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) where he worked on a project funded by the Artificial Reef Program of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. The project team monitors 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 requires a different set of dive skills. All of the 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.

Mike stated that “The Penn State Science Diving program prepared me very well for this position. 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 one of the more diving experienced graduate students and I was expected to take on more of a leadership role on the boat. The University of Texas at Brownsville’s diving program is certainly growing, and I am happy to be a part of the work that is being done down here.”

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. The Keys diving was vastly different from the Western Gulf of Mexico diving.

Currently, Mike is working at FWRI headquarters in St. Petersburg, FL as a Scallop Biologist where he dives to asses scallop populations on the Gulf Coast of Florida. More information on Mike, his projects and results can be found at:


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.



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.​