My name is Lilianna Watson, and I am a recent graduate of the Master of Advanced Studies in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation (MAS MBC) program at Scripps Institution of Oceanography. I am going to be hosting a seminar about my Capstone project, Swim Down, at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI):
Swim Down: Finding Neurodivergent Identity in the Depths
● August 30th, 11 am-12 pm PST
● Register for the online webinar on MBARI’s website:
For my Capstone project, I created this digital graphic novel about a neurodivergent teenager’s underwater journey through the Monterey Submarine Canyon that reveals her sensory differences as powerful adaptations. The narrative explores how Mari’s sensitivities to light, noise, and touch correspond to deep sea conditions such as darkness, quiet and pressure. To create this link, I show my character encountering different oceanic environments and physically transforming into some of the marine life she encounters. My Capstone committee was composed of Scripps scientists Dr. Charlotte Seid, Dr. Lisa Levin, and Dr. Peter Franks. Additionally, scientific illustrator Freya Hammar translated my storyboards into beautiful, full color illustrations.
MBARI is a leader in marine science research and technology, allowing us to understand more about our oceans and its fascinating deep-sea environments. I met a member of the MBARI communications team thanks to connections I formed during the MAS MBC program. I was invited to visit their headquarters in Moss Landing in February 2023 as my Capstone began to take shape. While there, I also visited the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Into the Deep, a first-of-its kind exhibition showcasing live deep-sea animals in close partnership with MBARI’s scientists and its groundbreaking technologies. The inspiration that I took from these experiences shine through in the setting and content of my story, and I’m very honored that they extended this opportunity to share my work with them and the world beyond!
As an individual on the autism spectrum, I brought my unique perspective to Scripps, and was so incredibly lucky to receive a world-class marine science education that included hands-on experiences like this. I firmly believe that creating a personal connection to ocean conservation issues can be the single largest driver of change. Motivated by my own connection to the ocean and the unique way that I interact with the world, I took advantage of my time at Scripps to create a Capstone project that connects the neurodivergent experience to the ocean through storytelling, art, and presenting scientific principles in a straightforward and personally meaningful way.
Now, I am so incredibly excited to return to MBARI and talk about Swim Down in more detail than ever. I will delve deep into the inspiration I took from MBARI and the Monterey Bay Aquarium, sharing my research process, motivations, and the impact that this project has had on me and others who have read