Melissa Lenker
You don’t have to be a researcher to support conservation. See Melissa’s top tips for getting involved as a consumer & citizen scientist

Once a scientist, always a scientist? As a recent Master of Science graduate of McGill University, I certainly hope that this is the case. I officially graduated in February and I am still adjusting to post-grad school life. I have been interning with a consulting firm while I apply to jobs and finish the remainder of my graduate work.

The first chapter of my thesis – the Follensby manuscript – is out! The article is the culmination of more than two years of work with four co-authors, multiple field assistants, three academic institutions, two government offices, one nonprofit, more than half a dozen outside advisers, one editor and several anonymous reviewers. It can take a lot of people to publish a study and I am thankful to everyone who contributed, particularly those who took the time to critique the manuscript during the peer review process. Click here to check out the completed article!

Did you know that the phrase “the ivory tower” originated from the bible? Today it is commonly used to refer to academia or universities. This is my personal representation of the ivory tower, the clock tower at my alma mater Cornell University.

Although the national unemployment rate is low, the underemployment rate for millennials is staggeringly high. According to a 2015 Forbes article, this number hovers around 45 percent for the average college educated grad in their 20’s. Finding full-time work as a recent graduate isn’t easy, especially if you are looking to stay in your field of study. For better or for worse, most people pursue careers that take them far away from their academic background. The good news is that you do not have to be a research scientist to stay involved in science. So here are a few tips for staying engaged with ocean conservation:

As a consumer:

Buying fish and other seafood products

Not all seafood is created equal when it comes to ocean health: factors such as method of capture or culture, region, and diet, all help determine the environmental impact of our choices. Piscivorous fish (fish-eating, like tuna, that are high on the food web) are generally worse for the environment than herbivorous fish (plant-eating, like tilapia) because they must eat many smaller fish to survive. In other words, it takes a large quantity of feeder fish to produce a small quantity of piscivorous fish. Eating piscivorous fish also puts you at a higher risk of ingesting toxic compounds such as mercury, which bioaccumulate in top-of-the-food chain fish. Adding in the choices of wild-caught and farm-raised complicates the matter further, with some species (or even subspecies) being more sustainable in either situation. 

The good news is that you do not have to figure all of this out yourself. Use the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch consumer guides or app to help pick tasty and environmentally friendly seafood choices. Seafood Watch also suggests sustainable seafood recipes and business partners for your next night out. Plus, for infographics and other content, check out the One World One Ocean Go Fish! Campaign. 

The seafood selection at my local grocery store. Do you know which choices are sustainable? Check your knowledge at Fish Watch, the U.S. government’s sustainable seafood database.

Plastic packaging and waste

The products and packaging that we buy can make its way into our oceans, harming humans and marine life along the way. Sarah recently discussed the growing plastic pollution problem in her latest blog. Try following her tips – like buying in bulk and carrying reusable canvas bags for grocery shopping – to reduce waste whenever possible. For more information on our ocean’s plastic problems, see the One World One Ocean Plastics Breakdown page.


“Don’t Dump: Drains to Boston Harbor” plaques educate citizens on opposite sides of the intersection at Beacon and Tremont Street in downtown Beantown. 

As a citizen scientist:

Data collection

Citizen science, also called crowd-sourced science, uses citizen volunteers to collect the data scientists need to enhance conservation. Today’s connected world has made data collection and reporting even easier through the use of apps and online forms. For example, the Marine Debris Tracker app lets citizen scientists report marine trash to enhance awareness and provide key scientific data. Volunteers can also help transcribe museum records online to enhance biodiversity and conservation efforts on Notes from Nature. See Ocean Sanctuaries and other agencies for endless ways you can get involved.

I am a citizen scientist too. I recently reported a white squirrel sighting to Biomes of the World, which maps and studies the distribution of white squirrels of North America. This particular white squirrel happens to live on my block in Boston, Massachusetts.

Clean up your waterways

Nonprofits and other entities around the world organize volunteer efforts to clean our oceans. Join the Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup on September 17, 2016 or instigate your own cleanup of local beaches and waterways.

Stay up to date and speak out!

Get involved and follow conservation groups like the One World One Ocean Campaign, The Ocean Conservancy and The Nature Conservancy. They can alert you about petitions, keep you up to date on environmental issues and let your voice be heard. Join the One World One Ocean movement to learn more ways you can protect the oceans.

Do your conservation efforts seem like a drop in the ocean? That may not be a problem.

Every choice we make as a consumer seems small, but in sum, this behavior drives the economy and encourages sustainable business practice. To quote David Mitchell in his novel Cloud Atlas, “My life amounts to no more than one drop in a limitless ocean. Yet what is any ocean, but a multitude of drops?”

Will I return to science someday? It’s hard to say. Life is an adventure and no adventure is complete without a leap into the unknown. Still, all of us can work together as citizens to protect the ocean.

I hope that you have enjoyed my last blog as a graduate student and learned something new.
See you later, alligator!



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