Why am I doing ocean research in the first place?

It has been a hot minute since my last blog post, I think everyone is in the same boat, feeling a little uncertain about the future, a touch of anxiety, and in my case, a whole load of panic trying to finish a PhD thesis. I have been struggling over the last couple of months to find time to do anything outside of work. The pressure has been immense, but it is mostly the pressure I have put on myself. I push myself to always be better and sometimes, in the process of doing that, I lose track of why I am even doing a PhD in the first place. On top of this, 2020 has brought with it many, many challenges, making the outlook post PhD seem rather grim which has started draining away my passion for my work. So, I decided to back track, to go right back to why I fell in love with the ocean in the first place and why I decided to dedicate my career to trying to do something to help save this precious environment. 

Being near the ocean feels like I am home, walking along the beach, feeling the soft sand between my toes, to the exhilaration when the first drops of cold salty water hit my body, and I dive in headfirst, letting the water wash over me, almost as if I am being awakened. I will never forget the first time I learned to breathe underwater. Scuba diving can seem so alien at first, and I have heard people struggle with the notion of being able to breathe underwater as it feels unnatural, but for me, it felt natural, and I wondered why I had not been doing it forever. As mentioned in previous blog posts, my favourite organism in the ocean is seagrass. Swimming through underwater meadows for the first time was enchanting and I found it awe inspiring, I mean, its a literal underwater garden!

My first dive, encountering a leafy sea dragon in a seagrass meadow
Underwater garden (Posidonia australis)
Zostera muelleri

Seagrass are the only flowering plants that exist underwater and also contain roots. The morphologic diversity of these plants creates an utterly beautiful garden filled with all kinds of sea creatures. This is what I need to remind myself of, this is what I have lost track of in my eagerness to complete my PhD. I have forgotten the truly magical nature of being underwater. This is the main driving force behind the research that I do. I want generations after me to experience the wondrous feeling of diving into the ocean and being consumed by the majesty of our underwater world. While seagrasses are clearly my favourite part of our oceans, they are not just great to look at. Seagrasses absorb and trap more carbon dioxide than any terrestrial forest. Their ability to bury this carbon away in sediments means it is locked away for good. Seagrasses also support majority of the marine food web which means the fishing industry i.e. food production, owe everything to seagrasses. Without these primary habitats, juvenile species would never survive into adulthood and we would drastically loose marine life from our oceans. They also provide protection for small animals from predation while providing food for larger animals such as manatees and sea turtles. They filter the water column and trap sediment particles creating beautiful clear water that we are accustomed to loving. What don’t seagrasses do?! That is the real question here. 

Fruiting Posidonia australis
Halophila ovalis bed

Slowing down and bringing myself back to my ocean loving roots (pun intended) is so important in reawakening my passion and not letting work consume my life to the point I have lost sight of my purpose. The ocean is magical, and I don’t think anyone who has experienced the beauty of diving or snorkelling could not feel a burning desire to work towards protecting these environments.

Amphibolis antarctica

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