Plenary speakers

Dr. Judith Lang


Dr. Judy Lang has studied coral reefs in Jamaica and the wider Caribbean for many years, having originally discovered the first of the mechanisms by which corals are now known to compete directly for space. She has been engaged with the Atlantic and Gulf Rapid Reef Assessment (AGRRA) protocols and surveys since its beginnings in the 1990s. From 2005, she has served as its Science Coordinator and, along with her colleagues, has prepared many of the program's instructional and training materials. After the spread of a devastating “stony coral tissue loss disease" (SCTLD) from Florida to the Northern Caribbean in 2018, her efforts have been concentrated on helping regional colleagues to understand and respond to the disease. She collaborates with diverse response efforts and is a co-lead of the Florida Disease Advisory Committee’s Caribbean Cooperation Team.

Dr. Diva Amon


Dr. Diva Amon is a Trinidadian deep-sea biologist who studies the weird and wonderful animals living in the deep ocean and how our actions are impacting them. Diva has participated in deep-sea expeditions around the world exploring previously unknown deep-sea habitats from Antarctica to the Mariana Trench, and has also done a considerable amount of science communication and public engagement. She is currently a Scientific Associate at the Natural History Museum in London, UK and is also a founder and director of the non-profit NGO, SpeSeas, dedicated to marine science, education, and advocacy in Trinidad and Tobago and the wider Caribbean.

Dr. Brigitta Ine van Tussenbroek


Dr. Brigitta Ine van Tussenbroek received her master’s degree in Biology at the University of Utrecht, The Netherlands and her PhD degree at the University of Liverpool, Great Britain on studies on the giant kelp Macrocystis pyrifera in the Falkland Islands. In 1990, she established, and still maintains, a seagrass research lab on the Mexican Caribbean coast at the Reef Systems Unit, Marine Science Institute (ICML) of the Mexican National Autonomous University (UNAM). The Mexican Caribbean has received massive influxes of the brown pelagic seaweed, Sargassum, at intervals since 2015. Nearshore seagrass meadows have been especially affected by the “brown tides” created by its massive build-ups along the shoreline. She has since dedicated her efforts to studying the impacts of Sargassum brown tides on Caribbean coastal ecosystems.

Assistant Prof. David Gill


Assistant Prof. David Gill’s research centers on marine coupled human-natural systems, focusing predominantly on marine management and tropical coral reef systems. His aims overall are to provide evidence-based insights into how marine management and conservation can lead to equitable and sustainable outcomes. This work is both interdisciplinary and collaborative, drawing from disciplines such as economics, community ecology, and political science; and working with others to develop salient research questions, approaches, and dissemination pathways. He has recently assessed the socioecological impacts of marine conservation, valuation of economic dependence on coral reefs, and cost-effective approaches for monitoring socioecological systems in capacity-limited regions. David holds an MSc and PhD from the Centre of Resource Management and Environmental Studies, University of the West Indies, Barbados. His post-graduate career included two years as a Luc Hoffmann Fellow at the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC; 2014-2016) and a David H. Smith Conservation fellowship (2016-2018) based at George Mason University and Conservation International.

Dr. Neil Oculi


Dr. Neil Oculi is an interdisciplinary political geographer. He received his PhD in Geography and an MA in International Studies from the University of Connecticut. He also holds a BA in Human Ecology from College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor Maine and studied farm management and rural development at the United World College in Venezuela. Neil has taught courses in Geography, Globalization, and Global Environmental Politics at the University of Connecticut. Neil has also taught an Environmental Studies course at the University of Hartford. His research interests include the vulnerability of Small Island Development State (SIDS), foreign policy analysis, international climate change policy, modeling of sea-level rise within SIDS, and hydro and hydraulic modeling of flood events within SIDS. His research has taken him to Venezuela, Mexico, Tanzania, and the Caribbean, his home region.

Born and raised in Saint Lucia, Neil’s passion for environmental justice and climate change sprouted during his time as the president of a local environmental club, the Mabouya Valley Environmental Club. Serving in that role, he managed local environmental projects such as river stabilization, watershed management and education, youth Heritage Tourism initiatives, etc. Neil is a Resident Lecturer in Environmental Policy and Socioeconomic Values the School for Field Studies’ Center for Marine Studies in the Turks and Caicos.

