FOJBI Friday: Meet Kristin Aquilino, Snatching White Abalone Back From The Brink

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The "Friends of Joe's Big Idea" is a vibrant community of talented people we think you should meet. FOJBI Friday introduces some of these cool communicators of science, in their own words. This week: Kristin Aquilino.


I'm an assistant project scientist at the University of California, Davis Bodega Marine Laboratory, and I'm trying to save the white abalone — a delicious and adorable marine snail — from the brink of extinction. Overfishing has earned these mollusks a spot on the endangered species list. I collaborate with other scientists, state and federal agencies, aquariums, and aquaculturists who are all trying figure out the best way to get the abalone in the mood to boost their numbers.

On the importance of science communication

Good science communication makes the universe smaller and bigger all at once. It brings new and accurate information to the public, bolsters a stronger understanding of the research process and its relevance to society, and provides context to the human existence. It makes kids from Iowa — like me — identify with sea snails, and kids from San Francisco value the loess prairie.

On saving white abalone

I'd like everyone in this big-and-small universe to think that abalone are cute — also culturally, economically, and ecologically important, but mostly cute. Few things bring me more joy than showing someone the beady, black eyes topping the mollusk's long, skinny eyestalks. They have faces! They move! Did I mention that they're adorable?! Our current research focuses on reproductive conditioning, improving post-settlement survival, and enhancing the genetic integrity of our captive animals. I'm also part of a collaboration examining the effects of ocean acidification on abalone. I enjoy sharing our work through Twitter and Facebook, video production, science outreach seminar series, and K-12 education.

There are now more white abalone in captivity than exist in the wild. While this is worrisome regarding the wild population, it also presents a great opportunity to save the species. We plan to begin placing some of our captive-bred white abalone out into the wild in the next year or two. I'm very hopeful about the future of this adorable, beady-eyed snail!

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