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Catching Up with Marine Scientist, Shawna Foo

Shawna Foo is a marine scientist in the Asner Lab at Arizona State University’s Center for Global Discovery and Conservation Science. Shawna is broadly interested in how marine ecosystems and the animals within them will respond to climate change, particularly ocean warming and ocean acidification. Using remote sensing technologies to obtain large scale maps of coral reefs, Shawna integrates this data with extensive animal surveys to investigate widespread responses of reefs to climate change stress and factors that influence their resilience and recovery.

Where are you located?

I’m currently working remotely in Reno, Nevada, however, fieldwork and experiments take me to the Big Island of Hawai’i.

What does a typical day look like for you?

It differs! If I’m out collecting data it could mean designing experiments and diving! If there’s no fieldwork or experiments to be done, I’m organizing and analyzing data looking for patterns to explain what I’ve seen.

Do you have a distinct memory of when you knew you wanted to be a scientist?

My childhood life was far away from the ocean. I started snorkeling when I was eight and became completely fascinated by everything underwater and from then I knew I had to do whatever I could to learn about this amazing world.

What was the biggest scientific question you wanted to answer when you first began your career? Has that question changed over time?

I wanted to figure out how would the ocean would look at the end of the century since most of the predictions for ocean change are provided for that timepoint. This is still a main theme of my research but the question is not so straightforward to answer! The response of each individual species of a marine ecosystem is different and can have flow-on effects on each other and as such, the scale of my research investigations has changed over time. My research career began by investigating individual organism responses and development by growing certain species under various climate change scenarios predicted for the future. I now use remotely sensed data to investigate population-level organization and response across entire reefscape scales which allows a more widespread understanding of how marine ecosystems will respond to climate change.

What are you working on now?

I am currently trying to determine how factors such as human population, presence of sewerage systems and nutrient runoff influence fish populations along the west coast of Hawai’i and how this interplays with marine protected areas.

Have you been surprised by any of your results? If so, what were they?

How adaptable and resilient animals can be. For example, some experiments I’ve run with sea urchins show that they can survive across incredible temperature ranges, and temperatures they’ve never experienced before!

Where do you think your research headed? What kinds of questions do you think you’ll be asking in the future based on what you’ve learned so far?

Remote sensing is a great tool in providing information on marine ecosystems at large scales and in identifying priority areas for protection. I look forward to continuing in integrating these technologies into my research efforts to answer solutions-based research questions, such as, how can we most effectively restore damaged reefs?

What’s the best thing about being part of GDCS?

The people. It is full of some of the brightest, kindest and supportive people I know.

What is the coolest thing you’ve gotten to do while working in Greg Asner's lab?

Dive along the west coast of Hawai’i. It’s an expansive reef and every dive is different.

What do you like to do when you’re not doing science?

Anything outdoors! I’m located super close to the mountains so you can find me skiing most weekends. I also do yoga and bouldering during the week to take a break from work!