Conservation Conversations

Presented by Thomas More University at the Newport Aquarium’s Riverside Room with animal encounters courtesy of the WAVE Foundation.

Conservation Conversations (formerly the Marine Biology and Conservation Lecture Series) returns on Thursday, April 18, 2024. Join us from 5-7:30 p.m. in the Riverside Room at Newport Aquarium to learn about Bowmouth Guitarfish, also known as shark rays, from two of Newport Aquarium’s top biologists.  Heavy hors d’oeuvres and a cash bar will be available. Socialize with like-minded folks, learn about WAVE Foundation, and meet one of WAVE’s Aquatic Animal Ambassadors. Children under 16 must be accompanied by an adult. Proceeds from this event support WAVE Foundation conservation education and the charity of the Speakers’ choice. For more information and to RSVP, CLICK HERE

About the Series

Conservation Conversations is a joint effort between Thomas More University, and the Newport Aquarium to address and promote critical issues in the fields of marine biology and conservation. Speakers include scientists, naturalists, educators and other professionals working in related areas. The lectures focus on a variety of topics and are geared toward the general public and students of all ages.

For more information, contact Stephanie Snyder, assistant professor of biology, or Chris Lorentz, professor of biology, at Thomas More University.

Previous Speakers

Nick Whitney: Studying The Secret Lives of Sharks
Thursday, March 7, 2019
Dr. Nick Whitney has been studying sharks in the wild for over 20 years. His research experience began by tracking sharks from a kayak but evolved over time into using more advanced techniques like digital cameras, DNA sequencing, and even accelerometer tags to reveal the secret lives of sharks in the wild. These accelerometers (the same sensors found in smartphones and Fitbit devices) have been the basis for most of Nick’s work over the last ten years and can reveal things about shark fine-scale movements, behavior, and energetics in the wild that scientists have wondered about for decades. Nick’s work has covered reef and tiger sharks in Hawaii, nurse sharks in the Florida Keys, and great white sharks in Cape Cod. He has published numerous scientific papers, shark articles for popular magazines as well as for World Book Encyclopedia Online, and has also appeared on the History Channel, Discovery Channel, and National Geographic Channel. Nick is currently a Senior Scientist with the Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life at New England Aquarium and is in residence at Newport Aquarium in Newport, Kentucky. He lives in Blue Ash, Ohio with his wife and three children.

Stephanie Snyder, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Biology
Wednesday, May 16, 2018
Ocean Journeys: A look into the extensive migrations of marine organisms Speaker: Stephanie Snyder, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Biology, Thomas More College Dr. Stephanie Snyder has worked around the world studying how organisms move about in their environments – from small fishes and plankton in the North Sea to large tunas and sharks in the Pacific Ocean. A key factor in marine conservation is our understanding of how organisms move about in the ocean. Over the past decade, Dr. Snyder has worked with fisheries scientists from the National Marine Fisheries Service, physicists from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and oceanographers from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography as well as with fishermen from the American Fishermen’s Research Foundation. These collaborations have allowed us to explore how changes in our world oceans influence oceanic ecosystems, in particular our tuna fishery. Currently, Dr. Snyder teaches at Thomas More College and continues her work on the migration of tunas in the North Pacific.

Dr. Rachel Graham

Tuesday, January 23, 2018
Dr. Rachel Graham is a conservation scientist with over 27 years of experience in development and environment projects in Latin America, Africa and Oceania working with multi- and bilateral institutions, academia and NGOs. In 2014 Rachel founded MarAlliance an international NGO that explores, enables and inspires positive change for threatened marine wildlife, their critical habitats, and dependent human communities. Rachel believes in a grassroots approach to science, outreach and resource management that is built on alliances and partnerships with multiple sectors. For the past 20 years, she has focused on community-based research and conservation of large marine wildlife including sharks, rays, turtles, and finfish with a species-specific focus on whale sharks, manta rays and goliath grouper. Her research on the population biology and spatial ecology of threatened species of fish, traditional fisheries and markets are conducted with traditional fishers and other local stakeholders. This work forms the basis of an educational program she created in 2011 to bring marine science to local late primary school students. She has bridged the gap that often exists between grassroots and policy levels through the integration of results into management and conservation strategies at multiple spatial scales and social strata. Based in Belize, Rachel catalyzed both the designation of whale sharks and nurse sharks as protected species and the declaration of critical habitat for whale sharks and spawning fish as a network of protected areas. She has supported the creation of numerous conservation mechanisms and processes with a range of partners that are helping to funnel field results into management and policy including national shark working groups (Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, and pending Panama and Cabo Verde) and the Caribbean Chondrichthyan Network. An active member of the IUCN Shark Specialist Group, she leads or participates in several advisory committees, editorial boards, and has published over 60 peer-reviewed papers, photos and lay articles. Rachel has a BSc in Zoology from Oxford, a master’s from Edinburgh and an interdisciplinary Ph.D. addressing whale shark ecology, reef fish spawning aggregations, associated fisheries, and tourism from the University of York. In 2011, she won the Whitley Fund for Nature Gold Award for her work with sharks and communities. Her proudest achievement to date is her two sons who are conscientious fishers, budding marine scientists and conservationists.

Tom Kearney

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

As operations manager for the Ocean Observatories Initiative Endurance Array for the last 8 years, Tom participated in all aspects of building the OOI. The Ocean Observatories Initiative (OOI) is funded by the National Science Foundation to provide a networked system of instruments to measure physical, chemical, geological, and biological properties in the ocean, the atmosphere, and on the seafloor. The OOI operates and integrates data from 800 instruments deployed around the world in 6 observatory arrays. As Operations and Maintenance Manager for the Endurance Array, Tom was a key contributor in developing the O&M structure and organization that continues to operate the OOI. Tom’s passion for ocean research started before the OOI. After 20 years as a project manager for Nike, Oracle Consulting and Standard Insurance he obtained his master’s degree in Oceanography in 2009. During his tenure with OOI, Tom’s employers have included Consortium for Ocean Leadership in DC, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, University of California San Diego and Oregon State University. Tom continues to participate in the OOI daily operations and is responsible for the Endurance Array O&M budgets, procurement, logistics, asset management, and instrument refurbishment.

Dr. J. Wallace Nichols
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June 14, 2017

Dr. Wallace “J.” Nichols is a scientist, wild water advocate, movement—maker, New York Times bestselling author, and dad. His research and expeditions have taken him to coasts and waterways across North, Central and South America, to Asia, Africa, Australia, and Europe. This is what keeps his colleagues and collaborators working hard to understand and restore our blue planet. J. is a Research Associate at California Academy of Sciences and co-founder of Ocean Revolution, an international network of young ocean advocates, SEE the WILD, a conservation travel network, Grupo Tortuguero, an international sea turtle conservation network, and Blue Mind Fund, reconnecting people to water. He has authored and co-authored more than 200 scientific papers, articles and reports, and his work has been broadcast on NPR, BBC, PBS, CBS This Morning, Discovery Channel, National Geographic and Animal Planet as well as featured in Time, Newsweek, GQ, Outside Magazine, Fast Company, Scientific American and New Scientist, among others.

Dr. Gitte Mcdonald

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January 18, 2017


As a physiological and behavioral ecologist, Dr. Gitte McDonald investigates adaptations that allow animals to survive in extreme environments. Marine mammals and birds provide an ideal study system to investigate how animals deal with extreme conditions because of their large size variation, geographic distribution and physiological challenges they face on a daily basis including hypoxia, extreme temperatures, and fasting. Understanding the mechanisms that allow an organism to interact and survive in its environment is crucial for predicting, and potentially mitigating, their response to climate change. Currently, her research program focuses on two broad areas of research: 1) determining the diving capacity of breath-hold divers and understanding the underlying mechanisms, and 2) determining the energetic requirements of foraging and reproduction to better understand energy allocation, physiological trade-offs, and the organism’s role in the ecosystem. To address these questions, she uses state-of-the-art biologgers that measurfine-scalele diving behavior and physiological variables (heart rate and oxygen), in addition to providing information about the environment. Her research has provided opportunities to work with a broad range of species in a diversity of habitats from the Antarctic to the Galapagos.

Dr. Lucy Hawkes
May 18, 2016

Dr. Lucy Hawkes is a physiological ecologist, whose work focuses on the costs and drivers of migration in vertebrates using emergent technologists such as satellite telemetry, heart rate logging, accelerometry, and metabolic rate measurements. She uses technical approaches including spatial ecology, remote sensing and respirometry to make empirical measurements that help in the understanding of extensive migratory performances. Her work has also researched the impact of external forcing factors, such as climate change and disease ecology on migration and breeding ecology. Notably, she is also a member of the Marine Turtle Research group.

Dr. Craig O’Connell
January 20, 2016

Craig O’Connell completed his PhD at the University of Massachusetts studying the effects of magnets on the feeding and swimming behaviors of four shark species; tiger, bull, great white, and hammerhead. During 2014 Shark Week, Dr. O’Connell was on the Discovery Channel talking about his research with hammerhead electro sensitivity.

Dr. David Guggenheim
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September 9, 2015 – Watch Lecture Online

Dr. David E. Guggenheim is a marine scientist, conservation policy specialist, submarine pilot, ocean explorer, and educator. Guggenheim holds a Ph.D. in Environmental Science and Public Policy from George Mason University in Virginia, a Master’s in Aquatic and Population Biology from the University of California, Santa Barbara, and a Master’s in Regional Science and Bachelor’s in Environmental Studies from the University of Pennsylvania. As an interesting fact, this explorer has piloted the first-ever manned submersible dives into the world’s largest underwater canyons in the Bering Sea as a scientific advisor to Greenpeace.