Meet Liz, Biologist and Scientists in School Presenter

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Science Literacy Week (September 16-22, 2019) inspires Canadians of all ages to read more about science and to help foster a strong STEM culture across the country. This year’s theme, Oceans, encourages Canadians of all ages to discover more about the importance of our world’s oceans, our impact on them, and what we can do to appreciate and help marine wildlife.

To celebrate, we’re featuring a few of our amazing workshop presenters who have career and education experience in marine biology and ocean studies. In this blog post, we talk to Liz, a Scientists in School workshop presenter who presents Adventures in the Bone Zone and Body Works in Brockville, about her passion for working with marine animals and why it’s important to understand how our everyday actions have a big impact on the ocean.

Can you tell us about your work with aquatic animals?

I hold a Masters in Biology from the University of Maryland with a specialization in aquatic animals in a captive environment. I have spent my career working with marine animals in aquariums and marine science centers. My graduate research was in cell culture of hard corals to look at different ways corals could be studied in the lab, and to develop ways to aid declining corals in the wild. I have worked with marine animals from invertebrates like jellies, corals and octopus, to dozens of species of fish including seahorses, and several species of sharks and sting rays. I also spent a great deal of time scuba diving in aquariums to be able to work with many animals up close. Working in aquariums and marine science centers allowed me to have meaningful interactions with the public to answer questions and educate them about the animals and ocean habitats.

What lead you down this path? What fascinated you or interested you about oceans?

My love of the ocean was solidified when I learned to scuba dive and went on my first trip to the Florida Keys. I fell in love with the beauty and diversity that was around me and how very special it was that not everyone would have the opportunity to see it in person. When I was looking for a graduate program, I wanted to work with marine animals, but knew it was a challenging field to work in. The opportunity to learn more about large public aquariums and work with the animals in them was the perfect way for me to combine my love of these animals and bring them to the public in ways that would kindle the same awe I felt seeing them for the first time on the reef. I have seen the pure joy in the eyes of children and adults when seeing these animals. Being able to experience animals up-close gives people a better appreciation for them and that appreciation leads them to care about what is happening to their environment.

Why is it important to get children and youth excited about and interested in our world’s oceans?

Oceans are the last unexplored realm on earth. There is so much we don’t know and understand that the possible things we can find are limitless. They are also the life blood of the planet. They produce oxygen we breath, control the weather, impact where we can live and feed large portions of the world. A child who grows up learning about and appreciating something, grows up to be an adult that will potentially work to protect it. There are lots of things individuals can do to do their part in protecting the oceans and marine life. By teaching our children these habits when they are young, they grow up and continue to act responsibly.  

Why is it important for everyone, not just scientists, to have a better understanding and appreciation of our oceans?

Understanding, in even the most basic way, how the oceans impact the life of every person on the planet is the first step towards getting people to care about how our actions effect the oceans. It’s hard to imagine how the small things we all do every day can impact something so huge and vast as our oceans. But by understanding first what the ocean does for the planet, we can connect the dots to how we have changed the planet.

What can educators and parents/guardians do to cultivate a stronger interest in our world’s oceans in children and youth?

My family visits aquariums and zoos wherever we travel. We go to museums, science centers and children’s museums. When a child is at play, they can learn almost anything and not even realize it. Showing children what is out there to care about and teaching them how their small actions can make a difference teaches them to respect the world around them. There is so much to learn about the oceans and there are many careers out there that children can learn about.

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