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

2018 Cohort - Welcome New Students


Brad Arrington - I’m from Minnesota but decided it was too cold so I moved to the Caribbean. I now live on a sailboat and love it. Sailing and diving are my biggest hobbies now. I also like sports and watching movies. 

Seleena Seleena Cruz - I was born and raised in Norfolk, Virginia. I graduated from Virginia Wesleyan University with a BS in biology and a minor in marine science and have always loved the ocean. During undergrad I worked in Costa Rica and Belize studying tropical ecology and completed research on jellyfish (Cassiopea xamachana). I am interested in studying coral reef ecology or cephalopods. I have worked as a sailing instructor for the past two years and have grown to love it. I chose to attend UVI because the area is the perfect environment for my passions and I hope to continue both of them on island.
Olivia Olivia Diana - My name is Olivia, but you can call me Liv. I’m from MA but I finished undergrad at Virginia Wesleyan University with a degree in Biology. I had two study aways, one in Belize and the other in Costa Rica. I had an internship in animal husbandry and did research with Ostracodes and lake pollution. I enjoy terrestrial research or what I call “beach science”. I hope to work on Sargassum tides with Dr. Cruz- Riviera.
Courtney Courtney Gomez - I am a native of Colorado and absolutely loved growing up here. I received my bachelor's degree in Accounting in 2012 and always knew I wanted to return to graduate school so after a few life events that pushed me in that direction, I'm here. I am in the MMES program to work on my masters in marine science as the ocean has always been my love. I just received my certification for scuba diving and I can’t wait to go diving around St. Thomas! I spend a lot of time with kids doing anything we can outside. I'm very excited to be a part of the University of the Virgin Islands community and look forward to meeting everyone!

Naomi Huntley - I am originally from Flint, Michigan, and I went on to attend the University of Michigan Ann Arbor where I completed my B.S. in Earth and Environmental Science. At UVI, I will be working as a Research Assistant in Dr. Tyler Smith’s lab on the Ciguatera fish toxin project focusing on the influence of coral macroalgal interactions on Gambierdiscus abundance and toxicity. For my thesis, I am broadly interested in coral reef ecology, with a strong interest in topics such as: phase shifts, coral/algal/microbe influence on reef ecology, and epigenetics. Outside of school I enjoy growing succulents, crafting, rock climbing, horse riding, and exploring with my mini-dachshund, Ellie.

Jessica Lavenson

Jessica Levenson - I was born and raised in San Diego, CA and attended the university of California, San Diego and earned degree in biology. I grew up loving the ocean and all the animals in it and reconnected with this love about a year after graduating. I started volunteering at Birch Aquarium at Scripps and spent most of my time working in the tide pools and educating the public about the local ecosystem. I was hired as an educator for the San Diego Floating Lab where my stewardship journey really took off. I taught Marine and Ocean Science for 5 years. I created an Ocean Science class for Sally Ride Science and have taught for them for the previous 3 years. I just recently began working in a coral lab where I was tasked with mapping reef systems of uninhabited islands in the South Pacific. Through all this, I have developed a love for marine mammals and hope to focus on local vertebrate ecology while at USVI.

Star Star Loerch - I’m, most recently, from Arkansas. I graduated with a B.S. in Interdisciplinary Studies: Communications, Sociology, and Biology. I have studied coral reef fish and parasitology. I have worked in Natural History Collection Curation, as well. However, I love our oceans and there are so many creatures roaming our oceans that I find it difficult to decide exactly what I want to ‘specialize’ in. I want to learn it all, thus I like to keep an eye out for anything interesting. My life’s moto is, “I’ll try anything once! If I like it, I’ll keep doing it till I get it right.” 

Amanda Long - I am originally from Virginia, but I went to Palm Beach Atlantic University in West Palm Beach, Florida, to get my B.S. in Marine Biology. After graduating from college in 2015, I spent the next three years as a Science Educator at the South Florida Science Center and Aquarium where I was in charge of all of our girls STEM education programs. I absolutely loved working in informal education but I am excited to continue my education at the University of the Virgin Islands.


Sonora Meiling - I have wanted to be a marine biologist since I watched Jaws in 5th grade. My love for the ocean started with sharks, then to octopuses and jellies and thanks to my research has expanded to corals. I grew up in a suburb of Portland, Oregon thus love outdoor adventures and art. This past spring I graduated with my Bachelor's of Science in Zoology from Oregon State University. I spent my first two years researching green fluorescent proteins in local anemone species. I then spent the next two years researching the effect of nutrient enrichment on the coral microbiome throughout a bleaching event. With this project I was able to travel to Moorea, French Polynesia for two summers to collect samples. In addition to my work and helping my lab with other projects, I worked for the University of Paris on Moorea with various questions regarding coral recruitment to crustose coralline algaes. Meanwhile, I have also spent the past year researching the effect of sacrificial zinc anodes on crab behavior. My most recent research project is looking at the effect of perchlorate on zebrafish. Once at UVI I will begin another research project with Dr. Marilyn Brandt looking at coral disease transmission. 

Dan Dan Mele - I was born in Maryland, just outside Washington D.C. I received my B.A. in Film Production and photography from the University of Tampa, however my love for SCUBA diving, and wildlife eventually caught up with me, so I went back to college for a Certificate of Major in Biology at UNC-Asheville. Photography is still a pivotal aspect of my professional career as a scientist, as I believe it’s a valuable tool for education, public engagement, and science communication. For the last 2 years, I’ve been working at the Mote Marine Laboratory in the Florida Keys on a coral restoration project, utilizing micro-fragmentation techniques. I’m currently interested in expanding on what I’ve learned at Mote, and finding ways to make restoration more efficient, successful, and cost-effective.

Jessica Michael - From the mountains of Virginia, I did not start out my college career looking to go into marine science. During my junior year, I participated in a research trip to St. John, USVI to study tropical fish and the coral reef ecosystem. I fell in love with marine science and have continued to pursue it. I graduated from Hollins University in 2017 with a BS in Biology and I participated in the research trip again my senior year. After my first time in St. John, I interned at the Virgin Islands Environmental Resource Station working with the camp manager and teaching summer camps. I have also spent a summer working for US Fish and Wildlife with nesting Loggerhead turtles in Georgia and this past summer, I worked with Sail Caribbean teaching marine biology and sailing around the BVI. I am very interested in sea turtle conservation and research. 

