Do Sea Cows Eat Seagrass?

Time to get blue da ba dee da ba daa!
This week we’re chatting to Mat Vanderklift about “blue carbon” and how it helps us fight climate change.
We also pick Mat’s brain for all the advice he would give early career researchers and scientists.

Particle Podcast is about science and the people who just love it. It’s produced and presented by Rose Kerr (@rosie.zkerr). Particle is powered by Scitech, and you can tweet us your favourite things about seagrass at @ParticleWA on Twitter and Instagram.


do sea cows eat seagrass?

  • Host: Rose Kerr
  • Guest: Mat Vanderklift

**Cue music (intro theme)

Rose Kerr: Particle would like to acknowledge and pay respects to the Traditional Owners of the land we record on, the Whadjuk people. We also acknowledge the role of Aboriginal people as the first scientists in Australia. Welcome to the Particle Podcast where we talk about science and the people who just love it. I’m your host Rose Kerr. And this season, we’re talking all things environmental. Today I am joined by Mat Vanderklift, a researcher who studies blue carbon and coastal ecosystems. We had a chat about seagrass, sea cows and sea people. What do you actually do?

Mat Vanderklift: What do I actually do? Would you believe me if I said I do as little as possible?

Rose Kerr: (laughs) No, not at all.

Mat Vanderklift: Mostly, I solve problems, or at least I try to solve problems. I’m a I’m a scientist. And that’s a fundamental part of being a scientist, solving problems. But I guess I, I try to solve particular types of problems, because I’m a marine ecologist. So I think about the way marine animals and marine plants go about their lives from from day to day and think about the way that humans use the ocean, and about how those two things sometimes interact, sometimes play nicely, sometimes collide, and sometimes causes problems that we need to try and fix.

Rose Kerr: That’s a really great description. I like that a lot. Have you always wanted to become that higher level problem solver? Or did you get into science, just through love of the ocean?

Mat Vanderklift: I got into science, out of curiosity, and just enjoying being in nature. You know, when I was when I was a kid, I was privileged to live in a small town in in Victoria, not too far outside Melbourne with plenty of bush, and I used to just run them up through the bush. And that’s how I grew up. So I guess I just always enjoyed playing with nature. And that’s what instigated my, I guess my move into studying nature, which I didn’t really think about being a scientist for the for the longest time, it’s just kind of serendipity that I happen to end up there.

Rose Kerr: So along the way, did you know that you wanted to move into kind of a director role? Or did you go into study just planning to just studying and seeing what happens?

Mat Vanderklift: No, I don’t think I had that kind of direction. I knew that I wanted to do something, studying or being involved with nature. And and so when I did my original degree, which was in Victoria, right, I studied environmental science, thinking that I’d probably end up with a career as something like park management, perhaps nature conservation of some kind. But then, you know, the twists and turns of fate and serendipity. I moved to Perth, and I happen to live just down the road from the marine science labs.

Rose Kerr: Oh yeah.

Mat Vanderklift: And I guess it was the early 1990s. It was the last recession that we had, it was difficult to find a job. And so one day I just wandered into the lab and said, “I’ve got time on my hands. Can I do something?” Turns out that I could. And eventually, I became part of the furniture and that became my, I guess the first step in, in the pathway to becoming a scientist. From there. I went back to university did a master’s degree and eventually a PhD. And here we are.

Rose Kerr: Have you always considered yourself a scientist, even before studying?

Mat Vanderklift: I don’t know that if I considered myself a scientist, I had a natural curiosity. And, and I guess I, I didn’t mind asking questions. And you bring those two together. And I guess you’ve got a scientist.

Rose Kerr: Before we get into the next section, I’ll give you a quick rundown of what blue carbon actually is. Basically, living things are made up of organic carbon. So this includes you and me, animals, plants. Blue carbon is the carbon that’s stored in plants in the ocean. So ocean blue, blue carbon. And this blue carbon might be key to helping us reduce climate change, which I’ll let Mat explain.

