Nurturing an interest in marine conservation
"Growing up in San Diego, I visited the ocean frequently throughout my childhood," said Nathalie Staiger, who recently earned her MS degree from UMass Dartmouth's School for Marine Science & Technology (SMAST). "From digging for sand crabs to climbing tide pools and observing sea lions, the coastline has always had something new to explore. As I grew older, I realized how fortunate I was to live in such a beautiful environment. This realization manifested in a moral sense of conservationism – that it was my personal responsibility to pass a beautiful environment on to future generations."
Selecting SMAST for advanced studies
As a research assistant at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Nathalie learned about the importance of studying microscopic foraminifera. "My undergraduate school in New Jersey suggested that SMAST offered advanced programs suitable for my interests," she says. "While at SMAST, I worked alongside my faculty advisor Cindy Pilskaln, and focused on oxygen and carbon stable isotope analysis, sediment flux, foraminifera."
Nathalie's research involved analyzing preserved sediment samples from a 12-year time series containing the microscopic shells of foraminifera, specifically the species Globigerinoides ruber (white). "These shells are used as proxies for environmental water conditions like temperature and carbonate," she explains. "The oxygen isotope composition from the shell is used to calculate seawater temperature, whereas the carbon isotope composition from the shell is used to calculate carbonate ion concentration in the seawater, which is affected by ocean acidity and subsequently affects shell thickness of calcifying organisms."
G. ruber (white) foraminifera build their shells in different shapes, called morphotypes. "Aside from looking at the isotopic trends of the study region, I compared these morphotypes for their respective reliability of recording seawater temperature. I then compared my results to other studies around the world and provided insight for future researchers on which shell shape to use for their type of research goals."
Conducting research at SMAST & local organizations
Nathalie says one of the most enjoyable aspects of her experience at SMAST involved working with her peers. "My peers are extremely dedicated and hard working. They motivate me to do my best and make the most of every day."
She also found SMAST to be conveniently situated for her broad-based studies. "The interdisciplinary nature of my research at SMAST has afforded me the opportunity to collaborate with scientists at the Marine Biological Laboratory, Brown University, and Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences. Also, the ideal proximity of SMAST to the state’s Division of Marine Fisheries New Bedford office has allowed me to study and work out of the same building."
Now that Nathalie has earned her MS degree, what's next? "I currently work as a seasonal full-time employee within the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries. The position is multifaceted; every day yields different tasks. I join anglers on deep-sea Head boat cruises to ID and measure fish at sea, as well as analyze Charter boat data with ArcGIS digital mapping software. I also inspect eel and herring traps, as well as dissect fish for other research projects."
The west coast native also plans to pursue her full-time career in New England. "At the end of this seasonal position, I will seek available permanent positions within the Division of Marine Fisheries and Buzzards Bay Coalition in New Bedford, as well as the USGS, NOAA, WHOI, and MBL organizations located on Cape Cod."