Coral Fellows Take on Local Issues

Managing coral reef ecosystems requires more support—and many more hands—than most U.S. jurisdictions can provide with available resources. The National Coral Reef Management Fellowship was created to help fill this need at the local level.

The fellowship is a two-year program that provides state and territorial coral reef management agencies with highly qualified candidates that meet each jurisdiction’s specific needs. In return, the fellows gain professional experience in coastal and coral reef resources management.

A partnership that includes NOAA’s Coral Reef Conservation Program, the U.S. Department of Interior Office of Insular Affairs, Nova Southeastern University’s Halmos College of Natural Sciences and Oceanography, and the U.S. Coral Reef All Islands Committee administers the fellowship program.

The 2020-2022 fellowship class at orientation
The 2020-2022 fellowship class at orientation. From left, Valentine Vaeoso (American Samoa), Ilan Bubb (CNMI), Victoria Barker (Florida), Matthew Davies (USVI), Justin Cruz (Puerto Rico), Bert Weeks (Hawaii), and Cara Lin (Guam).

The 2018-2020 class has completed the fellowship.

  • Montusaga Vaeoso worked with the Coral Reef Advisory Group in American Samoa to create and implement a sustainable fishing outreach campaign aimed at local fishers, local communities, and students. She also supported the development of the first Tutuila Ridge-to-Reef Report Card, which rates the health of coral reefs and related watersheds.
  • Alessandra Shea was placed with the Hawaii Department of Natural Resource's Division of Aquatic Resources. She focused on coral bleaching and fisheries management, and the development of the Marine 30x30 Initiative.
  • Mallory Morgan completed her fellowship in Guam at the Bureau of Statistics and Plans. She developed training programs and outreach for the tourism industry and supported the Guam Coral Reef Initiative, including the 2018 Guam Year of the Reef.
  • Melissa Gonzalez worked with the Puerto Rico Department of Natural and Environmental Resources. She developed rapid response protocol for coral reef emergencies and recommended management strategies for key reef herbivore species.
  • Austen Stovall was placed with the Department of Planning and Natural Resources at the St. Croix East End Marine Park in the U.S. Virgin Islands. She created a Responsible Boating Initiative program to improve the relationship of boaters to coral reef resources and developed a restoration action plan, as well as coordinated the Friends of the St. Croix East End Marine Park citizen science programs and the Strike Team to respond to stony coral tissue loss disease.
  • Malcolm Johnson completed his fellowship in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, working on the Luta and Talakhaya Revegetation Project on Rota, which will improve the health of the Talakhaya watershed.
  • Victoria Barker will continue her fellowship in Florida past 2020. She currently coordinates the stony coral tissue loss disease response team across the Florida Reef Tract. She recently replaced Maurizio Martinelli, who is now Florida Sea Grant’s coral disease response coordinator.

Fellows also took advantage of many professional development opportunities, including the Fifth International Marine Conservation Congress in Malaysia; the U.S. Coral Reef Task Force meeting in Palau; the Association of Marine Laboratories of the Caribbean Conference in the Dominican Republic; a U.S. Virgin Islands Coral Disease Outbreak Response Workshop; the Gulf and Caribbean Fisheries Institute Conference in San Andrés, Columbia; Reef Futures, a coral restoration and intervention-science symposium in Key Largo, Florida; and Oceania: A Community of Ecosystem Services Conference in New Zealand.

The 2020-2022 class recently began the fellowship.

  • Valentine Vaeoso will work in American Samoa to improve village-level watershed management by addressing land-based sources of pollution and designing small-scale restoration trials.
  • Bert Weeks is assigned to Hawaii. He is supporting the Division of Aquatic Resources’ long-term restoration project by crafting a ten-year implementation plan and coordinating coral bleaching collaborative meetings.
  • Cara Lin is the new fellow in Guam. She will support Guam Coral Reef Initiative activities and projects while studying seagrass and mangrove communities.
  • Justin Cruz will work in Puerto Rico to develop a digital inventory of coral reef diseases and support volunteer trainings on coral disease.
  • Matthew Davies is the new fellow in the U.S. Virgin Islands. He will continue to coordinate the Responsible Boating Initiative program for coral reef protection and coordinate the Friends of the St. Croix East End Marine Park citizen science programs and the Strike Team to respond to coral disease.
  • Ilan Bubb is assigned to the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. He will evaluate priority watersheds for health and the effectiveness of management efforts, and identify baseline data.
  • Victoria Barker will continue her work in Florida on the stony coral tissue loss disease response team.

We’re pleased to continue this program and excited to see what these early-career managers accomplish.

For more information on the National Coral Reef Management Fellowship, visit