Mat Vanderklift: And turns out that plants and the ocean are really good partners. And and combined to have a really good store of, of carbon in a way that actually helps us with climate mitigation. So plants being plants, they photosynthesize. They take sunlight and carbon dioxide, they turn it into plant and eventually the plant dies. The dead bit of plant then drifts down, becomes part of the dirt underneath the plant. And normally, if that happened on land, you’d have lots of things chomping up the carbon. Lots of bacteria, lots of decomposers. But bacteria decomposers, usually they need oxygen. Oxygen doesn’t travel so well through water. So if it happens in water, the decomposers often can’t keep up with the amount of carbon that’s getting thrown at them. And so it just builds up. So blue carbon is, comes from the plants that live in the ocean, and turns out to be a really good way of taking carbon dioxide out of the air and fighting climate change.

Rose Kerr: And how was that connection formed? What problem? How did you go from problem to a potential solution?

Mat Vanderklift: Yeah, well, I wish I could say I thought of it but I didn’t. Other clever, clever people elsewhere, made that particular connection, I guess I’d made a career studying marine plants quite extensively, I’d studied things like kelp, things like sea grass, a little bit of mangroves. And so when these other clever people found the link, it was kind of a natural progression for me to go, ‘Hey, I can I can do do that too or I can look at that, too.’ And I guess the little bit of extra that I was able to bring to the table. What I can bring to the table is that there’s not too many of us that do that sort of work in the Indian Ocean. The Indian Ocean is pretty big. So there’s lots to do.

Rose Kerr: And can you talk us through a little bit about the actual process is it just a matter of if you want to get rid of some of the carbon and get it into some sea grasses, is it just planting a whole bunch of seagrass? How does it actually work?

Mat Vanderklift: Well, I like to, I guess, break it down in two different components that the first one is, let’s stop knocking it down in the first place. Because if we cut down a mangrove forest, or if we dig up a seagrass bed, we take all that carbon that they’ve been burying for centuries, and we release it back into the atmosphere. So on top of burning the fossil fuels, we’re adding a little bit of the old carbon that the plants have stored. So so perhaps let’s not do that. The second bit is exactly what you say, if we can start to replant what we’ve lost or restore what we’ve lost, whether it be mangroves or sea grasses. The plants naturally, as they grow, as they start to re occupy the space that they used to occupy, they’re gonna do their thing. Catch that carbon dioxide, put it into plant, and there we go again, the dead plant goes down into the dirt and the cycle restarts.

Rose Kerr: It’s a pretty good system.

Mat Vanderklift: It is a pretty good system.

Rose Kerr: Why do people clear say seagrass, for example?

Mat Vanderklift: There’s lots of reasons sometimes it’s intentional. Sometimes, for example, the seagrass is living somewhere. And we want to use that space for something else. We want to put a port there or something. So sometimes we know about it, and we have to dig it up because we need to use the space for something else. But sometimes it’s just unintentional and and that’s probably the biggest cause of seagrass loss around the world is that unintentional loss, usually from pollution, and usually from nutrient pollution. Nutrients go into the water, the sort of phytoplankton, the little single celled plankton that live in the water, they love nutrients. And so they go gangbusters whenever there’s some in the water and whenever there’s a lot of them, they tend to suck up all the light. Light can’t get through to the seagrass, seagrass is a plant, they need light, they die.

Rose Kerr: Yep.

Mat Vanderklift: So it’s kind of how it works in most places.

Rose Kerr: And then going on from that, when you’re re-establishing either a mangrove, I suspect they’re probably going to be separate things, but either a mangrove or a seagrass ecosystem, are they reasonably easy to re-establish or is it a challenge?