Kaleigh Kaliegh Schlender - I am originally from York, Nebraska (a small town with no lakes or rivers as far as the eye can see).  My passion for the ocean began through vacations with my dad and traveling since I was little.  I received my bachelors of science in psychology with a minor in family studies and a minor in biology, but I spent the last part of my undergraduate program studying marine biology in the UK and the USVI.  While in England I assisted with preliminary data collection on a sedimentology experiment as well as worked with GIS and R; and while in the Virgin Islands I worked with sea turtles.  During my master’s program I am interested in studying invertebrates, particularly jellyfish.

2017 Cohort - Current Students

Manouchehr Afshar

Manouchehr Afshar - I hail from the west coast, where I have spent years working with Marine biology in the field and in academia. I received my bachelors of science from Oregon State University in 2015. I have worked with the National Park Service in St. Croix as an intern for the Buck Island Sea Turtle Research Program, and am continuing to work with NPS on my Master's thesis focusing on sea turtle nesting habitat on Buck Island, St. Croix, USVI. 

Kathryn Kathryn Cobleigh - I grew up as a military kid and have always been drawn to the water.  It wasn’t until undergraduate that I discovered I was jazzed on coral. I completed my bachelor’s degree at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in which I focused on changes in skeletal morphology of corals when exposed to temperature and acidified treatments.  Inspired by a UNC class to St. John USVI, I became fascinated with coral diseases which has brought me to UVI to work with Dr. Marilyn Brandt. My thesis focuses on how corals respond when exposed to White Plague Disease.  Using molecular techniques, I am evaluating shifts in the microbial communities between healthy and diseased corals in hopes to provide insight of potential causes of this disease.  

Owen Clower - I am originally from Palatka, Florida and did my undergrad at Savannah State University where I focused my research on Eastern Oyster, Crassostrea virginica, restorationAt UVI I work under Dr. Kristin Grimes where I am looking into if mangroves surrounding a lagoon intercept pollutants. My main interests include diving, traveling, food and Jesus.

Antonio Antonio Farchette - I'm a born and raised Virgin Islander which played a large role in interests in the ocean due to growing up on the beaches. I received my Bachelor of Science from the University of the Virgin Islands in Marine Biology and began focusing on coastal ecosystems, specifically seagrasses. I have done work with both our native seagrasses, and the Indo-Pacific invasive seagrass Halophila stipulacea. I am interested in seeing how these species interact with one another and the management implications.
Kristine Kristine Funk - Starting fall of 2017, I have been playing dual roles as a student in the Master of Marine and Environmental Science program and a working professional at Coral World Ocean Park. I have worked at Coral World for over eight years and am currently the Assistant Curator of Marine Mammals and Birds. I am excited to bring marine mammal research to Coral World and share what we are learning with our visiting guests. My thesis research will involve training the sea lions to tell us when they hear changes in the volume of alternating sounds. This will allow us to determine what the minimum difference between the two sounds is before the sea lions can no longer detect the difference. This is called their difference threshold. Since there is currently no information available about how well South American sea lions can hear, this research will fill an important gap in our knowledge about an important biological function for this species.
Karli Karli Hollister - I grew up on the Lake Erie shoreline and have always loved the water, but it wasn’t until I studied abroad in Fiji that I discovered my passion for coral reef conservation. Since then, I have pursued coral reef research and volunteer opportunities in Fiji, Costa Rica, and the US Virgin Islands. In addition to coral reefs, my two biggest passions are traveling and scuba diving. While at UVI, I look forward to advancing my scuba certifications and working with Dr. Tyler Smith studying coral competition with a rapidly emerging red alga, Ramicrusta sp.
Kyle Kyle Jerris - I was born on St. Croix, United States Virgin Islands. I got my undergraduate degree in marine biology at the University of the Virgin Islands (UVI). I have always had an affinity for the ocean and learning new things so I thought a career in research would best suit me. While at UVI, I have been able to take part in a number of research topics such as parasitism, fisheries, and herbivory. My current research is looking at the effect of Hurricanes Irma and Maria on the invasive seagrass Halophila stipulacea.
Jessica Jessica Nagel - I grew up in Indiana where I received my Bachelor’s degree in wildlife biology. During my undergraduate studies at Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Indiana, my undergraduate professor, Dr. Robert Brodman, taught me how to study and appreciate reptiles and amphibians. Under his mentorship, I took an island ecology course in the USVI, where I became interested in sea turtles and wildlife in the Caribbean. Now, I am studying bats and frogs of the Virgin Islands their recovery after hurricanes Irma and Maria, under Dr. Renata Platenberg.

Amber Packard - My interest in marine science has led me to many beautiful places across the U.S. and beyond.  I graduated from Portland State University with a B.S. in Biology. I've spent several years in sea turtle conservation in Bonaire, Boston, and St. Croix. Recently, I have switched my focus from charismatic mega fauna to charismatic MICRO fauna and will be studying a parasitic isopod common to St. Thomas coral reefs and their interaction with settling damselfish.


Martha Raymore - I graduated from University of Washington with a Bachelors degree in environmental science and minor in marine biology. Growing up in the Pacific Northwest  the natural world and environment has been a staple of my daily life and I'm super excited to branch out into more tropical ecology. I have studied different types of plant animal dynamics within changing environmental climates and with increased urbanization, although here at UVI I am looking at waste culture and behavior for my thesis.  I have had a long career working as a licensed veterinary technician and always find that animals play an important part of my daily life and I even work part time at the humane society here on the island.  In my free time I enjoy jogging, SCUBA, singing, and hanging out with my dog Morgan.


Joseph Townsend - I am born and raised in Charlotte, North Carolina, where despite being landlocked I fell in love with the ocean before I could even tell what it was. That passion followed me through my whole life, leading me to work as an undergraduate in the Castillo Lab during college. After working on projects ranging from tank experiments to field studies, my fascination had become an obsession. I graduated from UNC with a degree in biology and communications, discovering my passion for science communication and videography while in college as well, and took a year away from school to finish a self-produced short documentary before coming to the University of the Virgin Islands to continue my dream of being a marine scientist. I am currently working with Dr. Tyler Smith, and actually have used the recent severe hurricanes to develop an interesting research question of about how coral tissue may recover from stress differently depending on environment and species.

