The week of July 8, toxic algae blooms have forced the closure of many Mississippi beaches along the Gulf Coast. Beach goers can still enjoy the sun and the sand, but are strongly warned not to contact the water. Exposure can harm people and pets.
The bloom looks like bright green paint, coating the water in a thick, fluorescent green. The algae in the water can cause many adverse symptoms, including stomach cramps, nausea, and vomiting. Furthermore, the state agency warns those living along the coast not to eat seafood, as toxins from the algae can damage the nervous system through fish and other seafood from affected areas. Further down the coast, Louisiana has also been warned about the toxic algae bloom.
This algae bloom has been caused by floodwater due to heavy rainfall. The freshwater in the Mississippi river spilled over from massive rainfall into the gulf, spreading the algae to the saltwater. The high salinity, shallow water, and sunlight were perfect conditions for the algal bloom.
The algae is, unfortunately, harmful to wildlife that find their home along the gulf coast. The bloom shows no sign of subsiding, and is expecting to get worse with more rainfall coming soon.
Erin F. Fox, 2019
Source: NPR News
We interviewed Brian Mauer, a Water Systems Manager at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. His job is to maintain the life support systems for all the animals at The Monterey Bay Aquarium.
Water Systems Manager at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. I design and maintain the systems that filter and distribute aquarium water and make it a healthy environment for the plants and animals on display.
I chose my career because I always loved the ocean growing up, and was always drawn to biology and science in school, so I combined the two in pursuing a career in marine science. Also, as a surfer I knew I wanted to always live by the coast, and I figured a job in marine science was a sure bet to do so! Once in grad school, studying biological oceanography, I got involved with testing and R&D of ballast water treatment systems, big water treatment systems that are installed on ships to sterilize the water in their ballast tanks and prevent the spread of invasive species. I was very interested in the water treatment systems themselves and how they might be fine-tuned, so when a job in the water systems field at MBA was posted, I applied and ended up being hired. Since then I’ve found the field to be both challenging and rewarding, with endless opportunity for learning.
Every day is different. Most days start at my desk, emailing with internal staff about equipment, water quality or animal health issues and ways to fix them and with outside contractors and vendors about developing new or upgraded exhibits. Most days involve a hands-on component, fixing equipment, installing sensors investigating issues with systems behind the scenes. And most days also include everyone’s favorite: meetings! Meetings with my staff, my boss and other work groups as we all work together to keep things running, improve them when possible, and build new, cool, engaging exhibits for our guests.
My work maintains a healthy environment (water) for the collection of animals living in our exhibits. This allows guests to experience the amazing animals and ecosystems that live hidden just below the ocean’s surface, and hopefully leave the aquarium wanting to do something to protect the ocean environment. Our livelihood as humans on land is largely dependent upon the ocean, it makes the oxygen we breathe, buffers climate change, feeds us and so on, so any positive impact on the ocean has a positive impact on humanity.
I studied general biology at UC San Diego, then earned a master’s in marine science (with focus in Biological Oceanography) from Moss Landing Marine Labs.
I always enjoyed biology and history classes. My favorite subjects in biology were Plant Biology and Animal Physiology.
My mentor was, and is, my first boss at the aquarium, Roger Phillips. Roger taught me just about everything I know in terms of how to design and maintain water systems in an aquarium environment. But more importantly, he taught me how to be a good boss and fair to my employees, how to stay calm when faced with a challenge, how to break a problem down to its core elements in trying to find a solution, and how to be always learning and staying passionate about the work we do.
Internships are great, even if they are unpaid. Entry level jobs are even better. Don’t chase the job with the highest salary when you’re young, just get as much experience, and diverse experience, as possible. Sometimes the expectation about a career path is not consistent with reality, so it is best to find out ASAP if your dream job really is what you think it is. Get some hands on experience in a field you’re interested in, then you can better decide if you should remain on the same career path, tweak it slightly, or do an about-face and go in a different direction entirely. These are all good results, as they are all steering you to a path that will eventually be enjoyable and rewarding.
