Around the Pier: Marching for Science in Scripps Style - Underwater, at Sea, and in San Diego


Last Sunday, researchers and supporters marched in 600 cities around the world to show their support for the funding of science, and science-informed public policy. Thousands of marchers swarmed Washington D.C., and local estimates suggested a crowd of 15,000 showed up to San Diego’s satellite march.

Students, staff, and researchers from Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego got involved in a big way. Many attended the San Diego march, and Scripps professors Ralph Keeling and Lynne Talley were two of the keynote speakers there. But they also made their voices heard in some unexpected, and very Scripps-y ways. Here is a sampling of how Scripps celebrated the March for Science:

Swimming for Science

Scientists from the Jennifer Smith and Stuart Sandin labs, both part of the Scripps Marine Biology Research Division, were out in the field on the day of the march. They were collecting data from coral reefs in Maui’s Kahekili Herbivore Fisheries Management Area— a conservation zone with special protections for herbivores like parrotfish and urchins—and from reefs on adjacent islands. But the researchers didn’t let their fieldwork stop them from participating: they, along with fisheries managers and community groups, decided to host a “Swim for Science” in partnership with the Smithsonian Institution’s Earth Optimism Summit.

Emily Kelly, a postdoctoral researcher in the Smith lab, said the message of optimism was fitting for the location of the swim: ever since Kakehili was made into an herbivore management area, the first of its kind in the world, scientists monitoring the area have seen an increase in the number of herbivores, more calicfying on the reef, and othervery positive changes in the reef ecosystem

“It’s an area that’s impacted by global stressors, but there’s a lot to be optimistic about at a local level,” Kelly said.

The swim started with a parade on the beach, accompanied by “a lot of clapping and cheering,” Kelly said, and then the scientists, several locals, and one family on vacation from Wisconsin got into the water, carrying their waterproof signs. An underwater video camera set up on the reef captured the action, and everyone took turns swimming down to take pictures with their signs. After the swim, the group sat on the beach to talk about the science taking place on the reef right below the “march.”

Kelly and her colleagues, Scripps marine biologist Jennifer Smith and researchers Samantha Clements and Nicole Pedersen, showed event participants the large-scale imagery data they’ve collected on the reef’s changes over time. The work is done as part of the 100 Island Challenge ­– a Scripps-led project to collect comprehensive data from a variety of coral reef environments around the world.

“For the people who showed up, this reef is really their home, and they’ve seen it change,” Kelly said. “Both positive change from the reserve, and negative change from bleaching.”

The improved ecosystem health they’re seeing at Kakehili is a great example of the positive changes science-informed policy can bring about, Kelly said. And, she added “It felt really special to march for science while we’re doing science.”

Shipboard March

Scripps Professor Brice Semmens’ undergraduate marine biology course was scheduled to be at sea for a research cruise on the day of the march. The course’s teaching assistant and Scripps graduate student Natasha Gallo, was disappointed when she realized she would be missing the San Diego march. But then she remembered a photo from the Women’s March in January, when several female scientists in Antarctica organized a satellite event on their research vessel. She thought: Why couldn’t the UC San Diego team do the same? Gallo brought sign-making materials to the dock, and she, the undergraduates, and Semmens sat and made signs as they cruised out to their first sampling station.

“I thought a lot more of the undergrads would be more aware of the march for science, but I found not that many were,” Gallo said. “So it provided a great opportunity to talk to students about why I cared about the March for Science, and why I thought it was important that scientists and people who cared about science were coming together in such a public way.”

But the at-sea marchers didn’t have much time—it was a research crew after all—so they quickly snapped photos with their signs between sampling events, and then got back to work.

Gallo’s sign read “Ask Questions, Question Answers,” an idea she got from the California Academy of Science.

“I just love that, because that’s what you do as a scientist, you’re constantly questioning everything,” Gallo said. “If we just get back to that integral idea that science is something all about asking questions—and we all ask questions—that’s something we can all unite around.”

In San Diego

Mariela Brooks, a PhD student in Ralph Keeling’s lab in Scripps’ chemical oceanography division, was part of a sizable Scripps contingent that took part in the San Diego march. Keeling was the event’s first speaker, and Brooks said it was “really inspiring to have my PI [Principal Investigator] up there giving a call for action.”

Brooks carried a sign reading “Invest in Science, Invest in Solutions.”

“The main motivation for me to march was going out and trying to encourage people to support science funding,” Brooks said. “Federal funding is really the pathway that young and early career scientists have going into the field; if you cut that it will really hinder the country’s ability to keep up with scientific progress.”

After the speeches, there were some chants of “What do we want? Science! When do we want it? After peer review!” and then all 15,000 marchers started walking towards City Hall. Even among all these people, “you couldn’t go 20 feet without bumping into a Scripps person,” Brooks said. “It was cool to see.”

  • Mallory Pickett


Related Image Gallery: Marching for Science in Scripps Style: Underwater, at Sea, and in San Diego


Related Video: Scripps Oceanography Swimming for Science


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