Degree: Ph.D. in Biology
College/School: School of Environment, Arts and Society, College of Arts, Sciences & Education
When Cindy Lewis dives down to examine the Florida Reef, sometimes she can’t help but cry into her mask. Many corals have vanished. Those remaining are in a fight for survival – one that Cindy is determined to help them win.
Cindy knew she wanted to study coral after a scuba diving trip in the Caribbean. The grandmother of three went back to school, earned her master’s degree and then, to be closer to the coral, moved from New York to an old conch house in the Florida Keys.
Under the guidance of associate professor Mauricio Rodriguez-Lanetty, Cindy conducted research on coral bleaching, disease, recovery and how environmental stressors, including warming seas, have led to the decline of pillar coral – an understudied, yet threatened, species.
Her findings sparked a groundbreaking project: The creation of a metaphorical Noah’s Ark for pillar coral. Over 400 pieces were collected and brought to the Keys Marine Lab. Today, new disease prevention methods, including the use of antibiotic pastes, are successfully being used – which has implications for saving other species of coral.
In 2017, Hurricane Irma almost derailed her work when the backup generator failed. Without power, she found many coral died. Heartbroken, she headed home – only to find it, too, had been destroyed.
Despite these setbacks, Cindy has let nothing stand in the way of her conservation efforts. After graduation, she’ll continue to save coral as the deputy director of the Keys Marine Laboratory.
By Angela Nicoletti
College of Arts, Sciences & Education