From creating mobile apps that can track marine debris to converting oil rigs into beautiful living reefs to developing sustainable seafood programs—the master’s students at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego, really do it all. Graduating students from the Master of Advanced Studies in Marine Biodiversity & Conservation program at Scripps presented their independent research projects at the tenth annual MAS MBC Capstone Symposium.
“Today, we get to see a small sliver of some of the work being conducted by a remarkable group of people,” said Scripps Academic Coordinator Kathryn Mengerink during her welcoming speech at the daylong symposium, held at the Scripps Seaside Forum on June 5.
Mengerink noted the diversity of experiences of each of the 19 presenters, with backgrounds ranging from science communication and conservation to fisheries management and environmental law.
Technology was at the forefront of student Meredith Epp’s capstone presentation, “If You Can't See It, Does It Still Exist? Mapping and Tracking Debris in the Deep Sea.” Epp created a mobile application that allows people to track “the amount of stuff in the ocean.” She was inspired to create this app after participating in a deep-sea research cruise and seeing firsthand the amount of marine debris that was dredged up in the trawl.
Because many deep-sea locations are hard to reach and relatively unregulated, Epp was concerned that this debris issue would slip through the cracks. Thus, she created the Deep Sea Debris app, where researchers, scientists, fishermen, and anyone from the general public can upload photos, pinpoint locations, and write descriptions of debris found in the ocean (coasts and shorelines included).
"The impacts of debris include entanglement and ingestion by animals, destruction of habitat and the introduction of invasive species,” said Epp. Some of the many strange items found by researchers in the deep sea include a pair of size XXXXXXL men’s jeans, a toilet, large metal pieces of a WWII bomber aircraft, a beach chair, an unused tube of toothpaste, and a rubber kitchen glove. A short video featuring these items can be seen here. (Credit: Meredith Epp.)
Epp hopes that this app, along with its coordinating website (deepseadebris.org), will help educate the public on the prevalence of trash in our oceans, and the need for new policies to protect the deep sea. “It’s our chance to make a difference,” said Epp. “Now is the time.”
Stephanie Roach, another student in the MAS program, delivered a stellar presentation on her work with the Waitt Institute, a non-profit research organization based out of La Jolla, Calif.
Roach’s capstone project, “Developing and Implementing the Barbuda Blue Halo Initiative: A Plan for Sustainable Ocean Management,” was described as a “highly-collaborative, community-driven, comprehensive re-visioning of how to use the ocean without using it up.”
Scripps alumna Ayana Johnson, executive director at the Waitt Institute, served as chair on Roach’s advising committee. Under the mentorship of Johnson and the Waitt Institute, Roach helped create a sustainable ocean management plan for Barbuda, a small island of 1,500 in the Eastern Caribbean. The people of Barbuda depend heavily on marine resources as a means of survival, and over time, many of these resources have drastically depleted.
Through the Blue Halo project, the Barbudan community has banded together to protect their local waters and resources. A short video on this project can be seen here. (Credit: Waitt Institute.)
Roach’s scientific expertise played a vital role in the success of the Blue Halo project, and this did not go unnoticed; she was recently hired as a program manager for the Waitt Institute. Roach noted that she and the Waitt team are already scoping other islands for the next sustainability project.
Another highlight of the symposium was Ashleigh Palinkas’s presentation on sport diving titled, “Beneath the Surface of San Diego: Perspectives & Innovations at Depth – A History of San Diego Sport Diving.”
Palinkas’s comprehensive report covered the history of sport diving in San Diego, from its evolution in the 1930s to present day. While conducting research for her project, Palinkas discovered the importance of recording oral histories, which, as she described, “allow people to learn about the past and better plan for future—especially regarding conservation.”
The merging of science and sport diving fascinates Palinkas, and she believes that both fields can work together to help promote responsible diving practices. “Sport divers can partner with scientists to protect the ocean,” explained Palinkas.
Other strong presentations featured at the symposium included Lilitha Asirvadam’s mangrove conservation project in Curacao, Hafizh Adyas’s assessment plan to save hunted sharks in Indonesia, and a joint project by Amber Jackson and Emily Callahan, called Rigs to Reefs, which examines the future of California’s offshore drilling programs.
Congratulations are in order for the following MAS MBC students—for their fascinating presentations and for education excellence at Scripps Oceanography.
Well done, graduates!
Hafizh Adyas, Lalitha Asirvadam, Dominique Barnes, Amy Bowman, Emily Callahan, Meredith Epp, Brett Garner, Amber Jackson, Dana Kochnower, Cynthia Matzke, Jennifer Mcwhorter, Christopher Neighbors, Chelsey Nieman, Ashleigh Palinkas, Elena Perez, Allison Prange, Stephanie Roach, Laurence Romeo, & Alexander Thornton.
- Brittany Hook