You may have heard stories about the Great Barrier Reef and coral reefs worldwide that are succumbing to ‘coral bleaching.’ Maybe you’ve seen the pictures of stark white corals devoid of the fish and other creatures that make a reef healthy and colorful. But what exactly is coral bleaching and what is it like to study it?
When corals bleach, they lose their symbiotic partner, microscopic algae called zooxanthellae. Zooxanthellae provide the majority of the coral’s diet by converting energy from the sun into food for the coral. As a response to stressful changes in their surroundings, zooxanthellae will abandon their coral host, leaving behind a pale and hungry coral skeleton. Often, the corals never recover their zooxanthellae and die of starvation.
By Amanda Heidt, Invertebrate Zoology & Molecular Ecology Lab
Amanda Heidt was recently selected as the 2018 KQED-CSUMB Fuhs Science Communication Fellow. The Fuhs Family Foundation provided funding for a one year $10,000 scholarship and a paid summer internship at KQED Public Media in San Francisco. She spent the summer living in the city, navigating the BART, and making a map of all the food she needed to eat. At work, she split her time between covering stories for Science News and researching story lines for the popular 4k Youtube video series Deep Look.
She recently returned back to the lab and caught us up on what she learned from her crash course in science communication. You can also skip forward here to see her KQED portfolio.
(Am I dating myself by referencing a movie from the 1930s in the title? Maybe. But don't worry, I'm also hip to the #scicomm lingo.)
I applied for this fellowship on a whim, because the application was only 250 words and the scholarship would be enough to cover the rest of my research costs. Like many people, I think science communication is important, but actually doing it can be completely overwhelming.
But surprisingly, as I cleared the various hurdles they set for applicants, I started to get more excited at the thought of really going for it. I had to summarize a dense scientific paper in 250 words. That was hard. I had to interview with my would-be bosses. Always a nail-biter. And immediately after that, I had to go blind into a two-hour writing test, the details of which I am barred from explaining. It was challenging, but it gave a taste of what it is like to have a quick turn-around on a story.
And I did have some quick turnarounds. My summer fellowship fell right in the middle of an intense fire season in California. As a result, much of my coverage revolved around covering stories related to fires. In these cases, I would be called into my editors office and assigned a particular angle to investigate. For example, the County Fire early on in the summer closed Lake Berryessa businesses during the 4th of July, one of the busiest weekends on the lake. I had three hours in which to find people to interview, call them, transcribe the interviews, write the draft, and go through edits.
But there were other pieces -- longer and more personal -- that took weeks. I was able to be thoughtful in who I chose to speak with, targeted in the questions I put to them, and a bit more lyrical in the way I spun the narrative. I drew from past professional relationships to get at different perspectives. With Deep Look episodes, I formed ongoing relationships with researchers as I came back to them with more questions -- always more questions. While I enjoyed the challenge of a tight deadline, it was clear to me that I was drawn more to the deep dive into a particular story. Maybe I should have guessed as much; my podcast and book choices tend to skew long-term, in-depth journalism.
I think what surprised me most about the fellowship was the diversity of tools in the science communication toolbelt. It isn't just writing. Or even one type of writing. There is, for example, a huge difference between writing a feature piece and drafting a script for a Deep Look episode. A traditional article would largely be a conversation between myself and my editor, but a scripting session was a group affair, with a half-dozen people crammed into a cubicle slashing at a word document as yet another person leaned over to comment from the desk next door.
And beyond the writing, I learned how to photograph and film, how to edit video, how to conduct interviews in-person or over the phone, how to put together a podcast, and how to record a piece for radio. I took photos of people taking photos (it was very meta). I dove with our videographer so we could see where the wild things really were. I wore slacks and a nice blazer to meet a scientist at California Academia of Sciences and then went directly to the beach and soaked myself to get a perfect opening shot.
I loved that there were so many avenues to get the word out. It was fun for me to get to learn about new things, to be a journalistic chameleon for a time. A news story is meant to be factual and timely, while a Deep Look episode is silly and surprising. The immediate gratification of publishing several news stories during my ten weeks is different to the slow-burn of Deep Look releases. My first episode credit released on my last day. They each pull at very different creative threads.
