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by Alexia Skrbic September 19, 2020 14 min read

About 8 months ago I graduated from the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science with a Masters. January and February had me excited and looking forward to new beginnings as I moved back to Southern California. Enter the pandemic! As the months passed and quarantine began, those excitements turned into fears and looking forward became more difficult. These days, I often find myself looking back. I have thoughts of what ifs. I have days where I don’t want to get out of bed and am reminded of days of my worst depression. The type of days where I feel like I’m going to an unemployed anonymous group meeting.

Hi, everyone my name is Alexia and I am a 24-year-old marine conservationist whose unemployed and hungry to get out and communicate the importance of our marine world to the public.

Welcome Alexia…

I have thoughts like, "what if I had majored in PR or marketing, maybe even a more practical science, maybe engineering or something in the medical field?" I think maybe I would be making more money or be farther along in my career. Then again, maybe I wouldn’t love my career as much or be as passionate about it. But lately its hard to maintain the passion for marine science and conservation when my days are filled with job applications and trying to stand out in the crowd of people who care about our oceans.

About 8 months ago I graduated from the University of Miami Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science with a Masters. January and February had me excited and looking forward to new beginnings as I moved back to Southern California. Enter the pandemic! As the months passed and quarantine began, those excitements turned into fears and looking forward became more difficult. These days, I often find myself looking back. I have thoughts of what ifs. I have days where I don’t want to get out of bed and am reminded of days of my worst depression. The type of days where I feel like I’m going to an unemployed anonymous group meeting.

Hi, everyone my name is Alexia and I am a 24-year-old marine conservationist whose unemployed and hungry to get out and communicate the importance of our marine world to the public.

Welcome Alexia…

I have thoughts like, "what if I had majored in PR or marketing, maybe even a more practical science, maybe engineering or something in the medical field?" I think maybe I would be making more money or be farther along in my career. Then again, maybe I wouldn’t love my career as much or be as passionate about it. But lately its hard to maintain the passion for marine science and conservation when my days are filled with job applications and trying to stand out in the crowd of people who care about our oceans.

Hanging out with 200+ of my closest fish friends in Key Largo, FL pre-pandemic (July 2019)

Hanging out with 200+ of my closest fish friends in Key Largo, FL pre-pandemic (July 2019)

I don’t like to sit and complain but I worked hard for many years to get my degrees and I’m unemployed! Maybe I will be able to acquire a minimum wage job to try to pay down the thick stack of school loans that are weighing on me. I’m angry, and trying to remain positive in times like this gets exhausting. Sometimes it's as if nobody in my immediate life quite understands what I'm feeling. I feel alone. I want an opportunity... for someone to see something in me and take a chance in hiring me. At least that’s what I wanted before the pandemic. Now, I find my days passing and my passion coming and going like the ocean tides. I feel like I am waiting for the winds to change and flow in a positive direction.

I tell myself almost daily that things could be worse. We're all swimming in the same ocean right now and the waters are really rough! A few months back when I was feeling particularly low, the beaches reopened for exercise. I asked my Mom if she wanted to go out for a walk, knowing that the water always raises my spirits. We walked the beach and I took in the breeze and the ocean air, I pondered through thoughts and had moments of a clear mind. I found some trash that I picked up on the way and looked for shells. In the process, I came across a sand dollar, got excited, but watched it crumble in my hand when I grabbed it. An all-to-real metaphor to 2020 thus far! However, when we were at the end of our walk, there it was, another sand dollar. I was hesitant and wary that it too would break, but this time it didn't. I washed it off in the water and smiled.

I don’t like to sit and complain but I worked hard for many years to get my degrees and I’m unemployed! Maybe I will be able to acquire a minimum wage job to try to pay down the thick stack of school loans that are weighing on me. I’m angry, and trying to remain positive in times like this gets exhausting. Sometimes it's as if nobody in my immediate life quite understands what I'm feeling. I feel alone. I want an opportunity... for someone to see something in me and take a chance in hiring me. At least that’s what I wanted before the pandemic. Now, I find my days passing and my passion coming and going like the ocean tides. I feel like I am waiting for the winds to change and flow in a positive direction.

