In Depth: Gary Griggs

On a beautiful Santa Cruz morning, we headed to the cliffs just outside of the Long Marine Lab to interview Gary Griggs, University of California, Santa Cruz Distinguished Professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences and Director of the Institute of Marine Sciences. Griggs led the effort to build the Coastal Sciences Campus at the Long Marine Lab, which is also home to federal and state marine research facilities and conservation organizations.

Why did you choose to have the Long Marine Lab here in Santa Cruz?

Soon after the University was established, it was realized that marine science would be an important academic program for the campus. We needed a coastal station in order to have running sea water so that we could do research with marine animals, and this was the perfect site. It was close to the campus and right on the shoreline.

Why did you start the Long Marine Lab and Seymour Marine Discovery Center?

When the first campus master plan was written, now 55 years ago, they knew Santa Cruz would be the only campus on the coast north of Santa Barbara. Marine science was envisioned then as an important part of the campus, and we believed that outreach and public education about the ocean was important. The Seymour Marine Discovery Center was completed in 2000, and has become an integral part of what we do at UCSC. It serves as an education center for the general public that is open year round, and it gives us the opportunity to explain the research we do and why that matters for conservation of the world oceans.

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What is the biggest benefit to having the lab here?

Looking at the big picture, our community is located in the middle of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary and so we as a community have always been very marine focused. Whether it's through education or research, Santa Cruz is very supportive of marine work. Monterey Bay as a whole is also a big magnet for marine sciences and those looking to work in this discipline. We've been able to attract federal and state facilities here as a result of our location. And because of all the other facilities located in this region, there have been lots of opportunities for collaboration and partnerships. 

What is special about Santa Cruz to you?

I work on coastal issues, so being right here on the coast, I couldn't ask for a better place to work. I work on sea cliff erosion and protection, sand, beaches and harbors, and sea-level rise and its impact, so it is the perfect natural laboratory to study all those things right here in our backyard.

It was surfing that got me into oceanography. I do a lot more paddle boarding now and it is amazing to be able to step outside your door and be in the water in a matter of minutes. It is not only a wonderful place to work, but the living environment is pretty hard to beat. I was just out paddle boarding a couple of days ago, and there was this pod of dolphins that came up right next to me, several sea otters that came around, sea lions coming up and down through the kelp beds. There are not many places where you can have these kinds of conditions virtually year round that are so close to your work and your home.

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What future opportunities do you see here?

Oceanography is in some ways still a very young field, and the oceans are a critical part of our life on the planet in terms of providing us with oxygen, and protein, and a means of transport and connection; but also, with over 7 billion people on the planet we are all having a significant impact on our oceans. So one of the things we try to do here is look at those problems we have created, whether it be over-fishing or ocean acidification or global warming, and try to direct our research to resolving those questions while also looking at policy solutions. We want to both understand these issues, but also determine what do we do about the problems we have created. I continue to see great opportunities and potential at UCSC, within the Institute of Marine Sciences and on our Coastal Science Campus for understanding our offshore ocean and helping to resolve the problems we have created.

You also said you see a lot of opportunities here for Marine related industry as well. Can you explain that?

All the work we do here as scientists requires equipment, technology, and communication. Those are things that are still being developed, so there is a huge amount of opportunity here in the Monterey Bay region for companies producing the equipment, the supplies, and the technology we need.

What advice would you give to someone wanting to get into the Marine industry here in Santa Cruz?

With this unique environment with its incredible diversity of habitats, relatively pristine environment, one of the world's deepest submarine canyons, and one of the nation’s largest sanctuaries - all the things here are ripe for people moving into and taking advantage of and collaborating with the rest of the people that are here.

How are things going in the Marine Industry?

The Coastal Science Campus is doing great right now, and the California economy has turned around. We are putting in new infrastructure, and continuously looking ahead at all the opportunities that the ocean presents to us. There are many students that want to study marine science, and there are significant problems that we have created and need to be studied and solved. I think the trajectory is strong for marine science, for Santa Cruz, and for Monterey Bay.

More about UCSC’s Institute Of Marine Sciences And Long Marine Lab: 

Established in 1972, the Institute supports research in marine biology, marine toxicology, marine geology and geophysics, ocean processes, paleoceanography, and coastal processes and hazards. Research subjects range from microscopic plankton to massive blue whales; from frigid Antarctic waters to tropical coral reefs; and from the depths of the seafloor to the coastal cliffs. 

Located adjacent to the Seymour Marine Discovery Center, Long Marine Laboratory is world renowned for innovative research in marine mammal physiology and ecology, marine invertebrate ecology, and marine toxicology. The research conducted at Long Marine Lab depends on a seawater system capable of delivering 1,000 gallons per minute of high-quality filtered seawater.

To learn more visit:

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