Dr. Rebecca Gentry is a post doctoral researcher at Florida State University. Learn more about her research here.
Tell us a little bit about your research. What topics are you currently exploring?
Broadly, my research is focused on understanding how humans can best use ocean resources in a sustainable way while also conserving the natural environment. My specialty is marine aquaculture and exploring a wide variety of questions related to its development potential and sustainability. I am currently working on several projects related to understanding why marine aquaculture has developed in such diverse ways in different places throughout the world. The better we understand the patterns and drivers of marine aquaculture development, the greater the likelihood that we can facilitate the development of sustainable marine aquaculture in the future.
Why did you decide to become a scientist, and specifically, why did you decide to focus on seafood and food systems?
I have always loved both science and writing and actually first planned to be a science journalist. However, I found that I wanted to gain a more thorough understanding of the science I was writing about than one can as a journalist. So I became a scientist!
I am fascinated by food systems because they have such a profound effect on human well-being and the environment. I am interested in understanding how we can design aquaculture to benefit both people and the natural world.
One of your specialties is looking at complex issues spatially. Tell us about some of your work to map areas of the ocean that may or may not be suitable for marine aquaculture.
I find the spatial component of marine aquaculture to be particularly fascinating, since aquaculture is essentially integrated into the surrounding ecosystem, and therefore differences in the environment can have profound effects on how the farm operates and how it affects its surroundings.
A few years ago several colleagues and I developed a global-scale assessment of marine aquaculture potential. This was challenging due to the availability of data at the global scale and the need to develop a method to compare productivity potential across varied regions. Although working at the global scale necessitates some level of simplification, I believe that this sort of high-level research can provide important insights that may not be apparent by looking at a single, smaller-scale study area. Ultimately, I think that it is important to work at a variety of scales, and that global work can and should inform regional studies and vice versa.
Based on your research, what are some of the greatest opportunities for marine aquaculture?
My research has helped to demonstrate the enormous potential for marine aquaculture production, particularly in the offshore environment. There are so many excellent growing areas in countries all over the world, and if developed sustainably, this industry could provide significant benefits for food security and economic development. However, the offshore aquaculture industry is still in its infancy, mostly, I believe, due to economic and regulatory uncertainty.
What are some of the greatest challenges? Do we have the scientific knowledge and technology to do it right?
I think we have a lot of scientific capacity to develop sustainable marine aquaculture. However, new challenges are constantly arising, as are new ideas to improve the environmental, social, and economic performance of aquaculture. I don’t think there will ever be an end point where we can say we are done striving to develop better aquaculture systems.
What role can scientists play to support efforts to bridge theory and application, specifically for marine aquaculture development in the U.S.?
It is the responsibility of scientists, especially those of us who work on applied research, to engage with the public, regulators, and the seafood industry throughout the research process. These ongoing conversations are critical to ensure that scientific research is timely, relevant, and in touch with real issues. By being both engaged and independent, scientists are in a unique position to produce research that has the power to inform policy and uncover new insights that might shift the conversation surrounding marine aquaculture in the U.S.
What are 2-3 messages that you think the public should know about marine aquaculture?