WOODBURY — Morgan Winston, a former Woodbury resident and member of Westover School’s Class of 2010, discovered a previously unknown species while working on her master’s thesis in marine biology at the University of Hawaii in 2015. She explained, “I accidentally discovered a species of parasitic isopod, which is now named Elthusa winstoni. It is quite scary looking, but in a cute way.”
Gathering data for her thesis meant that Ms. Winston spent many days diving off a boat into the warm waters of the Central Pacific and collecting samples of fish using pole spears.
The fish were initially frozen so that Ms. Winston could dissect them back on shore.
When she examined the fish samples, she noticed that two or three parasitic isopods — tiny crustaceans less than 17.5 millimeters in length — had attached themselves inside the fishes’ gill rakers.
Neither Ms. Winston nor her advisor were isopod experts, so they gave the creatures to a graduate student who was studying parasites.
After the grad student was unable to identify the species either, the samples were shipped to Kerry Hadfield, a South African biologist and expert on isopods.
“She concluded it was a new species,” Ms. Winston said.
As part of the new species identification process, Ms. Hadfield wrote a paper describing the isopod for a peer-reviewed scientific journal.
For her thesis, Ms. Winston was focusing on the age and growth of coral reef fish by examining their inner ear bones.
“They accumulate calcium carbonate over time, which produces rings similar to the way that rings on a tree appear.”
Analyzing these bones can help determine differences in growth between populations and species that can inform sound decision-making by the managers of fisheries.
Ms. Winston graduated from Occidental College with a B.A. in biology with a marine emphasis.
She completed her master’s degree in July 2016, then worked one year for Hawaii’s Department of Land and Natural Resources.
There, she was a member of a team of scientists seeking to mitigate and manage the spread of invasive macroalgae species that affect the well-being of corals and reef fish.
In September 2017, she joined the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, working with a team based in Oahu that is monitoring the health of coral reefs.
The team is at sea for periods of four months at a time, visiting U.S. island territories across the Pacific, diving every day and collecting samples from reefs.
“I am really happy with my new position,” Ms. Winston said. “I will be traveling and working with a group of people who are passionate about the work they are doing. I love research; I really love putting the puzzle together.”
Referring to her time at Westover, Ms. Winston traces her love of science to teachers like Alice Hallaran and Kate Seyboth.
“Being in Westover’s Women in Science and Engineering program empowered me,” she said.”My experience at Westover pushed me to pursue my interests in biology, and made me feel confident as a woman studying the sciences throughout my time in college and graduate school.”
Ms. Winston is the daughter of Patrice Gans and Howard Winston of Woodbury.