Mat Vanderklift: Yes, and yes. I think it kind of depends what it is that you want to do. And there’s lots of reasons for replanting a mangrove or restoring a seagrass bed. And we might all want to do it for different reasons. For example, if we have a big area that used to be mangroves, and we want to get lots and lots of carbon and and turn that into carbon offsets, and trade the carbon and do all those sorts of things, we can plant particular sorts of mangroves that are hardy, fast growing, do their job really well. That’s not too difficult. Planting trees, we kind of know how to plant trees. If we’re trying to restore the system, back to what it used to be, that’s a much trickier thing to do. You know, putting Humpty Dumpty back together is is not that straightforward. Similarly, for seagrasses, we kind of know some things But putting a system back together, that’s much trickier. We’re kind of learning a little bit as we go along that maybe, maybe manually planting isn’t the best thing to do to sea grasses. Maybe we, we kind of harvest the sea grasses’ natural ability, they produce seeds. And if we use the seeds, that might be a way a better way to go. So it depends.

Rose Kerr: How do underwater seeds work?

Mat Vanderklift: Yeah, that’s a good question. Because you don’t have wind and you don’t have birds and the bees to, but you do have water. Right? So the sea grasses, they’re plants, just like regular plants on land, they produce the flowers and pollen and all that sort of stuff. But it gets distributed through water. So they pollinate each other through water. And then the seeds get dispersed through water, currents, washing away.

Rose Kerr: Do they flower then, before they go to seed?

Mat Vanderklift: Yes.

Rose Kerr: Oh that’s so cool!

Mat Vanderklift: Yeah, like a regular plant, you get the flowers. The flowers become the fruits and they get the seeds from the fruits.

Rose Kerr: How do you go communicating with stakeholders who may not be scientists?

Mat Vanderklift: Most of the stakeholders that I deal with are not scientists. So that’s I don’t think that’s really a big problem. Sometimes scientists do get caught up using the kind of science jargon and big words and, and sometimes it’s easy to to lapse into that. So I guess, you know, rule of thumb, if I can explain it well to members of my family, and they understand it, then usually I’m going to be able to explain it well to somebody else. If I’m learning something new for the first time. It’s also a good test for me if if I can explain it to myself, then I understand it. If I can’t, then I don’t understand it yet.

Rose Kerr: Yeah. And what kinds of people, of all the different disciplines people might work in, who would be involved in a blue carbon project?

Mat Vanderklift: Wow.

Rose Kerr: (laughs) I’m assuming a lot.

Mat Vanderklift: A lot.

Rose Kerr: Yeah (laughs)

Mat Vanderklift: Really a lot. So it you need a biologist or an ecologist or someone who knows about the plants, of course, but then maybe you need someone who knows about the way currents work. So you might need a physicist or an oceanographer. Maybe you need someone who knows a little bit about the way the sediment works. So maybe you need a kind of chemist or a geochemist. You might need somebody who knows a little bit about tenure. So you might need a lawyer of some sort, you might need a project manager, you might need people that just know how to do things with their hands. So you might need a whole bunch of trades people of various kinds, the list goes on.

Rose Kerr: Who were you or what were you doing kind of before you found this area, whether it be the job you had while you studied or the job you thought you were going to have or the hobbies that you were doing kind of before all of this started.

Mat Vanderklift: I tried a few different things not not necessarily out of choice, out of a necessity. So for example, when when I was at university in Victoria, I needed to pay my way. So I was working on a farm. It was a it was a flower farming in horticulture. So that was weekends and days when I didn’t have lectures were spent doing that. And sometimes evenings sitting in a truck selling cut flowers by the side of the road. So so there was that side of it, many, many university students can relate to that, that you’re doing a job that perhaps you you’re not most passionate about in order to facilitate your goals. But at least that was mostly was working outside. So that wasn’t too bad. What else have I tried? When I first moved to Perth, I couldn’t get a job. Because it was a recession, it was hard to find a job. But I eventually got work being a caregiver for intellectually disabled young adults. That turned out to be really, really great for me. For me, it was not because I had any particular skills, it was more about being a peer. So it was more about hanging around and, and helping cook dinner, do the shopping, you know, go and do sports on the weekend. So it was it was about learning to to interact in a slightly different way than what I’d been used to. And I think that was really good for me at the time.

