Mike Henley



Research Interests

I am currently a Ph.D. student in the University of Hawaii’s Marine Biology graduate program and a research graduate student with the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute. My research interests surround coral sexual reproduction, early larval and post-settlement life-history traits, long-term ecosystem monitoring and shifts in corals’ reproductive fitness in a rapidly changing ocean, reef restoration, and using cryopreservation as a medium for conservation and to enhance reproduction studies. I am particularly fascinated by corals’ ability to hybridize during mass spawning events and if the hybrid larvae might be more resilient to near-future ocean conditions; I intend to investigate this for my graduate research using cryopreservation as a tool to allow more flexibility during otherwise rigid spawning times, as well as investigating any effects the freezing process might have on hybridization.


Montipora capitata larvae in settlement










Photo by M. Henley



About me…

Previously, I was an aquarist at the Invertebrate Exhibit and, briefly, the Amazonia Exhibit at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo, having been captivated by the ocean and its denizens my whole life. While at the Inverts Exhibit, I worked with numerous terrestrial and aquatic invertebrates – a small representation of approximately 95% of animal life on Earth. During my time as the Coral Program Champion, I diversified the zoo’s live coral collection from only a few species to nearly one hundred, showcasing the diversity of corals to the multitude of public visitors the zoo receives every day. It was at the zoo that I met Dr. Mary Hagedorn and have been part of the Hagedorn Lab’s field crew since 2007, assisting the team with coral reproduction field projects in Puerto Rico, the Florida Keys, Hawaii, Singapore, and at AIMS in Australia. During that time I also managed my own coral spawning field season projects at the Smithsonian research station at Carrie Bow Cay, Belize.


Being able to showcase corals and educate members of the public, in both formal education programs and informal discussions, was an amazing opportunity. Public outreach and education is a core value of mine and the Smithsonian, and I have given numerous lectures to visitors and school groups ranging from elementary school children to college classes, detailing the biology and physiology of corals, the ecology of the reef and, most importantly, the reasons for their recent decline.


In addition to working at the National Zoo and various field seasons, I was also previously part-time faculty at George Mason University. For ten years at GMU, I taught Human Anatomy and Physiology lab, and for five years I also taught GMU’s Coral Reef Ecology course. I developed this course, attended by both undergraduate and graduate students, as a dual lecture and field course. Students spent time during the semester learning about corals and the reef environment, underwater methods, species identification and threats to the oceans, culminating in a week-long dive trip throughout The Bahamas. Most importantly, I stressed the anthropogenic-induced decline of changing oceans, combating the ‘what is normal’ shifting baseline, and stressing the importance of healthy oceans for all humanity.


In addition, I did not restrict any student from enrolling in the course; students of all majors were allowed in the class. My reason for doing this was simple: one does not need to be a marine scientist to appreciate the oceans and to want to conserve and protect them. To the contrary, our oceans need people outside of science to help carry the banner of reef and ocean conservation – for these people too can make educated choices when purchasing food at the seafood counter, can also choose to reduce using plastics, and they also have a vote in our political system and can help elect officials who will make positive policy changes regarding our natural environment and in our fight against climate change.


Currently at the University of Hawaii as a graduate student, I am now leading a Marine Biology Club at the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology (HIMB), where I will also be conducting my research. This weekly after-school program targets native Hawaiian high school students in underserved communities on the Windward side of Oahu; each week students learn how we conduct science in the water (while snorkeling) and different topics in marine biology: corals and other reef invertebrates, invasive algae, effects of herbivorous fishes on the reef, photo transects to document coral bleaching and recovery, three-dimensional mapping of the reef, etc. The program is designed to show these students that they can pursue marine biology as a career if they are interested, while also providing them a jumpstart in their marine biology and underwater methods education. At a minimum, they also learn to appreciate and to protect their reefs and ocean environment.




Henley M., Weaver L., Smith A., Chan T., Hagedorn M. and M. Heckman. (2016).  Kulia Marine Biology Club: Inaugural Year.  Poster presentation at International Coral Reef Symposium. Honolulu, HI.


Hagedorn M., Carter V., Martorana K., Paresa M.K., Acker J., et al. (2012). Preserving and Using Germplasm and Dissociated Embryonic Cells for Conserving Caribbean and Pacific Coral. PLoS ONE 7(3): e33354.


Hagedorn M., et al. (2012). First frozen repository for the Great Barrier Reef coral created. Cryobiology, Volume 65, Issue 2, Pages 157-158.


Henley M., A. Peters, and S. Murray. (2007). “Red bug” copepod infestation of Acropora coral stopped by Ivermectin. Poster presentation at the Regional Aquarium Workshop. Pittsburgh, PA.


Peters A., T. Dewitt, M. Miller, D. Stockton, and M. Henley. November, 2007. Good Science Needs Great Story Tellers: National Zoo’s Invertebrate Exhibit. Poster presentation at the Smithsonian Marine Science Symposium. Washington, D.C.



Guest lecturer on coral reef ecology, reproduction, decline, and restoration:


  • American University
  • George Mason University
  • Washington Area Marine Aquarist Society
  • Baltimore Aquarium and Zoo
  • Chesapeake Biological Laboratory
  • National University of Singapore
  • Smithsonian Associates
  • Smithsonian National Zoo
  • Smithsonian Folklife Festival
  • Smithsonian Autumn Conservation Festival


Work and field projects have been included in Science Magazine (AAAS), Discovery News, AZA Connect Magazine, Smithsonian Zoogoer, and National Public Radio


2015 Certification of Merit in Conservation Award – American Association of Zookeepers


Contact Information:


E. Michael Henley, Ph.D. Student¹, Graduate Researcher²
University of Hawaii at Manoa¹
Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology¹
Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute²



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