Scripps Student Spotlight: Arnel Orig

Former United States Navy diver and current MAS MBC student turns dreams into reality at Scripps

Arnel Orig is currently in his final quarter of the Master of Advanced Studies program in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation (MAS MBC) at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego. Originally from Laguna, Philippines, Orig received his bachelor’s degree in computer information systems from North Carolina Wesleyan University and his master’s in health informatics from the University of South Florida College of Medicine. In the Scripps MAS MBC program, Orig is working with Kaua'i Sea Farms for his capstone project looking at how sea cucumbers can help create an improved aquaculture environment.


explorations now (en): Why did you choose to attend Scripps? 

Orig’s first visit to UC San Diego's Scripps Institution of Oceanography and NOAA's Southwest Fisheries Science Center was in July 1983. This image was taken with his camera, which was placed on the curb.

Arnel Orig (AO): I have always wanted to be a marine biologist and I had the chance to visit Scripps in July 1983. I told myself I would be back here someday, and 40 years later I applied and was accepted into the MAS MBC program. The decision was a no-brainer for me because it was a dream come true! I retired from my job in Atlanta as an IT manager to pursue my field of study at Scripps.


en: What are you researching at Scripps? 

AO: I am researching the role of sea cucumbers in sediment processing and integrated multi-trophic aquaculture, or IMTA, which is when fed species are farmed in close proximity to species that can extract nutrients from the water column. In fish farming, high-density fish ponds produce waste that accumulates at the bottom, leading to bacterial diseases affecting aquatic organisms. My research focuses on how sea cucumbers help clean up nutrient-rich waste, improving water quality and reducing eutrophication, or overly enriched nutrient water, by decreasing organic matter. This project is part of my capstone work at the Nomilo Pond at Kaua'i Sea Farm.


en: How did you become interested in science and your field of study?

AO: A high school beach field trip to Batangas, Philippines sparked my love for the ocean. I had to build a glass bottom box for a biology class to investigate marine invertebrates on the sandy bottom. That was the first time I held a sea cucumber in the palm of my hand. From then on, I have been amazed by the ocean's marine life. I started watching Jacques Cousteau on television and his amazing dives. I eventually took recreational diving classes and later became a U.S. Navy diver and diving medical technician. I retired from military service in 2004 after serving for 21 years.


Orig in July 2023, 40 years later in the same spot at NOAA and near the Scripps Oceanography campus. The photo was taken intentionally crooked to mimic the photograph from 1983. Photo credit: Nicky Rosenberg (MAS MBC ‘23).

en: What’s life like as a Scripps student? Describe a typical day. 

AO: The MAS MBC program began with a 10-week intensive summer program where a typical day began with a lecture followed by group discussions at the Marine Conservation and Technology Facility. Then I would go home and start on research papers and journal readings. In the following quarters, I took elective classes in oceanography, marine mammal biology, and marine biotechnology, which were all new topics for me. I have worked in information technology for the past 20 years, so now as a marine biology student at Scripps, there is always something new to learn every day.


en: What’s the most exciting thing about your work (in the field or in the lab)? 

AO: My capstone project for the MAS MBC program has been the most exciting because of the hands-on experience working in an aquaculture farm at Kaua'i Sea Farms. The aquaculture farm is where I have learned a lot about sea cucumbers and their ecological and economic importance. In addition, I completed the Scripps Scientific Diving Program last September.


en: Are there any role models or mentors who have helped you along the way? 

AO: I would like to thank both marine biologists Greg Rouse and Jennifer Smith for their guidance.


en: What are some of the challenges you face as a student? 

AO: I have not been in school for over 10 years and being an "older" student has been challenging when trying to learn new things. 


en: What are your plans post-Scripps? 

AO: I plan to volunteer or return to work and apply what I have learned here at Scripps, along with my 20-plus years of experience in information technology.

Sign Up For
Explorations Now

explorations now is the free award-winning digital science magazine from Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Join subscribers from around the world and keep up on our cutting-edge research.