Previous Cohorts - Current Students

  • Tucker Stone - I grew up in Vermont. I have a B.S. in biology with concentrations in biomedicine and molecular biology, as well as a minor in chemistry. While moving here I was looking forward to meeting new people and learning about marine sciences. I am studying the antimicrobial effects of sponges for my thesis project. In addition to that, I am working with Renata Platenberg to create a model that designates frog species based on their calls. Moving to the Virgin Islands has been a great experience and it is surely something that I will not soon forget. I encourage those seeking a quality school with unique research opportunities to come to UVI. The fact that it is in paradise adds to the intrigue. Go Bucs!
  • Vernita Smith - I am Vernita Smith, a recent animal science graduate hailing from Riverdale, Georgia. I am the youngest of four children and the first to attend graduate school.  I love to travel,  read,  listen to music,  and watch television. I love animals and would hope to one day become a wildlife veterinarian.
  • Deborah Elizabeth Smith - I was raised in Virginia, but am a North Carolina native. Having always had a fascination with the ocean, I began my career with a B.S. in biology and concentration in marine science at Old Dominion University. During my undergraduate career, I volunteered with the Virginia Aquarium, studied abroad in Belize, and led my university’s marine biology organization. My undergraduate thesis was on mycobacterial infections in striped bass and developed my interests in microbiology and fish health. I am excited to begin my graduate student career in the Caribbean, and look forward to the unique opportunities UVI has to offer.
  • Lora Johansen - I was born and raised in Southern California. I spent many summers teaching oceanography to Boy Scouts at Emerald Bay’s Pennington Marine Science Center. While working there, I decided to pursue a career in marine ecology. A few years later, after researching common octopus feeding ecology while studying abroad in France, I graduated from the University of California at Santa Cruz with a degree in Marine Biology. Since then, I have been working as a field tech with Northern elephant seals, a naturalist on a whale watching boat in Monterey Bay, and a scientific diver studying California moray eels. These experiences helped focus my interest in movement ecology. Here at UVI, I hope to study sea turtle movement using acoustic telemetry under Dr. Paul Jobsis. I look forward to learning about the local species and exploring the Caribbean.
  • Amelie Jensen - I'm from Kennebunk, Maine. I majored in biology at Saint Michael's College in Vermont and have been working as a Research Assistant at a National Estuarine Research Reserve since graduating. I hope to study carbon storage in seagrass habitats around St. Thomas while at UVI. I like to hike, ski, sail, travel, and adventure!
  • Akacia Halliday - I am from St. Thomas, USVI. I majored in Biology with a particular interest in cell and molecular biology. I love reading, music and my violin.  For my thesis, I will be studying the transmission of a haemohormidium-like intraerythrocytic parasite between damsel fish.
  • Alexandra Gutting - I graduated from Arizona State University in 2011 with a degree in wildlife ecology and restoration. After that, I took six months to backpack around Central and South America and then worked as a field biologist for four years in California, Florida, Alaska, Kansas, and Puerto Rico. Most of my work was on small islands, and this proximity to the ocean lead to my interest in marine biology. I plan to study coral ecology while at UVI. My passions are traveling, good books, and exploring the outdoors, both above and below the surface of the sea.
  • Kristen Ewen - My name is Kristen Ewen, I was born in Ann Arbor, Michigan, but I call a lot of places home. I spent my summers on the lakes, but that’s not where I got my fascination for fish. It took several miscellaneous college courses while still in high school to get really hooked (haha, get it?). The journey into marine biology fit perfectly with the start of my scuba diving career. I ended up at University of Tampa as an undergrad in marine biology. I worked with a species of photosynthetic sea slug, Elysia clarki, in predator defense studiesHowever, I can’t keep my gills dry for long, so I’ve been a dive instructor for Broadreach for the past four years. Currently, I am looking to study fisheries and the development of management plans.
  • Katharine Egan - I'm originally from Milford, PA, but I went to school at the University of Rhode Island where I got my B.S. in Marine Biology. I spent a year after undergrad working at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in Beaufort, NC where I was a Biologist/GIS Analyst. During my time at URI and NOAA, I focused my research interests in the field of coral reef ecology specifically looking at the quantitative ecology side. I'll be working with Dr. Tyler Smith modelling the distribution of Orbicella spp from shallow to mesophotic reefs in the USVIs.
  • Carolyn Courtien - After working in New York Real Estate for a number of years, I am now pursuing a Masters in Marine and Environmental Science.   I love so many aspects of the field that it is going to be very difficult to narrow things down for study, and I am so excited to continue this journey with the University of the Virgin Islands! 
  • Sara Thomas - I grew up in Tennessee but moved to Sarasota, Florida in high school to pursue my love of marine biology closer to the ocean. In April 2015, I graduated from Florida Atlantic University in Jupiter, FL with a Bachelor’s in Marine Biology and minor in Environmental Science. During high school and college, I worked with dolphins and sea turtles but while doing my undergraduate thesis on lionfish, I fell in love with fish biology and fisheries sustainability, therein finding my niche within marine biology.  A few months after graduating FAU, I moved to St. Thomas to attend the University of the Virgin Islands, where I am working with Dr. Rick Nemeth as a research assistant. My thesis will most likely be focused on the queen triggerfish spawning aggregation here in the territory and studying their reproductive characteristics. After completing my Masters, I hope to work for a state or federal fish and wildlife agency as a fisheries biologist to ensure the sustainability of fisheries regulations. In my spare time, I enjoy doing my two favorite things in the world: watching Lord of the Rings and doing Sudoku puzzles, but I also love to snorkel, scuba dive, and talk to my family.
