Our Team of Aquatic Taxonomy Experts

Biologica’s staff are experts across a wide range of marine and freshwater taxonomic disciplines. Learn more about the diverse backgrounds that comprise our team below!

Management Team

Tara Macdonald, PhD, RPBio

President

Tara became president of Biologica in 2012. Tara has been identifying and thinking about marine invertebrates her whole life, having performed her first microscope work…

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Sarah Steinerstauch, BSc

Manager – Laboratory Operations & Marine Taxonomist

Sarah joined Biologica in 2009 after completing a BSc in Biology at the University of Victoria. She uses her amazing organizational skills to oversee all…

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Agnes Zoldowski, BSc

Laboratory Manager

Agnes joined Biologica in 2022. She earned her BSc in Cell and Molecular Biology from the University of Toronto and spent over 15 years developing…

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Natalia Filip, MSc, RPBio

Algae Program Manager

Certifications: Kindrogan Field Centre Freshwater Algae Certificate, North American Chironomidae (SFS), Biology and Taxonomy of Tunicates (Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute), Riparian Area Regulation. Natalia completed…

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Maddie Beange, BSc

Project Manager

Maddie completed her BSc in Biology, with a concentration in neurobiology, at McGill University in 2010. After working as a research assistant in a couple neuro…

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Tara Macdonald, PhD, RPBio

President
Tara became president of Biologica in 2012. Tara has been identifying and thinking about marine invertebrates her whole life, having performed her first microscope work at the age of 14 in order to purchase a guitar. However, she ultimately found she had more talent for taxonomy than she did music. She earned her PhD from the University of Alberta in 2006, where she studied systematics and evolution of polychaete worms as an NSERC scholar. Tara previously worked as a postdoctoral research fellow at the Institute of Ocean Sciences (Fisheries and Oceans Canada in Sidney, BC) studying marine benthic ecology, and at Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre as an instructor of Marine Invertebrate Zoology. Tara spends most of her free time in her vegetable garden, kitchen, fishing, and foraging.

Sarah Steinerstauch, BSc

Manager – Laboratory Operations & Marine Taxonomist
Sarah joined Biologica in 2009 after completing a BSc in Biology at the University of Victoria. She uses her amazing organizational skills to oversee all aspects of laboratory production. She is also a talented mollusc and echinoderm taxonomist, and enjoys taking time for microscope and field work. Sarah has lived in Victoria for most of her life and enjoys all the west coast has to offer. She can often be found hiking, cycling, golfing, and beach combing.

Agnes Zoldowski, BSc

Laboratory Manager
Agnes joined Biologica in 2022. She earned her BSc in Cell and Molecular Biology from the University of Toronto and spent over 15 years developing molecular diagnostic devices.  She relocated to Victoria with her family and replaced the pipette with a microscope. When not in the lab overseeing Biologica’s operations, you can find her either out exploring beautiful Vancouver Island or surrounded by cats, knitting, cooking and reading.

Natalia Filip, MSc, RPBio

Algae Program Manager
Certifications: Kindrogan Field Centre Freshwater Algae Certificate, North American Chironomidae (SFS), Biology and Taxonomy of Tunicates (Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute), Riparian Area Regulation. Natalia completed her Masters degree in Biology at St. Francis Xavier University. Her thesis research, funded by an NSERC industrial PGS, focused on field testing of non-toxic antifouling coatings and their effects on invasive tunicates. Natalia´s extensive experience in aquatic ecology includes biodiversity assessments of marine intertidal soft-sediments and subtidal fouling communities, invasive species monitoring, diet characterization of fish, and tropical coral reef monitoring.  Natalia enjoys rock climbing, mountaineering, and mountain biking.  

Maddie Beange, BSc

Project Manager
Maddie completed her BSc in Biology, with a concentration in neurobiology, at McGill University in 2010. After working as a research assistant in a couple neuro labs, she took a break to do some travelling. Maddie ended up in Costa Rica, where she managed a sea turtle conservation program for 7 years. She recently upgraded her degree at the University of Victoria with courses in marine biology and environmental sciences. In her free time, Maddie can be found SUPing on the Gorge or hiking in East Sooke Park.

