Meet Marsella Munoz, the 17-year-old scuba diver protecting coral reefs

Coral reefs cover less than 1 percent of the ocean floor but produce 50 percent of the world’s oxygen and absorb a third of carbon emissions — and they’re dangerously at risk.

Marsella Munoz is a 17-year-old scientific research diver in training from Florida, who’s determined to protect coral reefs. The teen started scuba diving in eighth grade and during her first dive, she noticed the vibrant and abundant underwater marine life. Then she saw it decline. 

“Watching something that you love die sparks a fire,” Munoz told In The Know.

Munoz is a member of Dive N2 Life, a STEM research program for youths who want to make an impact in their community. She uses the program to help restore coral reefs and to use research to back up her activism

Coral reefs are not just important for the world’s ecosystem; in the Florida Keys, they help sustain the economy. The reefs are central to its tourism, fishing and other marine-related industries. 

“Climate change definitely has a large effect on the health of the coral reefs and they’ve definitely seen a huge downfall in their healthy coral coverage over the past 50 years,” Munoz said. “Over 50 percent of them are dead.”

Rising temperatures in the water cause stress to the coral which leads to coral bleaching, or the loss of their vibrant color, and the spread of infectious diseases. 

“Doing what we can to reduce our carbon emissions, our greenhouse gases is really important to not just the health of us — humans — but to the health of everything else on the planet, including what’s underwater,” she said.

Munoz wants people to know how their choices and how policies affect coral reefs and marine ecosystems. In 2020, the teen was invited to the State of the Union Address by Representative Debbie Mucarsel-Powell to advocate to protect our oceans.

“My hope is that one day the coral reefs will flourish in spite of human impact,” Munoz said. 

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