Over 300 budding scientists showcased their science projects at the 35th annual Greater Vancouver Regional Science Fair this past April. Students shared their research with professionals in their fields, participated in university tours, and built lasting friendships.

This year, the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre is excited to sponsor Joyce Xi, a Grade 8 student at Hillcrest Middle School. She is the winner of the Betsy Bennett Marine Stewardship Award. Judged by Aquarium volunteers, Joyce impressed the team with her in-depth understanding of ocean acidification and climate change. We sat down with Joyce to ask her what her inspiration and future plans were.

How did you become interested in marine issues?

I’ve always loved the oceans and the life within them, so I was surprised, and rather terrified at the fact of marine life being destroyed by humans causing ocean acidification. My discoveries have opened up more questions about the ocean’s food chain and how we can protect it from the dangers of acidification, and I hope to explore those areas when I get into high school, college, or at the Vancouver Aquarium.

What is one of your favourite memories of the Vancouver Aquarium?

One of my favourite memories at the Vancouver Aquarium was when I watched a dolphin show for the first time on a field trip with my kindergarten class. I was so short, I had to peer through one of the holes in the fencing, which really did not allow a great view.

Tell us a little bit about your project.

I decided to explore ocean acidification, which is the over-accumulation of acidic carbon dioxide molecules in seawater, and how it affects shellfish. I wanted to figure out how the shells’ masses would be affected by seawater acidity levels expected in 100-500 years from now. If the shell mass is reduced by the acid, then they are not able to grow as large which has negative impacts on the animals that eat them.

I tested 3 types of bivalves – manila clams, mussels, and varnish clams. I randomly mixed the shells and subject them to 4 treatments for a month: 1) regular sea water; 2) slight acidic seawater; 3) very acidic seawater; and 4) tap water. I found the shells, especially the manila and varnish clam, lost a significant amount of mass and were considerably weaker as well.

Was there anything unexpected that you learned? 

I discovered that the mussels would keep together for a longer period of time due to a special protein called Blue Mussel Shell Protein (BMSP) in its shell.

 If you had unlimited time and resources, how would you want to expand your project?

Since I found out about BMSP, I’d like to experiment with the protein to see if it can be genetically implanted into other bivalve species to protect them from acid, or even make acid-proof vests for humans working in areas such as sulfur mines.

What are your career aspirations?

My discoveries have opened up more questions about the ocean’s food chain and how we can protect it from the dangers of acidification. I’m definitely interested in taking the path to becoming a marine biologist. It seems like a very fascinating career to explore, and I get to help the environment.

The Betsy Bennett Marine Stewardship Award was established in 2016 to reward an exceptional project that has a marine focus or application. Joyce will be receiving a personalized behind-the-scenes tour for herself and a friend. 

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