Laboratory Staff

Philip Hoover, BSc

Zooplankton & Arthropoda Taxonomist

Phil joined Biologica in 1994. Although he specializes in crustacean taxonomy, he happily tackles whatever phylum crosses his path. He grew up on Vancouver Island,…

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Anne Fearon-Wood, BSc

Lab Technician & Photographer

Anne joined Biologica in 1999 as a lab technician. She graduated from Lakehead University, Ontario in 1990 with a degree in Bachelor of Science and…

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Hiroki Tomoe, AScT

Annelida & Miscellaneous Phyla Taxonomist

Certifications: North American Oligochaeta (SFS) Hiroki is originally from Osaka, Japan. As a child, he enjoyed collecting stag beetles, praying mantises, and other insects. He…

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Robynn Holma, BSc

Freshwater Taxonomist

Society of Freshwater Science Certifications: North American Chironomidae, Western Chironomidae, Western EPT, Eastern EPT, Western General Arthropoda, and Eastern General Arthropoda. Robynn joined the Biologica…

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Paige Hayhurst, AScT

Sorting Coordinator & Marine Taxonomist

Paige joined Biologica in 2011 as a co-op student. Since then, she graduated from Camosun College in 2012 with a Diploma in Environmental Technology and…

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Karen Cram, BSc

Field Supervisor & Marine Taxonomist

Karen graduated in 2012 with a BSc in Biology and Oceanography from the University of Victoria. She has worked at Biologica since 2012 as a…

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Karen Hoban, BSc

Freshwater Taxonomist & Health and Safety Representative

Society of Freshwater Science Certifications: Western EPT, Eastern EPT, Western General Arthropoda, and Eastern General Arthropoda. Karen joined Biologica in 2013 after spending over 10…

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Breanna Bomback, BSc

Freshwater Taxonomist and Data Analyst

Society of Freshwater Science Certifications: North American Chironomidae.    Breanna received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Victoria where she majored in biology –…

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Alice Pearson, BASc

Lab Technician

Alice joined Biologica in the fall of 2020 shortly after graduating from Quest University Canada with a Bachelor of Arts and Sciences. She enjoys learning…

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Cassandra Palfrey, BSc

Freshwater Taxonomist

Cassandra joined Biologica in the summer of 2020 after studying at both the University of Victoria and Vancouver Island University with a degree in Geography…

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Christina Nonis, BSc

Mollusk Taxonomist & Lab Technician

Christina graduated from the University of Victoria in 2018 with a BSc in Biology (Marine Biology concentration). During her degree, Christina attended the Wildlands Studies…

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Jesslynn Shaw, BSc

Algal Taxonomist

Jesslynn graduated from the University of Victoria in 2019 with a BSc in Biology and has completed courses from the UVIC Restoration of Natural Systems…

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Suzy Christoffel, BSc

Taxonomist & Lab Technician

Suzy graduated from the University of Victoria with a BSc in Biology after obtaining a Diploma in Environmental Technology in 2012. She also had the…

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Vanessa Mundy, BSc

Lab Technician

Vanessa Mundy graduated from Memorial University of Newfoundland (MUN) with a BSc in Geology (2017) and Advanced Diploma in Water Quality (2019). Her hobbies include…

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Sabine Rankin, BSc

Lab Technician

Sabine Rankin completed her BSc at Simon Fraser University in 2021, with a major in Biological Sciences and a minor in Resource and Environmental Management….