I tell myself almost daily that things could be worse. We're all swimming in the same ocean right now and the waters are really rough! A few months back when I was feeling particularly low, the beaches reopened for exercise. I asked my Mom if she wanted to go out for a walk, knowing that the water always raises my spirits. We walked the beach and I took in the breeze and the ocean air, I pondered through thoughts and had moments of a clear mind. I found some trash that I picked up on the way and looked for shells. In the process, I came across a sand dollar, got excited, but watched it crumble in my hand when I grabbed it. An all-to-real metaphor to 2020 thus far! However, when we were at the end of our walk, there it was, another sand dollar. I was hesitant and wary that it too would break, but this time it didn't. I washed it off in the water and smiled.

The famous sand dollar that I found that fateful day at Del Mar Beach in San Diego, CA.

The famous sand dollar that I found that fateful day at Del Mar Beach in San Diego, CA.

The famous sand dollar that I found that fateful day at Del Mar Beach in San Diego, CA.

I have never been much for signs, but that day I needed that sand dollar not because it was cool looking or that I love collecting shells (which I do!), but because I needed it to bring life back into my dreams and remind me why I do what I do as a career. The power of that positive jolt, even from something as little as a shell reminded me of a pre-pandemic afternoon I spent volunteering with somebody who has dedicated her career to marine science, conservation and outreach, Nancy Caruso. I had the opportunity in February to meet Nancy and learn about her non-profit, Get Inspired. Created to inspire stewardship and curiosity for the natural world through the exploration of science, the organization has made big strides in the last 11 years in restoring kelp forests along California's coast and getting communities involved in marine restoration.

One of many projects that she took on was restoration of the green abalone population along the Southern California coast, a project your proceeds support when you buy a piece of abalone apparel from Waterlust. Nancy and her coalition of approximately 350 volunteers have been working on this project and several others since 2009 in order to restore the Southern California kelp forest ecosystem. The effort involves surveying and mapping Southern California abalone. Starting with tide pools and working their way out to deeper and deeper reefs, Nancy and her team are recording where the abalone live, their age, and density of populations in order to understand where they like to live and where to restore them.

I have never been much for signs, but that day I needed that sand dollar not because it was cool looking or that I love collecting shells (which I do!), but because I needed it to bring life back into my dreams and remind me why I do what I do as a career. The power of that positive jolt, even from something as little as a shell reminded me of a pre-pandemic afternoon I spent volunteering with somebody who has dedicated her career to marine science, conservation and outreach, Nancy Caruso. I had the opportunity in February to meet Nancy and learn about her non-profit, Get Inspired. Created to inspire stewardship and curiosity for the natural world through the exploration of science, the organization has made big strides in the last 11 years in restoring kelp forests along California's coast and getting communities involved in marine restoration.

One of many projects that she took on was restoration of the green abalone population along the Southern California coast, a project your proceeds support when you buy a piece of abalone apparel from Waterlust. Nancy and her coalition of approximately 350 volunteers have been working on this project and several others since 2009 in order to restore the Southern California kelp forest ecosystem. The effort involves surveying and mapping Southern California abalone. Starting with tide pools and working their way out to deeper and deeper reefs, Nancy and her team are recording where the abalone live, their age, and density of populations in order to understand where they like to live and where to restore them.

An abalone shell that I found while in the tide pools working with Nancy and her volunteers.

An abalone shell that I found while in the tide pools working with Nancy and her volunteers.

Nancy introduced me to some of the volunteers before we headed out to the tide pools. I spent most of my time with Jude and Grey, two volunteers age 7 and 10. I was constantly in awe of their excitement to learn and be involved, as they continued to ask Nancy questions throughout the afternoon. In one small pool, the three of us finally found an empty small green abalone shell that was about 8-9 cm long meaning the animal that used to live in it was about 6-9 years old. The boys were ecstatic that they found proof of green abalone that day. Growing up on the borderline of Gen Z and millennial status, I appreciate more and more children who show passion for learning and science that I often don’t see in adults, much less the youth these days. It is always amazing to see how kids get so excited about this type of work, despite how tedious and not-so-glamorous it can be.

Nancy introduced me to some of the volunteers before we headed out to the tide pools. I spent most of my time with Jude and Grey, two volunteers age 7 and 10. I was constantly in awe of their excitement to learn and be involved, as they continued to ask Nancy questions throughout the afternoon. In one small pool, the three of us finally found an empty small green abalone shell that was about 8-9 cm long meaning the animal that used to live in it was about 6-9 years old. The boys were ecstatic that they found proof of green abalone that day. Growing up on the borderline of Gen Z and millennial status, I appreciate more and more children who show passion for learning and science that I often don’t see in adults, much less the youth these days. It is always amazing to see how kids get so excited about this type of work, despite how tedious and not-so-glamorous it can be.