Rose Kerr: Definitely. What’s something unexpected that you learned from either of those jobs?

Mat Vanderklift: Probably the unexpected, was learning how to communicate a little bit differently. That was unexpected. I think I hope it’s helped me since then.

Rose Kerr: Yeah, I feel like learning to communicate with any different group of person is going to help build up your like back knowledge of different ways to explain something and have a conversation and relate to people.

Mat Vanderklift: Using using different words, different style of speaking language, that sort of stuff.

Rose Kerr: What’s it like to work with people who are just starting out in their career?

Mat Vanderklift: I enjoy it. I know what it was like when I was just starting out when you when you have some ideas, they’re kind of half formed, you’re still trying to figure out, you know, how to how to work, trying to figure out the best way to think, the best way to talk, the best way to operate. So I was privileged to have some really, really good mentors in my early career and continuing through through to now. People that I was able to learn a lot from. And that helped me develop as a person, develop as a scientist. So I think, you know, hats off to the young scientists who are starting out today, I think some things are easier, some things are more challenging. But I certainly enjoy the the opportunity to to help them out. I don’t pretend that I know everything. Goodness knows, I certainly don’t know everything. I don’t I don’t pretend to be the wise old man. But hopefully I have a few bits of advice that might be useful from time to time.

Rose Kerr: If you were just starting out in your science degree or science career today. Where do you think you would aim to work? Or what kind of questions do you think would be driving you the same ones or different?

Mat Vanderklift: I think they would be.

Rose Kerr: Yeah?

Mat Vanderklift: I might perhaps have wished that I twigged onto some of them a little bit earlier. So that I could have maybe made a bit more of a difference a bit earlier. But I think the problems that I’m working on trying to solve now I, I think are really good ones to be working on. If we think about the coast, and we think about the ecosystems that are on the coast, we get so much benefit from them, they they feed us, the fish we eat and from those those ecosystems, they protect us when this when a storm comes, it’s the mangroves and the and the reefs that are attenuating the waves and stopping them from eroding the coast. And at the same time, turns out they’re keeping climate change dampened down a little bit as well. So what’s not to like about them?

Rose Kerr: What does a typical day in the life look like for you?

Mat Vanderklift: A day in my life 2020 is a little bit different from a day in my life pre 2020, I’ve gotta say, I and before this year, I’d spend lots of time on the road. So I would be away for 100 plus nights a year. Traveling, the Indian Ocean is a big place. So you’ve got to travel quite a lot. It’s it’s a privilege, I get to go to a lot of countries experience a lot of cultures and meet and work with a lot of really, really great people. So that’s a that’s a wonderful privilege. This year has been a bit different, don’t get to travel. So there’s been a lot of Zoom, or WebEx and a lot of video calls. I can’t say I’m overly enamored with that as a system. It was fine in the beginning. A little bit too much of that now. So I drive a desk a lot this year I guess.

Rose Kerr: Yeah. How do you go about working with the ocean when you can’t necessarily get out into the ocean?

Mat Vanderklift: We can still talk.

Rose Kerr: Yeah.

Mat Vanderklift: So there is that. There are some restrictions on the sorts of work that we do. So this year, I should have been, for example, in Sri Lanka working on a mangrove restoration project. We’ve been able to do a little bit of work on that together remotely. But it’s the Sri Lankans that are doing everything on the ground. I don’t get to do that fun bit. Yeah, but we get we get to talk about it. And I get to see some photos and so I get I get to maybe I’m living vicariously a little bit.

Rose Kerr: Yeah, yeah, I can imagine. We’re gonna jump into some of the questions from the rest of the Particle team. Do sea cows eat sea grass?

Mat Vanderklift: Yes.

Rose Kerr: That’s amazing! Yes! I’m so happy about that. (laughs)

Mat Vanderklift: Sea cow is a dugong. And dugong eat seagrass!

Rose Kerr: Oh, that’s great. Oh, that’s wonderful news. And can humans eat seagrass?