  • Mareike Romero - I am a citizen of the world, with my roots embedded in Germany and Mexico. Despite being landlocked in the second biggest city of the world, Mexico City, I have always had a keen interest in animals and the ocean. Thus bringing me to Humboldt State University in California to complete my undergraduate studies in Marine Biology and Zoology. My main interest is to understand how climate change and human impacts affect the behavior of animals. My thesis topic will be looking at fish migration patterns in St. Thomas and how it is affected by environmental factors (ie rain, temperature, sedimentation, El Niño) and possibly look at other behavioral changes in fish due to these environmental fluctuations. 
  • Tanya Ramseyer - I was born in Colorado, and raised in Virginia. I recently lived in Florida, and spent some time traveling to Belize, Dry Tortugas, and Florida Keys. I earned a B.S. in Biology from Old Dominion University in VA (2013). I have always had an affinity for the ocean, but something about the tropical corals of the USVI drew me in. I am excited to explore thesis ideas with Tyler Smith while assisting with TCRMP and Ciguatera surveys. I would like to focus my efforts on learning more about the impact of macroalgae on coral reefs around the Virgin Islands.
  • Lauren Olinger - Moved to Miami after high school to attend the University of Miami. While there, I got my undergraduate degree in marine biology. A few of my interests include SCUBA diving, drawing, and science fiction books and movies. I live here with my lovely cat, Taco.
  • Danielle Lasseigne - I'm from Southern California, and earned my Bachelor of Marine Science Degree from California State University, Long Beach. I took several years off of school to work for Cabrillo Marine Aquarium in Los Angeles and for The Catalina Experience on Santa Catalina Island as an informal Marine Science Educator. My interests include studying human impacts on coastal marine environments and coral reef communities, and educating the public and help them make positive impacts on the environment. Currently, I am looking to study marine micro-plastics in areas of high human activity and eventually study the impacts of micro-plastics on near shore coral reefs.
  • Colin Howe - My name is Colin Howe a coral enthusiast and eager new graduate student. My family is originally from the Caribbean and I've enjoyed working and learning about the wonder of the cool sweet waters of the Caribbean. My mom always says "Information fueled with motivation equals success.”
  • Paul Hillbrand - My name is Paul Hillbrand and I graduated with B.S. in Biology from Avila University in Kansas City, Missouri. Then I was selected as a 6 month intern for the Stranding Investigations Program at Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, Florida. Upon completion of my internship I was offered a job in the sea turtle and marine mammal hospital at Mote where I was for the last two years.
  • Sarah Heidmann - I grew up in the Bay Area in California, in a family that loves sailing, swimming, boogie boarding, and visiting the Monterey Bay Aquarium. After spending a cold year at school in Boston, I transferred to Oregon State University, where I received my Bachelor of Science degree in marine biology. My experiences studying abroad in Bonaire and doing surveys in marine reserves off Oregon’s coast have directed my interests in fish ecology and SCUBA diving. I will be working with Dr. Rick Nemeth acoustically tracking fish and correlating their movements with environmental conditions in Brewer’s Bay on St. Thomas.
  • Damon Green - Hey there everyone, my name is Bo and I'm from Orlando, Florida. I love fishing, beaching, and diving. I'm really stoked to meet new people, learn a whole bunch, and see what this island has to offer. I am always looking for an adventure and I can't wait to explore the islands.
  • Allie Durdall - I'm from St. Cloud, MN. I completed my BS in Biology and Psychology at the University of Madison, WI. From a Marine Biology aspect, my research interests lie broadly within the phylum Cnidaria, although I am fascinated by most all facets of study within the field. I look forward to expanding my knowledge and getting some hands on experience in the MMES program!
  • Mara Duke - My hometown is Minneapolis, MN, but I've lived in Superior, WI for seven years. I'm pretty much terrified of waves, but I've loved everything about the ocean since I was just a little girl.
  • Michele Donihe - I wasa double major in cell and molecular biology and psychology with a chemistry minor. I love to learn, teach others and be as adventurous as possible.
  • John Cassell - John grew up in Bethesda, Maryland. His passion for wildlife began with summers along the Chesapeake Bay; fishing, catching blue crabs, and searching for reptiles in the woods. However, drastic changes in the watershed (deforestation, pollution, overfishing) he observed overtime convinced him to become a conservation biologist. He graduated from Eckerd College in 2012 and has since worked with multiple organisations along the East Coast.
  • Elizabeth Brown - I was born in Hawaii but grew up in New Mexico. I completed a B.A. in math and studio art at Claremont McKenna College in Los Angeles. Then I moved to Seattle to work as a web and graphic designer. I was soon disillusioned with the advertising industry and left to work as a wildland firefighter for the US Forest Service all over the western US for 8 seasons! During the winters I earned a second B.S. in Environmental Science at Oregon State University. During this time I got involved in oceanography and now I will be studying coral disease with Dr. Marilyn Brandt. I will be using the spatial analysis and GIS to analyze patterns of coral disease transmission.
  • Jan-Alexis Barry - I hail from the island of St. Thomas in the United States Virgin Islands and I am a Masters student in marine biology at the University of the Virgin Islands Masters in Marine and Environmental Science Program. I am the eldest of five, the first in my family to graduate from college, and I’m an easy going guy who loves trying great food, traveling, and gets really excited about fish or pretty much anything fish related. My proposed thesis project involves the parasite Anilocra chromis and its interactions with the host fish species Chromis cyanea and Chromis multillineata. My interest stems from personal observations on the parasite being found on one species in St. Thomas, but being on the other species while it is further up the Caribbean. What is peculiar is the fact that both hosts occur in the same areas. I want to figure out why this is and I am taking a genetic approach to the question by trying to figure out if they are the same species, because when the parasite was first described genetic analysis did not exist and so it may be a new species that was mislabelled simply due to an old classification method.
