Marla Stone, another member of the science party here on the R/V Revelle, is even abler a sea chick than we are! She has practically lived her life on the ocean, captaining fishing boats and scuba diving boats and even working for the state as a scuba diver doing inspections. Marla now goes to sea in the name of science and has been doing oceanography cruises while working for the Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) in Monterey, California for the past 21 years.
Growing up in the 1960s in Claremont, California, Marla was a girl scout from the time she was in 3rd grade through the time she reached seniors in the 9th grade. She has some wonderful memories from her girl scout days and told us about a time her troop chartered a sailboat, the Swift of Ipswich, and sailed it from Santa Barbara out to the Channel Islands. She said they felt like they were pirates, paddling around in rowboats, singing pirate songs, swimming, and sleeping in hammocks. She also remembers being impressed by the marine life they saw, like a basking shark and a pod of dolphins.
One meets a lot of interesting people at sea, and living on a ship with Marla for the past few weeks gave us a great opportunity to get to know her better and hear some of her sea stories. We also had a couple questions for her about what her job is like and how she ended up doing the work that she does.
US: How did you get interested in marine science?
MARLA: I grew up in the mountains, but always loved reading books about the ocean and stories about sailing. I was particularly influenced by the book The Silent World, by Jacques Cousteau. I was 13 years old when I read that book and decided then and there that I wanted to spend my life learning about the ocean. I took lots of math and science classes when I was in high school and had my heart set on studying oceanography.
US: What exactly is your job?
MARLA: My official title at NPS is Staff Oceanographer. I design moorings and then go out and deploy them in the ocean. People tell me where they want to make measurements and I design a mooring based on what the currents are like at their chosen site, how deep the water is, and what kind of instruments they want on the mooring. I do a lot of work with instrumentation and data collection, but I don't do much data analysis. I enjoy the independence of my job and the fact that I don't have to sit in front of a computer all day.
US: What education did you need for your job?
MARLA: I went to Humboldt State University in Northern California and got a bachelor's degree in oceanography, just like I always wanted. Oceanography is not a common college major, and in the 1970s they didn't know what to do with an oceanography degree so they required another one. I then earned a separate degree in biology. After that, I went to Moss Landing Marine Labs to get a master's degree. I got a lot of field experience while working on the degree, but left to work as a ship's captain. When I started at NPS, I finished my master's degree in physical oceanography.
US: What lead you to your current position?
MARLA: I randomly walked into NPS one day, figuring that if it was run by the Navy it had to have something to do with oceanography, and asked if they were hiring. They told me they needed somebody to do mooring work, and when they heard about the experience I had from college and at Moss Landing, they took me directly to chairman of department and told me I could start work the next day. I've been there keeping the mooring program alive and well ever since.
US: How often do you go to sea?
MARLA: It varies from year to year depending on what is going on. Generally I go on about 8-10 sea trips per year. Some of them last several weeks, like this one, and some are just a couple of days.
When Marla started working in oceanography, it was not as common to see women on a research vessel. In fact, on one research cruise, they had Marla stay in the sick bay because she was the only woman aboard and there was not a room for her! This didn't bother Marla, though. She said she was always the first girl they every hired for every job she had growing up, including fixing cars, working at a hydroelectric power plant, working at a boat shop, and captaining a dive boat. When she was captain of the dive boat, she was actually the only female captain on the west coast at the time! Marla's story is an inspiring one about following a dream and not letting anything stop her. We can attribute much of the opportunity we have today to pioneers (and ABLE SEA CHICKS!) like Marla.