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Halle Dykeman, BSc

Lab Technician

Halle Dykeman joined Biologica in 2022, shortly after graduating from the University of Victoria a BSc in Biology with a Marine Concentration. In her free…

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Sam Coe, BSc

Lab Technician

Sam Coe graduated from the University of Victoria with a BSc in Physical Geography and a minor in Psychology in 2022. While at university she…

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Gilbert Martin-Damman, BSc

Annelida Taxonomist & Lab Technician

Gilbert Martin-Damman joined Biologica in 2023 after graduating from the University of Victoria in 2022 with a BSc in Biology. Throughout his studies, he completed…

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Micayla Drew

Office Assistant

Micayla Drew graduated from Camosun College with an Environmental Technology Diploma in 2021 and joined Biologica in 2023. She is currently working on achieving her…

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Chanel Vandenhoudt, BSc

Lab Technician

Chanel Vandenhoudt graduated from the University of Victoria with a BSc in Biochemistry. She also obtained two diplomas from Camosun College; Applied Chemistry and Biotechnology…

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Hannah Nygren, BSc

Data Technician

Hannah Nygren joined Biologica in 2023 after her graduation from the University of Victoria with a BSc in Biology and Environmental Studies. Her studies included…

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Jenny Kirkpatrick, BSc

Lab Technician

Jenny Kirkpatrick joined Biologica in 2023 after completing her BSc in Biology with a Marine Concentration from the University of Victoria. She spent time at…

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Valerie Macdonald

Past President (Mostly Retired)

Valerie founded Biologica in 1994. She has been a tireless advocate for improving the quality of taxonomic work since 1971. Valerie is well-known for both…

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Philip Hoover, BSc

Zooplankton & Arthropoda Taxonomist
Phil joined Biologica in 1994. Although he specializes in crustacean taxonomy, he happily tackles whatever phylum crosses his path. He grew up on Vancouver Island, looking in tide pools, fishing and birding. After completing his BSc., he studied amphipod taxonomy and pollution effects on benthos. Phil has also worked at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, and participated in both local and international benthic surveys. Phil enjoys teaching his daughter the joys of natural history.

Anne Fearon-Wood, BSc

Lab Technician & Photographer
Anne joined Biologica in 1999 as a lab technician. She graduated from Lakehead University, Ontario in 1990 with a degree in Bachelor of Science and a degree in Outdoor Recreation/Tourism Management. She is Biologica’s resident photographer, supplying photography for our website, presentation materials, and digital reference collections. In her spare time, Anne enjoys sailing, yoga, hiking, and photographing the beauty of Vancouver Island. Several of Anne’s photos are featured on this website, and we would encourage you to see more of her work at http://www.fearonwoodphoto.com/

Hiroki Tomoe, AScT

Annelida & Miscellaneous Phyla Taxonomist
Certifications: North American Oligochaeta (SFS) Hiroki is originally from Osaka, Japan. As a child, he enjoyed collecting stag beetles, praying mantises, and other insects. He joined Biologica in 1999. He has specialized in the identification of marine annelids and the miscellaneous phyla from British Columbia and around the world since the beginning of his taxonomy career. He is also certified in oligochaete taxonomy by the Society of Freshwater Science. Hiroki, his wife and four children enjoy spending time exploring the marvelous ocean, forests, and mountains around Victoria.

Robynn Holma, BSc

Freshwater Taxonomist
Society of Freshwater Science Certifications: North American Chironomidae, Western Chironomidae, Western EPT, Eastern EPT, Western General Arthropoda, and Eastern General Arthropoda. Robynn joined the Biologica team in 2011. She earned her BSc in Marine Biology at the University of Guelph, Ontario and moved to Victoria, BC in 1998. Robynn has experience identifying many different freshwater critters, and is certified by the Society of Freshwater Science in Western and Eastern EPT, Western and Eastern General Arthropods and Chironomidae. In her spare time, Robynn enjoys keeping up with her daughter, exploring BC one campsite at a time, and anything crafty she can get her hands on.

Paige Hayhurst, AScT

Sorting Coordinator & Marine Taxonomist
Paige joined Biologica in 2011 as a co-op student. Since then, she graduated from Camosun College in 2012 with a Diploma in Environmental Technology and an Associate Degree in Science. She promptly rejoined Biologica with a passion to expand her invertebrate knowledge and experience. She specializes in marine taxonomy, primarily focusing on annelids and molluscs but is always eager to tackle other marine or freshwater taxonomic groups when needed. In her spare time she enjoys going on road trips, listening to loud music, and visiting all the natural beauty on Vancouver Island.