I think there should be more hands-on components in school. I think people learn best and retain the most information when they use their hands or are actively involved in some way.
We often think of the sciences as discrete subjects, and focus on them in isolation. However, in reality, all of the sciences are intertwined, so soak up as much knowledge as possible from all the various scientific fields. You might think of yourself as a Biologist, for example, but as you actually become one, you will continually be surprised about just how much chemistry, physics and other sciences are involved with every new subject you learn. Having even a low level of understanding of subject matter that supports the core subject enables a much deeper understanding of that core subject. This deeper understanding will make learning in the future easier, and will also facilitate innovation and new ways of thinking about old problems.
We interviewed Christopher Scianni, an environmental scientist supervisor who works in understanding how invasive species travel around the world through maritime ships. He researches how current shipping technology and practices spread non native species around the globe- and how to create policy to reduce this infectious spread.
By title, I’m a senior environmental scientist supervisor. I work primarily on biological invasion ecology, trying to better understand how commercial maritime ships inadvertently move entire biological communities around the globe. My team collaborates on research to understand how different shipping practices influence the risk of introducing non-native species and we develop and implement regulatory policies aimed at reducing that risk.
Being outside has always interested me, and I was hooked on the ocean from an early age. Whether tide pooling with my family or visiting the beaches or local aquarium, I’ve always felt a draw toward the ocean. Going after degrees in marine biology and marine science gave me an opportunity to mesh my interest in the ocean with a desire to learn more about how ocean processes work. Moving into an invasion ecology-focused career added an extra layer of probing how our actions impact biological interactions and how ecosystems function.
It varies. Fieldwork often comes in bunches, separated by long spells of data analysis and policy creation/review/revision. Most of my fieldwork is spent studying the biological communities that accumulate on the underwater surfaces of ocean-going ships (i.e., biofouling or hull fouling communities). About a decade ago, I spent a good deal of time diving under ships in ports around the world to identify patterns associated with different ship types and different areas on individual ships. Our goal is to understand what shipping practices lead to the different biological patterns we find, and we work with the shipping industry to find solutions. In recent years, I’ve replaced most of my SCUBA diving surveys with remotely operated vehicle (ROV) surveys. Now, most of my fieldwork is spent flying the ROV on hull transects.
As stated above, my experiences as a child drove in me an interest and curiosity about the ocean. I always try to view my work in the context of how a similar little kid today might view their interactions with the ocean, and the same for their kids. On one level, we live in a global economy that necessitates ocean transport; that’s not going away. I view my work as necessary to ensure that our society’s interaction in the global economy is conducted in a way that ensures that those next generations of kids can be amazed by, and called to, the ocean and a functioning coastal environment.
I went to the California State University, Long Beach as an undergrad. I double-majored in Marine Biology and Biology with an emphasis in Zoology, I also had a Chemistry minor. For graduate school, I received a Master of Science in Marine Science from the California State University, Stanislaus. All of my graduate work was conducted at the Moss Landing Marine Laboratories where I focused on Biological Oceanography.
I’d have to say it was a tie. My favorite undergraduate major class was the biology of marine zooplankton, that class convinced me that I should continue my education into graduate school. My favorite general education class was interpersonal communication, I still think that’s the most consequential class students can take to improve their chances of successfully navigating the working world.
I worked at a local aquarium while in my undergrad years, and my supervisor there was the other reason why I decided to continue to graduate school. We had regular conversations about school and science, and his enthusiasm for his work was contagious. He challenged me, gave me a lot of responsibilities, and was always there to offer constructive feedback. I now supervise and mentor a college or graduate intern every summer, and I strive to model my mentorship after his.
This is probably obvious, but when I was in school, there was more of a firewall between coding languages and marine science. I learned all about biostatistics, but hardly anything related to computer languages and coding. That was probably the norm, aside from physical oceanography students. Nowadays, it seems like coding is integrated into everything. I often must collaborate with other scientists who have coding specialties and I’m always amazed by them.
In relation to my work, I think it’s critical that we know where the products that we buy and use come from, and how they get from their origin to us. I think it’s important to make informed decisions about what we use, and part of that is knowing the monetary and non-monetary costs included in the production and transport of those goods.
Go volunteer or find internships to gain experience doing different things. The experience is valuable, but the importance of the network of colleagues and mentors you create is beyond measure.
We interviewed Melissa Mahoney, a fisheries policy manager who is passionate about creating healthy ocean and fishing communities. Melissa hopes to help with better management of fish resources in a step towards creating a cleaner future.
Currently [I am a] fisheries policy manager for EDF.
I love the ocean, love fish, and enjoy the challenges of fisheries management.
Mostly computer work, phone calls, some in person meetings.
I hope that my involvement contributes to better management of fish resources, a healthy ocean and fishing communities.
I have a M.Sc. in marine science, BS in biology.
Civics in high school, marine biology/field studies in university.
I’ve had many mentors all through school and career. Mentors are sounding boards, cheerleaders, offer thoughtful reflection, write letters of support, and helped me gain confidence in my own abilities. Mentors are great to have!
Find out what makes you tick, try lots of new things, travel when you can. Forget the search ‘to make money’ so much as the search for your passion and to put your unique gifts to work in the world!
Okay, if you must make money, I suggest studying computer science (i.e. programming), spatial analysis (GIS) skills as that is used in practically everything now.
Meditation/mindfulness, emotional intelligence, communication.
Study hard, don’t give up when the science gets tough!
A harmful algae bloom is when a species of algae grows out of control in freshwater or marine environments and harms surrounding humans and wildlife.
Harmful algae blooms (HABs) can occur in any conditions. Some prefer favorable wind and water conditions, while others prefer choppy waters and high winds. The harmful algae blooms are caused by runoff. Rain and floods can lead to runoff from lawns are farmland, dumping nutrients such as Nitrogen, Phosphorous, and Carbon into surrounding bodies of water. This leads to the overfeeding of the algae, which leads to the rapid expansion of the harmful blooms.
Contact with water containing HABs can lead to nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and other stomach problems. Furthermore, eating seafood from affected bodies of water can cause illness due to the transfer of toxins from the algae to the seafood to the consumer. Airborne toxins from the algae bloom can also trigger asthma attacks and other respiratory issues.
In addition to the dangers caused the harmful algae blooms, they lead to heavy economic costs as well. The dangerous effects of the HABs harm the seafood and tourism industries, due to beach closures and the multitude of inedible seafood.
With increasing ocean pollution, harmful algae blooms are also increasing in prominence. The toxic material in the ocean is what causes the algae to become toxic. HABs are yet another consequence of the high plastic content of the ocean.
Erin F. Fox, 2019
It is known that dormant brine shrimp cysts can survive most any conditions, whether it be extreme weather, a violent environment, or even outer space. However, are adult brine shrimp as durable?
A few months ago, Erin, one of our lab technicians at Algae Research Supply, performed an experiment on our Brainy Brinys. She wondered what would happen if she launched adult brine shrimp in a model rocket. Would the brine shrimp survive the force?
So, Erin and her model rocket team brought a 50mL centrifuge tube full of algae and brine shrimp to their rocket launch, wrapped the tube in protective gear (bubble wrap), and set for launch. The team used an F50-6T motor, meaning the motor is of the F class, has an 80 newton-second impulse, and deploys a parachute 6 seconds after launching.
The team loaded the rocket on the launch pad, hoping for the best, but not knowing what to expect. They launched the rocket, watching it rapidly ascend to the sky. The rocket’s descent was smooth, and, once it was safe, the team went to collect their rocket.
The altimeter read out that the rocket reached apogee (its peak) at 1,000 feet. After the motor was removed, the team worked to remove the centrifuge tube from the rocket and bubble wrap.
The Brine shrimp were still swimming in their habitat, appearing to have no damage from the intense ride they had. Brine shrimp may not be indestructible, but they are incredibly tough.
Erin F. Fox, 2019
Check out the videos we made of our experiment!
