This 25-year-old has dedicated her career to restoring coral reefs and protecting our oceans’ biodiversity

Coral reefs inhabit a small fraction of the Earth’s oceans, but they’re crucially important to its biodiversity. That’s why coral reef researcher Marina Villoch wants to help save them, and to educate others about their importance in the process. Marina works at Mote Marine Laboratory, where she works to better understand coral reefs and develops strategies to save them from climate change!

Originally from Spain, Marina developed a love for the ocean from an early age. Her father is an “ocean lover” and her uncle is a marine underwater photographer. “I remember the first time I snorkeled it was like a whole new world had been opened to me and I just fell in love,” she tells In The Know. “Since then I knew my end goal was to do marine science.”

She moved to the United States for college after receiving a scholarship to study biochemistry and biotechnology at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. After graduating, she secured an internship working on coral health at Mote Marine Laboratory. “I was the intern that never left, which led now to my lab manager job which I’m very, very thankful about,” she recalls.

Marina explains that coral reefs aren’t just crucial to preserving life in the ocean. They also affect life on land. “Coral reefs, although they only represent less than one percent of the ocean, they support more than 30 percent of the ocean’s biodiversity,” Marina says. “Coral reefs also protect our shorelines. If we don’t have the 3D structure that the coral reefs provide, then we’re going to be more susceptible [to the effects of climate change] and it’s going to affect us humans.”

At Mote, Marina isn’t just studying coral. She’s also working to rebuild coral reefs in Florida. “How our work fights climate change is by restoring the Florida reef tract,” she explains. “So we’re putting corals out there to restore the harm that us humans have caused. We want to reach a certain percentage of coral coverage so the reef can be sustainable on its own, so that corals are able to reproduce by themselves, and make that environment thrive.”

But Marina is fighting an uphill battle. Increasing ocean temperatures, ocean acidification, fertilizer runoff, and sewage water are all causing coral reefs in Florida to decline. That’s why Marina is also dedicated to research. She wants to figure out exactly what factors harm and help the coral reefs. “I’m very passionate about research, and I think this specific research ties very well together with climate change and how to reverse the damage that us humans have caused to the environment,” she says. “We try to make our environment a better place.”

Marina hopes that by learning as much as possible about coral, she can learn how to save it, and how to combat climate change in the process. “Conservation begins with education,” she says. “I feel like being educated is a first step. I hope that I can contribute to helping restore the coral reefs and also maybe bring some insight about coral health and disease and what makes the coral healthy and what makes it stressed.”

She also hopes that her work will inspire other young scientists to get involved in the movement to fight climate change. She believes that, when it comes to solving climate change, it’s important for as many people as possible to get involved. She explains, “I also hope to inspire other young persons to do research in the future and also people to be more mindful of their choices and protect our oceans, because at the end it affects all of us.”

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