Karen Cram, BSc

Field Supervisor & Marine Taxonomist
Karen graduated in 2012 with a BSc in Biology and Oceanography from the University of Victoria. She has worked at Biologica since 2012 as a lab technician, and more recently has been heading up field programs and receiving training in the taxonomy of Crustacea and Miscellaneous Phyla. In her free time, Karen scuba dives and knits sea creatures.

Karen Hoban, BSc

Freshwater Taxonomist & Health and Safety Representative
Society of Freshwater Science Certifications: Western EPT, Eastern EPT, Western General Arthropoda, and Eastern General Arthropoda. Karen joined Biologica in 2013 after spending over 10 years working for a forest biotechnology company in Victoria. Karen is one of Biologica’s freshwater taxonomists, as well as the Health and Safety Representative. Karen earned her BSc in Wildlife Biology from the University of Northern British Columbia, and a certificate of Applied Project Management from Camosun College. She is also certified by the Society of Freshwater Science in Western and Eastern EPT and Western and Eastern General Arthropods. Outside of work, Karen enjoys playing team sports such as slow-pitch and curling and volunteers on various executive committees for the leagues in which she plays.

Breanna Bomback, BSc

Freshwater Taxonomist and Data Analyst
Society of Freshwater Science Certifications: North American Chironomidae.    Breanna received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Victoria where she majored in biology – marine sciences, and minored in statistics. She started in 2017 as a sorting technician at Biologica shortly after graduating. In the lab she also enjoys Chironomid taxonomy, fish stomach analysis, and otolith aging. In her spare time she loves exploring Vancouver Island.

Alice Pearson, BASc

Lab Technician
Alice joined Biologica in the fall of 2020 shortly after graduating from Quest University Canada with a Bachelor of Arts and Sciences. She enjoys learning about marine and freshwater organisms both in the lab and in the field. In her spare time Alice loves to swim, sail, hike, bike, paint, and spend time with her horse.

Cassandra Palfrey, BSc

Freshwater Taxonomist
Cassandra joined Biologica in the summer of 2020 after studying at both the University of Victoria and Vancouver Island University with a degree in Geography and Coastal Studies, and an Advanced Diploma in GIS Applications. During her studies, she has enjoyed participating in Marine Field School collecting data on Gray Whales and programming drainage patterns across a landscape to culverts. In the lab, Cassandra enjoys species separation in Biologica’s diverse samples and her taxonomy training for Chironomidae and other Insect species. Outside of working hours she enjoys hiking, camping, exploring the local farmers markets, and portrait photography.

Christina Nonis, BSc

Mollusk Taxonomist & Lab Technician
Christina graduated from the University of Victoria in 2018 with a BSc in Biology (Marine Biology concentration). During her degree, Christina attended the Wildlands Studies field school in Thailand, where she completed courses in marine ecology. Her hobbies include cooking, diving, traveling to new places and hiking with her dog Lola. Christina joined Biologica in 2021, where she enjoys learning about new marine species and how to identify them, and being able to be part of the sample collection process in the field.

Jesslynn Shaw, BSc

Algal Taxonomist
Jesslynn graduated from the University of Victoria in 2019 with a BSc in Biology and has completed courses from the UVIC Restoration of Natural Systems Diploma Program. She joined Biologica in 2021. Her favourite part of working at Biologica is the continuous learning and never ceasing to be amazed when seeing a new algae or invertebrate species under the microscope for the first time. Jesslynn also works in marine mammal acoustics to identify Killer Whales. When she is not working, she enjoys camping, hiking, hot yoga, and exploring the Island’s beaches with her 6-year-old son.

Suzy Christoffel, BSc

Taxonomist & Lab Technician
Suzy graduated from the University of Victoria with a BSc in Biology after obtaining a Diploma in Environmental Technology in 2012. She also had the wonderful experience of taking field courses at Bamfield Marine Sciences Center. Suzy enjoys cooking delicious vegetarian meals, gardening, yoga, cycling, and crafting. Suzy joined Biologica in 2021, and her favourite part of working at the company is learning about all the unique and beautiful organisms that she gets to observe under the microscope!

