Travis Courtney headshot photo

Travis Courtney

Science/Data Team
Assistant Professor
University of Puerto Rico Mayag├╝ez

Tell us about your work/research. What kinds of things do you do?

My research primarily focuses on the growth and maintenance of coral reefs to better understand the species and environmental conditions that build (or erode!) reefs. This helps us improve predictions for how shoreline protection and other services that coral reefs provide to humans may change under climate change and human impacts. We use a combination of SCUBA diving surveys, sensor technologies, and water samples for chemistry analysis for most of our work and combine these different sources of information using computer code to better understand the the intersecting biology, geology, and chemistry that builds and maintains coral reefs. I've recently begun applying these similar methods and perspectives to coastal seagrasses, coastal water quality, and even the deep sea with this cruise aboard the E/V Nautilus.

What sparked your initial interest in your career?

I grew up exploring the salt marshes and beaches of coastal North Carolina and watching nature documentaries as a kid. Seeing first hand the impacts of erosion and marine debris after storms or fish kills after sewage spills made me want to pursue a career in the marine and environmental sciences to work on understanding and addressing some of the environmental problems of our time.

Who influenced you or encouraged you the most?

There are so many folks who have influenced and encouraged me throughout my career, butI would like to especially acknowledge my undergraduate research advisor, Dr. Justin Ries, for giving me my first opportunities to work in the lab and the field and my postgraduate mentor, Dr. Andreas Andersson, for mentoring me throughout my PhD and postdoctoral research.

What element of your work/study do you think is the most fascinating?

I will forever be fascinated by coral animals that farm symbiotic algae for energy and nutrients that enable corals to turn salts in seawater into calcium carbonate structures that we can see from outer space.

How did you get involved with the Ocean Exploration Trust?

I was invited to join the testing of ocean exploration equipment by Daniel Deitz at the Office of Naval Research to develop 3D reconstructions of the seafloor using next-generation cameras.

What other jobs led you to your current career?

Following my undergraduate degree, I had a science communication internship at the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher and then spent a year analyzing growth rates and skeleton chemistry of coral cores. I then spent some time working on small organic farms and surveying coral reefs in the field before returning to my PhD, postdoctoral research, and eventually as an assistant professor.

What are your degrees and certifications?

Bachelor of Science in Geological Sciences and Environmental Sciences -- University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill 2013; PhD in Oceanography -- University of California, San Diego, Scripps Institution of Oceanography 2019

What are your hobbies?

I enjoy surfing, hiking, gardening, and cooking in my free time.

What advice would you give someone who wants to have a career like yours?

Finding some aspect of science that's exciting while thinking about what folks are focusing on and not focusing on really helped me to find research paths that were slightly different with mentors from different backgrounds and perspectives to guide me in that research. Aside from that, I think working really hard to follow the advice of my research and life mentors and building community and support network of folks going through similar experiences really helped me to get to where I am today. As much as science and academic pursuits can be difficult, it can also be really fun and opens up lots of new experiences and ways of thinking about life so I've really tried to focus on those things to continue growing throughout my career.


Travis participated in the following Ocean Exploration Trust expeditions: