Sea change: All things marine with aquarist Jenny Evripidou

By Tiffany Pizzuto @tiffanytulip_

Australia is surrounded by coastlines and oceans which not only source our oxygen, food and life but are home to a broad array of marine wildlife. Learning about the ever-evolving ocean is not only fascinating but can help us to protect and conserve the ocean.

Jenny Evripidou, who is a recent Marine Biology graduate from University of Technology Sydney and works as an aquarist, has been kind enough to provide insights into her pursuit in the marine science industry, current issues impacting oceans and interesting fin-tastic facts about sharks.

Evripidou was inspired to pursue marine biology from a young age.

“I used to grow up watching TV shows and documentaries which explore the amazing and diverse depths of the ocean,” she said, explaining that she was drawn in by how “ever-evolving the industry is, it isn’t stagnated and there is always something new to learn.”

Through joining an organisation in a front-of-house role, Evripidou was able to progress into an aquarist role and utilise her skills from study and volunteer experience. She said volunteering is a great opportunity for hands-on experience and networking with people in industry.

As the climate crisis impacts sea levels and disrupts ecosystems there is a strong need to conserve the ocean as much as possible.

“Climate change is something that will forever exist, but global warming is what the issue is for our oceans,” said Evripidou. “And although this is another instance of climate change that is natural it has been magnified by human impacts.”

These include the burning of fossil fuels, pollution, over-fishing and the mass deterioration of coral reefs, which has negatively impacted the health and biodiversity of the ocean.

When asked about major contributors to the negative impacts affecting our oceans, Evripidou said “the lack of education from governments and organisations on where we are putting our waste and sourcing our materials, the lack of funding, and the ignorance toward protecting our oceans where governments prioritise economic profit over biological and ecological conservation”.

She described ocean conservation as the “elephant in the room”, as the topic is often “ignored or not brought up in political settings” to avoid expectations of taking action.

Evripidou’s marine adventures have taken her to the Dolphin Marine Conservation Park in Coffs Harbour, NSW, where they work to rescue injured or diseased animals and provide treatment and rehabilitation. When animals are fit to survive in the wild they are released, otherwise they are kept in the marine park with lots of enrichment and care for the animal.

At SEALIFE Sydney Aquarium the aquarists are working on a breeding program to repopulate the endangered zebra shark species which supplies zebra shark pups to other countries such as Indonesia.

Aquariums help people get up close and personal with feared predators of the deep. Picture: Valdemaras D./CC/Pexels

Now for the highly anticipated question for an aquarist: “What’s your favourite marine species and what is a fun fact about them?”

Evripidou loves every creature for different reasons but her top two would be turtles and sharks. Sharks being because they are so misunderstood and because there are so many different species with different attributes – always something to learn about with sharks.

  • Some shark species can have three different types of producing babies: live young, external eggs and internal eggs
  • Sharks also only eat when their stomachs are completely emptied and all the ingested nutrients have been processed, no snacking for sharks!
  • Also, it is a big misconception that sharks love eating humans – shark attacks on humans are usually predatorial or territorial instances as, Evripidou explained, sharks probably do not have a big appetite for humans

A mechanism for survival that many sea creatures have is called countershading – their lighter belly and darker upper side is a method of camouflage helping them reduce visibility to predators. This is seen in species of penguins, dolphins, whales, sharks and fish.

It’s not hard to do your bit. Evripidou advises getting involved in protecting our ocean is by using biodegradable or reusable utensils when you can, switching to electric energy sources rather than fuel and by using public transport or a bicycle on your commute when you can.

Feature image: The world’s oceans hold the key to the earth’s survival. Picture: Tiffany Pizzuto

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