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Marine Biologist J. Nichols '89 Discusses 'Neuroconservation' with Magazine

January 18, 2013

An article in the February 2013 issue of Coastal Living magazine examines "why just being near the water brings us such deep contentment. Headlined "Why the beach makes us happy," the piece notes, "The color blue has been shown to produce feelings of security and relaxation, and researchers have discovered that blood pressure and stress levels drop when people watch fish swimming in aquariums. But interest in the bigger question -- the connection between the ocean and the human psyche -- is now picking up, thanks in large part to the efforts of a 45-year-old sea turtle biologist named Wallace J. Nichols, Ph.D."

The text continues, "Nichols works as a research associate at the California Academy of Sciences and is a devoted conservationist who's known for talking openly about his passions rather than burying them under the dry rhetoric of science ... As a student at DePauw University in Indiana, he says, 'I explored just about every waterway in the state. I snorkeled in ponds that I don't think anybody has snorkeled in before or after.' Once he reached graduate school, though, Nichols learned that, as a rule, the academic world was less interested in talking about feelings. 'We share a very human experience with water that is often left unspoken at serious meetings," he says. "You check all of the emotional stuff at the door.' "

Dr. Nichols is a 1989 graduate of DePauw who is responsible for pioneering research on the migration of sea turtles. He has authored and co-authored more than 50 scientific papers and reports and his work has been featured in National Geographic, Scientific American, TIME and Newsweek, and he was seen in Leonardo DiCaprio's documentary, The 11th Hour.

Coastal Living notes that Nichols holds annual BLUEMiND Summits to bring marine scientists, brain researchers, environmentalists and others together to talk about how our minds are affected by bodies of water. "Deepening our understanding of the ways the sea affects our emotions would not only further science, he says; it would also make us better stewards of 'our water planet.' He has coined the term 'neuroconservation' to describe his vision: By studying what draws us to the ocean, we can then use that information to help save it."

The February issue is arriving on newsstands.  Visit the magazine online.

J. Nichols, who goes by his middle initial, regularly returns to DePauw and delivered the principal address to the University's Class of 2010, "You Are Lovers and Fighters."  Video of the speech is embedded below in three parts.

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