Science communication came to me slowly. Even five years ago, I would never have thought to do anything like this. But similar to the way I think everyone should know the basics of computer coding, I think everyone should have an understanding of how to put words to a page. It's not really so revolutionary a thought; all through school we are expected to learn math, science, literature, history, art. It's only really in college that we move away from what does not come naturally to us.
People invest in what they care about. This, to me, is at the heart of why it behooves all scientists to take communicating their work seriously. Set aside that it can be fun to bring the wonder of discovery to fresh eyes, and you're still left with the fact that we need the broader public behind us to drive forward with our work.
Coming back to the lab, I feel invigorated. And I especially feel affection for this blog, this space that was really my only exposure to writing about science for a wide audience that I had for a long time. Blogging as a legitimate means of sharing information has really only come about in the last decade or so, and I think they retain some of their image as a renegade platform where the words can be yours and yours alone. I am excited, and I hope others are to, to explore the benefits of this creative space. As Erin reiterated in last week's post, this blog has always been for the students, by the students.
Below I've linked to all of my pieces. The application for the next Fuhs Fellow recently opened and will be due in February 2019. I highly encourage any CSUMB-affiliated student to apply. It is intense, but it's also a great way to really jump in to science communication with good oversight and resources. Feel free to email me with any questions.
It's been a bit...vertebrate-y on the blog lately, so today we're going to hear about one of the ongoing projects of the Invertebrate Zoology lab here at Moss Landing! Our principle investigator, Dr. Jonathan Geller, is a coauthor on a recent paper to come out of our collaboration with the Infinite Diversity project, whose members include representatives from NOAA, the Smithsonian, San Diego State University, UCLA, and international scientists across Indonesia. With funding provided by the National Science Foundation, the ultimate goal of this project has been twofold: to foster international collaborations among marine scientists and to better understand marine biodiversity along geographic and anthropogenic (human-induced) stress gradients, with specific interest in tropical coral systems.
A thorough understanding of the ways in which we affect our environment and how these effects might play out under future climatic scenarios is of increasing importance, and it requires a method that is both standardized and tractable over time. So, let me tell you a little story. When I first started imagining this post almost a year ago, I had just spent a month at sea, diving at remote sites to collect field instruments that could then be brought back on board and analyzed. They were essentially stacks of PVC plates, held apart by small plastic spacers, which were anchored to the reef and left to "marinate" for years until they became nearly continuous with the reef itself. These pieces of equipment were ARMS (known in longhand as "Autonomous Reef Monitoring Structures"), and they represent the answer to the question "How do we provide a systematic, consistent, and comparable method for analyzing biodiversity across broad scales?"
Hello dear readers. We realize things have been a bit scant lately here at The Drop-In Blog, but summer = field season and so many of us at Moss Landing Marine Labs have been off to the far corners of the globe tracking down some serious science. We hope you can forgive us, because what it means for you is a ton of great new content on the horizon!
First off, we'd like to invite you over to our new website, Microcosms, designed as part of a Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM) class being offered this fall. Microcosms will use SEM technology to turn the lens on the tiny. If you've ever wondered about the texture of a shark's skin, or how sand from one beach might differ from another (and who hasn't?), it will be a great resource. Our professor, Ivano Aiello, recently wrote a post on our anniversary blog explaining the history of SEM usage here at Moss Landing. As he explains
Electron microscopes are scientific instruments that use a beam of energy electrons that allow us to ‘see’ objects on a very fine scale. The electrons are accelerated by a high voltage electron gun in a cathode ray tube (yes like the one used in the old school televisions) and condensed in a beam that scans and interacts with the specimen: the interactions produces new (secondary) electrons or backscattered (primary) electrons that are captured by a detector and turned into an electrical signal. A computer analyzes the signal and based on the location of the beam and intensity of the signal converts it into an image.
