studying Great White Shark behavior and in Honduras studying the diet of invasive Lionfish. However, most of his time in the ocean has taken place in Southern California waters ranging from Catalina Island to San Diego, which is where he feels the most at home.
Central Coast Volunteer Coordinator
Maxwell Seale received his Bachelors in Marine Science from the California State University, Monterey Bay. Before beginning his work with Reef Check he founded the Underwater Voyagers Dive Club in Monterey, California that now hosts several hundred Central Coast Divers. Maxwell has spent the past several years conducting subtidal field surveys as an AAUS Scientific Diver. At Stanford University’s Hopkins Marine Station, he spent two field seasons as part of a team of divers researching kelp forest community oceanography. In his final year of college, Maxwell completed his capstone project leading numerous fish transects at multiple Reef Check survey sites spanning the coast of California. Maxwell also served as a scientific consultant for a satellite tag manufacturer, tracking the movement of pelagic predators and testing experimental hydrophones used to monitor whale migration. He also worked on piloting the use of experimental sonar based fishing equipment to end the whale entanglement crisis. He has nine years of experience in marine science education and outreach. When he is not in office, Maxwell spends his days diving in Big Sur and volunteering as a scientific mentor for Bechtel Education Center’s Teen Researchers Program at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Above all else, he is passionately driven by the urgency of California’s declining kelp forests.
Climate Change Research Coordinator
Kate Vylet, the Climate Change Research Coordinator, grew up a landlubber in Southern California. It was while learning to scuba dive in the Central Coast’s green waters at the University of California at Santa Cruz that she developed a passion for the sea and the life teeming beneath its waves. She went on to graduate as an AAUS Scientific Diver and NAUI Divemaster with a Bachelor of Science in Ecology and Evolution and a Bachelor of Art in Photography. Kate then became involved with PISCO, the Partnership for the Interdisciplinary Studies of Coastal Oceans, as a scientific diving technician, performing subtidal monitoring surveys up and down California’s coastline and implementing various marine research projects. She currently works on Reef Check’s climate change research and assists with its monitoring program in Central California. When she’s not diving for science, Kate spends her underwater time capturing marine life through the lens of photography and videography.
Morgan Murphy-Cannella is from Manhattan Beach, California and started diving on Catalina Island at 9 years old, becoming fascinated with marine ecology. She moved to Northern California to attend Humboldt State University, where she received a BS in Climate and Energy Environmental Science. Morgan dabbled in environmental activism in New Zealand, which led to her interest in supporting conservation and resource management. She furthered her diving career by working as a PADI Divemaster in Honduras where she assisted reef conservation efforts to eradicate an invasive species of Lionfish. She also became an AAUS scientific diver and NAUI Instructor. Morgan worked as an at-sea observer collecting data on commercial fishing vessels for NOAA that contributed to the conservation and management of our fisheries. Morgan has been observing and filming the shift in Northern California’s rocky reefs and her videos have been displayed at the Noyo Center for Marine Science in Fort Bragg for public education and awareness. She is elated to be contributing to restoration and conducting long-term assessment of California’s vital kelp forest ecosystem.
Ian Norton grew up free diving off the coasts of his hometown in Fort Bragg, California. He received his bachelor’s in Environmental Science: Climate and Energy from Humboldt State University. After graduation in 2013, he discovered SCUBA and never looked back. From diving for abalone as a kid, becoming a Dive Master at Utila Dive Center in Honduras, and an active NAUI Instructor in Washington, the protection and conservation of the world’s oceans has become increasingly important to him. He worked for the Noyo Center for Marine Science in Fort Bragg producing video documentation of the urchin population explosion and early efforts to remove urchins. His videos are on display at the Noyo Center, to enhance public education on the topic. After receiving his AAUS certification from Moss Landing Marine Laboratories, he began work with Reef Check in 2020 and is excited to monitor the purple urchin situation on the Mendocino coast.
Jerry graduated from the University of Redlands with a Bachelors Degree of Science in the field of Accounting and is currently authorized to represent taxpayers before the Internal Revenue Service under the designation of Enrolled Agent. After graduation, Jerry took a position with the treasury as an IRS Field Agent which he left to take a position in a public accounting firm, and later a position of Financial Coordinator at the medical facility “A Touch of Care” for a period of 6 years. Since 1991 Jerry has been self-employed and providing public accounting and tax representation services.
Hannah Strong grew up in Northern California where she was educated on the importance of environmental conservation from an early age. From 2004 to 2007, she volunteered with the Golden Gate Raptor Observatory, identifying and recording migrating raptor populations over the Marin headlands. She taught herself bookkeeping and accounting skills while working at a tech startup in Los Angeles, then began work at Reef Check-in 2016. She is an avid lover of the ocean and the natural world.