Mat Vanderklift: I’ve tried. I wouldn’t eat the leaf. The leaf isn’t that edible. I’t slike eating a leaf off your lawn that wouldn’t work but you can eat some fruits off some seagrass.

Rose Kerr: I just it’s never occurred to me that a seagrass would have for like be it seems like such a basic thing. It is called seagrass. It is a plant it should have fruit, plant flowers, and everythin. Itg makes sense. For some reason I’ve never thought about it. What’s the fruit, like on a seagrass?

Mat Vanderklift: Depends on the species. As you can imagine, like plants, you know, the difference between fruits on all the different sorts of plants. You know, some some sort of roughly the size of say that the tip of your thumb. Yeah, some some are a bit smaller.

Rose Kerr: Yeah. Do you remember what it tasted like?

Mat Vanderklift: Green.

Rose Kerr: (laughs) Yeah, okay. Like unripe fruit.

Mat Vanderklift: Yeah, Green and salty.

Rose Kerr: Do you have a favorite place that you’ve gotten to visit?

Mat Vanderklift: Many favorite places. Among the most memorable? I like Ningaloo. I’ve got to say Ningaloo is is one of my favorite places anywhere anytime. I like sea shells, great environment amazing undersea wilderness there but also people the culture. I enjoy Madagascar. Similar, so much of it’s unexplored so yeah, there’s lots and lots of great places. Indonesia, Sri Lanka, really good places.

Rose Kerr: Now I just want to go snorkeling everywhere. I’m gonna jump forward then if we’re talking about Ningaloo. We’ve got a couple of questions a lot more people are traveling up north and exploring the ocean. What’s something that people should know about places like Ningaloo Reef maybe before going out there?

Mat Vanderklift: Ningaloo is one of the world’s great places. It’s, it’s a World Heritage area. And there’s a reason it’s a World Heritage area, it’s unique is, you know, there’s not many places in the world where you get, you know, great aggregations of whale sharks, your clear blue water corals going right up to in some places, just a couple of meters from from the beach. So it’s it’s really unique, and a wonderful place to visit. And I encourage everyone to visit. One of the dangers that we can face though is we can love it to death. It’s it’s good to go and visit. But let’s tread lightly when we do go and visit. Let’s not leave too heavy a footprint because if too many of us go and leave too heavy a footprint, then it’s going to lose some of that, that shine and some of that uniqueness.

Rose Kerr: Absolutely. And what are some of the ways people can make sure they minimize their impact on those ecosystems?

Mat Vanderklift: It’s a marine park and, and there are some pretty good regulations and guidelines about what you can do. If you stick to those, you should be fine.

Rose Kerr: That’s good. stick to the rules. Regulated fun.

Mat Vanderklift: It’s regulated fun. There’s lots of fun to be had.

Rose Kerr: I’ve read that you worked up in the Kimberley. Can you tell us a little bit about that experience? What were you doing up there?

Mat Vanderklift: The Kimberley, I was doing a project working with colleagues at the University of Western Australia and friends and colleagues in the Bardi Jawi Rangers. We were doing a project which initially we were looking at seagrass, which were essentially unstudied at the time so we were doing some some really really basic studies looking at things like watching grass grow, literally measuring how fast the grass was growing and things like that. And then as we got a slightly better and a slightly deeper understanding we expanded and so I started bringing in the work the other work that I do which is on turtles and spent a couple of years working on turtles with the with the Bardi Jarwi rangers there and that was it was a pretty wonderful experience as well. They amazing wealth of knowledge that the that the Rangers had. So I don’t think I know who learned more from that experience. I suspect it was me.

Rose Kerr: What’s it like to work with turtles?

Mat Vanderklift: Turteley awesome!

Rose Kerr: (laughs) We approve this pun. Do turtles have individual personalities? I picture them being very playful but that’s because I loved Finding Nemo as a kid so I don’t know if that’s actually true.

