Daniel Toledo-Rodriguez, a coral reef ecologist specializing in tunicates, commonly known as sea squirts, shares with us his inspirations, research, and aspirations for the future. Scroll down to read or watch the full interview.
What is your name, where are you from, and how did you develop a connection to the ocean?
Hi, my name is Daniel Toledo-Rodriguez and I'm from Hatillo, Puerto Rico. My parents taught in me a love of the ocean; my father was a fisherman and scuba diver, when I was younger my mother would take me to the beach every week. Also, as a child, admiring the marine diversity with snorkeling equipment was a mythical experience for me.
What is your specific field of marine science and what inspired you to work in this area?
Coral reef ecology is my current field of study in the marine sciences. I was inspired to work in this field after receiving my scuba certification in 2012, when I began volunteering in coral reef restoration with various local organizations.
Why is your project important and why should we, as a community, take interest?
In this project, I'm working with tunicates, also known as sea squirts, because they're understudied in my area and are very important because they're related to humans as they belong to the phylum Chordata; these organisms are used to develop important treatments for diseases such as Alzheimer, cancer, among others.
What has been the most difficult aspect of your project and how did you overcome it?
To elaborate on the project, one of the most difficult aspects of my project is the tunicates themselves. These organisms are extremely difficult to describe, but with proper training, patience, and perseverance, it is possible. Another limitation is their common habitat, which is cryptic, as they live in man-made structures or crevices.
How do you envision the relationship between communities and marine ecosystems in Puerto Rico in the future?
Puerto Rican communities and marine ecosystems are becoming more vulnerable to anthropogenic stresses, and while these are resilient, further damage could be irreversible...I believe we can orient our population and governmental agencies to better treat these vital ecosystems.
"I believe we can orient our population and governmental agencies to better treat these vital ecosystems."
What do you plan to do with your degree moving forward?
In terms of my future plans with my degree, I hope to graduate next year and continue working in research or something that will allow me to go scuba diving.
Watch Daniel's full interview here.
Daniel's Seed Fund project is supported by Medalla Light. Follow along here and on our social media to watch for more updates on his project!