Sanctuary Staff

Sanctuary staff standing at the front rail of R/V MANTA


G.P. Schmahl
Sanctuary Superintendent

G.P. Schmahl has been the manager of Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary since March 1999. Prior to that he served for eight years as the Lower Keys Regional Manager of Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary in Key West, Florida.

As sanctuary manager, he is involved with a broad array of Marine Protected Area management issues including research, education and resource protection. Since obtaining a graduate degree in Zoology from the University of Georgia, G.P. has held a variety of positions relating to marine research, coastal management, resource planning and environmental regulation. His primary interest is the ecology and management of coral reefs and associated ecosystems, and he has a specific interest and expertise in the biology and ecology of marine sponges.


Irene Olivares-Arthur
Administrative Program Specialist

Irene Arthur joined the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary team in 2001. As the sanctuary's Administrative Program Specialist, she is responsible for providing primary program support in the areas of administration, budgeting, procurement and fiscal planning for the sanctuary.

Irene develops annual budgets, tracks and verifies budget status, prepares periodic status reports, analyzes and manages fiscal year procurement actions and prepares acquisitions for technical contract services. She also manages administrative record-keeping and prepares travel arrangements for sanctuary staff. Irene is a 1988 graduate of Texas A&M University having earned a BS in Psychology and Accounting.


Kelly Drinnen
Education & Outreach Specialist

Kelly Drinnen joined the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary team in August 2004. As Education Specialist, she is responsible for public communications such as the sanctuary website, social media, email lists and informational flyers and brochures. She also conducts workshops and presentations.

Prior to working for the sanctuary, Kelly worked in informal science education at Moody Gardens and Sea World of Florida, as well as two years as a 4th grade teacher in South Houston. Kelly is also part of the sanctuary dive team.


Kaitlyn Brogan
Vessel Operations Coordinator

ENS Kait Brogan, a NOAA Corps Officer, joined Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary in June 2021. Prior to this assignment, she served two years aboard the NOAA Ship RAINIER, sailing as a junior officer in Hawaiian and Alaskan waters. Kait graduated Magna Cum Laude from the University of Mary Washington in 2018 with a Bachelor of Science in Biology. She double majored in Biology and Geography along with a GIS Certificate.

ENS Brogan enjoys both the operational and scientific research side that the VOC position provides here at FGBNMS. She can't wait to explore the multitude of underwater treasures in the sanctuary as a NOAA Diver. Kait loves the water and appreciates that she serves for science and conservation!

Justin Blake (Affiliate)
Captain, R/V MANTA

Justin Blake, a 500-ton master captain and U.S. Coast Guard registered boat builder, joined Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary in May 2018. Justin has a Bachelor degree from the University of Florida where he also earned his advanced certification in scuba diving. He is a member of several sailboat racing teams and in 2013 finished the Transpacific Yacht Race from Long Beach, California to Honolulu, Hawaii. Born and raised in Florida and living for a decade in Southern California, Justin enjoys many watersports including surfing, kiteboarding & wakeskating. He has invested his entire life in the marine industry and enjoys working to help it be here for future generations to enjoy.


Olivia Eisenbach (Affiliate)
Research Specialist

Olivia Eisenbach joined the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary team in June 2022. She came from Auburn University where she conducted research on reef fish in the Gulf of Mexico as a research associate. She has a Bachelors of Science degree in marine biology from James Cook University and a Masters of Research in marine biology from the University of Plymouth. Olivia has a background in coral reef and fish ecology and has participated in research all over the globe. 

Ryan Hannum (Affiliate)
Research Specialist

Ryan Hannum joined the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary team in 2021. He obtained his B.S. in Biology at Oregon State University and completed other coursework pertaining to the zoo and aquarium industry. In 2015, Ryan began working at the Aquarium at Moody Gardens as a coral conservation biologist working with various institutions, such as Rice University, on coral-symbiodiniaceae associated relationships and ecological importance. He also worked as a partnered member of the Florida Reef Tract Rescue Project captively housing and caring for 100 coral colonies endemic to the Florida Reef Tract that has in the last few years been attacked by Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease. During his tenure with Moody Gardens, Ryan served as a volunteer scientific diver for FGBNMS where he has been able to contribute his hands-on knowledge of coral biology to the benefit of the corals within the banks.

As part of the FGBNMS long-term monitoring team, Ryan will be shifting his focus to water quality monitoring for data analysis, while continuing to provide knowledge and experience to a variety of other sanctuary projects. 


Michelle Johnston
Research Ecologist

Michelle joined the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary team in 2011. As a research ecologist and NOAA science diver, she manages the sanctuary’s long-term coral monitoring project and battles invasive lionfish! Michelle has previously been a scuba dive team member at the Living Seas Aquarium in Florida, a sea turtle field biologist in South Carolina, as well as a marine educator and surf instructor in North Carolina, Australia, the Bahamas and Hawaii.

Michelle's academic studies started at UNCW in marine biology where she rehabilitated sick and injured sea turtles, and continued at the University of South Carolina where she completed her M.S. and Ph.D. in Environmental Health Science researching bacterial pathogens in coastal waters. After graduate school, Michelle was awarded a NOAA Sea Grant Knauss Marine Policy fellowship with NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries.

Learn more about Michelle Johnston | Research Ecologist


Marissa Nuttall (Affiliate)
Research Specialist

Marissa joined the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary research team in 2007. She manages the long-term monitoring program at Stetson Bank, supports mesophotic ecosystem research both within and around the sanctuary, and leads GIS support for research and management activities. Marissa also serves as the Unit Diving Supervisor for the FGBNMS dive unit and has coordinated and led multiple research expeditions utilizing SCUBA and remotely operated vehicles. She is a graduate of Texas A&M University at Galveston and holds a M.Sc. in Marine Biology.

Kelly O'Connell (Affiliate)
Research Specialist

Kelly O'Connell joined the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary team in 2018. Though originally from Chicago, she graduated from University of South Florida with a B.S. in biological science where she studied Symbiodinium-associated microbial communities and their role in coral reef resilience. She obtained her master's degree from the University of Miami where she investigated the association of water temperature anomalies with measurements of white plague in Orbicella coral species.

Prior to joining the FGBNMS team, Kelly assisted with long-term monitoring and data management at the National Park Service South Florida Caribbean Network. There she used decades of monitoring data to quantitatively define disease outbreak. After graduate school, Kelly worked as a research technician performing coral and fish surveys with NOAA Southeast Fisheries under the National Coral Reef Monitoring Program in the Florida Keys and the U.S Virgin Islands. As a sanctuary research specialist, she assists with the long-term monitoring of FGBNMS reefs and provides support for data analysis and various other research projects. 

Sanctuary Advisory Council

Leslie Whaylen Clift (Affiliate)
Advisory Council Coordinator

Leslie Whaylen Clift joined the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary team in July 2015. As the Sanctuary Advisory Council Coordinator, she serves as the primary contact for the Advisory Council and facilitates all aspects of council-related activities. Leslie also assisted with the sanctuary expansion review process. Leslie began diving in the sanctuary in the 1990s, as a volunteer fish surveyor, while working for the state of Texas as an Aquatic Scientist. After moving to the Florida Keys, she returned occasionally to FGBNMS to lead and instruct groups of REEF (Reef Environmental Education Foundation) divers and conduct fish assemblage surveys. Leslie returned to Galveston in 2012.