scuba diver veterinarian
The island of St. Kitts

Coral-Reef Leader to Look Out For

Nov 05, 2020
Dr. Alessandra Polo’s love for the ocean was written in the stars as she originally comes from a seaside village in Italy and was born a Pisces.  

As far as she can remember, she has always wanted to face new challenges – professionally, she is a biologist. She has been a science high school teacher, a SCUBA diving guide in cold water lakes, a coral-nurse, and an underwater photographer! Her passion for the underwater world prompted her to become a certified PADI Divemaster and an American Academy of Underwater Sciences (A.A.U.S) Scientific Diver and join the Marine Science Communication NGO called ‘The Marine Diaries’.

Now as a Ross Vet Postdoctoral research fellow, she is currently leading work at the university to set up studies on the coral microbiome communities and health of reef habitats on St. Kitts.

Throughout the months ahead, she will study reef-building corals as ‘holobionts’ and their conservation. Her project will focus on studying the variability and stability of the coral microbiome in the context of their natural habitat. She will specifically look at the changes in specific coral microbial communities between reefs that are under different anthropogenic impacts.

“I’m very excited about the possibility of implementing my molecular expertise with underwater fieldwork in my project here at Ross. We are starting novel marine reef studies and adding a brand new set up in the aquaculture facility where we aim to host corals under controlled conditions. I’m hoping my work will open up to even more projects concerning the coral reef habitat of S. Kitts, which is a key resource for the livelihoods of many people on this island as well as an extremely important and delicate environment to protect,” Dr. Alessandra Polo.

veterinarian scuba diver biologist

Dr. Polo studied Cellular and Molecular Biology at the University of Tor Vergata in Rome. She then continued with a Ph.D. in Molecular Biology at the University of Vienna in Austria, where her research project was the characterization of ancient neuroendocrine peptides involved in the lunar reproductive rhythm of a marine polychaete and the establishment of novel gene-editing tools on this same model organism.

After her Ph.D., in 2017, she decided to spend time outside of the lab and had the opportunity to assist with the teaching of a study-abroad program on Tropical Marine Ecology and Underwater Research Methodologies on Bonaire Island, Dutch Caribbean.

She then decided to take the plunge and moved to Bonaire in early 2019 where initially she collaborated with the Bonaire Marine Park management organization by conducting reef monitoring and later was selected to become Assistant Coordinator of the local Coral Restoration organization by setting up a new coral larval propagation project.

Outside of her work at Ross Vet, she is working on another international collaboration aimed at assessing the impacts of returning tourism on nearshore habitats, particularly coral reefs. She is also interested in monitoring the reef health status on St. Kitts and disease outbreaks, such as the devastating Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease (SCTLD), which has been rapidly spreading throughout the whole Caribbean Sea since 2014.

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