Say “yes” to UA


International grad students Matteo Monti and Aurora Giorgi took their UA research experience to the next level with a 6-week trip to Roatan, Honduras over the summer of 2018. Studying the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System as part of an ongoing 8-year collaboration between Department of Biological Sciences professor Julie Olson and the CoCo View Resort in Roatan. Through this collaboration they had the opportunity to continue their fieldwork studies on coral reef health and biodiversity and to make a long-term impact in the area by interacting with locals and recreational divers. As trained dive instructors heavily immersed in research related to coral reefs and biodiversity, Matteo and Aurora are able to effectively communicate conservation-related information to fellow divers. Also, “opening their eyes to the wonders under the water” is a way to educate island locals on the importance of the reefs to their livelihood.


Prior to this experience in Honduras, Matteo and Aurora earned their master’s degrees in Italy doing research on reefs and coral conservation and threats to these ecological (and economic) areas. After that, they worked as marine biologists in the Maldives in the Indian Ocean before working as dive instructors in the Dominican Republic. In the latter position they met a professor who referred them to Dr. Julie Olson at The University of Alabama. This introduction was the beginning to their graduate research careers at UA.


Besides the relationship with their advisor, Dr. Julie Olson, the Biology Department at The University of Alabama has been supportive and made them feel appreciated. Many approachable and interactive professors have contributed to their success at the university, say Matteo and Aurora.


In addition to coral reef surveys, water quality analysis and marine life observations, their experience also led to a recent article, published in Coral Reefs, documenting hydroid association with sea horses. Their time together not only contributed to research with a far-reaching impact, however—at the end of the trip, Matteo asked his longtime girlfriend Aurora to spend their lives together … and she said yes!  Roll Tide!!!