Vanessa Mundy, BSc

Lab Technician
Vanessa Mundy graduated from Memorial University of Newfoundland (MUN) with a BSc in Geology (2017) and Advanced Diploma in Water Quality (2019). Her hobbies include hiking, beachcombing, travelling, and watching soccer. Vanessa joined Biologica in 2022 and her favourite part of working at the company include expanding her love for aquatic biology, learning about and getting to work with interesting organisms, and working on a range of freshwater and marine projects.

Sabine Rankin, BSc

Lab Technician
Sabine Rankin completed her BSc at Simon Fraser University in 2021, with a major in Biological Sciences and a minor in Resource and Environmental Management. She joined Biologica in 2022, where her favourite part of the job is becoming acquainted with the diversity of cool little critters in marine and freshwater samples – and being surrounded by people who get excited about them too! In her free time, Sabine loves being outside tide pooling, birding, hiking, and rock climbing, as well as playing team sports and doing art.

Halle Dykeman, BSc

Lab Technician
Halle Dykeman joined Biologica in 2022, shortly after graduating from the University of Victoria a BSc in Biology with a Marine Concentration. In her free time, she enjoys tide pooling, creating art and spending time with animals. According to Halle, the perks of working at Biologica are getting to see so many unique critters from all over Canada and being surrounded by highly knowledgeable coworkers.

Sam Coe, BSc

Lab Technician
Sam Coe graduated from the University of Victoria with a BSc in Physical Geography and a minor in Psychology in 2022. While at university she rowed for the UVIC Vikes rowing team and worked in a neuroimaging lab for a PhD study in mindfulness meditation. Outside work Sam loves travelling, forest hiking and practicing the piano and flute. Sam joined Biologica in 2022, where she enjoys the opportunity to continuously learn and grow while working in the environmental sector.

Gilbert Martin-Damman, BSc

Annelida Taxonomist & Lab Technician
Gilbert Martin-Damman joined Biologica in 2023 after graduating from the University of Victoria in 2022 with a BSc in Biology. Throughout his studies, he completed courses in marine biology, freshwater ecology and environmental sciences. Outside of work, Gilbert enjoys the wonderful cycling and hiking that Vancouver Island has to offer. At Biologica, he appreciates the opportunity to encounter and learn about new marine organisms on a regular basis.

Micayla Drew

Office Assistant
Micayla Drew graduated from Camosun College with an Environmental Technology Diploma in 2021 and joined Biologica in 2023. She is currently working on achieving her BSc in Environmental Science through Royal Roads University. When she’s not working or studying, she can be found swimming in the lakes and rivers around Vancouver Island and exploring beaches. At Biologica, she enjoys seeing the diversity of aquatic critters from a wide variety of locations.

Chanel Vandenhoudt, BSc

Lab Technician
Chanel Vandenhoudt graduated from the University of Victoria with a BSc in Biochemistry. She also obtained two diplomas from Camosun College; Applied Chemistry and Biotechnology and General Arts and Science. She joined Biologica in 2023 as a sorting technician and now utilizes her chemistry knowledge to monitor chemicals in the lab. At Biologica, Chanel appreciates our wonderful staff members and the interesting critters that come her way. Outside of work, you can find Chanel on the slopes snowboarding and mountain biking or cozy at home doing crafts alongside her bunny, Cinnabunn.

Hannah Nygren, BSc

Data Technician
Hannah Nygren joined Biologica in 2023 after her graduation from the University of Victoria with a BSc in Biology and Environmental Studies. Her studies included courses in ecology, terrestrial and marine biology and environmental social sciences. In her free time, Hannah enjoys climbing, swimming, gardening, embroidery and spending time with her cats. Hannah’s highlight of working at Biologica is getting to work with amazing, interesting and like-minded people.

Jenny Kirkpatrick, BSc

Lab Technician
Jenny Kirkpatrick joined Biologica in 2023 after completing her BSc in Biology with a Marine Concentration from the University of Victoria. She spent time at Bamfield taking courses on Marine Invertebrates and Coastal Community Ecology and had the opportunity to work with the Ocean Wise North Coast Cetacean Research Initiative, assisting in the field and studying whales around Prince Rupert, BC. Her favourite parts of working at Biologica is being surprised every day seeing the amazing diversity of marine and freshwater organisms and working with colleagues who are passionate about the aquatic environment. In her free time, she can be found hiking, birding, cross-stitching, or reading.

Valerie Macdonald

Past President (Mostly Retired)
Valerie founded Biologica in 1994. She has been a tireless advocate for improving the quality of taxonomic work since 1971. Valerie is well-known for both her inventive benthic screening sample system, as well as her astounding taxonomic knowledge in both marine and freshwater systems. She retired in 2012, but participates in training and QA/QC. She remains as busy as ever, maintaining a small farm on the Saanich Peninsula, where she has a dairy goat herd and a pack of rescued border collies.

Consulting Staff

Louise Benckhuysen, BSc

Algal Taxonomist

Louise joined Biologica in the fall of 2018 as a Sorting Technician, but has shown a big interest in Algae, and has been training in Algae Taxonomy…

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Lu Guan, MSc, PhD

Zooplankton Taxonomist & Aquatic Ecologist

Lu is originally from Chengdu, China, and has been living in Canada since 2004. She did her Master’s degree at Memorial University of Newfoundland on…

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Melissa Hennekes, AScT

Algal Taxonomist

Melissa has worked with Biologica as an algal taxonomist since 2013, and has been an algal taxonomist with the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans…

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Louise Benckhuysen, BSc

Algal Taxonomist
Louise joined Biologica in the fall of 2018 as a Sorting Technician, but has shown a big interest in Algae, and has been training in Algae Taxonomy since the Fall of 2019. She received a Bachelor’s in Plant Biology from the University of Calgary in 2017 and is currently pursuing a Diploma in Restoration of Natural Systems at the University of Victoria. In her free time she enjoys rock climbing, travelling, and of course, exploring everything that Vancouver island has to offer!

Lu Guan, MSc, PhD

Zooplankton Taxonomist & Aquatic Ecologist
Lu is originally from Chengdu, China, and has been living in Canada since 2004. She did her Master’s degree at Memorial University of Newfoundland on the development of swimming capability of larval fish, and her Doctoral degree at the University of Victoria on the spatial and temporal dynamics of larval fish assemblages in the Strait of Georgia. In her spare time, Lu enjoys playing with her little preschooler, and also enjoys travel, music, and movies.

Melissa Hennekes, AScT

Algal Taxonomist
Melissa has worked with Biologica as an algal taxonomist since 2013, and has been an algal taxonomist with the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans for over 10 years. Melissa is an accomplished glass artist and when she isn’t at sea conducting ecological surveys for government projects, she can often be found at the Bastion Square Market.

Head of Security

Juno Wildman

Adjunct Lab Dog

Juno is our youngest staff member at only a year old! Although shy at first, she has excelled in receiving pats from staff members, chauffeuring…

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Jasper Wildman

Adjunct Lab Dog

Jasper is a fluffy white dog (Canis floofiensis) and excels at disciplines including SuperDog exercises, barking at strangers, barking at familiars, and charming the masses….

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Juno Wildman

Adjunct Lab Dog
Juno is our youngest staff member at only a year old! Although shy at first, she has excelled in receiving pats from staff members, chauffeuring pizza parties and ensuring the office floor is free of crumbs. In her free time, Juno can be found exploring the forests of the island, sleeping soundly in a cozy dog bed or bothering her older brother, Jasper.

Jasper Wildman

Adjunct Lab Dog
Jasper is a fluffy white dog (Canis floofiensis) and excels at disciplines including SuperDog exercises, barking at strangers, barking at familiars, and charming the masses. When Jasper isn’t dining out on remote controls, he is probably enjoying a delicious meal of other things you wish hadn’t gotten eaten by a dog. In his spare time Jasper can be found barking at humans he sees and humans he can hear, and chewing objects in his proximity.