SEA Days: Fishy Friends

Every month, the third Saturday is a special day at Birch Aquarium: SEA Days! As the tagline suggests, SEA Days are always full of  “Science, Exploration and Adventure.” Visitors and members can meet a Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego or local researcher and get hands-on with science, participate in activity stations, and get creative with a thematic craft.

“Fish are friends, not food.” We all remember this iconic line from Finding Nemo and while some fish are indeed food, we should first and foremost strive to keep our friends safe and happy. One way our actions affect our fishy friends is through the increased acidity in the ocean. An increase in carbon dioxide can increase the acidic environment of the ocean and this can have drastic repercussions for the organisms that live there. Scripps Scientist, Garfield Kwan focuses his research on the mechanisms that ocean acidification change fishy behavior. Below he gives us insight into his research and answers questions for future scientists.

Where did you go to school?

UC San Diego

What is your area of research?

When we release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, some of it is mixed into the ocean surface and causes it to become slightly more acidic. I am interested in how this change in acidity is causing behavioral and physiological changes in our local kelp forest fishes.

Undergradaute student Tsz Fung (Garfield) Kwan is one of the first graduating seniors from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography Marine Biology major. (March 24, 2013)

Tsz Fung (Garfield) Kwan joins us for SEA Days Fishy Friends.

What inspired you to work in your current field?

My first contact with marine biology was by eating it. Growing up in Hong Kong, I would always loiter at the fish markets and marvel at the diversity and intrinsic complexity of the marine organisms. I eventually stumbled into the marine biology field when I was looking for a part-time job. Today, I am a PhD student at Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

What are some of the qualities that make a good scientist?

Be curious about the way things work around you. Research in science is about understanding things that we don’t know – and that requires more than just memorizing knowledge. Being smart definitely helps, but hard work, patience, luck, and being proactive is also necessary.

Why is your research topic important?

Current ocean acidification research on fish reveals dramatic changes in their behavior such as attraction to predators and unfavorable habitats. Scientists have narrowed down this dysfunction to a certain brain receptor in the brain. My research attempts to understand the mechanisms that link this phenomena caused by CO2 changes to the brain.

What will you bring to SEA days?

I will bring an experimental arena used to test for changes in fish behaviors. Samples of different kinds of preserved fish.

What is your favorite ocean organism?