Jennifer Newby is a fisheries biologist for NOAA’s Alaska Fisheries Science Center in Kodiak who is working on crab response to ocean acidification through the Shellfish Assessment Program.
Q: How did you get into the ocean acidification field?
While I’d heard about ocean acidification (OA) from colleagues working on Caribbean coral reef systems, I didn’t dive into the world of OA myself until I traveled north to Alaska. I worked briefly as an Onboard Oceanography Coordinator out of Homer, and while teaching all ages of students about the role of OA in coastal communities and the projected effects on planktonic marine life, I started to better understand the implications — not just for the marine species, but for Alaskan livelihoods and the local economy as well.
Q: Tell us a little about the Kodiak Lab…
The Kodiak Lab is home to an incredibly research-rich seawater lab that supports a wide-diversity of projects on topics including ocean acidification, crab reproduction and growth, aquaculture and mariculture, just to name a few. The seawater lab complex pumps in water from directly behind our facility, and provides constant flow-through of filtered and raw seawater to support our many crab, groundfish and invertebrates housed at the Kodiak Fisheries Research Center. In recent years, about three researchers have been focused on OA work here at our laboratory with the help of two full-time biological technicians, who help keep all our experiments running smoothly throughout the year.
Q: What’s a normal day like for you?
There’s not exactly a normal day to describe at the Kodiak Lab. The lab has a very dynamic environment with new projects set-up every few months, our annual NMFS trawl survey every summer between May-August, and then processing hundreds of crab samples at the end of survey each fall. Whether assessing crab larvae to stage and track their early development, drawing blood from female Red King Crab that recently molted and running tests on a flow cytometer, or taking pictures of oocytes of snow crab collected out in the Eastern Bering Sea, I’m constantly engaged in one of our many, ongoing research projects.
What’s the most challenging or entertaining part about studying crab?
One of the challenges we face daily in the laboratory as part of the Shellfish Assessment Program is trying to mimic natural conditions for the commercially important Alaskan crab species we study. These crab inhabit not only different depths, and varying temperatures, but also migrate and are effected by ice edge retreat and cold pool formation. We are still learning much about each crab species today and we do our best in the laboratory setting to closely mirror the conditions these crab would be experiencing in the wild. As water temperatures around Kodiak Island elevate in the summer, we have to very closely monitor our temperature loggers and manipulate incoming water flow and chiller set-ups to ensure that all our experiments continue to reflect natural conditions in the Bering Sea. It takes a team of attentive researchers to keep the lab running smoothly all year long.
If you could give advice to a student going into the ocean acidification field, what would you tell them?
The best advice I can give for any student of marine science, fisheries, or ocean acidification is to get out there and network! Reach out. Ask questions. Meet researchers, managers, project leads in person and introduce yourself. Don’t send an email if you’re nearby and could walk in a laboratory or an office. Learn from them. Learn about opportunities, however small, to work in their labs or volunteer for fieldwork. Demonstrate your interest, a good work ethic, and a respectful attitude and you will find yourself surrounded by many colleagues and mentors who will bolster you throughout your career.