An official website of the United States government.

This is not the current EPA website. To navigate to the current EPA website, please go to This website is historical material reflecting the EPA website as it existed on January 19, 2021. This website is no longer updated and links to external websites and some internal pages may not work. More information »

Research Fellowships

Use Multidisciplinary Science to Develop Coral Reef Biocriteria Protective of Biological Communities & Final Ecosystem Goods & Services

EPA Office of Research and Development

EPA National Science Foundation Graduate Research Internship Program (GRIP) & Graduate Research Fellowship Program (GRFP) Opportunities

Opportunity Title:

Use Multidisciplinary Science to Develop Coral Reef Biocriteria Protective of Biological Communities & Final Ecosystem Goods & Services

Research Area:


EPA Lab/Center/Office:

National Health and Environmental Effects Research Laboratory (NHEERL)


Gulf Breeze, FL


6 - 12 months, can be intermittent and tailored to fit the student’s schedule

Brief Summary:

Work with a dynamic scientific team to develop bioindicators and approaches to assess the condition of coral reef ecosystems. Research collaborations provide professional opportunities in a regulatory governmental lab setting.

Opportunity Description:

One of the most influential mechanisms available for aquatic resource protection is the U.S. Clean Water Act (CWA). The CWA purview includes: protection of biological components such as coral reefs that lie within the limit of the territorial seas, prevention of waterbody degradation, and restoration of habitat quality. This authority allows decisions to curtail or modify deleterious anthropogenic activities "to restore and maintain the chemical, physical and biological integrity of the nation's waters." Understanding the effects of human activity on coral reefs requires knowing what attributes constitute high quality coral reefs and identifying measurable criteria. Our objective is to develop an approach to characterize the biological condition of Caribbean coral reefs in a consistent way that aids managers in making informed decisions. Restoring and maintaining biological integrity is a long-term CWA objective, and like its physical and chemical counterparts, biological criteria can be defined to protect valued biological communities (Davies and Jackson 2006).

   The overall objectives of this project are to provide EPA, States, US Territories, regulated industries, municipalities and public comprehensive information about the biological integrity and condition to protect tropical marine coastal habitats such as mangroves, seagrasses and coral reefs (Bradley et al. 2014; Bradley and Santavy 2016). We will employ a conceptual framework that defines qualitative and quantitative reef attributes to assess the biological condition and ecological state of a coral reef by defining multiple levels of biological responses to increasing anthropogenic stress.  Threshold levels can be both numeric values and narrative descriptions dependent on the scientific information available, and they are intended to be protective of the aquatic life inhabiting the water body by ascertaining whether the biological condition of a coral reef is improving or declining relative to these acceptable threshold levels. The model is formulated using expert consensus using best professional judgment who develop narrative descriptions translated into numeric by using bioassessment data.

   We will use the scientific literature, available databases and elicitation of best professional judgment from experts to develop an approach to evaluate the condition of corals on shallow water (≤30m) reefs in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. We will develop narrative descriptions for assessing the condition of coral colonies with coral disease, bleaching or other characteristics responsive to different exposures of anthropogenic stressors. Stressors impacting corals can range from local, regional or global in scale such as sea temperature anomalies resulting in bleaching events, nutrient enrichment, sedimentation, sewage, herbicides, pesticides and coastal acidification. The intern will have the option to choose from a suite of tasks in this project, modified to meet their interests, expertise and duration.

   The expected term for this opportunity is 12 months, but is negotiable (EPA GRIP internships must be at least 3 months but no longer than 12 months). Depending on the duration of the internship, the EPA mentor and candidate will work together to develop a project plan to complete within the timeframe.

Opportunities for Professional Development:

The intern will work with a team of scientists with diverse interests and capabilities on basic research translated into applied research problems to better inform decision-makers. Unique professional growth experiences will teach how basic research is developed to provide the information and predictive tools used by governmental agencies to make decisions that safeguard clean water, environment integrity and human health. The multidisciplinary research facility is at NHEERL’s Gulf Ecology Division, which focuses on coastal ecosystems and ecosystem services, with many unique research opportunities afforded by being located on the Gulf of Mexico. The student will work with research partners across different program and regional offices of EPA, NOAA, USGS, NPS and multiple universities.

Point of Contact or Mentor:

Debbie Santavy (

For more information about EPA Research Fellowship opportunities, visit: