Edge Staff


By Dr. Kristin Drexler
Faculty Member, School of STEM

June 8 is World Ocean Day. The theme this year is “One Ocean, One Climate, One Future – Together.”

World Ocean Day is important for the health of Earth’s waters. It marks a global movement to protect “at least 30% of our blue planet by 2030 (“30×30”). A healthy ocean is a critical part of the solution to the climate crisis. By supporting 30×30, we can protect our planet’s life support systems – specifically the interconnected issues of ocean, climate, and biodiversity.”

There are many ways groups and individuals can take action to protect our oceans and climates. That effort includes petitions, events, resources, donor tools, youth activities and social media amplification.

An Interview with Marine Biologist Dr. Michele Nishiguchi

Dr. Michele Nishiguchi. Image courtesy of Dr. Nishiguchi.

To help us understand the importance of World Ocean Day, I invited my friend Dr. Michele “Nish” Nishiguchi, a marine biologist and professor at the University of California-Merced, to answer a few questions. Nish runs the “Nishiguchi Symbiosis Lab” on her campus.

Dr. Nish and I go back to our days at New Mexico State University and our work with my Belize Field School Program; Nish instructed two marine biology courses there. Nish has also been a guest speaker for our Women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (wSTEM) and Association for Women in Science (AWIS) chapters.

Nish says her primary research interest is to “examine the mechanisms and evolutionary processes that are fundamental for establishing how bacteria affect the population structure, life history, and molecular specificity in symbiotic associations, and how these associations can be used to examine modes of infection and pathogenicity between animals, bacteria, and the communities/habitats where they are located.”  

Her passion for studying squid drives this type of research. Specifically, Nish studies the sepiolid squid-Vibrio light organ to explore “population dynamics, ecology and community dynamics between squid hosts and their bacterial symbionts.”  

One of the squids Dr. Nish studies. Image courtesy of Dr. Nishiguchi.

Can you describe what World Ocean Day is and why it is important?

Nish: World Ocean Day…wow. It’s a way to celebrate our beautiful planet that is 70% covered by this magical realm of water. It’s about respecting what an amazing resource our oceans are, how much we’ve damaged them due to climate change/overfishing/pollution, and how we can protect and improve the way that our oceans can be preserved for many generations to come.

What does World Ocean Day mean to you and your effort to sustain the oceans?

Nish: I think that different communities around the world have a plethora of ideas that contribute to the efforts for awareness, conservation, and protection. There are ways we can implement those ideas so that this valuable resource can be sustained for many years.

Additionally, it’s a day of inclusion and diversity, where multiple cultures and communities from around the world engage in activities that are all focused on preserving our world’s oceans. They also support that diverse solutions are best resolved from combining a number of perspectives and backgrounds.

Dr. Nishiguchi on a scuba trip. Image courtesy of Dr. Nishiguchi.

Why should oceans be valued and protected?

As an educator, my role is to enlighten students about the world’s oceans as they once were and what they are today. I also teach how the oceans are in their state due to human presence and why it is our responsibility to try and sustain this resource.

Also, I bring them facts, not fiction, and have them weigh the facts/data (as junior scientists), so they can come to their own conclusions about how to combat climate change, ocean pollution and sustainability.  My students, especially the young ones, are so amazing in what they come up with, and their ideas novel and inspiring. That’s what makes teaching so great! 

Environmental Science Programs and Student Organizations

There are several graduate and undergraduate programs that focus on the environment and oceans. For example, the University offers academic programs such as a bachelor of science in environmental science and a bachelor of science in natural sciences. Also, there are both graduate and undergraduate certificates in fish and wildlife management.

Various courses in these academic programs deal with the world’s oceans. In the Natural Sciences program, for instance, there is a course called “ERSC305 Ocean and Atmospheric Dynamics.” This course explores “the fluid mechanical principles guiding the atmosphere and ocean on a global scale… [where] the atmospheric general circulation will be discussed including vertical and horizontal structure of temperature, pressure and density as well as a discussion on the dynamics of convection. Ocean dynamics will be discussed including the air-ocean interaction, thermohaline circulation and ocean heat budget and transport.”

In the Environmental Science program, there is a course called “SCIN311 Fishery Biology,” which presents “the principles and methods used in studying the biology of fishes, the ecological requirements of freshwater and anadromous fishes, and the principles and practices in sport fishery management. Students will participate in case studies and critically analyze existing fisheries management plans to ascertain their effectiveness and scientific validity. This course will also emphasize the value of collaboration in effective fisheries management.” 

There is also a course called “EVSP330 Fish and Wildlife Policies, Programs, and Issues.” This course covers federal, state, and local fish and wildlife policies and programs as well as current economic and other issues in this field.

In addition to academic programs, there are also student organizations such as The Wildlife Society (TWS), wSTEM, AWIS and the National Association of Environmental Professionals (NEAP). Current students, alumni, university staff and faculty can get involved to share information and resources about biodiversity and ecosystem sustainability.

More Environmental Events Are Coming Up This Month

World Ocean Day is only one of several environmental events coming up in June. So be sure to check out these other events:

About the Author

Dr. Kristin Drexler is a full-time faculty member in the Space and Earth Studies Programs. She teaches geography, environmental science, earth system history and conservation of natural resources for the School of STEM. She earned her Ph.D. in educational leadership at New Mexico State University by researching socioecological systems, sustainable agroecology and community education. Kristin earned her master of arts in international affairs with an emphasis in natural resources management from Ohio University. Dr. Drexler has also been awarded the Undergraduate Excellence in Teaching Award for the School of STEM (2020) and the Dr. Wallace E. Boston Leadership Award (2021).   

Kristin has conducted numerous community surveys in Belize regarding agroforestry, conservation and sustainable agriculture. Until she became a full-time instructor with APU in 2009, she was an environmental scientist in New Mexico, conducting field biology surveys and environmental impact analyses. Kristin founded the Belize Field School Program at NMSU, coordinating short courses in Belize in wildlife, agroforestry, marine ecology, and documentary film (2006-2014) and produced an award-winning short film, “Yochi” in 2017 about youth conservation and action against poaching and illegal wildlife trade.