January SEA Days: Scientist Q & A

Scripps' Mike Navarro

On the third Saturday of each month, scientists from Scripps Institution of Oceanography or elsewhere in the community join our special SEA Days program to share their exciting research with aquarium visitors.

Mike Navarro is a PhD. student in Biological Oceanography at Scripps Oceanography, working in Dr. Lisa Levin’s Laboratory. He will share his research on market squid in La Jolla’s marine protected areas as SEA Day’s guest scientist this Saturday.

Q. What inspired you to become a scientist?

In high school, we went to the Catalina Island Marine Institute with science instructors and spent a week snorkeling and kayaking. The teacher, Ms. Anne Mayben, that brought our class was really an inspiration.

I had been to Hawaii and Alaska and the environments were overwhelmingly beautiful,  but what was so special about Catalina was that it was only about 20 miles from my home in Long Beach. That distance was what really made science tangible as something I could do at home in Southern California.

Q. What do you study and why is that important?

I am studying climate-change effects on aggregations of market squid. Market squid (Doryteuthis opalescens) are a forage species for many federally protected species including marine mammals, birds, and fish. The squid are part of many animals’ diet, so in order to keep these animals healthy, there needs to be food for them to eat. Squid are also important for the commercial fishery. Many Californians don’t know this, but we have a lot of fishers here and market squid is the number one commercial fishery in California.

I am fortunate because I get to work both in the lab and in the field. At Scripps, we are working with the newest technologies to allow for near-shore work. Squid move frequently within our area of study and we need to deploy technology and equipment quickly in order to study them. We use environmental clues to determine when the squid will be here, such as seawater temperature recorded by buoys at sea. We also rely on recreational divers that dive where the squid aggregate. In addition, we have a few successful relationships with commercial fishers who provide us with information about the squid.

We also work with Dr. Andrew Dickson’s ocean acidification facility and can conduct lab experiments controlling pH and oxygen in an aquarium setting. This allows us to test what types of seawater qualities might affect market squid. This information will help us understand the impacts of climate change on the chemistry of the ocean.

Q. What do you enjoy most about being a student at Scripps Institution of Oceanography?

You get to work with the best here, and when you work with the best you start to, hopefully, pick up some of their traits. I am fortunate to work with Dr. Lisa Levin and a few other mentors. We also get to work with some of the best equipment here, which allows us to reveal new and exciting aspects of science.

Navarro and his team study squid.

Q. What would you like to pursue next in oceanography?

I am interested in things that people haven’t studied. I like to attempt to fill in the gaps of information. That is why I was attracted to the squid studies because people didn’t know much about them compared to other taxa. I would like to continue attempting to fill in the gaps of knowledge in places like Antarctica, Chile or Argentina.  The unknowns drive my scientific curiosity.

Q. What are the most important things for a future scientist to learn?

Listen to your teachers, especially your math, science and English teachers, and really try to excel at those subjects. Also, take some art classes.  They are important so that you can cultivate and understand your creativity. As you get older, you will need to put all that knowledge together to become a really great scientist.

Q. Saturday is Underwater Parks Day, what is so special about Marine Protected Areas (MPA)?

Underwater Parks are inspirational places. In my mind, MPAs are the marine versions of state and national parks. When you go to a national park, there are hikes that are really great and amazing.  I would say that diving with market squid in the Matlahuayl or the Scripps MPA is one of those great hikes underwater.

Q. What will you be bringing with you to SEA Days?

I will be doing presentations about the natural history of the market squid and some of the conservation issues that are relevant today. I am lucky enough to belong to one of the best groups that works on conservation here at Scripps as a member of the Center for Marine Biodiversity and Conservation. This is an especially exciting time as they will be having their 10th anniversary next week! I will have a slide or two about that. In addition, I will also have some maps about the MPA boundaries with the squid embryo beds. They lay fertilized eggs mostly around the edges of the canyon areas and near the kelp forest,  on the sandy plain habitats.