Ever since I was young, I've had a fascination with both science and the oceans – especially coral reefs. This eventually led me from the hills of East Tennessee to the other side of the planet to study in Fiji, where I completed my Bachelors and Masters degrees in marine science at the University of South Pacific. During that time, I lived and worked within local communities that depend on the ocean for their livelihoods and are actively seeking approaches to blend traditional management with cutting edge science to protect and restore their reefs. Given the threats currently facing coral reefs, both in Fiji and across the world, the need to understand these diverse and complex ecosystems is more important than ever. The scientific tools that are now at our disposal also allow us to explore these questions like never before and make me excited for the discoveries that are yet to come. That's why I chose to pursue a PhD and continue my research in these incredible systems. I'm hopeful that our work will help fill important gaps in both our understanding of how coral reefs function, as well as how best to protect them for the next generation to enjoy and explore.