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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The following Capstone Projects are the result of the innovative, creative and interdisciplinary graduate work done by students in the Master of Advanced Studies Program in Marine Biodiversity & Conservation (MAS MBC) at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego. MAS MBC Capstone Projects tackle the most timely and relevant ocean and coastal challenges we face today. Students integrate the knowledge and experiential learning gained over their year of graduate coursework to design a collaborative project that builds marketable skills and has a real-world application.

Students partner with university faculty, external organizations and state and federal agencies to execute focused and compelling self-directed research that culminates in a written paper, film, educational curriculum, business plan, economic analysis, management plan, or other substantial deliverable. This work further equips students with the tools they need to succeed in their professional careers in ocean and coastal conservation.

We welcome you to this library of past MAS MBC Capstone Projects and encourage you to explore the diversity of topics and solutions presented.

If you have any questions, please contact:

Risa Farrell
MAS MBC Program Coordinator

Cover page of En el Ojo del Huracán // In the Eye of the Storm: Conceptualizing Climate Justice through Printmaking

En el Ojo del Huracán // In the Eye of the Storm: Conceptualizing Climate Justice through Printmaking


While climate change has already impacted almost every ecosystem on the planet and will unequivocally continue to do so, these impacts are not evenly felt across societies. On both global and local scales, environmental degradation disproportionately burdens those who are already faced with the brunt of inequity. Those human stories, in their nuances of both ache and resilience, are important to share as an impetus for creating equity-centered systems of governance that support all communities. For my Capstone Project, I used the tools of phenomenology, discourse analysis, and the historically rich artform of printmaking to conceptualize two case studies of climate and environmental justice: hurricane impacts in Puerto Rico, and the necessity of anti-racism within conservation. My deliverable is a body of linocut prints that transitions the intellectual to the personal in an exploration of Hurricane María and my family history. I hope this work sparks conversation about the multifaceted connections between environment and society, and the unique roles we might each play moving forward.

Cover page of Yellowtail: Exploring the Cultural and Economic Context of California’s Premier Game Fish

Yellowtail: Exploring the Cultural and Economic Context of California’s Premier Game Fish


California yellowtail are revered in Southern California as the “premiere” game fish of the region. As members of the jack family (Carangidae), these fish are renowned by recreational fishermen (anglers) for both their fight and their flavor. While the total catch was dominated by the commercial fishery in the first half of the 20th century, currently there exists only small local commercial operations that mostly serve the Southern California region. The majority of yellowtail being landed today is through the recreational fishery.

Despite the importance of the California yellowtail to Southern California’s recreational fishing industry, management of the species remains relatively static. Regulations regarding recreational take of the species have seen only minor updates to size limits since the 1960s. Furthermore, no formal stock assessment has been conducted on the Southern California yellowtail stock, and there are not currently plans to do so. Due to climate change, population growth, and a boom in interest in recreational fishing since the mid-2010s, the risk facing the health of the yellowtail fishery is quickly increasing.

This project draws attention to the California yellowtail through exploring the fish’s impact in Southern California’s economy, culture, and history. Communicated through a website dedicated to telling the story of the California yellowtail, it draws attention to the fish’s important role in the region and encourages a push for proactive management of the species. The hope is to ensure that the California yellowtail fishery will remain thriving and healthy long-term, with big and powerful fish for locals to enjoy in the future.

The website can be found here:

Cover page of Distilling an Ocean of Data: A Compliance Tool to Inform Marine Protected Area Management 

Distilling an Ocean of Data: A Compliance Tool to Inform Marine Protected Area Management 


The Maldives Whale Shark Research Programme (MWSRP) collects spatial, biological, oceanographic, and anthropogenic data on whale sharks in the South Ari Atoll Marine Protected Area (SAMPA). There is a need to develop GIS capabilities within the organization in order to further explore, visualize, and analyze data, create 2D maps, and share their findings in a more effective and efficient manner. This need is all the more important in the present time due to the push for better management of SAMPA. In my capstone, I aim to build the GIS capacity at MWSRP by creating a visualization and mapping tool to help create the communication material to contribute to the planning process for better management of SAMPA and to ensure the best conservation measures are taken for the protection of the whale sharks.

Cover page of Science goes on vacation: A book for travelers discovering Antarctica's microscopic forest

Science goes on vacation: A book for travelers discovering Antarctica's microscopic forest


Antarctica is one of the fastest warming regions in the world. More than eight out of ten of the glaciers that line the Western Antarctic Peninsula are in retreat, having impacts at local and global scales. Documenting these changes over time and in expansive areas can be challenging due to the harsh environmental conditions and the associated costs of explorations in remote locations. It also can be hard for people to understand how they are connected to the ocean and to realize that their daily life decisions might affect places like Antarctica that seem so far away.

