Student uses skills, social media to spread coral reef awareness

Juliana Grilo, a senior at the Rosentiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, was selected by Canon U.S.A. to advance coral reef research and restoration, much of it through social media and posting photos like this.

 

By Ashley A. Williams

Juliana Grilo, a senior at the Rosentiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, was selected by Canon U.S.A. to advance coral reef research and restoration, much of it through social media and posting photos like this.

 

Student uses skills, social media to spread coral reef awareness

By Ashley A. Williams
Juliana Grilo, a Rosenstiel School undergraduate student, utilized her photos and videos to broadcast consciousness about coral restoration.

The continued decline of the world’s coral reefs has motivated Juliana Grilo to do all that she can to curb their extinction. In February, she was selected by Diego Lirman’s research lab for a fellowship provided by Canon U.S.A., Inc., to help advance the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science’s coral reef research and restoration. 

“I applied because of my interest in documentary photography,” said Grilo, a senior from Naples, Florida, majoring in marine affairs. “After volunteering in Diego Lirman’s research lab, I wanted to do all that I could to reach more people, spread the message, and teach more people about coral conservation.” 

Since a teen, Grilo has had an affinity for the ocean. She spent most weekends snorkeling along the Southwest Florida beaches near her home. As she grew up, she never thought she would be doing such satisfying work. 

“The more that I’ve learned about reef restoration and the more I go out on expeditions, the more I understand how important this work is and the more I support it,” she said. “Coral reefs are one of the most important ecosystems, maybe the most important, ecosystem in the ocean.” 

Before her time on campus during the spring 2020 semester came to a screeching halt, because of  COVID-19 safety precautions, Grilo’s collaboration project was underway. In early March, she went on her first expedition for the Canon coral collaboration. 

Juliana Grilo“I got to document the expedition using a Canon-donated camera,” said Grilo. “I then used those photos and videos to share the work that we’re doing in the Rescue a Reef program, online. I’ve done social media campaigns and figured out what are more effective communication methods in order to make our mission more visible.” 

The program, Rescue a Reef, is a public-facing initiative from Lirman’s lab, which is designed to support coral reef research and restoration through education, outreach, and citizen science. Dalton Hesley, a senior research associate, manages the program and has enjoyed having Grilo in the lab. 

“She’s doing an excellent job pivoting and realizing that her project is taking a different shape because of the social distancing,” said Hesley, who recently earned his Master of Professional Science from the Rosenstiel School. “It’s been a fun learning lesson and we really appreciate having her on board.” 

In his tenure with the program, Hesley has worked with many students who are mainly focused on getting offshore experience—from diving to hands-on experience with the reefs—which is important and obviously appreciated, he said. But, according to Hesley, it has been unique having Grilo around, because she wants to make sure that the work being done with Rescue a Reef is creating change and impacting the community. 

“She is a strong believer in the importance of both research and conserving and restoring our coral reefs and is trying to communicate that importance through social action,” Hesley pointed out. 

Grilo said that throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, she has felt supported by Canon U.S.A. and is flexible with having to modify aspects of the project because of the pandemic. Hesley said that he does hope to be able to circle back to some of the initial parts of Grilo’s project; but until then, the amazing photos and videos she captured from her first expedition have been an integral part of the recent growth in social media engagement, along with Canon sharing Grilo’s stories on their social media platforms. 

“My overall goal is to inspire other people who have a passion to save the ocean,” Grilo said. “I hope that the work I am doing through my social media campaigns and data-driven research can excite others to make the changes in their everyday lives.”