What it means for you is the chance to see such seemingly banal things with a new eye to detail. About 4000X the detail, on average. We're in week 3 of class and we've already "photographed" human hair, a fly's head, sharks' teeth, sponges, deep-sea sediments, a leaf, and sand from our local beachfront. Every week, we'll be posting new images to our Atlas, a photo-collection of big science on a micro scale. The Atlas represents a class-wide effort, but since there are only five of us in the class it really is a labor of love. Each student is responsible for a "chapter," and so far we expect to cover deep sea and coastal sediments, marine vertebrates, invertebrates, corals, and seaweeds. We'll be posting descriptions of each image, and may even invite you in with a "what am I looking at?" segment.
As an invertebrate person, I'm always grumbling under my breathe about how, come on, a worm could be just as cute as a dolphin if you could just see it. It's always been about the charismatic megafauna. But I say nay-nay to that. We hope to see you on the tiny side of the spectrum, where "huge" is measured in micrometers and the tools look like something out of a Mary Shelley novel. Oh, and we plate things in gold before we photograph them, so it's pretty fabulous.
One of the many great aspects about doing marine research in Monterey Bay is that there are many institutions in the area, all of which are interested in uncovering the unknown about our Pacific Ocean. Many Moss Landing Marine Labs graduate students often continue their careers at these institutions. In fact, right down the street from our lab is Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI for short), and many former graduate students now work there. Much of the research performed at MBARI involves taking ROVs into our canyon and exploring what lies beneath the water we see from MLML's windows.
For the last 25+ years, scientists at MBARI have been monitoring a site deemed “Station M” within the Monterey Canyon that is 126 miles offshore and 2.5 miles below the surface. For 20 of those 25 years, the ecosystem has been relatively stable and sponges were the dominant invertebrates in the area.
Then, between 2011 and 2014, scientists noticed that sea cucumbers immigrated into Station M and out-competed the sponges. One interesting fact about these squishy deep sea echinoderms is that, in addition to inching along like caterpillars, they can actually also swim around! They rely on sinking and decaying detritus for food, and increased decaying plant life around Station M is what allowed the sea cucumbers to take over.
But why was there a sudden increase in food, and where did it come from? These were among the questions asked by MBARI scientists, and they believe the decaying plant life may have been pushed into the system through upwelling. Seasonal winds cause upwelling, which brings cold, nutrient rich waters to the surface. Scientists believe that climate change is causing an increase in these winds, which in turn, is increasing the frequency of upwelling.
Christine Huffard, a scientist on the project said, “What we do on the surface waters does affect the deep sea. We are not just changing our immediate everyday surroundings, we are changing the greatest depths of the ocean.” So, as we humans heat up the Earth, that changes how the ocean works, which then affects even the deepest part of our canyon. For its inhabitants, that means more food for sea cucumbers, and for us, it means food for thought of our actions on land!
A big part of what makes studying marine science great is being able to travel around the world and see how different ecological systems operate. Although MLML’s location in the heart of Monterey Bay makes it ideal for studying the marine environments of California, as a student studying coral reefs, I relish the opportunity to travel abroad and see different reefs around the world. This past summer, I attended a three week summer workshop at the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), located along the coast of the Red Sea in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. In these three weeks, I was able to learn about the research being done in the university’s Red Sea Research Center, as well as spending some time exploring the coral reefs of the Red Sea and learning about the culture of Saudi Arabia.
We spent some days in the classroom learning about various faculty and student research projects, ranging from studies of microbes and genetics to the movement of whale sharks! However, we also spent some time in the field seeing the local reefs firsthand. And let me tell you, as someone with most of my experience in the Caribbean, these reefs did not disappoint! The reefs had amazingly high coral cover, and I was able to see some creatures that you can only find in the Indo-Pacific region.
Some of the reefs we saw were absolutely stunning!