  • Sara Aubrey - Sara received a bachelor’s degree in Animal Biology at the University of California, Davis in 2006. Her coursework included conservation and environmental policy. She has spent time conducting field and laboratory research both in the sea and on land for a number of projects around the world. Currently within the MMES program she is studying feeding strategies of a major reef building coral as a result of changes in environmental conditions. Her research interests also include investigating mangroves as important habitats in the life histories of commercial fish. Ultimately she'd like to perform research to aid in natural resource management. After earning her Masters degree she hopes to work in St. Thomas and use her newly gained knowledge to give back to the community.
  • Hema Balkaran - Hema was born on the island of Trinidad, where she completed high school and then moved to the U.S. Virgin Islands. She achieved a B. S. degree in Biology at the University of the Virgin Islands in 2012. During her undergraduate, she was a MBRS-RISE scholar which granted her many research opportunities. She travelled to several universities, where she conducted research mostly in the genetic field. Hema has also conducted research at UVI, most of which was done with Dr. Alice Stanford, where she looked at the allele variation in a number of differing banana varieties.  After graduating from UVI, she was positioned as a research analyst for Geographic Consulting, where she worked with Brian Daley on St. Croix on studying the growth of native trees on a variety of soil types. She’s now a graduate student at UVI obtaining a masters’ degree in marine and environmental science. Her research includes looking at the genetic population of the velvety free-tailed bat, Molossus molossus, among St. Thomas, St. Croix and St. John for conservation of their species. She love animals and believes that they are so awesome!!!
  • Jonathan Brown - As a graduate student, Jonathan is learning the applied science of studying reef fish spawning aggregations from Dr. Richard Nemeth and Elizabeth Kadison.  As a best management approach he integrates local and traditional knowledge with western science.  His current study identifies movement patterns of individuals aggregating to spawn for better understanding the effectiveness of an area closure with their spatial relationship.  His study design involves establishing and maintaining an acoustic array, profiling ocean currents, and monitoring fish acoustics.  Jonathan also performs underwater surveys via technical nitrox diving and collects biometrics for assessing the aggregation's reproductive fitness.  If his findings are significant the Caribbean Fisheries Management Council and the Department of Planning and Natural Resources may adopt them as management recommendations for protecting areas where reef fish aggregate to spawn.
  • Alexandria deJarnett - I grew up in southern California and transferred to UVI as a junior in 2011, where I completed a Bachelor of Science degree in Marine Biology. I have always been interested in marine mammals and have completed internships at Dolphin Discovery in Tortola, BVI and Coral World Ocean Park in St. Thomas, USVI. I'm currently interning with the Coral Bay Community Council in St. John where I'm evaluating shipwrecks in the bay to determine if they can be removed without affecting the surrounding habitats and species. I will be using this internship project for my thesis and looking at blowouts in seagrass beds and determining if there will be any affects before, after, and during the removal of the shipwrecks.
  • Kari Gehrke - I am from Southern California and received my Marine Biology degree from the San Francisco State University. My current thesis will be on finding the home range of the green sea turtle here in Brewers bay St. Thomas. I will be using acoustic telemetry to be able to help in the estimation of the abundance of green sea turtles that use the bay. In order to do this research I will be catching the sea turtles in the water and attaching tags. I will hopefully be able to get genetic samples along with isotope samples for further research. I will also be continuing with my PhD after I complete my thesis.
  • Haley Goodson - Haley was born and raised in Texas, but escaped her landlocked blues and chased her nautical dreams out east to Pensacola, FL where she attained her B.A. in Anthropology/Archaeology with a focus in Nautical Archaeology at the University of West Florida. While working on her undergrad degree at UWF, Haley volunteered with the Share the Beach program in Gulf Shores, Alabama where she participated in ensuring the overall hatchling success of Kemp’s Ridley and Loggerhead sea turtles along the lower Alabama coast, which stemmed her desire for future work protecting endangered sea turtle species. After graduation from UWF, she traveled to the Caribbean to focus her studies on the anthropogenic climate change affecting the available nesting beaches of sea turtles for her Master’s work at the University of the Virgin Islands.
  • Sam Mitchell - Sam Mitchell was born and raised in Hightstown NJ and spent his childhood there. He graduated Hightstown High School and attended his undergraduate degree in Environmental Science at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, FL. There he assisted turtle biologist Peter Meylan in research on the green sea turtle and he also worked as an intern at Boyd Hill Nature Preserve studying the local gopher tortoise population. He now is in the Marine Bio and Environmental Science masters program and works as the research assistant for the University of St. Thomas's VIMAS program. The focus of his thesis is the return of green sea turtles to Brewer's Bay St. Thomas in relation to the return of seagrass beds to the bay.
  • Pedro Nieves - Pedro was born on the island of St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands. He attended Lockhart Elementary School then Addelita Cancryn Junior H.S. and graduated from Charlotte Amalie High School. class of '95. He furthered his education by attending the University of the Virgin Islands, spending time at Jacksonville University, FL but ultimately returning to graduate with a B.S. in Marine Biology from UVI. Pedro has worked in many marine related fields such as Coral World where he was a Greeter, SeaTrek operator (guiding guest/non-divers on helmet dives), and Aquarist, maintaining the animals and plants and their exhibits. Currently, he continues to focus his energy on preserving our islands' beauty by serving as a Geographic Information System Coordinator for the Coastal Zone Management, DPNR. Pedro lives with his wife and two boys on the island of St. Thomas.
