Hard at work above and below water at Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary
Audrey Sarin, a 2021 Hollings scholar, and Gracia Rojas, a 2021 EPP/MSI undergraduate scholar, have been hard at work above and below the water this summer in Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary! Audrey has been investigating the efficacy and potential hazards of sea urchin culling for kelp forest restoration, while Gracia has been capturing 360 degree images to contribute to virtual reality dive experiences on Sanctuaries 360: Explore the Blue.
Audrey and Gracia also collaborated on training materials to help other interested researchers learn from and continue their work. Both Audrey and Gracia are certified American Academy of Underwater Sciences Scientific Divers, and they have been able to put their skills to use to do SCUBA dives for data collection, underwater photography, underwater videography, specimen collection, and more!
More about Audrey’s internship
The iconic kelp forests of Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary serve many important ecosystem roles, including offering food and a nursing ground to a diverse array of organisms. A recent loss of top predators has caused an explosion of purple sea urchins, leading to the overgrazing of kelp. Policy makers in California want to test out a potential way to balance the ecosystem: culling sea urchins. SCUBA divers are allowed to take or smash as many sea urchins as they want at a particular test site within the boundaries of the Sanctuary. Audrey’s research focused on the ways this new practice may help or hurt the ecosystem. She examined the reproductive capacity of sea urchins at this site compared to other sites. She also investigated collateral damage caused to the ecosystem as a result of urchin culling. Her work will inform whether the practice is continued and/or expanded to other areas.
More about Gracia’s internship
National marine sanctuaries are underwater parks that protect important habitat and conserve natural and cultural resources. However, unlike parks on land that people can easily connect with through hikes, much of the beauty of national marine sanctuaries is hidden underwater. For her internship, Gracia created 360 degree virtual reality image tours so that anyone can “dive” alongside her and interact virtually with the fluctuating ecosystems within Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. These Virtual Reality (VR) “dives” allow everyone, from scientists to students, to learn from and experience National Marine Sanctuaries at any given time. Gracia’s VR dives are available on the Monterey Bay section of the “Sanctuaries 360: Explore the Blue” webpage.
Audrey Sarin and Gracia Rojas
Audrey Sarin is 2021 Hollings scholar and a marine science major at California Polytechnic State University-San Luis Obispo. Gracia Rojas is a 2021 EPP/MSI undergraduate scholar and a marine science major at the College of the Florida keys. Both Audrey and Gracia are certified American Academy of Underwater Sciences Scientific Divers.
This article was updated on September 19, 2022. The original text said "sea urchins" rather than "purple sea urchins."