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Tina Huynh-Nguyen

In the final three years of her undergraduate Global Environmental Science (GES) degree at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, Tina Huynh-Nguyen conducted research on a non-native, invasive seaweed, Avrainvillea lacerata, that is threatening Hawaiʻi’s native marine biodiversity.

As a student in the GES Bachelor of Science degree program in the School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology’s (SOEST) Department of Oceanography, Huynh-Nguyen investigated this bio-invader in the hopes of helping Hawaiʻi 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 Hawaiʻi’s natural environment.

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Tina Huynh-Nguyen at Kualoa Regional Beach Park. (Photo credit: Lan Thi Huynh-Nguyen)

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

Protecting Hawaiʻi’s reef ecosystems

For her research thesis in the GES program, Huynh-Nguyen worked with UH Mānoa’s School of Life Sciences Professor and Marine Botanist Celia Smith. Huynh-Nguyen was funded for this work via a Undergraduate Research Opportunities 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 student’s 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 this information, marine resource managers are better informed to protect Hawaiʻi’s reef ecosystems.

Inspiring keiki

Having graduated in May 2021, Huynh-Nguyen is the first in her family to earn 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. Huynh-Nguyen plans to teach full-time in a Hawaiʻi public school—preparing and encouraging students to follow their dreams.

For more information, see the SOEST website.

–By Marcie Grabowski