  • Maggie Rios - I graduated from Northern Arizona University with a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Studies and a minor in Biology. I am originally from Southern California and have always had a love for all things marine. In 2010, I spent about five months in Monteverde, Costa Rica for a study abroad program in which I participated in an Internship with ProNativas, an NGO that is interested in doing educational outreach about the importance of native plant species in Costa Rica. I conducted a baseline study for the organization on the potential of invasive plant species in Monteverde. Through this opportunity, I was also able to participate in some other research opportunities that took me to the coast.  I will be looking at the affects of human activity (boat engine noise) on the movement patterns of juvenile Blacktip sharks in their nursery habitats on St. Thomas and St. John, USVI. 
  • Joseph Sellers - My name is Joe Sellers and I am from Arkansas.  I performed my undergraduate work at Arkansas State University receiving Bachelor degrees in both Zoology and Wildlife Management and Ecology. I have always been interested in ecology, biology, and marine systems.  For the last 4 years I have done research with fish parasites in the U.S. Virgin Islands.  I was accepted to the masters of marine and environmental science program in 2013 where I have continued my research interests, the parasitic isopods known as gnathiids.  I am currently investigating individual and combined effects of gnathiids and haemogregarines on fish in the Caribbean.
  • Gabriel Sello - Gabriel Sello was born on the island of St. Croix, U.S Virgin Islands.  She attended the University of the Virgin Islands (St. Thomas), where she obtained a bachelor’s of science in General Biology. At UVI, she conducted research under the tutelage of Dr. Alice Stanford on the DNA extraction and amplification of Rhizophora mangleLaguncularia racemosa, and Conocarpus erectus; three mangrove species found throughout the U.S Virgin Islands and other islands of  the Caribbean. She has also conducted research at the University of Florida, under Dr. Stephanie Karst, on the Norovirus VP2 protein.  Research has always been important to her.  Thus, she decided to apply to the Master’s program at the University of the Virgin Islands in Marine and Environmental Science to further her education and to obtain the tools that would allow her to have a greater impact on her community.  While at UVI, she is interested in studying population dynamics of the Aedes aegypti mosquito, the vector of Dengue Virus.
  • Moriah Sevier - Moriah is the 2012-13 MMES student representative.  Moriah Sevier grew up in the redwoods of Northern California. She moved to Santa Cruz California in order to attend Cabrillo Community College and University of California Santa Cruz (UCSC). Her studies were focused on temperate marine systems including kelp forests.  She graduated in 2008 with a Bachelor of Science in two areas:  Marine Biology and Ecology & Evolution. After graduation she spent three years working as an independent contractor, a SCUBA technician for UCSC, a mooring technician with Oregon State University, and as a laboratory technician at Cabrillo Community College. She also spent four months as a lab and field volunteer studying the effects of nutrient input in the coralline system for a PhD student in Curacao at the Caribbean Research and Management of Biodiversity field station.  Moriah has decided to attend University of Virgin Islands (UVI) and enter the Masters of Marine and Environmental Science (MMES) program because it offers her the opportunity to further her understanding of warm water ecosystems. The beautiful island, small cohort size, fantastic professors, and the chance develop her own research project all influenced her decision to study at UVI.  For her thesis she is interested in studying land sea interactions, specifically the relationship between gorgonian disease and anthropogenic inputs into the marine realm.
  • Kayla Tennent - I am from St. Augustine, Florida…the “oldest city in the nation…besides the territories.” I received my Bachelor’s Degree from Flagler College, with a major in Education and a minor in Environmental Science. During my undergraduate research I worked on designing a conservation plan for Great White Shark (Carcharodon carcharias). I am currently working on publishing a paper on the documentation and distribution of Red Mangroves (Rhizophora mangle) as baseline data in northeast Florida. Before moving to St. Thomas, I taught elementary school and was the science coordinator for environmental science club. I absolutely love teaching science, but I am also very passionate about research and outreach. I enjoy conservation efforts, and being in the field. I came to UVI to gain more research experience, as well as to experience the culture of Caribbean. As a result of my research, I hope to fill research needs and make a positive change in U.S Virgin Islands. Because I try to spend the majority of my time of the beach and I am always picking up trash, I asked how much trash accumulates on our beaches and how persistent is it? That led me to investigate the prevalence or abundance of debris on beaches in St. Thomas, with hopes of starting an anti-littering campaign to raise awareness and ultimately decrease litter from beaches and oceans. In my free time, I enjoy snorkeling, free diving, hiking, photography, gardening, surfing, reading, camping, trying new foods, going to the farmers market, and traveling.  
  • Nikki Thompson - I was born and raised on the island of St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands. In 2010, I completed my undergraduate degree at the University of the Virgin Islands with a B.S in Biology. During undergraduate studies, I worked in Dr. Richard Hall's lab studying the neurophysiology of the Caribbean Spiny Lobster. Also, I interned at the V.I. Department of Planning and Natural Resources in the Division of Fish and Wildlife, where one day I hope to gain a full-time position using the resource management skills gained from the MMES program to better my community. One reason I chose to continue my education here at UVI is to be able to have a better understanding of the environmental issues that the V.I is faced with, and someday work to help implement better management plans that would allow the continuing existence of the current ecosystems and diverse organisms here in the V.I. for future generations to enjoy. Therefore, I am interested in wildlife biology, marine biology, and environmental education. While in the MMES program, I plan to conduct my thesis on the invasive species, the lionfish.
  • Logan Michelle Williams - I was born and raised on St. Thomas and earned my Bachelor’s of Science degree at Eckerd College where I majored in marine science. I am now a student in the MMES program at the University of the Virgin Islands. For my thesis, I will look at how white plague disease is transmitted between different species of coral. In the future, I would like to continue my research on coral disease epidemiology.


