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Profiles Of Scientists And Engineers: Marine Biologist

8 minutes

(Describer) In a sunny bay, flamingos stand in shallow water, and a woman wears a diving suit and scuba gear. She goes underwater with another diver as others play elsewhere in the water and a man pulls a fishing line. The woman puts her bare feet in lapping waves.

My name is Ayana, and this is my office.

(Describer) Indoors, she walks around a large aquarium.

(Ayana) I decided to become a marine biologist because I fell in love with the ocean when I was five,

(Describer) Ayana Johnson:

in the Florida Keys, when I first saw coral reefs. They were fascinating.

(Describer) She looks hanging plants in the aquarium.

(male narrator) Ayana's working toward her PhD at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. She hopes to help preserve the coral reefs for future generations by studying how fishing practices affect the ecosystems of the reefs. The most rewarding thing about being a marine biologist is the opportunity to have a real impact on the conservation of marine resources.

(Describer) She walks between shelves.

(Ayana) Scripps has an amazing collection of fishes. There are over two million specimens in the collection,

(Describer) She takes a jar.

representing over 5,000 species of fish from all over the world.

(Describer) A fish is in the jar. At another time, she walks down stairs to a beach.

(narrator) As a marine biologist, Ayana divides her time between research and classes in San Diego and her field studies on Curaçao, an island just off the coast of Venezuela. The ultimate goal of my research is to be able to create a proposal for the island of Curaçao, giving them ideas for managing their resources sustainably. That includes both setting aside certain areas as protected, where fishing is not allowed, and also having regulations for the type of fishing that does still occur.

(Describer) She dives.

(narrator) Ayana has three research sites on Curaçao, each set with traps made by local fishermen.

(Describer) They're like cages.

She's modified some traps with exit slots to allow certain fish to escape.

(Describer) With the jar...

This is acanthurus bahianus, also known as the surgeon fish. It's very commonly found in the Caribbean and where I do my research in Curaçao,

(Describer) She puts it on a dish.

and it often winds up in my fish traps. I want to know how wide the fish is.

(Describer) She measures it with callipers.

This one is 16.07 millimeters. Knowing how wide they are will help me determine how wide the exit slot must be so they can escape.

(Describer) She swims underwater, viewed from below.

Something I didn't expect was to find so many large moray eels in my fish traps. They can be up to two meters long, and have some pretty scary looking teeth.

(Describer) One opens its mouth. On land, she works with colleagues.

(Ayana) This is a control. So they are really caught. Can't they get through? No, they can't, it's one inch. This is the actual mesh size. Okay.

(Describer) She points at a trap on their table. On the beach...

There are two different types of slots I'm testing to see if the fish will find them and exit. I'm targeting the juveniles and narrow-bodied species as the fish I want to see exiting, because they have very little economic value. They don't have much meat on them, so fishermen aren't trying to catch them for food.

(Describer) Leaving a house, she carries some equipment to a car and puts it in the trunk.

(Ayana) So, we're going to Santa Marta

(Describer) She drives away.

and I'm going to open the traps today to let all the fish out, which is something I enjoy doing.

(Describer) Later, she dives for one of the traps.

(narrator) There are eight traps at each of Ayana's research sites. She moves the traps around to study how the different trap designs work in various locations along the reef.

(Describer) She's shown moving four of them.

The hours in my work week is highly variable. When I'm in San Diego and working on campus, it's like a regular 9-to-5 job. I do background reading to keep up with literature in the field, I take classes. When I'm doing field work, it's completely all-consuming. I wake up, prepare, and do three dives a day. When I get home, I enter data and prepare my gear for the next day. On the weekends, I do statistical analysis and prepare for the next week.

(Describer) She types on a laptop.

There's a lot of data to enter, and I think so far I've recorded information on over...well over a thousand individual fishes, so that's a lot to keep track of.

(Describer) She holds up papers.

These are the data sheets that I use underwater. And you can write underwater if you use a pencil.

(Describer) She drives a small car. Later, she drives a convertible.

(Ayana) Here in San Diego, for leisure, I spend time at the beach. I live a block from a gorgeous beach, so I go down there, oftentimes to read, or play football with friends or go swimming.

(Describer) She lounges on the sand as two people walk by.

I think marine biology is one of the fields that at least, for me, you can merge playing and working. You can go scuba diving, spend time in the ocean. You must spend lots of time at the beach, and at the same time, you get to do really important conservational work-- the combination of being fun and doing something useful.

What's up? [Ayana laughs]

(Describer) She hugs a man and they walk through a gate.

In Curaçao I have less time for leisure activities, especially because it's really important when diving to get lots of sleep. But I've started taking salsa dancing lessons there, which is a ton of fun.

(Describer) She and the man dance. He spins her around.

This is getting serious.

(Describer) She takes off her glasses and puts them aside.

Let's ditch the goggles.

(Describer) Then she returns to dancing. Another time, she dives.

[Ayana chuckles]

(Ayana) Divers get upset when they see trapped fish. That's been a traditional area of conflict between fishermen who use traps and divers. Divers often cut the traps open to let the fish out.

(Describer) She tapes up a poster.

I've worked very closely with the diving community to make sure the divers understand that my project's goal is to help the fisheries department here find a more environmentally friendly way to manage the trap fishery.

(Describer) A little sign on a trap says “don't let me out”. Driving...

The reason I'm most excited about doing this research is that the results will actually be used immediately. They are in the process of writing new laws for managing fishing here on the island of Curaçao, and the results of my research will be used to determine

(Describer) She adjusts her diving equipment.

how those laws are written. Which is wonderful motivation to get in the water and do 300 dives. Because as a conservation ecologist, that's my goal-- to do research that has direct applications to developing policy.

(Describer) Underwater, she waves at a camera.

You can make a good living being a marine biologist, whether that's as a professor, a government employee, or my plan, which is working for a nonprofit.

(narrator) Like most marine scientists who set their own schedules, Ayana finds it easy to work hard when doing what you love.

(Describer) She walks by air tanks in a pavilion.

(Ayana) I love not having a desk job. I love that my office is anywhere in the world where there's an ocean.

(Describer) She holds a clipboard as she dives.

You're not gonna become a millionaire by studying fish, but the travel perks are pretty fantastic. And you can definitely design your research plan to land you just about anywhere in the world.

(Describer) In quick cuts, she reads in a hammock and looks at the aquarium. On the beach...

Everything's going well. Just another day at the office.

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Marine biologist Ayana Johnson fell in love with the ocean the moment she laid eyes on a coral reef at age five. She uses her passion to protect marine life and improve the fishing industry.

Media Details

Runtime: 8 minutes

Profiles Of Scientists And Engineers
Episode 1
10 minutes
Grade Level: 9 - 12
Profiles Of Scientists And Engineers
Episode 2
6 minutes
Grade Level: 9 - 12
Profiles Of Scientists And Engineers
Episode 3
7 minutes
Grade Level: 9 - 12
Profiles Of Scientists And Engineers
Episode 4
6 minutes
Grade Level: 9 - 12
Profiles Of Scientists And Engineers
Episode 5
8 minutes
Grade Level: 9 - 12
Profiles Of Scientists And Engineers
Episode 6
6 minutes
Grade Level: 9 - 12
Profiles Of Scientists And Engineers
Episode 7
8 minutes
Grade Level: 9 - 12
Profiles Of Scientists And Engineers
Episode 8
7 minutes
Grade Level: 9 - 12
Profiles Of Scientists And Engineers
Episode 9
8 minutes
Grade Level: 9 - 12
Profiles Of Scientists And Engineers
Episode 10
7 minutes
Grade Level: 9 - 12