Lila Ardor Bellucci
Tell us about your work/research. What kinds of things do you do?
I’ve always been fascinated by the unique anatomy and physiology of invertebrates, as well as the important ecological roles they play throughout the ocean. As a Marine Science undergrad, I was first drawn to the inverts of the shallows. I participated in research ranging from coral ecophysiology to barnacle reproduction, and conducted my thesis on the neuromuscular behavior of sea stars and how it is impacted by predicted future seawater temperatures. By grad school, I’d been working for OET for 2 years, and knew I wanted to study the unique chemosynthetic habitats of the deep-sea. My graduate thesis was on the little-known fungal microbes at methane seep communities off the US West Coast, and I also had the chance to participate in research on these ecosystems in shallow waters off Antarctica. From the tropics to the deep-sea, a major interest of mine is the relationship between humans and the ocean. As a member of the Nautilus team, I’m passionate about supporting research that helps us to better understand diverse and unique deep-sea communities so that we may better manage our relationship with them and protect them from anthropogenic stressors like deep-sea fishing, mining, and energy extraction. I think a big part of encouraging better ocean management involves sharing ocean research and exploration with others, which is one of the reasons why I love working aboard the Nautilus.
What sparked your initial interest in your career?
I grew up in New York City, but exploring and understanding the natural world has always been a passion of mine. As a kid, my dad and I used to play "the question game." I'd ask him anything and everything that came to my mind: How do birds fly? Why do flowers bloom? How does the moon control the tides? I was ultimately drawn to marine science out of my passion for working in the warm outdoors, but I soon realized that I was even more drawn to the spirit of exploration that inspires our research of the deep-sea. So much of the ocean that covers roughly 70% of our planet lays unexplored - there is so much to be discovered and understood! I love researching the deep-sea both because it's a fascinating frontier on our very own planet and because every new discovery offers helps us humans to inform our relationship with the natural world.
Who influenced you or encouraged you the most?
I would say I've been most inspired by the professors and co-workers who have mentored me throughout high-school, college, and my post-graduate life thus far. Not only have they provided me with countless opportunities to grow as a scientist and researcher, they have been truly dedicated to me as a person. I couldn't be more grateful for the advice and guidance I have received from each of these incredibly passionate, wise, and driven people. Science can be an intimidating field sometimes. It's hard when experiments don't go as planned, when you don't know what direction to pursue next in research, when you feel like you lack understanding or skill in a certain area. In these situations, it's always been my mentors and peers who have helped and encouraged me. Science isn't a one (wo)man job and "good" science is most often the result of the efforts and guidance of many.
What element of your work/study do you think is the most fascinating?
I find it most fascinating to study invertebrates because of the fact that they are often so completely different from humans and other familiar terrestrial animals, in every way ranging from anatomy to behavior. Marine science in general is a field that constantly excites me, especially because of how much we have yet to discover about the many organisms living in our oceans and the unique habitats they live in. Hydrothermal vents, for example, offer a promising site for the origins of life on Earth, and yet we only relatively recently discovered and began to study them and the organisms they sustain. The ocean remains a thrilling frontier for future study and one that I am very happy to be involved in.
What other jobs led you to your current career?
As an undergraduate, I explored multiple different specializations within marine science in an effort to find the one I wanted to explore more deeply through a senior thesis. I aided in various research projects including a sunscreen toxicology study on reef fish, a geochemical research project on Deepwater Horizon oil spill sediments, and a risqué and very interesting project on the morphological plasticity of barnacle penises. Although these topics were not always exactly what I saw myself studying long-term, each opportunity offered me valuable experience in different ways. Ultimately, I chose to conduct my senior thesis research on the relationship between sea star behavior and increasing seawater temperature, but each of my previous experiences contributed to my success in that project. These experiences then ultimately lead me to work aboard the Nautilus and solidify my love for deep-sea research, which was then my focus in graduate school. I think it's important to continuously seek out and pursue new opportunities to remain inspired and to gather up the auxiliary skills that make for a unique and versatile marine scientist.
What are your degrees and certifications?
I have a B.Sc. in Marine Science with a specialty in biology from Eckerd College and an M.Sc. in Ocean, Earth, and Atmospheric Science with a specialty in Ocean Ecology and Biogeochemistry from Oregon State University. I’m also an AAUS scientific diver.
What are your hobbies?
I have a never-ending list of hobbies that include hiking, rock climbing, scuba diving, traveling, yoga, painting, reading, and singing loudly to music in the car. In my dreams, that list includes base jumping, but I’m not that cool yet.
What advice would you give someone who wants to have a career like yours?
My career has taken many twists and turns so far, so firstly I would say don’t feel like you already need to know exactly what you want to do. Just search for opportunities that align with your passions, take them as you can, and let what you learn and experience inspire your next steps. I have had so many jobs that I didn’t even know existed 10 years ago and been to places I could never have dreamed I would go. And it may seem cliché, but don’t give up! We all experience rejection and what feels like failure; marine science is a very competitive and very difficult field. You are not always going to score your dream internship or job. Your research will not always go as planned. One of my professors once told me after a particularly upsetting rejection letter that "we ALL have setbacks: it's how we recover from them that will determine how we flourish." If there is one thing I've realized about a career in marine science thus far, it is that my professor was right. In marine science and life in general, persistence and positivity go a long way - don't beat yourself up over setbacks and you will always recover.
How did you get involved with the Ocean Exploration Trust?
I first came aboard the Nautilus as an Ocean Science Intern through the OET Science and Technology Internship Program. I’ve now worked for many seasons aboard the Nautilus and I couldn't be more grateful for the opportunities, friendships, and connections I have through OET. I strongly encourage any budding deep-sea scientists, ROV/video engineers, mappers to apply for the program!
Lila participated in the following Ocean Exploration Trust expeditions: