Outside of the Comfort Zone
Stories from the Blue Nadia Alomari

Nadia Alomari
Photo: Rachel Sellers

Nadia Alomari grew up in Brooklyn, New York with her mother, father, and six siblings. With little prior experience in the water, she never really expected to explore the ocean. It wasn’t until one fateful day as a biomedical informatics student at the NYC College of Technology that the alluring world of oceanographic research was introduced to her. Alomari seized an opportunity as a research assistant in Dr. Mercer Brugler’s Black Coral Lab and participated in an expedition aboard the Research Vessel (R/V) Manta in Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary in 2017. It was an experience filled with adventure and discovery that will live with her forever, having taught her to appreciate the incredible biodiversity within the ocean. This is her Story from the Blue.

When I boarded the plane, I was so excited knowing that I was just hours away from an experience many only dream of. When I first walked aboard the R/V Manta, my heart sank and I felt a rush of emotions. I was excited to learn from some of the top scientists in the field, however, I wondered, “what would happen if the boat sank?” I worried about my son and how inaccessible I would be if he did need me. It was the first time in 12 years that I was going to be away from him. Fortunately, I did not stay nervous for long, because on a research vessel there is always work to be done.

Every day I performed a different task—from deploying the ROV Mohawk, to capturing high resolution imagery of the marine life we encountered, and even operating the ROV and collecting samples. One of my favorite memories was having a chance to see dolphins in their natural habitat! It was an incredible moment that reminded me of my childhood when my father used to take me to the Bronx Zoo every other weekend to see the dolphin and seal shows. And then there was the big discovery—the moment that defined the expedition for me—the moment we realized that the sample we just collected was actually a new species of black coral!

Too people pose with a piece of newly discovered coral
After collecting the specimen with the ROV Mohawk, Nadia Alomari and Dr. Mercer Brugler displayed the sample. Photo: G.P. Schmahl/NOAA
I truly believe my experiences in Dr. Brugler’s lab and out at sea in Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary provided me with a robust education and confidence...

This year I began a new journey in the master’s physician’s assistant (PA) program at SUNY Downstate. I never knew I had a passion for research before, and I truly believe my experiences in Dr. Brugler’s lab and out at sea in Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary provided me with a robust education and confidence that led to my acceptance into the PA program.

I was thrilled to hear the news that the sanctuary has been expanded, and that some of the incredible habitats and wildlife I had a chance to see during that expedition are now being protected. I no longer view the ocean as this scary and dark place—my experience at Flower Garden Banks has taught me otherwise. So much of what exists in the ocean has yet to be uncovered, and research being conducted by sanctuary staff and partners is bridging the gap between the known and the unknown.