AngelFish

Jan Freiwald, PhD

Executive Director

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.

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Brooke Truesdale, CFRE

Director of Development

Brooke Truesdale is thrilled to dive in as Director of Development at Reef Check. Equally passionate about environmental conservation and connecting generous donors to worthy missions, Brooke is excited to show Reef Check’s donors the impact of their support and share the incredible success of Reef Check with new audiences. Brooke has a deep knowledge of philanthropy and donor relations, as well as a wealth of experience in nonprofit leadership, board and volunteer engagement, and strategic planning.

Prior to joining Reef Check, Brooke worked at San Diego Zoo Wildlife Alliance where she focused on raising major gifts for more than 150 conservation projects across the world. Brooke serves on a number of nonprofit boards including the Association of Fundraising Professionals, the Saola Foundation Advisory Board, and SunCoast Market Coop where she is the Fundraising Committee Chair. She is a Certified Fundraising Executive (CFRE) and has completed the Chapman University Nonprofit Management Certificate program.

Brooke loves animals of all kinds- whether they be furry, finned or feathered- and has fostered dozens of animals until they find homes. She lives near the beach in San Diego and enjoys bird watching, competitive trivia, yoga, plogging on dog walks, and tending her pollinator garden.

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Dan Abbott

Director, Kelp Forest Program

Dan’s fascination with kelp forests started when he was a kid, abalone diving in the lush forests in Northern California. Later at UC Berkeley, he continued to pursue this interest in ocean management by studying Environmental Economics and Policy, an interdisciplinary program that combined both scientific and economic aspects as well as by undergoing scientific diver training. After college, Dan put his skills and passion to work by volunteering with Reef Check. Today Dan is now the director of the Kelp Forest Program at Reef Check and is returning to monitor some of the same sites he used to dive as a kid — some of which have changed dramatically — and hopes that through his team’s work he can give scientists and marine managers the tools they need to protect and restore these ecosystems. Recently he has been working to expand Reef Check’s work preserving these ecosystems into areas of Oregon and Washington that are experiencing their own changes. Dan oversees the Reef Check Dive Program, is a member of the UCSC Diving Control Board, an active NAUI Instructor, and an Outdoor Emergency Care technician.

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Selena McMillan, PhD

Director, Education Program

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.

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Annie Bauer-Civiello

Director, Restoration Program

Annie Bauer-Civiello is originally from Texas but discovered her love for the ocean at the age of eight. After moving to California, she received a Bachelor of Science in marine biology from the University of California Santa Cruz, where she also received all her dive training. During the last year of her degree, Annie studied abroad at the University of Queensland in Australia where she began to intern as a Project Officer for Reef Check Australia. After a brief stint with California Fish and Wildlife, Annie returned to Australia for her Master of Science in marine biology and PhD in environmental science at James Cook University. While studying, Annie worked as the Great Barrier Reef Survey Coordinator for Reef Check Australia, where she led scientific dives, marine debris clean ups and outreach events. After finishing her PhD, Annie then became the Executive Officer of a local NGO, working closely with the Australian Government, research institutions, community organizations and industry groups to improve waterway health in the Great Barrier Reef catchment. After nearly a decade in Australia, Annie has recently returned to her roots in California. She is very excited to bring her wide range of experience and knowledge to assist the Reef Check Foundation and the Restoration Program. 

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Jenny Mihaly

Operations Manager

Jenny Mihaly, born and raised in Southern California, graduated from UCLA with a Bachelor of Science degree in Marine Biology after studying for a quarter at Bodega Marine Laboratory in Bodega Bay. She began her Reef Check journey as a student at UCLA and currently works out of Reef Check’s headquarters office in Marina del Rey. She is grateful for and always inspired by the amazing network of Reef Checkers across the globe.

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Dillon Dolinar

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.

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Maxwell Seale

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.

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Kate Vylet

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.

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Morgan Murphy-Cannella

Kelp Restoration Coordinator

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.

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Ian Norton

Northern California Survey Coordinator

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.

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Ian Butler

Kelp Restoration Technician

Ian Butler grew up in Fort Bragg, California where he spent much of his time free diving for fish and abalone. He graduated from College of the Redwoods Marine Science Technology program at their Fort Bragg campus in 2011. After four years in the United States Marine Corps, Ian went on to graduate from Humboldt State University in 2019 with his bachelor’s degree in Marine Fisheries Biology and minors in Scientific Diving and Statistics. While at Humboldt State, Ian worked in the fish genetics lab and helped with hook and line monitoring of Marine Protected Areas. He is very thankful to be part of one of the organizations spearheading the kelp restoration efforts in and around the Mendocino coast.

Lauren Nutt

Kelp Restoration Technician

Lauren Nutt grew up in the coastal community of North Padre Island, Texas and became captivated by marine science and conservation through frequent visits to the Padre Island National Seashore and the University of Texas Marine Science Institute. She then moved to Northern California and studied at Humboldt State University, graduating with a bachelor’s in Marine Biology and Minor in Scientific Scuba Diving, becoming an AAUS scientific diver. While conducting her undergraduate degree she volunteered with the Bourdeau Lab, studying the effects of ocean acidification on intertidal marine invertebrates. She then earned her PADI Divemaster certification and volunteered for Humboldt State University’s dive program and their subtidal Marine Protected Area monitoring project. Over the past few years, she has begun to explore the world of underwater photography, using the macro lens to shed light on the beauty of marine invertebrates. Having witnessed the shift from biodiverse kelp beds to urchin barrens, Lauren is thrilled to assist Reef Check California with their kelp restoration efforts and help monitor the effects of urchin removal on the Mendocino Coast.

Diana Hollingshead

Diana Hollingshead

Oregon Volunteer Coordinator

Diana Hollingshead graduated from the University of Oregon with a degree in Biology with heavy emphasis on Marine Biology. She became a PADI IDC Staff Instructor in 1997 and a DAN Instructor in 2010. When she became an AAUS Scientific Diver in 2013, she started as a volunteer diver for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, completing underwater Marine Protection Area surveys. In 2015, she became a volunteer Scientific Diver on the United States Forest Service dive team. She helped develop the volunteer diver training program and educates volunteer divers at the Oregon Coast Aquarium, where she has over 6000 volunteer hours. In 2018, she was inducted into the Women Divers Hall of Fame and currently serves as a board member.

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Jackie Selbitschka

Jackie Selbitschka

Washington Regional Manager

Jackie Selbitschka earned her degree in Marine Biology from the University of California Santa Cruz. While at Santa Cruz, Jackie worked her way through scuba certifications up to NAUI Dive Master and received her AAUS scientific diver certification participating in PISCO surveys. After graduating from college she moved down to Catalina Island to become a NAUI instructor, teaching youth to scuba dive in the summer and guiding marine ecology, biology and geology excursions to visiting school groups at Catalina Island Marine Institute. Since then she has worked at many organizations teaching hands-on marine science and certifying scuba divers. Her passion is to share the incredible life that lives underwater so that others are inspired to care for and protect our marine habitats. When not diving for work you may find Jackie at the Seattle Aquarium as a volunteer diver or up in the mountains hiking and rock climbing with her wife and crag dogs. Jackie joined Reef Check in 2022 to begin monitoring Washington’s Kelp Forests and train and inspire other Washington divers to do the same.

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Jerry Suarez

Accountant

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.

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Jana Montoya with sea turtle

Jana Montoya

Bookkeeper

Jana Montoya learned to SCUBA dive in 2018 while living in the Marshall Islands. Her love for the ocean and marine life grew stronger as she discovered the deep blue. She became an avid advocate of ocean protection and preservation. She is a certified Divemaster and uses every dive as an opportunity to remove plastic trash from the ocean. She earned her MBA from the Simmons University in Boston, and Bachelors in Economics and Engineering from the University of Latvia. Jana joined Reef Check in 2021.

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