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Academy scientist prepares for expedition

Terry Gosliner curator at the California Academy of Sciences is ready for an expedition
Terry Gosliner curator at the California Academy of Sciences is ready for an expedition
Dave Boitano/photo

Terry Gosliner, a scientist and curator at the California Academy of Sciences, will be spending the next seven weeks exploring the tropical waters of the Philippines.

He will be one of a score of researchers sampling and studying the diversity of aquatic life found in one of the richest marine environments in the world.

Though it involves a 12 hour work day, multiple scuba dives and lots of lab time, Gosliner wouldn’t have it any other way.

“It’s exhausting but it is so exhilarating,” he said. “You can’t wait to get started the next day because you are going to see something that you have never seen before.”

“It’s never disappointed me. It’s like being a kid in nature’s candy store.”

Gosliner and other scientists will arrive in The Philippines on Monday, April 21 and be working off the southern end of Luzon Island two hours south of Manila.

The area is home to almost 15,000 species of marine animals making it a veritable Garden of Eden for aquatic researchers. There are more than 900 species of nudibranchs, a colorful reef invertebrate that Gosliner studies.

The expedition, sponsored by the National Science Foundation, will attempt to determine how such a wide variety of marine life arrived in the local waters, why the ecosystem has not succumbed to global warming and if it can be a kind of reservoir to repopulate portions of the ocean that have been damaged.

“We are tremendously excited about getting back to this area because it is an area we have studied repeatedly and we still keep finding new things there,” he said.

Growing up in the Bay Area, Gosliner was a self described “biology nerd” who developed his love of science with the help of a middle school teacher.

He made frequent trips to the academy during school vacations. Researchers there encouraged his love of research and he published his first paper on a nudibranch species when he was 17.


Nudibranchs are considered an “indicator species”--an animal whose numbers measure the health of an ecosystem—because they prey on a variety of other animals.

Though they are not endangered, their numbers have declined in recent years, Gosliner said .

Though colorful, nudibranchs are voracious predators, eating sponges and sea anemones.

“We are glad they are not the size of Great White Sharks because they have really intimidating teeth,” he joked.

A typical day during the expedition begins at 8 a.m. with Gosliner and others making two scuba dives before lunch.

The specimens are then photographed and studied before the group makes a third dive and possibly a night dive to search for creatures that come out after dark.

Dinner is usually served around 9 p.m. before the researchers turn in and prepare to do it all again the next day.

This expedition will have around 40 participants, though a similar academy expedition in 2011 had 94 members, Gosliner said.

While Gosliner will dive to at most 100 feet, a team led by academy Ichthyology Curator Luiz Rocha will work at 300 feet using mixed gas scuba technology.

At that depth, the sea is a kind of “twilight zone” environment where divers must decompress at various stages while on their way to the surface.

When they are not in the field, some of the scientists will visit local communities to talk about the kinds of aquatic creatures found in the area and sustainable practices that could protect local ecosystems for years to come.

And Gosliner is ready to begin working.

“We are definitely a team of explorers and the academy’s mission is to explore, explain and sustain life on the planet,” he said.

“But it begins with exploration.”

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