  • Chris Settar '08 - Chris was the first graduate of the MMES Program. She defended her thesis, entitled 'Coral Reefs and Residents of the US Virgin Islands: A Relationship of Knowledge, Outdoor Activities and Stewardship' in April 2009. Her advisor was Dr. Teresa Turner. Since graduating Chris has been working as the Marine Stewardship Coordinator for the UVI Sea Grant marine Outreach Program. She can be contacted at
    • Publication:  Settar, C. and T. Turner. 2010. Coral reefs and residents of the US Virgin Islands: A relationship of knowledge, outdoor activities and stewardship. Rev. Biol. Trop. 58 (Suppl 3): 197-212          
  • Allan Bright '09 - Allan defended his thesis entitled 'The effect of swell-generated physical damage on disease prevalence and asexual reproduction in the coral Acropora palmata (Lamarck)' in July 2009. His major advisor was Dr. Rick Nemeth. Since graduating Allan has been working as a Research Associate at the NOAA Southeast Fisheries Science Center. He can be contacted at
    • Publication: Bright A, C Rogers, M E Brandt, E Muller and T B Smith. 2016. Disease prevalence and snail predation associated with swell-generated damage on the threatened coral, Acropora palmata (Lamarck). Frontiers in Marine Science 3: 77.
  • Ian Lundgren '09 - Ian defended his thesis entitled 'Relation of abiotic conditions to hatch success for relocated Hawksbill sea turtle, Eretmochelys imbricata, nests at Buck Island, St. Croix, US Virgin Islands' in October 2009. His advisor was Dr. Paul Jobsis. Since graduating he has continued to work as a Biologist for the National Park Service on St. Croix. He can be contacted at
  • Steven Hitt '10 - Steven defended his thesis entitled 'Quantifying the migration behavior and space use patterns of Haemulon sciurus and Lutjanus apodus across US Virgin Island seascapes' in August 2010. His major advisor was Dr. Rick Nemeth. Steven is now an Environmental Analyst with Kimley-Horn and Associates, a consulting firm in Florida. He can be contacted at
    • Publication:  Hitt, S., Pittman, S.J., Brown, K.A. 2011. Tracking and mapping of sun-synchronous migrations and diel use patterns of Haemulon sciurus and Lutjanus apodus in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Environ Biol Fish 92:525-538. DOI 10.1007/s10641-011-9875-2
    • Publication:  Hitt S., Pittman S.J., Nemeth R.S. 2011. Diel movements of fish are linked to benthic seascape structure in a Caribbean coral reef ecosystem. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 427: 275–291. doi: 10.3354/meps09139
  • Eddie Parish '10 - Eddie defended his thesis in December 2010. His major advisor was Dr. Teresa Turner. He can be contacted at
  • Christina Colletti '11 - Christina defended her thesis entitled 'The effects of seascape structure on the spatial distribution of juvenile fish within Benner Bay Mangrove Lagoon, St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands' in April 2011. Her major advisors were Dr. Simon Pittman and Dr. Rick Nemeth. She can be contacted at
  • Bryan Legare '11 - Bryan defended his thesis entitled 'Juvenile Blacktip Shark (Carcharhinus limbatus) and Lemon Shark (Negaprion brevirostris) movements within two nursery areas of St. John, US Virgin Islands (USVI)' in November 2011. His major advisor was Dr. Rick Nemeth. He can be contacted at
    • Publication: Legare B, Kneebone J, DeAngelis B, and G Skomal (2015) The spatiotemporal dynamics of habitat use by blacktip (Carcharhinus limbatus) and lemon (Negaprion brevirostris) sharks in nurseries of St. John, United States Virgin Islands. Marine Biology 162: 699-716.
  • Chris Loeffler '11 - Chris defended his thesis entitled 'The interactions of depth, grazing and addition of nutrients on the abundance and distribution of Gambierdiscus spp.' in December 2011. His major advisor was Dr. Tyler Smith. Chris is continuing to do research on ciguatera poisoning at the FDA in Louisiana. Chris can be contacted at
    • Publication: Loeffler C, M Richlen, M Brandt, and TB Smith (2015). Effects of grazing, nutrients, and depth on the Ciguatera-causing dinoflagellate Gambierdiscus in the US Virgin Islands. Marine Ecology Progress Series 531: 91-104.
  • Steve McCauley '11 - Steve defended his thesis entitled 'Understanding differences in recovering Diadema antillarum densities following mass-mortality in the Caribbean: Testing hypotheses in St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands' in April 2011. His major advisor was Dr. Teresa Turner. He can be contacted at
  • Gabriel Renchen '11 - Gabby defended her thesis entitled 'Assessing the impact of derelict fish traps in the US Virgin Islands' in April 2011. Her major advisors were Dr. Simon Pittman and Dr. Angela Dikou. She is working as a biologist for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. She can be contacted at
    • Publication: Renchen G, Pittman S, Clark R, Caldow C, Gall S, Olsen D, and R Hill (2014) Impact of derelict fish traps in Caribbean waters: an experimental approach. Bulletin of Marine Science 90(2): 551-563.
    • Publication: Renchen GF*, Pittman SF and ME Brandt (2012) Investigating the behavioural responses of trapped fish using underwater video surveillance. Journal of Fish Biology 81(15): 1611-1625.  
  • Shruti Arora '12 - Shruti defended her thesis entitled ‘Diversity of bacteria associated with the Montastraea annularis species complex across a seawater quality gradient in the United States Virgin Islands’ in April of 2012. Her major advisor was Dr. Marilyn Brandt.
  • Leslie Henderson '12 - Leslie defended her thesis entitled ‘The relative importance of nutrients and herbivory on benthic community structure: Nearshore vs. offshore reefs’ in April of 2012. Her major advisor was Angela Dikou. She is currently the Coral Reef Initiative Coordinator for the USVI Department of Planning and Natural Resources. She can be contacted at
  • Sophia McKenzie '12 - Sophia defended her thesis entitled ‘Influence of biophysical processes on the distribution of coal communities in Hurricane Hole, St. John, United States Virgin Islands’ in November of 2012. Her major advisor was Nasseer Idrisi.
  • Jeff Renchen '12 - Jeff defended his thesis entitled ‘Inter- and intra-population diversity of red mangrove (Rhizophora mangle L. ) in the U.S. Virgin Islands and northern Jamaica’ in April of 2012. His major advisor was Alice Stanford.
  • Sean Richardson '12 - Sean defended his thesis entitled ‘The effect of the exotic invasive plant Bromelia pinguin on the floristic composition of dry forests in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands’ in April of 2012. His major advisor was Dr. Alice Stanford.  He can be contacted at
  • Rob Brewer '13 - Rob defended his thesis entitled ‘Caribbean hybrid Acropora prolifera viability restricted to shallow reef zones’ in February 2013. His major advisor was Tyler Smith. He can be contacted at
  • Elizabeth Clemens '13 - Liz defended her thesis entitled ‘Investigating the transmissibility of the coral disease, white plague’ in April of 2013. Her major advisor was Marilyn Brandt. She can be contacted at
    • Clemens E and ME Brandt (2015) Multiple mechanisms of transmission of the Caribbean coral disease white plague. Coral Reefs DOI 10.1007/s00338-015-1327-6. 
