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.
Terrestrial reptiles are known for their resilience and long life spans and marine reptiles, like sea turtles, are no different. The life expectancy of sea turtle ranges between species but unfortunately there is no easy way to determine the age of a sea turtle. Scientist Cali Turner-Tomaszewicz is a PhD candidate at UCSD and focuses her research on age determination of sea turtles, specifically the duration of the juvenile life stage. Turner uses skeletochronology, which works very similar to counting rings on a tree to determine age. Age determination can aid scientists in understanding sea turtles life history and therefore help in conservation efforts. Below Cali tells us more about her research and her best advice for future researchers.
Where did you go to school?
Undergraduate at Claremont McKenna College (Environment, Economics & Politics major)
Masters at UCSD Scripps Institution of Oceanography (Marine Biodiversity and Conservation)
Current: PhD Candidate at UCSD, Biology Division (Ecology, Behavior & Evolution)
What is your area of research?
Marine conservation and ecology. I study the life-history and habitat-use of sea turtles. Particular focus is on determining the duration of the oceanic juvenile life stage of two endangered turtle populations in the North Pacific using two techniques called skeletochronology and stable isotope analysis. These techniques allow me to age marine turtles, and determine what habitat turtles live in over a period of time (typically up to 10 years).
Who or what inspired you to become involved in marine science?
My parents receive credit for me loving nature and science, and my grandparents were the ones who first introduced me to the ocean and sea turtles. And once I began to love these things, I learned more and realized the great need for interdisciplinary conservation in order to protect these things. And I’ve worked with many incredible mentors along the way.
What qualities do you need in order to become a scientist?
Dedication, curiosity and passion. If you have these things, then your work will be enjoyable – and you’ll be good at it!
Why is your research topic important?
I work in close partnership with the Marine Turtle Ecology & Assessment Program, in the Marine Mammal and Turtle Division at NOAA-NMFS Southwest Fisheries Science Center. My research is directly addressing key research priorities concerning the management of endangered sea turtle populations that interact with US and international fisheries.
What will you be bringing with you to SEA days?
Sea turtle artifacts (carapace shells, skull, bones & etc.) as well as equipment that I use in my research: sea turtle humerus bones, cross sections of bones, microscope
What is the best advice you have for people interested in becoming involved in your field of research?
Find a problem that needs attention and that you’re passionate about. Then start learning about it and getting involved in anyway you can. Volunteer, do internships, talk with people who do what you’d like to do… and don’t give up!
What is your favorite ocean organism?
It would have to be sea turtles, of course! Loggerheads have a special place in my heart!