Nancy and her team in the rushing tides searching for abalone and recording their size and location.

That afternoon gave me a small glimpse into the community that Nancy has established over time cultivating Get Inspired. I was able to pick her brain a bit about the work she does with local high schools, where she establishes small abalone nurseries. She has the kids create an environment where they can learn through raising abalone in their classrooms. Nancy has them feeding the abalone, taking care of the tanks, and monitoring their growth. It is a prime example of getting the local community and youth involved in science.

After that field day, Nancy was inspired by Jude and Grey and their involvement in the project. Since quarantine has been in effect, she wrote a grant for a program she calls “Haliotis Helpers” (the genus name of abalone). If it gets funded, she will be soliciting families to go out in the tide pools and collect data for the project. They will get a little “kit” to help with their expeditions (caliper, waterproof datasheets, and Nancy will make training videos for them).

That afternoon gave me a small glimpse into the community that Nancy has established over time cultivating Get Inspired. I was able to pick her brain a bit about the work she does with local high schools, where she establishes small abalone nurseries. She has the kids create an environment where they can learn through raising abalone in their classrooms. Nancy has them feeding the abalone, taking care of the tanks, and monitoring their growth. It is a prime example of getting the local community and youth involved in science.

After that field day, Nancy was inspired by Jude and Grey and their involvement in the project. Since quarantine has been in effect, she wrote a grant for a program she calls “Haliotis Helpers” (the genus name of abalone). If it gets funded, she will be soliciting families to go out in the tide pools and collect data for the project. They will get a little “kit” to help with their expeditions (caliper, waterproof datasheets, and Nancy will make training videos for them).

Me, Jude, and Grey (left to right) searching under the rocks where abalone tend to attach to the substrate.

As the budding marine conservationist that I am, I get so motivated by other scientists like Nancy and their constant creativity to involve communities and youth in their work. During this time, when Nancy’s abilities to do work were somewhat limited, she got creative and is working towards new programs, a new website to get the word out about her work, and more new projects. In a time like this where my days are filled with trying to make a difference from home, Nancy's positivity and drive during difficult times is truly inspiring.

That sand dollar sits on my shelf now and reminds me of the little joys, the passion, the people, and the reason I chose this field despite the difficulty of the last 8 months. Nancy is one person but she is that single figure that has made an impact on kids like Jude and Grey and her wonderful community of volunteers. Unlike many other non-profit leaders, she takes the time to engage with the individual, teach them, challenge them, and foster excitement. She is a perfect example of how one person can inspire a small population of people and make change locally. One person may not be able to change the world on their own, but they sure can inspire others in their community with a strong message and mission. The more communities and individuals take this approach, the more they add up to make a global impact. I hope Nancy’s story can be spread beyond her local community through people rocking their abalone apparel and taking action within their own communities. Get Inspired is a special organization and is one of few sand dollars that you’ll find in the marine conservation world.

As the budding marine conservationist that I am, I get so motivated by other scientists like Nancy and their constant creativity to involve communities and youth in their work. During this time, when Nancy’s abilities to do work were somewhat limited, she got creative and is working towards new programs, a new website to get the word out about her work, and more new projects. In a time like this where my days are filled with trying to make a difference from home, Nancy's positivity and drive during difficult times is truly inspiring.

That sand dollar sits on my shelf now and reminds me of the little joys, the passion, the people, and the reason I chose this field despite the difficulty of the last 8 months. Nancy is one person but she is that single figure that has made an impact on kids like Jude and Grey and her wonderful community of volunteers. Unlike many other non-profit leaders, she takes the time to engage with the individual, teach them, challenge them, and foster excitement. She is a perfect example of how one person can inspire a small population of people and make change locally. One person may not be able to change the world on their own, but they sure can inspire others in their community with a strong message and mission. The more communities and individuals take this approach, the more they add up to make a global impact. I hope Nancy’s story can be spread beyond her local community through people rocking their abalone apparel and taking action within their own communities. Get Inspired is a special organization and is one of few sand dollars that you’ll find in the marine conservation world.

A final end of the day selfie taken by Nancy (center) featuring the abalone shell we found and the volunteer crew.