We interviewed Shana Miller, an international fish conservationist for The Ocean Foundation to learn about careers in environmental conservation, and what conservationists believe is top priority in educating the next generation.
Algae Research Supply’s Interview of Shana Miller
I work in international fisheries conservation for a Washington, DC-based environmental group called The Ocean Foundation.
The ocean is my livelihood but also my passion. As a child, the ocean was a seemingly limitless playground of swimming, boogie boarding and sandcastles. When I was in college, I started fishing and even worked a summer as a first mate on a charter boat. That led me to research the many threats to the ocean and its inhabitants. I’ve never looked back, working in marine science and conservation ever since.
Many people think that marine biologists scuba dive and frolic with dolphins all day long. Not me, unfortunately! I spend my days at a computer – translating science into understandable policy positions, promoting fish conservation to government officials all over the world, and writing, writing, writing – from blogs to policy briefs to scientific papers.
Fish are a major source of protein, employment, and recreation in every region of our planet. By working to conserve fish from the top to the bottom of the food chain, I strive every day toward a sustainable future for our ocean ecosystem and we humans that depend on it.
I studied biology at Cornell University and then went on to get my Master’s degree in marine biology at Stanford University.
My favorite undergraduate class was Neurobiology & Behavior. It had a significant laboratory component that involved various surgical procedures on animals to see how it affected their behavior. We learned firsthand the parts of the brain that control anything from rat learning to bird song. My favorite graduate class was fisheries law. I loved learning about the framework that governs both domestic and international fisheries management.
For as long as I can remember, Jane Goodall has been my hero…for her bravery and pioneering research, for her commitment to conservation of her beloved chimpanzees and beyond, and for her ability to communicate the wonder of nature and urgent need for action to diverse audiences all around the world – young and old, environmentally conscious or not. I’ve also had the privilege of working for three very strong, innovative, and impassioned women, who’ve shared their knowledge but also believed in my own ability to go out into the trenches and succeed. These mentors all inspire me to learn more, explore deeper and push harder.
What areas would you advise students to explore as career paths?
What do I tell my science-loving boys? Fisheries science! In the marine biology/management fields, that’s where I think there’s the most job demand. Fisheries scientists use sophisticated mathematical models to determine how many fish there are currently and how many fish can be caught to ensure a profitable but sustainable fishery into the future. Yes, it’s a lot of number crunching on a computer, but fisheries scientists also get to travel all over the world presenting and implementing their work.
I think there should be more focus on foreign languages. Our world is getting more and more connected, making it that much more critical to be able to communicate in multiple languages, yet most American schools don’t place much priority on learning other languages. Whether you work in international business or international fisheries, the ability to speak other languages fluently is a highly desirable skill.
Passions start early. Continued investments in STEM education are vital. I have 10 and 12-year old boys, and the focus on science is much greater than when I was a kid. When asked about their career aspirations, many kids say that they want to be doctors, paleontologists, aerospace engineers, and of course, marine biologists. Not only do they know they want to work in science, but they even know which specialties interest them. The extracurricular activities and summer programs help to solidify those interests into passions and hopefully one day into careers. That would be my advice – follow your passion. We adults spend too much time at work to not be passionate about it. Find your love, research it, do an internship in the field, take relevant classes, immerse yourself in it, and enjoy every minute of it. Or at least most of the minutes!
Erin F. Fox, 2019
Erlenmeyer flasks are recognizable from their basic characteristics: flat bottom, conical body, and long, cylindrical neck. They are named for German chemist Emil Erlenmeyer.
Though the Erlenmeyer flask pictured above is what comes to mind when most people think of flasks, there are actually two different types of Erlenmeyer flasks.
The initial type of Erlenmeyer Flask is merely the flat- bottomed, conical flask that we recognize. This is used to host reactions, phase changes, or just hold solutions until further need. This is the most common type of flask in most labs.
The other type of Erlenmeyer flask is one with a textured base. This type of flask is used for when the flasks are placed on shaker plates, which are meant to mix/ agitate a solution to ensure it doesn’t separate. The rougher bottom of the second type of Erlenmeyer flask is meant to increase its grip strength, so it doesn’t shift on or slide off the shaker plate.
Erlenmeyer flasks are great fro algae culturing due to their high surface area and volume. When culturing in an Erlenmeyer flask, use wadded paper towels as a stopper or an aluminum foil cap in order to keep debris out of the culture, but still allow airflow. Happy Culturing!
- Erin F. Fox, 2019
Sorting through nerdy jargon: how to sound like a real scientist. Many people outside the science world use the terms ‘flask’ and ‘beaker’ interchangeably. While both tools are often used in a science lab, they are actually quite different.
Flasks are notable for their unique shape: a rounded vessel and a cylindrical neck. Flasks can be used for holding and measuring solutions, as well as for chemical reactions and phase changes (heating, cooling, etc). Flasks are normally the site of chemical reactions, for the reaction can take place in the large vessel and have low risk of spilling due to the long, narrow neck of the flask. Furthermore, flasks have the ability to be capped or corked, therefore solutions can be held for long periods of time without risk of spilling.
Beakers, on the other hand, are cylindrical containers with a flat bottom and a spout on top. These are also used when performing experiments, to hold various liquids for either mixing or disposal. The main differing characteristic between a flask and a beaker is that beakers have straight sides, rather than slanted sides like a flask. Beakers are mainly for measuring and transporting liquids from one site to the next. The spout on beakers makes pouring their contents easy, which makes them invaluable for performing experiments.
Flasks and beakers do share some characteristics. Both are made from either glass or clear plastic, most are graduated- meaning they have markings on the side indicating the amount of liquid they contain. Both are used during chemical reactions, and both are essential to a successful lab.
We hope this brief crash course in science lingo helps you to sound smarter among your peers. Until next time, happy culturing!
You’ve seen brine shrimp in our Brain Briny kits, but we think it’s time you get to know a little more about the life of a common brine shrimp.
Brine shrimp start as small cysts (the cysts that come in your brainy briny kits). These cysts contain embryos. There are different types of cysts: ‘dormant’ or ‘summer’ cysts. Dormant cysts and can remain unhatched for years, surviving harsh conditions with a tough, protective shell around the embryos. As the weather grows warmer, these dormant cysts absorb water and begin to hatch. Summer cysts hatch quickly after release, having only a thin membrane protecting the embryo.
After hatching, the brine shrimp are in the larval stage, called nauplii (singular nauplius). The nauplius are merely swimming heads with an undeveloped trunk, they use their single eye to go towards light in order to find food. The nauplius will eat whatever algae, bacteria, or debris it can fit into its mouth parts, using its antennae to swim towards and move material into its mouth. As the brine shrimp continue to grow, their trunks grow longer, paddle- like limbs (thoracopods) are developed, and two compound (bug-like) eyes are developed. These developments allow the brine shrimp to swim faster and see more clearly.
In the juvenile stage, the brine shrimp look like small adults. Their thoracopods are fully functional, and those limbs take over the swimming, breathing, and feeding actions the antennae used to do. The antennae also shrink, for they are not needed as much. The males and females begin to develop differently in this stage. Females begin swelling below their limbs, developing a ‘brood sac’, while male antennae grow into ‘claspers’ to hold onto females during mating.
In the adult stage, male and female brine shrimp are easy to tell apart. Females are larger than males, and have visible brood sacs. Males do not have brood sacs, amd have claspers on top of their heads.
During mating, the male brine shrimp holds onto the female with his claspers, and fertilizes the eggs in her brood sac by depositing sperm into it. The female can live up to four months, and can produce up to 300 cysts every four days. Depending on the environmental conditions, the female will either release summer or dormant cysts, as discussed earlier.
Brine Shrimp can come to maturity in as little as 8 days, but conditions are never quite ideal, so the average length of the brine shrimp life cycle is 3-6 weeks.
See this amazing life cycle in action! https://algaeresearchsupply.com/collections/brainy-brinys
Source: University of Utah: Extreme Environments: Great Salt Lake