Luckily, citizen science, also known as participatory science, provides an opportunity to tackle these challenges together. FjordPhyto is a citizen science program from the Vernet Laboratory that works to understand polar fjords through community efforts. It is a voluntary partnership among scientists and travelers visiting Antarctica on tourism vessels, who contribute by taking phytoplankton samples and registering oceanographic information. By participating in programs like this, travelers gain a better sense of the place they are visiting and its threats.

This Capstone Project was conceived to enrich the traveler's experiences and create a product that could help connect more people with the Southern Ocean. It is part of a larger endeavor to produce and publish a bilingual phytoplankton identification book for non-scientific audiences, highlighting the different groups found at the Western Antarctic Peninsula and the collaborative science value. Besides serving as a consultation book for tourists and citizen scientists in the field, it aims to surprise people, inspire them, reinforce their explorer's spirit, and communicate the microscopic forests' relevance in the Antarctic ecosystems.

Cover page of Enhancing the Wild: A Film about Repopulating Ocean Fisheries

Enhancing the Wild: A Film about Repopulating Ocean Fisheries


“Enhancing the Wild” in itself is a contradiction. Our ocean is filled with ecosystems delicately balanced by a global interconnection that any outside intervention is bound to alter.

Enhancement programs aim to target the impacts of natural and anthropogenic influences on wild fish stocks in hopes of increasing recreationally and commercially important species. However, many are lacking in adequate research and have the potential of throwing these ecosystems off-balance. Management by collaborating stakeholders taking a precautionary approach to minimize adverse effects on the environment and economy while also working with the best available science is how these programs will be most effective.

The Hubbs-Seaworld Research Institute (HSWRI) Ocean Resources Enhancement and Hatchery Program (OREHP) located in Carlsbad, California is on the cutting edge of such initiatives. Though despite 30 years of valuable research and experience as well as 40 million dollars worth of funding to date, less than one percent of OREHP white sea bass has contributed to the wild population. Now, with stakeholders finally able to express their opinions across the same platform, a conversation about not only how we can effectively spawn, rear, and release white seabass into the wild, but if we can may take place

Cover page of Tide Pooling for a Solution: Strategic Communication to Strengthen the Pūpūkea Marine Life Conservation District

Tide Pooling for a Solution: Strategic Communication to Strengthen the Pūpūkea Marine Life Conservation District


This report focused on a timely marine conservation issue in Pūpūkea, O‘ahu, Hawai’i regarding the lack of enforceable administrative rules in Kapoʻo, also known as the Pūpūkea or Sharks Cove tidepool, that is a part of the Pūpūkea Marine Life Conservation District (MLCD). To support the rule change process to revise the administrative rules, I worked with Mālama Pūpūkea-Waimea (MPW), a local nonprofit, to create and apply an ArcGIS Story Map. To build the Story Map, I explored available published literature, examined human use data from Kapo‘o, and observations from beach closures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. From theliterature, I gleaned information on the role and function of tide pools in Hawai‘i, impacts from recreational use in coastal environments, marine managed areas in Hawai‘i. From the human use data, I found that the majority of visitors at Kapo‘o engaged in swimming, snorkeling, and shoreline use; and the monthly average number of people participating in these three activities combined increased by 58 people, or 7%, from 2017 to 2019. Observations during a two-month beach closure due to the pandemic included an anecdotal increase of juvenile fish, native algae, and sightings of rarely observed marine life, with no to minimal human disturbance. The Story Map will be used by MPW to educate the Pūpūkea community and visitors and will support the group through the future rulemaking process to make MLCD rules enforceable in Kapoʻo. Future studies will be conducted to understand Kapo‘o’s ecological role in the MLCD, to explore its role as a nursery and refuge for marine life, and to determine the magnitude of fishing andrecreational impacts on the ecosystem.

San Diego Fish Tales: Stories and Recipes from the Local Sustainable Seafood Community


San Diego, California has a rich fishing history, but the once booming seafood industry is declining. Although much smaller now than at its peak, the commercial fishing industry is productive, accessible, and an asset to the community and local economy. Commercial fishermen, chefs, and others are involved in efforts to raise awareness about local seafood. Locally caught seafood accounts for only a small fraction of the seafood consumed in San Diego. San Diegans consume millions of pounds of seafood each year but about 90% is imported foreign seafood. Large amounts of US seafood, including catches from San Diego, are exported to foreign markets. Consumers have the power to shift the seafood marketplace when they buy local, sustainable seafood, which supports the environment, the economy, and the well-being of the community. There is a lack of San Diego-specific resources to bridge the gap between responsible seafood producers and seafood consumers. This capstone project is part of a larger endeavor to produce and publish an ocean-to-table book that highlights six sustainable seafood products caught by San Diego commercial fishermen. The seafood products include California spiny lobster, opah, rockfish, sablefish, spot prawn, and red urchin. Creative writing, storytelling, scientific facts, and recipes introduce the reader to the sustainably caught seafood products and the local seafood community, including commercial fishermen, fishmongers, seafood purveyors, and chefs. The aim is to increase consumer knowledge, appreciation, and consumption of locally caught, sustainable seafood.

Spatial Dispersion of Red Abalone (Haliotis rufescens) Environmental DNA (eDNA) in a Controlled Marine Environment and Applications of eDNA to Monitor Critically Endangered Abalone (Haliotis spp.) Populations in the Wild


The analysis of environmental DNA (eDNA) from water samples is improving species monitoring by offering enhanced detection of rare, cryptic, and endangered taxa over traditional survey methods. This study aimed to investigate the dispersion of red abalone (Haliotis rufescens) eDNA in a controlled marine environment and assess the feasibility of detecting presence of abalone (Haliotis spp.) eDNA in the ocean. Genus-specific primers were used to amplify red abalone eDNA, and multiple experiments revealed the eDNA permeated a two million liter volume of seawater within 18 hours of introduction. Field validation was conducted with seawater samples from two locations where abalone are known to occur along the California coast, and both samples amplified presumed abalone eDNA using the same genus-specific primers. Environmental DNA is a promising tool to detect the presence of cryptic and endangered abalone species in the ocean, with the potential to complement and strengthen current visual survey methods.

Cover page of A Little Bit of Sargassum Goes A Long Way: Observations and Mapping of Sargassum fluitans and Sargassum natans from NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer's ROV Deep Discoverer

A Little Bit of Sargassum Goes A Long Way: Observations and Mapping of Sargassum fluitans and Sargassum natans from NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer's ROV Deep Discoverer


The ocean’s biological pump connects the surface ocean, where light-driven photosynthetic processes fix dissolved carbon dioxide (CO2), to the ocean’s mesopelagic zone (approx. 200 –1000 meters) and beyond. It is a process that depletes the ocean’s surface of CO2 relative to the CO2 in deep water through mechanisms such as the sinking of organic material to the deep Ocean. The Atlantic Ocean features high productivity of the macroalgae genus Sargassum floating on the ocean’s surface in the Sargasso Sea, and in recent years giant blooms of the brown algae Sargassum have been observed stretching from the west coast of Africa to the Gulf of Mexico, the largest macroalgae bloom that has ever been recorded. The sinking of macroalgae from surface waters to the seafloor is considered to be an important carbon sink, but one that is little understood. With the logistical challenges of accessing the deep sea, the record of Sargassum appearing on the seafloor remains limited.

This project utilized an archived exploratory dataset that is freely available to the public in order to make novel discoveries in previously unexplored areas. The following report documents the presence and distribution of Sargassum falls in the deep sea during six dives conducted by NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer’s ROV Deep Discoverer off the Southeastern United States, in the Gulf of Mexico, and in the Caribbean. Sargassum was observed on each of the dives, in numbers ranging from 6 to 30 observations per dive, with Sargassum being observed an average of every 171 linear meters. This suggests that Sargassum does make its way to the deep sea, in potentially significant amounts.

Drifters of the Sea: Antarctic Citizen Science 


Utilizing filmmaking as a tool for marine conservation, “Drifters of the Sea” brings light to the role of phytoplankton in marine ecosystems, as well as the importance of citizen science.

Phyto comes from the Greek word for “plant”, and plankton comes from the Greek word for “drifter”. So, they are microscopic algae drifting in the oceans. To bring the audience closer to the microscopic world and citizen science, this film takes a closer look at FjordPhyto, a project that engages tourists in Antarctica in scientific activities by allowing them to participate in the collection of phytoplankton.

“Drifters of the Sea” focuses on three interviews: Dr. Maria Vernet, Co-Founder of FjordPhyto and phytoplankton ecologist at Scripps Institution of Oceanography; Allison Cusick, Co-Founder of FjordPhyto and Graduate Student at Scripps Institution of Oceanography; and Caitlyn Webster, polar guide and polar citizen science participant. They all share with us their journey of practicing science in Antarctica, and they teach us important facts about the microscopic world. If knowing is the key to caring, then citizen science can be an important tool for non-scientists to care more about the environment, and we might become better at protecting our ecosystems.