Students scrubber diving


College of Science & Mathematics
Master of Science in Marine & Environmental Science

MMES students are required to produce a Masters thesis based on original research conducted in the second year of their studies. Students work closely with faculty in the MMES Program and faculty and staff in the Center for Marine and Environmental Studies (CMES) to develop their thesis research projects. They also have the opportunity to contribute to ongoing research programs, including the Virgin Islands Territorial Coral Reef Monitoring Program and the National Coral Reef Monitoring Program. Below is a general list of research areas and associated faculty who can serve as advisors in the MMES program.  

Faculty Research Areas

  • Sandy Beach Ecology
    • Sandy beaches make up one-third of the world's coastlines and provide key ecosystem services such as shoreline protection, food provision, and recreation. They also host diverse and exclusive assemblages with a rate of endemism sometimes greater than those recorded for highly diverse ecosystems such as coral reefs. The importance of sandy beaches is perhaps most striking in the Caribbean, where environments with crystal-clear waters and bright white sand serve as popular attractions for visitors and are the primary economic engine for most islands in the region. Unfortunately, sandy beaches are largely overlooked and under increasing pressure, trapped between the impacts of climate change and human activities in the terrestrial and marine environment. To mitigate these impacts, improve management practices, and preserve the ecological functions and services of sandy beaches, UVI's researchers work to understand these ecosystems considering their physical, social, and biological features. Research areas include the effects of human use and climate change on the beach environment and biodiversity, indicator species, and functional ecology.
    • Faculty in this area include:
  • Coral Reef Ecology
    • UVI faculty focus on many aspects of coral reef ecology, including understanding the dynamics between macroalgae and herbivory, coral bleaching and disease, and the impacts of poor water quality and invasive species on coral reef health. This work includes international collaborations with study sites in Bermuda, Panama, Galapagos, and Curacao. Research projects typically include extensive fieldwork and/or manipulative experiments in the field or running seawater tables. 
    • Faculty in this area include:
  • Mesophotic Coral Reefs
    • A major focus of UVI marine research is on better understanding mesophotic coral ecosystems. Mesophotic coral ecosystems are deeper coral reefs that form between 30 - 100 m. They are extensive in the US Virgin Islands and support some of the most ecologically productive habitats in the territory. They often have a high coral cover (>20%) and are the sites of reef fish spawning aggregations. CMES researchers' work to understand mesophotic reefs has included international collaborations at sites in Montserrat and Curacao. Work on spawning aggregations is also conducted with international partners in Puerto Rico, Bermuda, Fiji, and Micronesia.  UVI's scientific diving program supports technical diving that allows access to these environments, and many MMES students have focused their thesis research on these habitats. 
    • Faculty in this area include: 
  • Ciguatera Fish Poisoning
    • Ciguatera fish poisoning is a food-borne illness caused by the consumption of fish that contain ciguatera toxins (CTXs). Typically, ciguatera fish poisoning symptoms include gastrointestinal and neurological effects. Ciguatera toxins are secondary metabolites produced by marine dinoflagellates, more specifically, of the genus Gambierdiscus. Research at UVI focuses on understanding the ecological underpinnings to the spatial distribution of fish highly concentrated with CTXs. Another focus of our work is determining the levels of CTXs found in lionfish tissue and determining the spatial distribution of CTXs concentrations found in lionfish extracted from the waters of the US Virgin Islands.
    • Faculty in this area include: 
  • Physical and Coastal Oceanography
    • The Oceanography program at UVI focuses on understanding the physical processes and environmental variability in coastal and pelagic ecosystems in tropical and subtropical regions, focusing on the waters surrounding the USVI and PR. Our research spans the fields of fisheries oceanography, ocean observing, marine remote sensing, and coastal ocean modeling. Our research involves: Use of UVI Ocean Gliders to acquire regional data supporting studies of ocean dynamics and impacts on climate and ecosystems; The development and analysis of data products from satellite, airborne, shipboard, and in-situ oceanographic sensors to understand large marine ecosystems at synoptic spatial and longer temporal scales; The development and management of an ocean observing system for the USVI in collaboration with the Caribbean Coastal Ocean Observing System (CARICOOS); The use of time-series data and regional circulation models to understand the influence of oceanographic conditions and a changing climate on the abundance and distribution of a variety of marine organisms, including Sargassum spp. All of this data and research are useful not only within the research community but also to many different stakeholders, so the focus includes distributing and disseminating our research through community outreach.
    • Faculty in this area include: 
  • Watershed Ecology and Blue Carbon