These COVID times have brought good and bad days for me, as I'm sure they have for you. Now working a minimum wage job to make a dent in my student debt, I wrestle with patience encountering all walks of life and different personalities everyday. It has taught me that the golden rule is 100% still true: treat others the way you want to be treated (even if you don’t feel that same positive treatment in return). When I have a good day, I try to spread that joy with others and make their days brighter whether they are customers or my friends. When I have a bad day, I continue to push through, reach out to people close to me for support, and let my sand dollar remind me that there is light in this dark time. I use my positive energy to volunteer my time with two marine based organizations remotely. I remind myself that everyone, including Nancy and those in other organizations, have all had their bad days and struggles throughout establishing themselves in the field of marine conservation.

Nancy spends her days during COVID continuing to do tide pool surveys and will be trying to spawn some abalone in the coming weeks. Jude and Grey are still volunteering and found the smallest abalone Nancy has ever seen. It has been awesome to keep up with Get Inspired and her volunteers, and to hear their work is still able to continue at a smaller scale during this time. All of us could use a little marine-based inspiration right now and being involved keeps the spirits up. During dark times, allow yourself to feel the toughness for a bit, spend time reflecting on the simple positive sand dollar things in your life, and as a smart fish once said… just keep swimming.

These COVID times have brought good and bad days for me, as I'm sure they have for you. Now working a minimum wage job to make a dent in my student debt, I wrestle with patience encountering all walks of life and different personalities everyday. It has taught me that the golden rule is 100% still true: treat others the way you want to be treated (even if you don’t feel that same positive treatment in return). When I have a good day, I try to spread that joy with others and make their days brighter whether they are customers or my friends. When I have a bad day, I continue to push through, reach out to people close to me for support, and let my sand dollar remind me that there is light in this dark time. I use my positive energy to volunteer my time with two marine based organizations remotely. I remind myself that everyone, including Nancy and those in other organizations, have all had their bad days and struggles throughout establishing themselves in the field of marine conservation.

Nancy spends her days during COVID continuing to do tide pool surveys and will be trying to spawn some abalone in the coming weeks. Jude and Grey are still volunteering and found the smallest abalone Nancy has ever seen. It has been awesome to keep up with Get Inspired and her volunteers, and to hear their work is still able to continue at a smaller scale during this time. All of us could use a little marine-based inspiration right now and being involved keeps the spirits up. During dark times, allow yourself to feel the toughness for a bit, spend time reflecting on the simple positive sand dollar things in your life, and as a smart fish once said… just keep swimming.

Alexia Skrbic received her undergraduate degree from Chapman University and Masters from the University of Miami. She currently interns for Waterlust, furthering the science they communicate via their advocate apparel program. She also volunteers with the California based non-profit Shark Allies who have worked on shark finning bans, including most recently the No Fin Florida campaign. She has been an integral part of the current Shark Free Products campaign that brings attention to shark squalene in cosmetics, supplements, and vaccines. She relocated back home to San Diego, CA after finishing her Masters and currently is still searching for a position in education, outreach, and science communication while getting outside in nature and in the water whenever she can.


4 Responses

Nancy Carusp
Nancy Carusp

September 20, 2020

Alexia, just keep swimming. Do what you must to make a living and keep searching for opportunities to satiate your passion and eventually they will intersect. Thank you for helping me and sharing this with the world.

Claudette Dorsey
Claudette Dorsey

September 20, 2020

Wishing you endurance and joy, Alexia. You’re brave, well educated, and willing to work hard. You and your path will find each other. I’m very glad you met Nancy Caruso and “Get Inspired”. Nancy is a great force of nature and I’m sure you’ll be able to connect with even more good people as you grow. (Thanks to Waterlust for encouraging environmental science, conservation, and protective policy. Thank you for amplifying voices dedicated to ocean protection.)

Kiley Ward
Kiley Ward

September 19, 2020

Alexia you are so smart and I’m sad that you haven’t been able to find a position in these hard times to show of your passion for marine animal life. But it will all workout you’re a strong woman and even out here in Massachusetts I’m still cheering you on. Times will change soon enough and I look forward to those life updates ❤️

Philip Longee
Philip Longee

September 19, 2020

Alexia, Don’t give up your passion of protecting the oceans. We need talented scientists to safeguard our oceans! Come to think about it, perhaps the ONLY safe place right now IS the ocean! Not difficult to social distance (the fish are excluded), looks like you’re maintaining Gov. Newsom’s mask mandate, and maybe far enough away from the fires. Good luck finding work (a lot of us are struggling too) and inspiring young people along the way to help. Keep diving!

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