California scientists study great white sharks, work in aquarium

In celebration of National Hispanic Heritage MonthI want to recognize the achievements and contributions of Hispanic Americans, especially Latinx women in science.

This is the story of two Latino marine biologists who are making a difference in our understanding of our local and global marine ecosystems. These scientists have also become role models for others in their field.

Let’s start by telling the story of the growing numbers of great white sharks along the California coast, especially north of Point Conception, drawn to their favorite food choice, seals.

The population of elephant seals and sea lions has increased dramatically along the California coast, mainly due to the Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972, which allowed these pinnipeds to thrive.

Not only has shark prey numbers increased, but sharks have also increased the size of their range, which has expanded northward along the coasts of central and northern California due to warmer temperatures. elevated sea water.

Over the years, warm ocean water events have become more common along the California coast.

The so-called ‘blob’, a hot water event that began in 2013, was followed in October 2015 when seawater temperatures hit record highs along the central coast during a very strong El Niño event.

A few years later, in 2018, the Scripps Nearshore Waverider buoy hit 81.3 degrees Fahrenheit in Southern California Bright, breaking the old record of 80.4 degrees set during the 2015 El Niño event.

In other words, great white sharks seem to benefit from climate change.

However, a study in the journal Current Biology published an article indicating that “a third of the world’s chondrichthyan fish – sharks, rays and chimaeras – are threatened with extinction according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature”.

Shark expert discusses effects of overfishing on people

To better understand the great white shark population, I decided to ask Melissa Cristina Marquez, nicknamed the “mother of sharks”.

She has studied chondrichthyan fish over the years, including great white sharks, for years. She told me that while the numbers of great white sharks are increasing along the California coastline and around the world, populations of sharks, rays and chimaeras are declining overall.

“Chondrichthyan fish are exceptionally susceptible to overfishing as they tend to grow slowly and produce few young, compared to other fish,” Marquez said. “Overfishing has far exceeded effective resource management for these species. “

“They play an important role in our marine ecosystems, transferring nutrients from the open ocean to coral reefs,” she added. “Not only does their extinction cause an imbalance in the oceans, but it (also) wastes long-term sustainable fishing, tourism and food security opportunities. ”

I asked Marquez why she became a marine biologist. She told me that she was inspired by the study of sharks when she first saw a great white shark on television as part of Discovery Channel’s Shark Week programming.

In 2011, Marquez entered the undergraduate school of the New College of Florida in Sarasota. During one of her Independent Study Projects (ISP) at the Bimini Shark Lab in the Bahamas, she found her calling: sharks.

“The next ISP I went to was in South Africa, and I studied great white sharks,” she said. “This led to my graduation thesis, which focused on monitoring great whites; I am always interested in knowing why an animal is where it is and what it does.

“It’s basically my slogan. People will say to me, “What are you, like a public relations shark? And I say, ‘Yeah, I can handle that description.’ “

Since then, she has obtained a Masters degree from Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand and is currently pursuing her PhD at Curtin University in Australia.

Marquez is involved in multiple forms of public engagement and is passionate about making the science industry more diverse and inclusive, including making all of its educational content bilingual.

His Twitter account, @mcmsharksxx, has nearly 25,000 subscribers. She writes monthly articles for Forbes Science and her work has been featured in the Washington Post and many other publications.

It was recently announced that Melissa Christina will be named to Fuse Media’s Hispanic Future History class of 2021.

Gaby Morales is the Director of Operations for the Central Coast Aquarium at Avila Beach. Joshua Dean

The director of the aquarium has roots on the central coast

Gaby Morales was born and raised in Santa Maria. Her parents immigrated to the United States in their twenties and began working in the fields.

“My parents only had a sixth grade education so they didn’t know the potential of what college can bring,” Morales said. “Growing up, I lived 30 minutes from the beach but never visited the ocean. My parents worked Monday through Sunday and never had the chance to take my siblings to many places.

“While in high school I had no idea what I wanted to be or what I could even dream of doing until my high school teacher took us on a field trip to the Central Coast Aquarium, “she added.” That day had an impact on my life because I saw the ocean for the first time in my life.

“During this field trip, we had the opportunity to get on a research boat. … I was so excited, nervous and felt a lot of emotions; I even said to myself: “Am I seasick? “…”

On the water, Morales and his classmates saw a sea otter cleaning itself.

“That’s when I decided I needed to know everything about the ocean,” she said. “I decided at that point that I wanted to be a marine biologist.”

Morales graduated from UC Santa Barbara with a degree in Aquatic Biology and returned to the place that made the difference for her childhood,

She is now the Director of Operations for the Central Coast Aquarium in Avila Beach.

“I have many tasks, but the most important for me is to be a role model for students like me, minorities and under-represented students,” said Morales.

These women overcome many adversities to make science more diverse and inclusive, enabling all of us, regardless of race and gender, to reach our full human potential.

PG&E scholarship possibilities

PG&E’s 10 Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) and two Engineering Networking Groups (ENG) award scholarships to help offset the cost of higher education. Funds are raised entirely through employee donations, employee fundraising events and Campaign for the Community, the company’s employee giving program.

Since 1989, over $ 5 million in ERG scholarships have been received by thousands of recipients. For more information, please visit

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