My name is Michelle Coley Alejo and I’m from a small little rural suburbia town in Pasadena, Maryland. I majored in biology at Loyola College in Baltimore, Maryland.
I started my career by working at a pet store at age 16 in the aquatics department and could not get enough of the varied knowledge and learning opportunities I experienced. I wanted to learn more and began doing a lot of self-teaching before and during my college years by reading books and speaking with home aquarium keepers. I volunteered at the National Aquarium in Baltimore and was approached by my mentor senior aquarist to apply for a summer aide position which is what pushed me to pursue a career working with marine animals even further. I found I loved the aquarium and all the information I could glean from this field and continued on my course working for Bass Pro Shop in Denver, Colorado before moving to the Virgin Islands for the first time with a job as an aquarist at Coral World.I moved to St. Thomas in April 2018 for the second time in my career after working at The Virginia Aquarium in Virginia Beach, Virginia for 5 years. I love this island and the people that live here and had the opportunity to advance in my career and push forward with pursuing my overall career goals.
Although I love all the animals here at Coral World, one of my favorite animals here at the park are our collection of green sea turtles. All of them have individual personalities and quirks that make them endearing in their own way. Not only that, they all have individual relationships with each staff member that is fascinating to observe. They are smarter than people give them credit for and have the ability to learn more than most people would expect. Some green sea turtles also do this really entertaining behavior where they bite at bubbles that they’ve either made themselves or that occur in the exhibit due to other circumstances.
The grossest thing I’ve ever done in this career has got to be trudging around in an unknown body of water for a tadpole rescue mission where I could not see the bottom and it was filled with all kinds of bugs and wiggling things I have no clue what they were. This is why freshwater is my least favorite type of water to submerge myself in.
The best advice I can give for people wanting to pursue this career is to spend as much time learning as much as you can from those around you with knowledge to share. Remember that you can always learn something new and there are new developments every day in not only this industry, but in the world of marine ecosystems and their care. Volunteer, internships, volunteer…seriously, the more hands-on experience you get, the more you will build a bench for a future career in one of the most highly sought after fields (animal care). Do not be afraid to get dirty, sweaty, exhausted, sore, covered in algae, and smelling like fish at the end of the day. Animal care professionals are a group of passionate and dedicated people. Never give up, you will apply to many jobs and not every job will get back to you but trust that there is a facility where you will be exactly the right person for the job.
Honestly, I’m more of a villain kind of girl but if I could meet any superhero, I would have to say that I would like to meet Batman. He’s more an anti-hero really and doesn’t have any super powers. Instead he’s a normal guy doing good to help out those who need it. Also who doesn’t want to play with super expensive crime fighting gadgets?