Grad school: pandemic edition

By Lauren Cooley, MLML Vertebrate Ecology Lab

I think it’s safe to say that before the start of this year, no one could have possibly predicted the truly wild twists and turns of 2020- and the year isn’t even over yet! The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has radically altered the world and for most folks, life over the past 8 months has been pretty chaotic and stressful. I never imagined that on top of all the regular day-to-day stress of graduate school, I would also have to deal with a deadly pandemic, but here we are!

So what exactly has life as a grad student been like during these very strange Corona-times? Lots of people have asked me that question since March, and I typically respond some variation of stressful/overwhelming/profoundly boring/way too much time spent on Zoom. If they happen to catch me on a good day where I have made some big breakthrough with my thesis or had a super productive morning then I might even tell them it’s not so bad. In truth, grad school during a pandemic is a lot like grad school during a normal year: highs and lows. Except now I (almost) never leave my house. So, without further ado, I present a brief Buzzfeed-style look into my life as a Moss Landing Marine Labs (MLML) grad student during the Covid-19 pandemic. Continue reading

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How 4Ocean made recycling economically sustainable

By Kali Prescott, MLML Vertebrate Ecology Lab

An estimated 5.25 trillion tons of plastic are currently adrift in the ocean having extensive deleterious effects on wildlife (Erikson et al., 2014). 

Reduce, reuse, recycle has been the battle cry of environmentalists and ocean clean up organizations since the public first realized the severity of marine plastic pollution. For decades plastic producing companies have touted recycling as the solution to plastic pollution in the ocean while simultaneously shirking responsibility—claiming that recycling “is not economically viable”. Continuing to produce virgin plastic unfortunately remains cheaper than producing products from recycled materials even with technological developments.

As recently as September of this year, National Geographic reporter Laura Parker quoted the American Chemistry Council as stating that reducing virgin plastics is “highly counterproductive and impractical,” and was seconded by both ExxonMobil and Dow. Thus, private or government funded recycling plants are saddled with the costly process of sorting, washing, and repurposing plastic waste. None of this directly addresses the issue of plastic in the ocean or the waste washing on beaches worldwide.

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Shifting Foundations

By Acy Wood, MLML Phycology Lab

When I was a child, I used to be mesmerized by seaweed swaying in the surf when I went tidepooling or kelp flowing back and forth in the currents at the aquarium. I loved finding underwater plants because it always meant that I was going to find some amazing animals, too. Whenever I went wading into a meadow of seagrass, I would place my feet cautiously to avoid the crab claws that could suddenly shoot up. If I brushed aside some sea lettuce near a cluster of rocks, a fish might quickly flutter away into a new hiding place. Aside from the plant properties that they all share, these seagrasses and algae also have something else in common: they served as foundation species for their communities. Continue reading

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Holly visits Cawthron!

Blog post from the MLML Environmental Biotechnology Lab

Credit: Marine Biosecurity Toolbox

Dr. Holly Bowers had an awesome experience as a visiting researcher at the Cawthron Institute in New Zealand in 2020! Although she has previously collaborated with some of their team, those relationships were expanded upon and new ones were formed during this visit. She worked closely with the Biosecurity Team to run two experiments testing different filter types and filtration times for efficient eDNA and eRNA capture, using the dinoflagellate Alexandrium as a model species. An eDNA/eRNA review paper with a biosecurity angle is in the works.

With the Safe New Zealand Seafood Programme she worked to expand geographic specificity testing for qPCR assays targeting four species within the toxin-producing genus Pseudo-nitzschia. A continuing collaboration with the team aims to characterize species diversity and toxin production of a subset of Pseudo-nitzschia species around New Zealand. She returns with an expanded knowledge base and heaps of ideas for future collaborations! Continue reading

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The case of the sea lion: stranding events linked to domoic acid outbreaks

By Sophie Bernstein, MLML Ichthyology Lab

When I moved to the Monterey Bay area for graduate school, I found myself most excited to be immersed in a new ecosystem. I couldn’t wait to learn about what the Monterey Bay was known for: the kelp forest. But I never considered the marine life I could see from shore until my scientific diving course, when we would spend several hours a day loading and unloading boats near Moss Landing Harbor. I felt like a little kid in an ice cream store, excited by all the resident sea lions perched on the dock and nearby boats! Needless to say, as an East-coaster, I was in awe. Meanwhile, the Californians who surrounded me did not look twice. Whereas I thought these sea lions were outrageously cute, and had never seen something like this in the wild, my peers simply rolled their eyes at the barking and obnoxious smell coming from the large animals. Continue reading

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Science is creative, creativity is science

By Hannah Bruzzio, MLML Ichthyology Lab

Growing up we often feel like we have to put ourselves in boxes. Being asked, “What’s your favorite subject?” and not being expected to have more than one. I liked science, knew I would be a scientist one day and never put much thought into what else I could be good at. I was always told I was a creative person, that I was a right-brained creative, but I liked science so that was what I was going to stick with.

