With an endless passion for the natural world, both on land and below the waves, Dr Sara Lourie is this week’s defender of the ocean. Sara studied Biological Sciences at Oxford University, and did a PhD at McGill University on seahorses in Southeast Asia. As a child, she lived in Papua New Guinea. Snorkelling lots, and enjoying the pristine waters of the island, she developed a divine love for marine life.

What got you into marine biology?

I became interested in marine life from my time living in Papua New Guinea, but it was Dr Amanda Vincent (who founded Project Seahorse) who gave me the opportunity to delve into it further.

What’s the hardest thing/best thing about your job?

Studying biology, and especially doing fieldwork, has given me an amazing chance to explore the world, and to marvel at its beauty and intricacies. A lot of my work has been based in museums looking at preserved specimens and it’s neat to follow the discovery of biodiversity through the centuries. It’s heartbreaking however to see how we are destroying the very fabric of life through pollution, development and simple lack of respect.

What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever seen/discovered while on the job?

Finding a new species of pygmy seahorse definitely rates high on the list, and so does watching a pygmy seahorse give birth underwater (and going into serious decompression time as a result), but spending the night in the museum at the Academy of Natural Sciences and coming face to face with a dinosaur skeleton, while looking for the bathroom in the middle of the night, was pretty fun too.

saaralourieWhat do you help to achieve through your work?

I hope to inspire people to love and cherish the natural world, help them understand its diversity, and be motivated to care for it.

Who is your marine biology role model?

Sylvia Earle is one of my role models. She has a deep passion for the ocean, has done some amazing underwater explorations and even lived underwater for several weeks. She is also a passionate advocate for the oceans and their conservation. 

What do you think lies ahead for marine ecosystems?

Marine ecosystems are undergoing some major changes as oceans are warming and acidifying. This is bad news for corals and organisms with shells, as they are literally starting to dissolve. Corals are also “bleaching” (i.e. expelling the algae with which they have a symbiotic relationship) and dying. This is a problem for all species that call coral reefs their home. Overfishing is also causing huge ecological imbalances, and pollution is creating giant garbage patches and dead zones. At the moment, I only see these things getting worse, but I am hopeful that people are becoming more aware and starting to focus on ways to better their relationship with the oceans.

What can the average person do to help protect life in the oceans?

Remember that the sea is downstream from everything. Make sure that trash is properly disposed of and doesn’t end up in rivers, or the ocean. Avoid unsustainably harvested seafood. Reduce your use of fossil fuels. Educate others to learn about, love and care for the oceans. Support marine conservation organisations.