Scientific Diving Success Story: Mike Bollinger

Mike coring
Mike taking histology core sample from a diseased Montastrea cavernosa during the outbreak of “White Plague” in the middle Keys.​

Mike Bollinger, Penn State B.S., Biology 2012, completed his masters at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (2015) and has worked for Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission in both the Florida Keys and St. Petersburg, FL, and, more recently, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in Beaufort, NC. Diving has been an integral in each of these positions.

Each of Mike’s positions have required him to use different parts of his Penn State Science Diving training. In Texas, Mike and team monitored artificial reefs in the Gulf of Mexico off the Texas coast. Mike completed quarterly surveys of four south Texas artificial reefs, each of which involved two dives to complete a general fish survey of the reef site. Specifically, Mike compared SCUBA-based versus side scan sonar survey methods for estimating fish biomass. Each of the artificial reef sites can have a range of visibilities from low (1-3’) to high (40’+), and the weather in the Gulf is highly variable and has a strong influence on visibility and currents. Currents can often be very strong and make the work more difficult.

After his masters, Mike continued to use his scientific diving skills by working as a Biologist for Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s (FWC) Fish and Wildlife Research Institute (FWRI). As part of the Restoration Ecology team, based in Marathon, FL in the Florida Keys, he worked in a Coral Nursery, participated in coral disease tissue sampling and participated in various monitoring projects around the Florida Keys. As glorious as Keys diving was compared to South Texas, it was challenging to do 2 hour long dives twice a day 3-4 days a week in the coral nursery or doing benthic surveys. The team would often wear 7mm wetsuits up until July to keep from getting cold spending that much time underwater.

Mike worked briefly at FWRI headquarters in St. Petersburg, FL as a Scallop Biologist where he dived to asses scallop populations on the Gulf Coast of Florida. This diving, or advanced snorkeling, was typically in shallow waters (3-12’) and visibility varied but the job was more of sticking gloved hands into the vast unknown of seagrass beds to search for bay scallops. 

Mike is now a NOAA diver working out of Beaufort, NC. While optical and acoustic technology is Mike’s focus in NC, he has become the local expert in diver based structure from motion modelling. The technology creates 3D models of the seafloor, or other objects, from a series of photographs. Mike leads teams of divers equipped with GoPro cameras to take thousands of photographs of the rocky reefs and shipwrecks off NC which are later stitched together to make orthophotos or 3D models. North Carolina has similar diving challenges to Texas where currents and visibility are highly variable (you need >15’ of vis for taking good photos). For these tasks, Mike’s operations are often based aboard NOAA ship Nancy Foster where the team runs ops based out of crane deployed, small boats while at sea for weeks at a time.

Mike stated that “The Penn State Science Diving program prepared me very well a career in scientific diving. Within my first week in South Texas, I was trusted with doing underwater surveys because of the skill set that was ingrained in me in the quarries of PA. I was spun up quickly into the NOAA dive program because of my proficiency underwater. The skills we use and train for in Tim’s rescue course are no different than those drilled in annual trainings as a NOAA diver. ”

Picture of Mike Bollinger on a dive

Mike taking inventory in FWC’s Marathon coral nursery after a fresh round of fragging. These Acropora cervicornis will later be outplanted on the reef and/or used in experimentation.

Picture of Mike Bollinger on a diver

Mike placing a freshly fragmented sponge, ziptied to a brick in FWC’s sponge nursery. The sponges will grow in the nursery for 3 months before the sponge adhears to the block and ziptie will be removed. These sponges will later be planted out in Florida Bay in restoration efforts.​

Picture of Mike Bollinger on a dive

Fig Close up. Mike pilots a SfM/Photogrammetry camera array on the wreck of the USS Schurz

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Fig Boiler. Mike pilots a SfM/Photogrammetry camera array on the wreck of the USS Schurz and is shown hovering above the boiler structure at about 100 feet of depth.