Marsella Munoz is not your typical 16-year-old at Key West High School. While she spends some of her time studying, reading, hanging out with friends and volunteering in her community, the junior has also been training as a scientific diver working on the cutting edge of coral reef science.
It’s this work that earned the local teen a trip to the nation’s capital as Congresswoman Debbie Mucarsel-Powell’s special guest at the 2020 State of the Union address on Tuesday, Feb. 4. She will discuss the state of the marine environment here in Florida.
Mucarsel-Powell’s team asked the Monroe County School District to recommend a student for the honor. “They wanted to find an environmentally conscious student to represent District 26,” said an excited Munoz.
Munoz was selected based on her four years of experience with a program called DiveN2Life, which offered Munoz the opportunity to monitor coral disease, collect and process water samples, attend scientific conferences and coordinate a research study on Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease as a scientific research diver-in-training, she said.
The student received her invitation the afternoon of Jan. 29. “At first, I was in disbelief. And then, I called everyone who helped me get to this point to share the good news,” she said. “Now, I am nervous and excited to be given such an influential platform to share my work and message about the need to improve Florida’s water quality and protect the only coral reef in the continental United States.”
Munoz will represent the youth of Key West, Monroe County and the entire state of Florida. While meetings have not been finalized, she plans to talk about the declining health of the coral reef, the deteriorating water quality and the need to restore this natural resource.
“The coral reef is the most biodiverse ecosystem in the ocean,” she explained. “It protects our shorelines from erosion. It supports our fisheries. It is the backbone of our economy.” The teen added, “If we lose the reef, we lose the fish, we lose the protection of our shoreline, and we threaten our livelihood in the Keys.”
Munoz hopes to study marine science and biological oceanography at Duke University. To make a tax-deductible donation to support Munoz’ work (research, travel, tuition, equipment, and scientific diving and divemaster training), contact Kama Cannon with DiveN2Life at [email protected].
- Munoz’s current research focuses on macro-algae, water quality, and coral settlement with DiveN2Life Director of Science Dr. Brian LaPointe, FAU Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute Research Professor and DiveN2Life’s Director of Education and University of North Carolina Wilmington doctoral candidate Kama Cannon.
- She is also one of the principal investigators in an innovative coral engineering project with DiveN2Life program partner Mote Marine Laboratory and DiveN2Life’s Secretary and Science Officer Dr. Karen Neely, a researcher at Nova Southeastern University.