A beautiful giant clam hanging out among the coral
We even got to see some clownfish (I'll spare you the "I found Nemo!" joke)
Despite seeing some amazing creatures and beautiful reefs, many of the large fish species were absent. We didn't see any large groupers or wrasses, and only one snorkeling group saw a shark. Unfortunately, many of the local reefs are fished pretty heavily, with a lot of the fish ending up at the nearby Jeddah fish market, which we got to visit towards the end of the trip. There were all kinds of fishes on display, including the large individuals missing from the reefs we visited. Some projects at KAUST involve monitoring the fish market for catch trends and even occasionally buying fish to use for genetic studies.
Although it was incredible to see the reefs and the marine life associated with the Red Sea, we had a few trips into the nearby city of Jeddah to experience the culture outside of the university's campus. One night, we went to the Al-Balad market in historic Jeddah to shop and see this famous landmark. Out of all the things in the market, I was most impressed with the spice shops. There were mountains of various spices, many of which I never knew existed, including salt that had a sulfur taste to it!
A view of the historic district from a rooftop
Overall, the workshop was a great experience. Aside from learning about cool research, spending time in the water, and the cultural excursions, it really served as a great reminder that science is an international effort. I met scientists from around the world, and I hope to collaborate with some of them in the future. It's very easy to get absorbed in what's happening along our west coast and working with local scientists, so it's good to get out and see what other scientists are doing around the world.
But for now, it's about time to get back to working on that "thesis" thing I've been hearing so much about...
Just in time for All Hallow’s Eve here’s a line-up of the ocean’s most festive Halloween animals! Check them out in all their ghastly horror, they’ve been waiting all year to get some haunting attention.
Halloween Crab (Gecarinus quadratus)
This list certainly could not begin without the arthropod waiting all year for its time to Trick and Treat. The Trick? Halloween crabs are not as beachy as you might think. They spend most of their lives in mangroves and rainforests along the Pacific coast of Mexico down to Panama. Since they have a planktonic larval stage, they only head to the ocean to spawn. The Treat? Racoons love them! Halloween crabs are an important food source in areas where the range of these two animals overlap.
Amanda is a first-year graduate student working in the Invertebrate Zoology lab at MLML. She's here to provide an insider's opinion on the graduate process beginning with day one. You can follow Amanda on Instagram (@scatter_cushion) for more sciency goings-ons and the weekly #SeaCreatureSunday.
Greetings to any and all fellow readers and allow me to take the time to introduce myself. My name is Amanda and I am but a small part of the new cohort of graduate students here at Moss Landing. I'm coming into the Invertebrate Lab under Dr. Geller. During orientation, the lack of a new student's perspective was bemoaned by the powers that be, and so I have offered myself up as candid, quivering bait. I realize that there's not much I can say that can be of much import, returning as I have to the low wrung of the academic ladder. But all self-deprecating aside I hope that at least some of my fellow new blood can read this and know that maybe it's ok to feel any and all things I'm sure we have felt this week.
Orientation began with the usual posturing; tepid glances and shuffling feet abound. I actually stood in my living room (apple in hand, I swear it), and made my house mate wish me good luck on my first day of school. Seventeen is deemed large for an incoming class, but when you consider that we'll be navigating the same obstacles course of deadlines, expectations, and discovery, it feels a bit more intimate. We managed the perfunctory "go around the room and tell a bit about yourself," and I'll expand on that a bit here so you can get a sense of how one of us came to be.
I moved to Santa Cruz in 2010 and pursued a degree in Marine Biology with a minor in chemistry at UCSC. My first job was working in an invertebrate reproductive ecology lab, but I went on to pursue a variety of opportunities, any which way I could get them. I tutored upper division courses, spent a summer in Big Sur tracking sea otters, braved the frigid pre-dawn to romp among the elephant seals out at Año Nuevo. After graduating in 2013, I decided to pursue my graduate degree, but if Moss Landing was my ultimate destination I took a very roundabout way of getting there. I studied abroad in both Australia and South Africa. During that time I did a fair bit of travel, including Indonesia, London, Ireland, Malaysia, and most recently Thailand for my Divemaster certification. I hiked 240 miles in the Sierras and eventually came to rest about 35 miles to the north working at the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
After work one night I went to a talk at Hopkins Marine Station being given by Jim Harvey on how to maintain integrity whilst pursuing a career in the sciences. I remember asking during the course of this talk how it was possible for young scientists such as myself to reconcile the quandary of obviously wanting to work towards furthering causes we believed in, to work towards the creation of innovative and novel science, while also accounting for the fact that...it's hard out there right now. There isn't a lot of money or a lot of jobs available to those of us making our start, and sometimes we don't have the luxury of maintaining high-minded goals when the bills have to be paid. And I remember his answer, verbatim, as being "I don't know how to answer that."
