Q&A with Carina Fish: Shaping research around community values to understand California’s offshore waters


Carina R. Fish is based out of the Bodega Marine Lab as a PhD candidate at University of California, Davis and is currently studying the biogeochemical history of waters offshore of California, including Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary. She graduated from Harvard in 2013 and is currently a Ford Foundation Fellow and NOAA Dr. Nancy Foster Scholar. Prior to her field work being ship-based, Carina dove in Puerto Rico and Indonesia for her research. Learn more about Carina and her science by going to her website: carinafish.com or by following her on Twitter: @Carina_Fish

What questions are you answering in your research?

I’m looking at the recent biogeochemistry of waters off of our coast here in California and researching how upwelling and productivity have changed over time. By looking at the chemical composition of bamboo coral, a deep-sea coral that has layers similar to an onion, you can see when and how different waters played a role in the region.

How does your background inform your science?

Community needs and values are a focal point when I consider my research questions. I also consider which stakeholders are and have been the power brokers dictating what of the environment is used or where and how conservation has been applied whether to limit access to resources that people have sustainably used, or to repackage and sugar-coat NIMBYism. So I start with broader impacts to shape my research agenda. Also, intentionally sharing plain-language findings with all stakeholders should be a priority (and not an afterthought tacked on at the end of a project) as it’s a way of democratizing knowledge that is in a large part funded by taxpayer dollars and/or capitalism AKA philanthropy.

What is your advice for people who are interested in your field?


For those who are coming from a community path, marshal your resources— including the people with expertise that could support your work, regardless of whether they’re outside your network. There are a lot of academics who are looking for ways to plug into the community that you can harness, and your observational knowledge and know-how are equally as valuable. For those on the college path, invest in the core science disciplines. Build a strong foundation in the core sciences and then find applications that are interesting. Both avenues have merit and can open up paths to environmental solutions.

How do you find moments of joy outside of research?

Taking my dog for a walk or a hike is one way, even if it’s a short walk outside. This sounds odd and looks even stranger to an onlooker, but I love looking at the horizon upside down; it’s a great way to be in the moment and get a fresh perspective.

Interview by Elizabeth Ruiz, California Sea Grant Russian River Salmon and Steelhead Monitoring Program