  • LeAnn Conlon '13 - LeAnn defended her thesis entitled ‘Effects of climate change on coral reef benthic-pelagic coupling in a tropical coastal ecosystem: a theoretical study’ in April of 2012. Her major advisors were Nasseer Idrisi and Tyler Smith. She can be contacted at
  • Matthew Cring '13 – Matthew defended his thesis entitled “Population structure of the Greater Bulldog Bat.”
  • Brittney Honisch '13 - Brittney defended her thesis entitled ‘Chronic impacts of land-based sources of pollution on coral health in the U.S. Virgin Islands’ in April of 2013. Her major advisor was Tyler Smith. She can be contacted at
  • Matthew Kamman '13 - Matt defended his thesis entitled ‘Macroalgal overgrowth on coral health across the U.S. Virgin Islands’ in May 2013. His major advisor was Tyler Smith.
  • Elena Kobrinski '13 – Elena defended her thesis entitled “A descriptive cross-sectional research study of the U.S. and British Virgin Islands: an introspective look at the local participation in tourism, experiential social learning, and survey participant attitudes about coral reefs and nature.”  She can be contacted at
  • Lia Ortiz '13 – Lia defended her thesis entitled “The social structure of the USVI fishing community: A basis for reducing fishery ecosystem and resource vulnerabilities, while improving chances for sustainability.”
  • Clayton Pollock '13 - Clayton defended his thesis entitled ‘Abundance and distribution of sea turtles at Buck Island Reef National Monument, St. Croix, USVI’ in April 2013. His major advisor was Paul Jobsis.
  • Alexis Sabine '13 - Alexis defended her thesis entitled ‘Impact of environmental factors on recovery of coral lesions in the U.S. Virgin Islands’ in April of 2013. Her major advisor was Marilyn Brandt. She can be contacted at
    • Publication: Sabine A, TB Smith, DE Williams, and ME Brandt (2015). Environmental conditions influence tissue regeneration rates in scleractinian corals. Marine Pollution Bulletin 95: 253-264.
  • Alex Webb '13 – Alex defended his thesis entitled “Community Perspectives on Sustainability in a Social-Ecological Paradigm.”
  • Zach Whitener '13 – Zach defended his thesis entitled “Factors affecting the colonization of coral rubble by motile cryptic invertebrates on fringing reefs of St. Thomas, USVI.”
  • Rosmin Ennis ’14 - Rosmin defended her thesis entitled “Coral reef health responses to chronic and acute changes in water quality gradients in St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands” in April 2014. Her major advisor was Tyler Smith. She can be contacted at
    • Publication: Ennis RS, ME Brandt, KR Wilson Grimes, and TB Smith (2016) Coral reef health response to chronic and acute changes in water quality in St. Thomas, United States Virgin Islands. Marine Pollution Bulletin 111(1-2): 418-427. 
  • Howard Forbes ’14 – Howard defended his thesis entitled “Using biogeochemistry and phytochemistry to better assess and understand rhizophora mangle (red mangrove) ecosystems in the Virgin Islands” in April 2014. His major advisor was Michael Doyle. He is currently the Coordinator for the Virgin Islands Marine Advisory Service. He can be contacted at 
  • Jon Jossart '14 - Jon defended his thesis entitled "Modeling a yellowfin grouper (Mycteroperca venenosa) spawning aggregation with passive acoustic telemetry on the Grammanik Bank, St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands" in November 2014. His major advisor was Richard Nemeth. He can be contacted at
  • Jennifer Kisabeth '14 - Jen defended her thesis entitled "Cruise ship induced sediment resuspension characteristics in Charlotte Amalie Harbor and the West Gregorie Channel, St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands" in December 2014. Her major advisor was Tyler Smith. She can be contacted at
  • Viktor Brandtneris '15 - Viktor defended his thesis entitled "An examination of seasonal variability in energy content among reef habitats" in March 2015. His major advisor was Tyler Smith. He can be reached at
    • Publication: Brandtneris VW, ME Brandt, PW Glynn, J Gyory, and TB Smith (2016) Seasonal variability in calorimetric energy content of two Caribbean mesophotic corals. PLoS ONE 11(4): e0151953. 
  • Christopher Biggs '15 - Chris defended his thesis entitled "Multi-scale spatio-temporal dynamics of dog snapper Lutjanis jocu and Cubera snapper Lurtjanus cyanopterus spawning aggregations" in April 2015. His major advisor was Richard Nemeth. He can be contacted at
    • Publication: Biggs CR and RS Nemeth (2016) Spatial and temporal movement patterns of two snapper species at a multi-species spawning aggregation. Marine Ecology Progress Series 558: 129-142. 
  • Tyler Grespin '15 - Tyler defended his thesis entitled "Low level of population structure detected by microsatellites in red hind, Epinephelus guttatus, collected from spawning aggregations in the northeastern Lesser Antilles" in April 2015. His major advisor was Sandra Romano. He can be contacted at
  • Katie Baltzer '15 - Katie defended her thesis entitled "Investigating sub-lethal effects of Caribbean ciguatoxin (C-CTX) on zebrafish (Danio rerio) behavior" in April 2015. Her major advisor was Tyler Smith. She can be reached at
  • Jessica Keller '15 - Jess defended her thesis entitled "Groundwater and sediment analyses of a mangrove swamp near Bovoni landfill, St. Thomas, USVI" in April 2015. Her major advisor was Renata Platenberg. She can be reached at
    • Publication: Keller JA, KW Grimes, AS Reeve and R Platenberg (2017) Mangroves buffer marine protected area from impacts of Bovoni Landfill, St. Thomas, United States Virgin Islands. Wetlands Ecol Manage. DOI: 10.1007/s11273-017-9536-0. 
  • Madeleine Arencibia ­'15 - Madeleine defended her thesis entitled "Estimating the aerobic dive limit of captive South American sea lions (Otaria flavescens)" in October 2015. Her major advisor was Paul Jobsis. She can be reached at
  • Victoria Beasley '15 - Victoria defended her thesis entitled "White pox prevalence and its relation to the human pathogen, Serratia marcescens, in the US Virgin Islands" in August 2015. Her major advisor was Marilyn Brandt. She can be reached at
  • Scott Eanes '16 - Scott defended his thesis entitled "Assessing habitat utilization by juvenile and sub-adult hawksbill sea turtles (Eretmochelys imbricata) along the artificial marine habitat of the Cyril E. King runway" in April 2016. His major advisor was Paul Jobsis. He can be reached at
  • Kurt Alexander '16 - Kurt defended his thesis entitled "Detecting coral disease pathogens in black band and white plague coral diseases in the U.S. Virgin Islands" in April 2016. His major advisor was Marilyn Brandt. He can be reached at
  • Sarah Groves '16 - Sarah defended her thesis entitled "Physical drivers of community structure and growth among mesophotic coral ecosystems surrounding St. Thomas, U. S. Virgin Islands" in April 2016. Her major advisor was Tyler Smith. She can be reached at
  • Ashley Ruffo '16 - Ashley defended her thesis entitled "Foraging activity, movements and use of spawning aggregations by yellowtail parrotfish (Sparisoma rubripinne) in the US Virgin Islands" in April 2016. Her major advisor was Richard Nemeth. She can be reached at