Standard workplace dress code. Sarah Traiger, Marine Ecologist. Ocean in a Drop California, Amazing Water People.
Where were you born, and where do you live now?
I was born in Los Angeles, California. I did my PhD in Alaska, and I recently moved back to the Los Angeles area (Northridge specifically) to start a postdoctoral research fellowship.
Where are your favourite waters?
I really love the waters around the islands in southern California. My first snorkeling experience was at Catalina Island, which is an hour boat-ride from Los Angeles. Throughout high school I spent a lot of my free time diving at Catalina, and the other channel islands. I’m always amazed that these beautiful kelp forests, which feel so wild, are so close to such a huge population center.
Sarah Traiger meets a Sheephead (Semicossyphus pulcher). Ocean in a Drop California, Amazing Water People.
Would you please share a favourite water memory or two?
I was diving on an oil rig in southern California when a female sheephead fish saw its’ reflection in my mask. The oil rigs are amazing places to dive, because you’re out in open ocean, swimming around this structure that’s totally encrusted in life. There are really beautiful pink and white anemones and huge scallops. The rigs also provide habitat for fish. This one female sheep head was fascinated by its’ own reflection in my mask. I spent several minutes with her bumping her chin against my mask, I guess trying to figure out what she was seeing. I love scuba diving because it can provide these great opportunities to get close to marine life.
For my PhD research I was working in a location with strong tidal currents and low visibility because of nearby glacial meltwater. I used buoys to mark the location of my site, but it was often pulled underwater by the current or missing entirely. When this would happen I would descend on the boat’s anchor line and swim in circles until I found the site. One day my friend and I were having a very hard time finding the site. We were already tired from diving at several other sites that day, and were fighting against a very strong current. It was not a fun dive, until we spotted a huge octopus moving along the rocky bottom searching for food. It stopped to inspect us, reaching its’ tentacles across our hands and gear. Our thrilling encounter gave us a boost of energy and happiness that helped us continue our work. Whenever I’m having a hard day out on the water I think about that octopus.
How do you incorporate nature in your life, and the way you make a living?
I try to spend as much time in nature as I can, especially for my work. Much of my work involves scuba diving in kelp forests where I survey the benthic community by counting individuals in specific plots or along transects. I also take photos of kelp forest organisms to use in scientific presentations and outreach.
Sarah Traiger, marine ecologist, surveying kelp and sea urchins. Ocean in a Drop California, Amazing Water People.
Why do you do what you do?
I study kelp forests because I think they are really beautiful and I love spending time in them, and because I want to understand the processes that shape them. Being a marine biologist allows me to travel to new places and do challenging field work. I also like that my work days are always changing. Sometimes I read scientific papers all day and sometimes I’m presenting research at a conference or building moorings. I don’t get bored because there are always new things to learn and do.
What happens when you don’t have time for nature?
I start to feel less inspired and motivated to work when I’m not spending time in nature. I try to spend time in nature often because it relaxes me and keeps me interested in my work.
Could you please share a time or experience where you felt lost in the crowd, like a tiny, insignificant drop?
Sometimes when I go to a large scientific conference I can feel like that. I am somewhat introverted, and it can be hard to start conversations with new people.
How did you turn that around, and how did you get back to feeling like you were a whole Ocean in a Drop?
Once I get over the initial fear of starting a conversation with someone new at a conference, everything is usually fine. People I’ve met at conferences are always really nice and interested in talking about research. Having these conversations helps me to remember that I have ideas to contribute to the scientific community and I’ve earned my place there.
Sarah Traiger having a quiet conversation with a local. Ocean in a Drop California, Amazing Water People.
Is there anything bothering you about the whole eco /green/conservation thing at the moment?
It bothers me when people give up on making small changes in their personal life that can contribute to conservation. Especially with climate change, I think people can get overwhelmed by the problem and feel that nothing they do will matter but small changes by individuals do make a difference. If those adjustments are part of your daily life, you’re more likely to be thinking about conservation and contribute toward progress in other ways like calling your representative or voting.
What do you find is working? And what change do you hope to see in this lifetime?
It is encouraging to see solar-powered and electric cars becoming more popular. Decreasing use of fossil fuel is the biggest way we can hope to slow climate change. I hope that these technologies will continue to be more popular and affordable. In my lifetime, I hope that we will have air travel that uses less fossil fuel. I fly a lot for work and recreation, and this contributes to a large carbon footprint.
Is there anything you would love to tell the you from ten years ago?
I would tell myself that the studying and volunteering on research projects is good, and will help me in my career. Sometimes I worried that I wasn’t doing enough. I’d like to tell myself to relax, and that everything will be fine.
Any suggestions for the next drop?
Where can we find out more about your research, and follow you on your adventures?
My personal webpage.
My lab Instagram account: @ecooceanlab