Mat Vanderklift: They do and they don’t I mean, turtles are herbivores and it doesn’t take a large brain to be a herbivore. So you know turtles have a fairly small brain and and they’re not the world’s most intelligent animal but they are extremely fast. They’ve been around a long time. And when you look at them, amazing animal they’ve got a skeleton on the inside but you know they’ve got a you know that the exoskeleton almost that hard carapace on the outside. They can, they can pull their head in to a point you know, sea turtles can’t pull it all the way in. They they live almost all their lives in the water, except for that tiny percentage of the time where they have to leave the water to lay eggs of all things. And so you’ve got a 100 kilo female turtle, and she’s got these little stubby flippers and she’s dragging herself up the beach. And when she gets up there, she’s gonna use those same little stubby flippers to dig a hole that’s about three times the size of her. And she’s gonna lay her eggs in there, fill it all up again, drag herself back down. I mean, it is amazing.

Rose Kerr: It’s a strange do we know why evolutionary wise, turtles do that? Because it’s a lot of energy.

Mat Vanderklift: I don’t think we can answer questions like why.

Rose Kerr: Yeah, that’s true.

Mat Vanderklift: They just do.

Rose Kerr: Yeah. And they know what they’re doing because they go back to the same place don’t they?

Mat Vanderklift: Very close to the same place.

Rose Kerr: Yeah. Have you ever gotten to see a turtle, like the next generation of turtle come back?

Mat Vanderklift: I have not. Hopefully, I’m not quite that old.

Rose Kerr: Fair, turtles do live for a long time that’s fiar (laughs). In your carrer, what’s the biggest mistake you’ve ever made?

Mat Vanderklift: What is the biggest mistake, I made many mistakes. You don’t learn unless you make mistakes. I mean, much of learning is about making mistakes, and then figuring out ‘well, gee, I better not do that again.’ I’m not sure that I can pick just one. There’s too many.

Rose Kerr: That’s fair. And it probably answers the question of, would you do it again? Probably yes. Because otherwise you don’t learn?

Mat Vanderklift: Yeah. Yeah, hopefully you don’t do the same thing again, and repeat. You know, you don’t want to repeat your mistakes. No. Mistakes are the sorts of things you only want to do once, right?

Rose Kerr: A lot of our listeners are kind of early career scientists or people who are interested in science, let’s say they’ve just made a pretty bad mistake. What kind of advice could you give them in terms of persisting through in that kind of search for knowledge and problem solving?

Mat Vanderklift: I would say, if you’ve just made a mistake, then just recognize that that’s going to happen. I’ve made many, as I’ve just said, made many, many mistakes. Learn from it, figure out what the mistake was, and why you made it, and then try to be determined not to do that one again, and make a different mistake next time.

Rose Kerr: Why should people care about marine ecosystems?

Mat Vanderklift: So many reasons why we should care. I could give you the answer about how important they are to humans, and about how they provide our oxygen and our food. But that seems to me that that’s a very transactional view of nature. You know, that’s, that’s looking at nature in terms of what it can give us. But probably the better answer, for me at least is, is the reason why I got into this game in the first place. It’s just inspiring. And, you know, I was just curious about it. So is there a…do you need another reason?

Rose Kerr: It’s a good question. What’s something that could improve in your industry?

Mat Vanderklift: There’s lots that we can improve in my industry being science. Scientists have maybe a tendency like like, like many other professions, of getting carried away with bandwagons. And, and sometimes when that happens, we can jump on the bandwagon. And forget about the whole part and parcel of being a scientist is to critically evaluate evidence to think about the problem and then think about how we solve the problem. And, and sometimes scientists in their enthusiasm to rush off and work on something new and trendy, forget about the critical evaluation part. That’s the hard graft. That’s the that’s the sweat and the toil. And a lot…you’ve probably heard that you know, much of sciences is perspiration and not much of it is inspiration. So don’t forget about the perspiration side.

Rose Kerr: Yeah, yeah. Not in that rush to in that rush to publish a paper, really like check and make sure..

Mat Vanderklift: Rushing for inspiration. Sometimes you you forget to do the hard yards and then you realize actually, that wasn’t very well thought through.

