Jessica Schaub knows that the ocean has a vast impact on humanity. And conversely, that our actions have a vast impact on the ocean. That’s why she’s passionate about raising awareness of how our everyday choices affect the ocean.
A Master of Science graduate student in Oceanography, Schaub is studying jellyfish blooms. These little-understood creatures may hold the key to helping us understand how climate change — and the human actions that cause it — are affecting the ocean.
Jellyfish can tolerate conditions in the ocean that other organisms can’t, such as low oxygen related to climate change
The potential for research discoveries about the ocean is vast. More people have been to the moon than to the deepest part of the ocean
Jonathan Thar, Research Program Coordinator, Pacific Ocean Shelf Tracking Program
The ocean stabilizes our climate and weather, controls the earth’s physics and chemistry and provides food
Why are you studying jellyfish?
Jellyfish tend to be indicative of bigger problems, yet we don’t know much about them. They are a natural part of a healthy ecosystem and have been around for millions of years, though humans have only been observing them for a fraction of that time. We’re starting to see them in areas we haven’t seen them before. That seems to be mostly driven by human changes related to climate, as well as man-made interference such as long-distance ships and docks.
My work focuses on the diet of moon jellyfish, which are the main bloom-forming species in B.C. We want to understand the impact these blooms have on an ecosystem. For example, if many jellyfish feed in one area, that could remove the food other fish would eat.
How optimistic are you about the future of our oceans? What drives you to work for change?
Change is happening, even if it’s slow. There are lots of decisions being made to ban single-use plastics, mostly because of these studies that are coming out. For a long time, we didn’t even know about microplastics [very small fragments of plastic that pollute the ocean]. That’s been a relatively new discovery. We wouldn’t even know it was an issue we had to fix unless researchers were working on it. I am optimistic. I think people care, and they can make a difference if they want to.
What are a few things people could choose to do differently that would make a difference to the health of our oceans?
There are a hundred things we could do differently, but some changes are easier for some people than others. I’d say the most important thing is to start small: learn about the little lifestyle changes you can make, then work up from there.
An easy change could be drinking directly from a cup instead of using a straw. Or you could buy seafood only from sustainable sources, which ensures fish are being harvested in a way that prioritizes the health of the ecosystem.
How does UBC support you in working for change to our oceans?
Because of UBC’s coastal location, we are ideally situated to do fieldwork in the ocean. Even when I’m not in the field, I’m at the ocean: it’s still a part of my life, because of where the campus is situated in Vancouver.
My research requires a lot of equipment, and I’m lucky to be able to access that through various UBC labs. Some of the UBC researchers I work with also partner with the Hakai Institute, which allows me to do fieldwork on Quadra Island and other remote locations. They provide researchers with funding, accommodation, and technicians at locations that would otherwise be too expensive or remote to access.
UBC is a world-renowned university for research, and that draws high-calibre researchers. Networking is important. There are a lot of UBC alumni doing important things in the world. Just having that connection makes it easier to relate to people who would otherwise be god-like. When you can relate to them, you think, ‘If they can do it, why can’t I?’
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