Feature Friday: Aliyah Griffith

Hi, Aliyah Griffith! Welcome to Reefbites. 

Twitter: @CnidarianNerd

Website: www.aliyahgriffith.com

Non-profit Website: http://www.mahoganymermaids.com

Aliyah is in the Marine Science PhD Program at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill and studies the historical patterns of coral growth and the impact of tropical storms on coral growth in Florida and the Greater Caribbean Sea. Read more about Aliyah’s work below! 

Give an elevator pitch of what your projects are about.

I am currently working on two projects on historical patterns of growth on coral reefs. One is based on quantifying coral skeletal growth in the Florida Keys before and after acute disturbances such as Hurricane Irma and across the greater Caribbean over the past 100 years. The other project will examine the shift in diversity and density of corals within and outside of Marine Protected Areas in Barbados and how they have changed over the last 60 years. 

Why is this project important and timely?

One of the primary impacts of climate change is the increasing frequency and intensity of tropical storms, which will compromise physical coral reef structures and the habitats they provide for reef-dwelling organisms. Storm size, strength, recurrence, wave frequency and impact are all key factors contributing to the destruction and depletion of coral cover and reef overall health. This project will provide a holistic view of the potential impacts of future storms on corals in the region, and the shifts in growth characteristics that can result due to climate change impacts.

What is the broader impact and implication of your work?

My research encompasses several regions in the Greater Caribbean that depend on coral reefs for food, jobs, and ecotourism. The results will enable the regions to become strategic in identifying the most suitable reefs for out planting corals based on location and historical records of storm activity. These regions will also be able to identify which species of coral are more likely to survive and thrive when exposed to acute stressors. By using historical records of coral growth, we can identify which areas of the Caribbean are most affected and use this information to improve coral reef conservation and management. 

How did you come to work in this field?

I have loved animals all my life, but didn’t know what direction to take to work with them. After many shadowing programs and internships at nature centers, veterinary hospitals and an aquarium, I finally decided on Marine and Environmental Science. During my sophomore year of college, I was accepted into a Pathways to PhD program that allowed me to obtain my SCUBA diving certification and travel to an island off the coast of Tahiti. Here, I teamed up with two other students to create a research project based on our ecological observations. During this project we observed coral reef invertebrate communities, and this inspired me to continue to focus on my research on coral reef ecosystems.

What is your top graduate school life hack or survival resource?

Get a dog, lol. He keeps me on a schedule, is always happy to see me and keeps me company. If you can’t get a dog, I would definitely say to prioritize self-care. Graduate school can get really stressful and you always need to make sure you’re in your right mind to conduct your best work.

Any additional information or comments you would like to share?

If you have the opportunity to learn coding, specifically R, before you truly need it, it will save you a lot of time and effort later on.

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