Rose Kerr: Yeah.

Mat Vanderklift: Hey, we’ve all that we’ve all been there. We’ve all made that mistake.

Rose Kerr: Totally, hundred percent.

Mat Vanderklift: You know I have.

Rose Kerr: What are some misconceptions of your job?

Mat Vanderklift: Misconceptions of being a marine ecologist can be it’s not all about dolphins clear water and coral reefs.

Rose Kerr: That’s so disappointing.

Mat Vanderklift: There’s a lot that’s about mud and dirt and heat and sweat and cold.

Rose Kerr: Yeah that’s very surprising.

Mat Vanderklift: I’ve been diving in boat harbors where the visibility is so low, I couldn’t see the hand if I put it in front of my face. I’ve been diving in the middle of winter, where after hours in the water, I was so cold that my hand couldn’t even hold a pencil. There are some discomforts. It’s all worth it, though.

Rose Kerr: It’s not all tropical island.

Mat Vanderklift: It is not.

Rose Kerr: And we’re almost at the end. But before we finish and before, the fun facts section, which is my favorite segment, what is next for you? Or what is your next dream project?

Mat Vanderklift: What is next for me is to keep trying to solve some of the big problems, and to see if we can start making a difference and reversing some of what’s happened. So if we can get to the point where, let’s say, before I retire, we’ve started to reverse the trend of losing ecosystems and starting to put them back together again, instead. That’d be great.

Rose Kerr: Do you have hope that that’s going to happen?

Mat Vanderklift: I do.

Rose Kerr: How do you hold on to that? I feel like that’s, sometimes it’s hard not to get caught up in all the bad news. It’s hard to stay fixated on being like, ‘No, we can do this.’

Mat Vanderklift: I think if you look at the last couple of decades, you can see that there’s really a been a slow down in the in the rate of loss, and an increase in awareness of what we’re doing. It’s normal to not have quite the awareness of the damage that you can do. It’s not normal to see what’s happening and not try to do something about it. So I think we’re seeing what’s happening slowly and surely, but steadily. We’re trying to do something about it. It’s it’s a big old ship to turn. So it’s gonna take a little while to turn. But I do think it’s starting to turn.

Rose Kerr: That’s really good. And to finish up. Would you like to share a fun fact?

Mat Vanderklift: My fun fact? Sure. My fun fact is, did you know that I can figure out what you eat by cutting your hair or clipping your nails?

Rose Kerr: What?! Really?

Mat Vanderklift: Really.

Rose Kerr: How?

Mat Vanderklift: So when, when plants grow, they catch carbon and use nutrients like nitrogen in different ways. And because different plants grown in different ways, those molecules follow different pathways through the tissues. And that each molecule and each atom of carbon or nitrogen comes in in one of a couple of different flavors. And they’re called isotopes.

Rose Kerr: Ah, yes.

Mat Vanderklift: And so once that plant grows in the leaf, eventually, it’ll have a what we call a ‘signature’ of different isotopes. An animal comes along and eats that particular plants, the carbon and the nitrogen, and all the other nutrients will go into the tissue of that animal. And it will have the signature of what it ate. So if if you went on holiday, let’s say, you went on holiday and you went to Asia, and you had a lot of rice based meals, then you went to Europe, or Africa and had a lot of wheat based meals. Then you went to America and had a lot of corn based meals, then you came back to Australia and cut your hair, gave it to me, I could snip it up. If you didn’t tell me where you went, I could figure it out. So it is true you are what you eat.

Rose Kerr: That’s a wonderful explanation of isotope analysis, because that’s I’ve always found really challenging to understand. So thank you for that. And thank you so much for being on the podcast today.

Mat Vanderklift: Thank you. It’s been a pleasure.

Rose Kerr: Thanks for listening to the Particle Podcast. You can find more of our content on all of the socials as well as at Particle is powered by Scitech and everything we make is made in the wonderful science hub of Western Australia on Whadjuk country.

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