I left feeling a bit disillusioned, and I've thought about it a handful of times since, but there's a point to be made here. Because I ended up at Moss Landing Marine Lab, where Jim Harvey is the director, when I could have ended up somewhere else. And this time when I met him, when he came to speak to the incoming cohort as a part of orientation, it was to hear about his journey and how it was not so very different from my own. We both lived for a time in San Diego, shared a major (and a minor) from universities near the Monterey Bay, where we were no doubt profoundly shaped by the beauty and richness of the marine world, and we both received (or will receive if he doesn't boot me out for writing this) Master's degrees from here at Moss (MLML). He of course has gone on to cultivate an extremely inspiring career in the marine sciences, and this is how he got his start.
So, maybe in accepting our own positions here and in making the active choice to align ourselves with this university, we have all similarly taken steps in creating a career that we can pursue with integrity and pride. I can already tell it's going to be insane. It's only been four days of proper instruction and I'm feeling the rust that two years outside of academia can leave behind. There's no end to the different aspects of this new life that will make demands upon our time. All the same, there's endless potential.
The academics are, of course, a big component of any grad student's first year. I'll have several research projects to formulate as part of my classes, and I'm really looking forward to getting out in the field. This week we're planning to get muddy as we observe invasive snails in Elkhorn Slough. In addition, I'm also taking a course on scientific diving. Being affiliated with an institution such as Moss allows us to access sites like Hopkins that require some academic or research-oriented purpose. We're very fortunate in that regard, and I tend to think there's a certain complacency whereby we forget how lucky we are to have access to some of the best habitat in the world. If I don't ultimately use diving for my own thesis, I certainly hope I can at least make myself available to other students for help with their work. In that same vein, I'd like to use my time at MLML to get involved in the small boats program. It's yet another opportunity to make myself more well-rounded as a scientist.
Lastly, we're all settling into our new role as members of an active, high-functioning research laboratory. There's hierarchy to be dealt with, new social interactions, new protocols to learn, and a general sense of being thrown into the deep end. I feel fortunate, because thus far I've been welcomed warmly by the lab group who will become by extension my family of choice. Soon I'll be working in the lab, assisting with various grant-funded projects. I imagine I will rely on them consistently for guidance and support. It promises to be a busy few years.
So here's one take on all this madness. A little sentimental for a science blog, I know. But, I feel no qualms about admitting to being nervous, or excited, or optimistic, or overwhelmed. My hope is that in time, the stories of all of us will come to light. Each person brings to Moss something unique. Our many arrows of scattered directionality have aligned and straightened for a time in a single trajectory towards progress here at Moss Landing. When we leave, they will scatter yet again, in any and all directions. Allow me to introduce myself now, at the beginning of great things, and to say that the pleasure is mine.
Hi everyone! Although I don't have much to show for it just yet, I was asked to write a series of blog posts about my current research trip to Mo'orea and Tetiaroa in the Society Islands of French Polynesia. Talk about a fantastic place to do some fieldwork!
Mo'orea is a small island and coral atoll near Tahiti, and is about 10 miles in width east to west. A coral atoll is formed over tens of thousands of years! Coral begins to grow as a fringing reef on an oceanic island, and as the island landmass is eroded and begins to become submerged, the coral continues to grow and forms a barrier reef. Once enough of the interior island is submerged, it forms a lagoon on the inner part of the barrier reef. You can visualize this formation from the aerial photograph below.