Lexie Sturm: The Coral Program's 2023 Knauss Fellow

A woman in a black suit jacket and red shirt smiles at the camera.
Lexie Sturm is the 2023 Knauss Fellow for the Coral Program.

In February, we welcomed our 2023 Knauss fellow, Lexie Sturm. Lexie is sponsored by Florida Sea Grant and received her Ph.D. in Integrative Biology from Florida Atlantic University's Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute. Lexie's fascination with coral reefs started from a young age when she first learned how to snorkel (with arm floaties on because she still couldn't fully swim!). A high school internship with NOAA's Office of National Marine Sanctuaries exposed Lexie to the fields of marine conservation policy, management, and outreach and education, and she has been trying to work at the intersection of coral reef science and policy ever since.

In undergraduate and graduate school, Lexie worked on a variety of reef-related projects including an assessment of human activities on coral communities in Tumon Bay, Guam; a study of micro-wound healing processes in the coral Pocillopora damicornis; and assessing the impact of the Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease (SCTLD) outbreaks on Florida's Coral Reef and conducting SCTLD intervention response. Lexie obtained her scientific diving authorization in undergraduate and became technical dive trained in graduate school. She dove extensively to collect coral samples from shallow and mesophotic coral reefs for her graduate research. The main focus of her dissertation was quantifying genetic connectivity patterns across shallow and mesophotic Montastraea cavernosa populations throughout the Gulf of Mexico and western Caribbean. From these experiences, Lexie built up her skills in the field, in the lab, and now in the science policy arena.

“I was thrilled to find out I was placed with NOAA's Coral Reef Conservation Program! While I have experience in conducting coral reef research, I really wanted an opportunity to learn more and contribute to the development of coral reef conservation management and policy. As part of my fellowship, I am working with the U.S. Coral Reef Task Force, which leads U.S. efforts to preserve and protect coral reef resources and includes 13 federal agencies, seven U.S. states, territories, and commonwealths, and three freely associated states” says Lexie. “Working with the Task Force has already taught me a lot about our legal and political systems; how agencies and organizations collaborate across international, federal, and jurisdictional levels; and the cutting-edge efforts the Coral Program and other programs have developed to support the conservation of our nation's coral reefs.”

A scuba diver with a blue mask smiles at the camera. They hold the regulator to the side of their face.
Lexie diving and conducting research on Florida's coral reef.

For more than 40 years, the John A. Knauss Marine Policy Fellowship, administered by NOAA's National Sea Grant College Program, has provided graduate and professional school students with experience in host offices throughout the executive and legislative branches of government. During the yearlong program, fellows learn firsthand about ocean, coastal, and Great Lakes resource management and policy. The Coral Reef Conservation Program has hosted many Knauss fellows over the years, and this year is no different.

Lexie will support the U.S. Coral Reef Task Force (the Task Force) and the many coral reef efforts of each working group. Lexie is assisting the Climate Change Working Group on a project to quantify each coral reef jurisdiction's climate change priorities; supporting the Restoration Working Group by drafting a restoration policy guidance document; and, assisting in planning the 46th annual Task Force meeting in Washington, D.C. In addition to the Task Force, Lexie works within CRCP on social media, and assists on a NOAA Oral History project!

A group of people sit and stand in front of a large stone hand and short bushes with a corporate office building in the background.
Lexie (sitting on far right) with some of the Coral Reef Conservation Program employees at NOAA headquarters, Silver Spring, Maryland.


  • Johnston et al. 2023. Coral disease outbreak at the remote Flower Garden Banks, Gulf of Mexico.
  • Sturm et al. 2022 Depth-Dependent Genetic Structuring of a Depth-Generalist Coral and Its Symbiodiniaceae Algal Communities at Campeche Bank, Mexico.
  • Sturm et al. 2021. Population genetic structure of the broadcast spawning coral, Montastraea cavernosa, demonstrates refugia potential of upper mesophotic populations in the Florida Keys.
  • Sturm et al. 2020.Population genetic structure of the great star coral, Montastraea cavernosa, across the Cuban archipelago with comparisons between microsatellite and SNP markers.

For more information on the John A. Knauss Marine Policy Fellowship, including how to apply for the fellowship, visit

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