Associate Prof. Esther Peters    


Dr. Peters is an aquatic toxicologist and pathobiologist with 35 years of experience in temperate and tropical aquatic biology. She is an Internationally recognized expert on coral reefs and diseases of coral reef organisms, particularly corals, and diseases of invertebrates. Her expertise includes marine biology, coral reef ecology, aquatic toxicology, comparative histopathology, and quality assurance. Following postdoctoral research at the Smithsonian Institution on coral taxonomy and invertebrate diseases, she worked at Tetra Tech, Inc., an environmental consulting company. She began teaching at George Mason University as an adjunct in 1999, and joined their full-time faculty in 2008.

Associate Prof. Jennifer L. Salerno


Dr. Salerno’s research interests focus on symbiotic and free-living microorganisms and the role that they play in maintaining and destabilizing organism health and ecosystem function. The Salerno Laboratory is currently working on projects pertaining to coral disease, the role of the microbiome in parasite susceptibility, gut microbiomes of invasive fish, and microbes as biological indicators of aquatic health. Dr. Salerno also engages in science communication and interdisciplinary work at the intersection of science, policy, and diplomacy. She previously worked on coastal and ocean issues in the US House of Representatives as a NOAA Sea Grant Knauss Fellow and served as an American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Science and Technology Policy Fellow at the US Department of State, Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, Office of Economic Policy. In this capacity, she advised and coordinated US policy on science and technology, energy, and oceans issues across US. federal agencies and in the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC).

Dr. Krista Sherman


Dr. Krista Sherman is a Bahamian marine scientist with more than a decade of research and conservation experience. She holds a PhD in Biological Sciences (University of Exeter), MRes in Ocean Science (University of Southampton) and BSc. (Hons) in Marine Science and minor in Spanish (Jacksonville University). Her PhD research assessed the status, population structure and dynamics of Nassau grouper spawning aggregations in The Bahamas to better support their conservation.  She has extensive marine animal husbandry and research experience — evaluating the status of Nassau Grouper spawning aggregations; assessing impacts of invasive lionfish on native species and ecosystems; monitoring the health of coral reef, mangrove and seagrass habitats; coral restoration; and conducting rapid ecological assessments for proposed marine protected areas.  Dr. Sherman is currently Senior Scientist for the Perry Institute for Marine Science with responsibility for the Fisheries Research & Conservation Program.

Robby Thigpen


Robby Thigpen is co-founder and Executive Director of Marine Conservation without Borders (MCwB), whose mission is promoting culturally relevant conservation science among coastal and marine communities. Robby’s immersion among indigenous communities goes back to 1996 when he worked and lived among the Maasai. He would later study biology and anthropology at Appalachian State University, during which time his interests turned to the indigenous lobster fisheries of the Mesoamerican Reef. Through his work with MCwB, Robby has grown his network of ethno-translators and conservation scientists throughout the Caribbean developing the organizations’ flagship project, Treasurers of the Caribbean, a platform and template for bi-lingual conservation science education for learners in middle-school through university.

MCwB approaches conservation science by integrating indigenous ecological knowledge systems with biology and conservation science to produce educational materials focused on marine species, ecology, and other topical content such as climate change and plastics in the environment. MCwB and the Treasures project values and prioritizes relationships and respect among stakeholders sharing interest in local ecological and cultural communities. This foundation builds trust and understanding, making space for more effective communication of needs and ideas in promoting sustainable outcomes. By placing indigenous ecological knowledge systems and languages alongside scientific knowledge and concepts we are growing scientific literacy among the communities we serve while showing how science may also be advanced when it is sensitive to and respectful of local languages, cultures and ecological knowledge systems. 

Dr. Phil Dustan


Dr. Phil Dustan, College of Charleston, began his reef studies in Discovery Bay, Jamaica in the early 1970’s on the photobiology of reef corals conservation.  However, much of his career has focused on human impacts on the vitality of coral reefs. He remains fascinated with sunlight as a driving ecological forcing function of corals and coral reefs, but realized in the 1980’s that unless more effort went into conservation nothing would be left for future generations. A founder of the USEPA Florida Keys Coral Reef/Hardbottom Monitoring Project and Cousteau Society Science Advisor, he pioneered remote sensing techniques to detect coral reef change, collaborated on developing coral molecular stress markers, and discovered White Plague coral disease. Retrospective studies of Jamaican and Floridian reefs that have changed almost beyond recognition, having lost 50% - >95% of their living coral cover, sparked collaborations with non-profits (,, Raja Ampat Research and Conservation Centre) to engage more locals in reef stewardship guided by science.  Just like politics, conservation is local, beginning with local people and their actions.

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