Stereotypes exist on both sides to help recognize what a child might be good at throughout their schooling and maybe set them on a career path early in life. These ‘standard’ traits are often on opposite sides of the spectrum, with a right-brained, free-thinking creative sending you on a path to be an artist, and a left-brained, rigid, plan-oriented book worm on the other leading you to science. However, these basic human traits don’t hold up in either field in the real world and should never restrict someone to one path in life. Some of the most creative people I have met have been peers in the lab and some friends who are artists are some of the more methods-orientated people I know. There is no such thing as boxes, and it is the blending of these traits that can really make someone excel in their field. Continue reading

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What is a marine heat wave?

By Sierra Fullmer, MLML Vertebrate Ecology Lab

Do you know what a marine heat wave is? Imagine being outside in the peak heat of summer, walking in what feels like a sea of heat. Heat waves, during which temperatures are much hotter than normal, occur in the oceans as well as on land. An unusual warming of the ocean can have many cascading effects, not just for the organisms living in the water, but also those on land which rely upon the ocean’s resources. This was demonstrated in 2014, when the Alaskan ‘warm blob’ became a trending phrase, even outside of the scientific community. This unusual hot spot in the North Pacific Ocean, off the coast of Alaska reached a peak in 2016, ranking in the top five heat anomalies ever recorded. During this time, the top 100-300 meters of the ocean warmed up to two degrees Celsius, or three point six degrees Fahrenheit. That’s enough water to reach from one to three American football fields deep! It may not seem like that much of a difference but imagine how much energy is required just to heat a small pot of water. Now scale that up to the size of the Gulf of Alaska, and three football fields deep.

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A glimpse into the shifting community structure of a Southern California kelp forest and the benefits of long-term monitoring

By Lauren Parker, MLML Ichthyology Lab

I can’t tell you how much I miss spending the majority of my day underwater. It’s difficult to communicate the feeling it gives you; the feeling that you have somehow been given the opportunity to glimpse another world, one that most people never get to see. As a marine scientist spending a select few glorious (for the most part) hours in that world, I am tasked with collecting data. I record pages and pages of species codes and numbers, I count things and I measure them. I take copious amounts of photos.

I was a research SCUBA diver for the Partnership for the Interdisciplinary Studies of Coastal Oceans (PISCO) at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB), monitoring the kelp forest around the northern Channel Islands in Southern California. Most of my days were spent waking up before the sun, loading dive gear into the boat, racing dolphins and dodging migrating whales across the Santa Barbara Channel so that we could dive all day long. We’d race the sunset back to the harbor just to do it all again the next day. Continue reading

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Could seaweed be a pollution solution?

By Shelby Penn, MLML Phycology Lab

As a child, I remember spending hours collecting trash from the street ditch, woods, and ravine around my house. It was something that I felt very strongly about even as an 8-year old. I’ve never been able to understand how someone could just throw their trash out the car window without a second thought. Today, as an avid outdoor enthusiast, tour guide, and lover of all things nature, or as I like to call it “neature”, helping out mother nature has now become a passion and life-long pursuit.

Chemical pollution is a huge problem across the globe and many contaminants are released into the natural environment daily. Concern over chemical pollution can be dated back as far as the 13th century when England’s King Edward I wanted to use penalties to reduce air pollution if the residents of London did not stop burning coal. This threat, however, had little effect, and it was not until after the industrial revolution that the concern of pollution resurfaced. Continue reading

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Living among emperor penguins: 2019 field expedition to Antarctica

by Parker Forman, MLML Vertebrate Ecology Lab

Transcript of radio chatter from the penguin scientists at Camp Crozier 13:15 hrs on November 15th 2019:

Markus: Gitte and Parker ……. This is Markus ……. Do you copy?

Gitte: This is Gitte and Parker …….. We copy ………. Over

Markus: Penguin 5 has returned to the colony! ……. David and I have eyes on ……. Penguin 5 ……… Over

Gitte: Markus …….. We will meet you at the colony …….. Clear Continue reading

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