Biology Faculty Launches Coastal Ecology and Conservation Lab

Teaching and research are at the core of Sarah Joy Bittick’s responsibilities as an assistant professor at Loyola Marymount University’s Frank R. Seaver College of Science and Engineering. But the marine biologist brings a third element to her work – translating science to help inform the public in decisions regarding marine conservation.

Bittick joined the LMU faculty this year, launching the Coastal Ecology and Conservation Lab. The lab focuses on marine ecology and conservation science, with an emphasis on human impacts on marine ecosystems. She is interested in not only the science but the implications of her work that might influence environmental policy.

“One of my career objectives is to always be involved with conservation initiatives because I feel my science doesn’t necessarily matter unless it has an impact,” said Bittick. “Impact can be measured in a lot of ways. There is definitely a need to address basic research questions. But I think we need people who are willing to translate that knowledge and partner with organizations and the public so we can actually see effective change.”

Bittick grew up in California’s Central Valley, and trips into the High Sierra ignited her interest in nature along with how species interact with each other and the natural environment. She earned both bachelor and doctoral degrees from UCLA. She was a postdoctoral fellow at the University of British Columbia prior to joining LMU.

Her research has examined the consequences of abundant algae blooms in nearshore marine settings, from California and British Columbia seagrass meadows to coral reefs in Mo’orea, French Polynesia. Bittick has already begun working with The Bay Foundation in Los Angeles and LMU’s Coastal Research Institute to study remnant patches of seagrass along the Santa Monica Bay, whether seagrass habitats can be restored and the potential impact of human activity on restoration.

“Because it has been here in the past, we think restoration is possible,” said Bittick. “We want to predict whether restoration will be effective and inform that project.”

Bittick is teaching biology classes and, in the spring semester, will conduct a field marine biology class, taking students to the coast for hands-on learning.

“Students get engaged through actually being in the environment and seeing it,” said Bittick. “Although they don’t necessarily see themselves as scientists yet, they are able to observe and ask probing questions.”

LMU is the perfect place for a marine biologist, she says, noting several students have already expressed interest in joining her lab.

“I think LMU is an ideal place for this research because of its Coastal Research Institute and the partnership with organizations like The Bay Foundation,” said Bittick. “I’ve been able to use the skills I learned through my doctoral program and post-doc research, and apply that to conservation and coastal protection.”