SEA Days: Kelp Kornucopia

by Rasheed I. Al Kotob, Volunteer Programs Assistant


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 or UC San Diego researcher and get hands-on with science, participate in activity stations, and get creative with a thematic craft.

What’s so spectacular about kelp? Well, all the protein shakes in the world can’t get us to grow as fast as kelp does. The type of algae known as Giant Kelp is, under the right conditions, able to grow anywhere between 12” to 24” per day. Now that’s impressive! Furthermore, kelp forests harbor a greater diversity of plants and animals than almost any other ocean community.

Pacific fish at Birch Aquarium at Scripps

Our visiting scientist for November’s SEA Days is Christian McDonald, the Diving Safety Officer at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, who has the opportunity to closely observe and participate in a variety of research projects that study these amazing communities. Below, Christian answers questions about his experience in the field and gives some advice to future scientists.

1. Where did you go to college?

I studied marine biology and graduated from UC Santa Cruz.

2. What is your area of research?

As the Diving Safety Officer, my job at Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego involves training our faculty, staff, and students who wish to use SCUBA to conduct their research and education. I’m also able to help facilitate the science our researchers pursue by providing expert advice, technical support, or project oversight when needed. This allows me to participate in a wide variety of research projects.


3. Who or what inspired you to become involved in marine science?

I grew up in the Central Valley of California. Though I spent a lot of time in the water (pools), I was fairly “landlocked.” Much of my early inspiration to marine science came from Jacques Cousteau documentaries and a natural history TV show called Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom. I was later inspired by NASA and our space program to explore extreme environments such as space and the ocean.

4. What qualities do you need in order to become a scientist?

There are many avenues a scientist could pursue (academia, research, science education, non-profit, etc.). Whichever trajectory, it takes a lot of schooling and a lot of hard work to become a scientist. Truly being curious as to how the world works and passionate about understanding these processes more will help one remain inspired through all the hard work.

5. Why is your research topic important?

Our researchers work very hard to study and find solutions to complex problems. When that work involves going onto and into the ocean, my job is to help them do it as safely and as effectively as possible.

6. What will you be bringing with you to SEA days?

I’ll be bringing a poster showcasing our historic Scientific Diving Program and the science we are able to support. I’ll also bring along some SCUBA equipment and some of the tools our researchers use to collect data underwater. 

7. What is the best advice you have for people interested in becoming involved in your field of research?

Spend time on and in the ocean in whatever capacity is available to you. Look around you. Ask questions about what you see. Learn to snorkel. Learn to dive. Explore.


8. What is your favorite ocean organism?

I do like “charismatic megafauna.” Sharks and particularly, manta rays.

Join us on Saturday, November 13 for SEA Days: Kelp Kornucopia — there’s something for everyone!

SEA Days are 11 a.m – 3 p.m., are included with aquarium admission, and always free to aquarium members. Not a member? Join today!

SEA you there!

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Scripps Institution of Oceanography UC San Diego