Marine ecologist at Cal Poly to research Central Coast sea life

Jennifer O’Leary
Jennifer O’Leary Courtesy photo

A marine ecologist with the California Sea Grant program has been posted to Cal Poly to research ways to better manage the Central Coast’s ocean ecosystems.

Jennifer O’Leary started work Aug. 1 as an extension specialist at the university. In that role, she will work as a researcher and student adviser and will help Cal Poly’s faculty improve public outreach.

“I’m really excited about starting work on the Central Coast and am looking forward to meeting people in the community who are interested in using marine research as a conservation tool,” O’Leary said.

O’Leary brings two ongoing research projects with her that she will continue at Cal Poly. One is examining how tide pools will change with the loss of starfish due to sea star wasting syndrome, a disease that has wiped out ochre sea star populations along much of the Central Coast.

The other project researches propagation patterns for red abalone larvae, a species that has been heavily impacted by sea otter predation. She is also researching how abalone may be impacted by ocean acidification and climate change.

O’Leary has 15 years of research experience in the Pacific Islands, East Africa and the San Francisco Bay area.

“Her experience with ecosystem and natural resource management will be extremely valuable in promoting greater interactions between Cal Poly and its local coastal communities,” said Jim Eckman, California Sea Grant director.

Sea Grant is a program by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that funds marine research, education and outreach to improve public and policy decisions. O’Leary is one of seven Sea Grant specialists working in California.

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