Dr. Dawn Osborn

Marine Biologist

Q. How did you end up in the field you are in today?

A. One of my earliest memories is walking on the beach with my mom and siblings and finding and dissecting kelp holdfasts. We would go through the holdfast and sort out all the different creatures—brittle stars, shark eggs, snails, and more. It was so exciting to see all the different creatures. It felt like Christmas morning! Then I would swim out into the ocean and would put the creatures back into holdfasts in the kelp forest so they would survive. For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to study the ocean and help keep it healthy.

Q. What research projects are you currently involved in?

A. I am currently involved in intertidal ecology projects. I am monitoring how different plants and animals survive on different rock types in the intertidal zone (where the land and sea meet). With global warming, sea level will rise, and the organisms in the intertidal zone will be greatly affected. Their entire habitat will change. I am interested in seeing how they adapt to changing conditions.

Q. What do you like the best about your job?

A. I love the variety of things I get to do as a marine biologist. I love being in the field and doing research, reading papers about other people’s current research findings, going to scientific meetings, talking about my work, learning from others, and teaching people. It is very exciting to be able to learn new things and meet new people. There are always more questions to answer!

Q. What is the most incredible thing that has happened to you while conducting your work?

A. In order to get to one of my intertidal study sites in Santa Cruz, I needed to attach a rope to a pole at the top of a 50-ft (15-m) cliff and then scale down the side of the cliff carrying all of my sampling gear. Of course, when I started I was afraid of heights, but I’m not any more! People were often standing on the cliff looking out at the ocean when my team and I walked up next to them, said hello, threw a rope down, and then walked backwards down the cliff to the intertidal area below, basically disappearing from sight! Then while we were in the intertidal, we would lie down and use a handheld microscope to count all the organisms that had settled on my experimental plates. A few hours later, we would scale back up the cliff (going up was actually harder than going down). I’ll never forget doing all of this when I was nine months pregnant—four days before my first son was born. A man nearly had a heart attack as we attached the rope and turned around to go down the cliff. He said, “Oh, oh no, you can’t do that.” I laughed and said, “We’re fine—we do it every month.” The shock on his face was indescribable. Then he called to his family to come watch these crazy people walk down this cliff. It was not so incredible—just funny!

JASON Learning: A Partnership of Sea Research Foundation and National Geographic