written by Emma Morrow
Coral Lozada is a graduate research assistant with the Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies and a Wes Tunnel Fellow working toward her PhD. She is studying the livelihood transitions that people are experiencing in coastal communities around the Gulf of Mexico.
At a young age, Coral moved with her family from Puerto Rico to Texas, though many members of her family still reside in Puerto Rico. Growing up, her two older brothers often shared their adventure stories involving the sandy beaches and crystal blue waters from back home. Thus, Coral developed what she calls “Reverse Little Mermaid Syndrome,” always looking for opportunities to get in the ocean. When she was a child, her dream job was to be a mermaid. When she was 15, her parents offered her two choices: they could throw her the traditional quinceañera, or they would pay for her to travel to Australia to participate in the “People to People” student program. Following her true passion, Coral chose Australia and got to experience her own adventures along the Great Barrier Reef. “It was like going from zero to sixty!” When she returned to Texas, she knew she wanted to pursue a career involving the ocean. Her Aunt, who works for the Environmental Protection Agency, was also influential, encouraging Coral to choose science.
After obtaining a Bachelor’s of Science in Wildlife and Fisheries Studies from Texas A&M University, Coral decided to continue her education and obtain a Master’s in Fisheries and Mariculture at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi. She did this in coordination with the Peace Corps Master’s International Program, which she completed as an Environmental Education Volunteer at the Islas Marietas Natural Protected Area in Mexico. During her time in Mexico, Coral was able to explore fishing communities, inspiring her interest in the connection between humans and nature.
Her advice for anyone seeking a similar path is to be genuine. “Because I do work with people, a lot of different people and different communities, it’s important to be genuine. Make people you work with see that you’re interested and invested… make sure that you are creating a network.” For those who have trouble starting conversations or creating networks, Coral says to prepare yourself by researching and planning questions and topics ahead of time.
Coral is an avid coffee lover and bookworm. She enjoys sleeping in hammocks, reading, cooking, and spending time with her two dogs, Ari and Rex. Both of her furry children have their own Instagram accounts, “Because I am that pet owner [chuckles].” She got Ari when she first started the PhD program, and two years later she added Rex to the fur family. They bring her the emotional support that is often needed when completing a PhD. To fellow students she also offers the advice, “Be persistent.” She believes it’s important to be able to adapt to challenges faced during graduate school. Even if you fail, it’s important to get back up and keep moving forward.
Coral loves to travel, and when she visits a new special place, adds it to her tattoo collection. “I want a van. I want to travel. That’s all I want in life.” In the future, Coral plans to continue her work with coastal communities and fisheries. She has many ideas for where her career may take her, but mostly she wants to help people understand their place and importance as resource users and managers within their own communities.