    • Land-sea processes are critically linked in small island ecosystems. Watershed studies at UVI focus on studying the fundamental dynamics (hydrological, ecological, biophysical, and socio-economic) that influence ecosystem health under changing anthropogenic and climatic conditions. Past studies include work to understand contaminants and groundwater hydrology surrounding Bovoni Landfill, impacts from significant rain events and cruise ship plumes on nearshore water quality and benthic habitats, and community education and outreach to reduce land-based sources of marine debris. Work in this area also focuses on “blue carbon,” the carbon sequestered and stored in coastal wetlands (mangroves and tidal marshes) and seagrass meadows. Much of this work is the first-of-it-kind for the USVI.
    • Faculty in this area include: 
  • Terrestrial Wildlife
    • Terrestrial Wildlife studies at UVI focus on expanding the understanding of native and introduced species for more effective management of wildlife communities and their habitats. Areas of interest include habitat use, distribution, and population structure of species of concern, including those that are rare and/or endangered, plus impacts of invasives, using fieldwork and bioacoustics. Community outreach is a vital component of this work, and Citizen Science projects are developed to enhance community involvement and expanding coverage of data collection. Research is being conducted on local species of bats, frogs, and reptiles.
    • Faculty in this area include:
  • Seagrass Ecology
    • Of the approximately sixty species of seagrass, two are known to invade extant seagrass meadows from their native location: Zostera japonica (Pacific Coast of North America) and Halophila stipulacea (the Mediterranean and Caribbean Seas). A synthesis of Z. japonica research effort (Mach, Wyllie-Echeverria, and Chan, 2015) reports that studies designed to evaluate ecosystem impacts of the invasion (n = 53) yield mixed results.  In other words, the invasion was not totally negative. Limited investigation of the H. stipulacea invasion limits analysis of this invasion into Caribbean waters. The primary focus of research at CMES is to evaluate the invasion impact on the native seagrasses in the U.S. Virgin Islands and the ecosystem services they provide.
    • Faculty in this area include: 
  • Sea Turtle Research
    • Three species of sea turtles regularly inhabit the waters of the Virgin Islands.  Leatherback sea turtles, Dermochelys coriacea, are the most pelagic of the three species but come back to Sandy Point on St Croix to nest after spending most of their time in the mid and northern Atlantic. Green sea turtles, Chelonia mydas, nest predominantly on St Croix in the middle to late summer, while hawksbill sea turtles, Eretmochelys imbricate, nest on all three islands. Index nesting beaches for the three species are only found on St Croix, but many St Thomas and St John's bays are considered critical juvenile habitats for hawksbill and green sea turtles. Sea turtle research has included work with all three species and has been primarily focused on the movement and habitat selection of green and hawksbill sea turtles in the bays of St Thomas. MMES students have completed internships at Sandy Point St Croix and the National Park on St John. Other interests include the effects of climate change and sea level rise on sea turtle populations. The inclusion of graduate and undergraduate students in sea turtle research at UVI has been consistent since the arrival of Dr. Paul Jobsis in 2006.  
    • Faculty in this area include: 
  • Population Genetics
  • Environmental Restoration
  • Marine Parasites
    • Parasitic organisms comprise over half the biodiversity in coral reef systems, yet parasites are typically ignored in ecological studies of coral reef systems. Our research focuses on multiple aspects of the interaction between tropical marine parasites and micro-predators and their hosts. These include cleaning symbioses and the effects of parasites on host behavior, the role of parasites in coral reef food webs, the role of parasites in recruitment success of fishes, transmission dynamics of apicomplexan blood parasites, and integrating parasite surveys into long-term ecological monitoring. Our research team collaborates with other CMES research teams (e.g., Coral Reef Ecology, Mesophotic Reef Ecology, and Reef Fish Ecology) and research teams from other countries such as Australia, South Africa, and the Philippines.
    • Faculty in this area include: 
  • Marine Chemistry and Bioluminescence
    • Bioluminescence in the waters of Mangrove Lagoon has become an ecotourism attraction for St. Croix. The vibrant displays of light are created by an abundance of the bioluminescent dinoflagellate. Our focus is to understand the relationship between water quality and the dinoflagellate populations in the bay.
    • Antioxidants appear to be related to preventing degenerative illnesses, such as cancer, cardiovascular, and neurological diseases, cataracts and oxidative stress dysfunctions. We are interested in determining the level of antioxidants in algae in the Virgin Islands.
    • Faculty in this area include:
  • Fisheries, Aquaculture, and Human Dimensions
  • Ecosystem Modeling 
  • Reef Fish Ecology
    • Research on reef fish ecology covers a broad range of topics including movement ecology, the effectiveness of marine protected areas, fish recruitment dynamics, and the impact of invasive species (lionfish and Halophila seagrass) on juvenile fish demographics. Movement ecology, using acoustic telemetry, focuses on the spatial and temporal patterns of movement of a variety of species that form spawning aggregations, and the influence of environmental change on fish behavior. Faculty are also collaborating with fishery scientists to collect baseline data on population characteristics of commercially important species to improve the management of fish stocks.
    • Faculty in this area include: