Sea Grant research: learning-based tourism could spur major growth in travel industry

Children learn about octopuses at HMSC Visitor CenterNew research suggests that major growth in the travel, leisure and tourism industry in the coming century may be possible as more people begin to define recreation as a learning and educational opportunity — a way to explore new ideas and cultures, art, science and history.

But in a recent study published in the Annals of Tourism Research, John Falk, Oregon Sea Grant Professor of Free-Choice Learning, says that increasingly affluent and educated people around the world are ready to see travel in less conventional ways, and that lifelong learning and personal enrichment can compete favorably with sandy beaches or thrill rides.

“The idea of travel as a learning experience isn’t new, it’s been around a long time,” said John Falk, an international leader in the free-choice learning movement. Falk is among a group of Sea Grant professionals focusing their research on how people learn in their free time – through travel, in museums and aquariums, and through other experiences outside conventional classrooms.

At OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport, Dr. Shawn Rowe and colleagues are working under a $2.6 million National Science Foundation grant to create a Free-Choice Learning Laboratory, using high-tech tools to observe and analyze use of the Center’s public aquarium exhibits and what people take away from them.

Falk, meanwhile, holds one of two Free-Choice Learning professorships established by Sea Grant with the OSU Department of Science and Mathematics Education, which has developed a masters’ degree program in the emerging discipline.

Writing in the Annals of Tourism Research, Falk and his partners from the University of Queensland, Australia explore travel as part of a  “life-long and life-wide” learning experience, tracking the history of travel-for-learning back through the centuries, and examining how the experience has grown and changed in recent times.

“You’re already seeing many tour operators and travel agencies offer educational opportunities, things like whale watching, ecotourism,” Falk is quoted as saying in an article about the new research published today in Science Daily. “The National Park Service does a great job with its resources, teaching people about science, geology and history. The push for more international travel experiences as a part of formal education for students is an outgrowth of this concept.

“We’re convinced this is just the beginning of a major shift in how people want to spend their leisure time, and one that could have important implications for intellectual and cultural growth around the world.”

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Documentary follows Sea Grant-supported research into salmon disease

Jerri Bartholomew with juvenile salmonKLAMATH FALLS – A new documentary, airing Feb. 7 on Southern Oregon Public Television, looks at the work of an Oregon Sea Grant-funded research effort to understand more about a lethal parasite that can infect wild salmon in the Klamath River and elsewhere in the Northwest.

Dr. Jerri Bartholomew, a microbiologist and director of Oregon State University’s salmon disease laboratory, has been studying Ceratomyxa shasta since she was an undergraduate. The parasite is a major cause of mortatlity in juvenile salmon, and may infect up to 80 percent of outmigrating juveniles in the Klamath River.  Bartholomew’s work – much of it funded by Sea Grant –  has led to new understanding of the parasite’s unusual life cycle, and how changes in water temperature and other environmental factors can cause it to proliferate.

The documentary, Saving Salmon, was scripted, directed and produced by Judith Jensen, director of Educational Solutions, a Klamath Falls nonprofit. Sea Grant videographer Steve Roberts contributed footage to the project, which is scheduled to air at 9 pm Feb. 7 on SOPTV.

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New Website for Oregon Sea Grant

New Sea Grant WebsiteOregon Sea Grant has a brand new Website, with fresh content and a host of special features.

Program director Steve Brandt called it “a modern, engaging site that reflects Sea Grant’s mission and our status as an integrated program of research, education and public engagement.”

Visitors will find current news about Sea Grant’s ocean and coastal science initiatives, announcements of grant and fellowship opportunities, and profiles of Sea Grant-supported research and student scholars. Content ranges from short videos about marine safety and seafood buying  to in-depth features about critical  topics such as tsunami and climate change preparedness, marine spatial planning and invasive species.

The site provides access to hundreds of Sea Grant publications and videos – many of them free.

The site is built on the Drupal content management system, and was developed by Sea Grant communications, led by webmaster Pat Kight,  in cooperation with Oregon State University’s Web Communications and Central Web Services units.



State rolls out new tsunami hazard maps

Coos Bay tsunami mapThe state has issued the first of a planned series of 80 new, high-resolution maps that graphically illustrate the risks of tsunamis on the Oregon coast, this one covering Coos Bay.

The 48-by-52-inch map, published this week by the Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries (DOGAMI) shows in great detail which low-lying areas around Coos Bay are greatest at risk for tsunami inundation, by either a near-shore Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake or a more distant quake that sends waves traveling across the sea.

The agency is in the process of upgrading all its coastal tsunami maps, first produced in the early 1990s, to “incorporate all the best tsunami science that is available today,” according to a DOGAMI news release announcing the new map.

The map, in a printable, high-resolution format, is available on CD for $10.

The new, more detailed maps are based on the geologic record of previous tsunamis, as well as knowledge gained from recent earthquakes in Sumatra (2004), Chile (2010) and Japan (2011). They include projected tsunami wave height time series charts and a measurement of the exposure each community has to various tsunami scenarios, including a count of the number of buildings that would be inundated under each scenario. Evacuation routes are also shown.

DOGAMI has been working with many collaborators, including Oregon Sea Grant, to get the new maps produced and in the hands of the public, planners, emergency managers, elected officials and other local decision makers. The effort is tied to  NOAA’s National Tsunami Hazard Mitigation Program, which DOGAMI administers in Oregon.

The agency plans to release additional maps as soon as they are ready, with a goal of having new maps for the entire coast by the middle of next year. The next set, due for release in February, will cover the North Coast from Netarts to Rockaway Beach, including Tillamook.

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Oregon floods: fish should fare better than people

Calapooia River flooding near Albany, Jan. 20, 2012Heavy rain and melting snowpack that flooded Western Oregon last week turned creeks and rivers into broad, brown torrents that might look like bad news for fish. But an Oregon Sea Grant fisheries specialist says his research suggests the opposite.

Guillermo Giannico, a research professor in Oregon State University’s Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, has conducted studies showing that fish – especially native species – can find refuge and food in flooded grass-seed fields.

Giannico’s research grew out of a project by fellow OSU researcher Stan Gregory to map the historic path of the Willamette River. The Willamette and its many tributaries once were more complex, braided streams. Multiple channels dispersed the impact of flooding, but dams, housing developments and forest transition have since funneled many rivers into single channels that run fast and furious during floods.

Giannico and others wondered how fish adapted to the change. Floods have happened for thousands of years, he said, and fish traditionally escaped high water in the main river stems by moving to off-channel habitat.

Turns out they still do. During seasonal floods, researchers took a look at ditches, low-lying farmland and other spots that are above water most of the year. To their surprise, they found 14 fish species — 11 of them native.

“That’s high diversity for this area, more than I would have bet we were going to get,” Giannico said.

Giannico noted a couple implications from the findings. Salmon, steelhead and other native fish, he said, are keenly tuned to changes in light and water temperature, and move to sheltering habitat — even if it turns out to be a flooded grass seed field. Invasive fish, often warm-water species, don’t get it. They’re unable to respond to the clues. As a result, native fish get a temporary break from predation and competition for food.

“Floods have always been a dynamic part of the system, much the same way that snow is for elk in Yellowstone,” said Giannico  “Over time, animals will adapt to get the most out of their habitat. We have found that native fish have adjusted their behavior to use these floodplains, mostly in agricultural lands, to great benefit.”

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Sea Grant coastal erosion, climate work in Terra

High waves on the Oregon coastIncreasing winter storms since the 1980s have been sending higher, harder waves crashing into the Oregon coast, cutting away at seacliffs, roads and infrastructure in an area never known for its seismic stability. Scientists say the increased storm activity is consistent with predictions for the sorts of hazards the world’s coastlines will face as an effect of changing climate.

In Oregon, Sea Grant is partnering with communities and researchers to better understand the growing risks of coastal erosion, and to help counties and towns come up with plans for adapting to changes happening now, and predicted for the future.

In the latest issue of Terra, Oregon State University’s research magazine, Nick Houtman focuses on coastal hazard research and public engagement, highlighting the work Oregon Sea Grant is doing with Tillamook County and the town of Neskowin, where coastal hazards specialist Pat Corcoran has been working with a local group to develop the state’s first coastal hazards action plan.

Read the full article at Terra online

Goodbye, Wecoma; hello, Oceanus

R/V WecomaNEWPORT – The Research Vessel Wecoma, which has been serving Oregon State University marine scientists for more than 35 years, is being retired from service and replaced with a somewhat smaller ship from the University National Oceanographic Laboratory System fleet.

The 184-foot Wecoma made her last cruise in November; her replacement, the Oceanus, is expected to dock in Newport in February, after making the long voyage from her former port at the Woods Hole National Oceanographic Institute on the East Coast, down through the Panama Canal and up the Pacific Coast to Oregon. A retirement celebration for the Wecoma will be held at the Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport in March.

Both vessels are owned by the National Science Foundation, and operated by the University National Oceanographic Laboratory System, a consortium of 60 academic research institutions that operate 16 vessels around the country.

Mark Abbott, dean of the College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences at OSU, had approached the National Science Foundation for  a rapid analysis of the two ships to see which one would be more cost-effective to operate over the next several years.  A team of technicians returned the verdict – a strong recommendation for the 177-foot Oceanus – after discovering some problems with corrosion and other issues with the Wecoma.

R/V Oceanus“There are a few differences in science capabilities,” Abbott said, “but Oceanus is very capable and will be more cost-effective to operate over the next five to 10 years, at which point we hope to have a new ship.’

Read the full story from OSU News & Research Information

National Ocean Council releases draft ocean policy implementation plan

Scientists, fishermen and the environmental community are applauding this month’s release of a draft National Ocean Policy Implementation Plan by the National Ocean Council and the Obama administration.

The plan, released last week, lays out more than 56 actions the federal government will take to improve the health of the nation’s oceans, coasts and Great Lakes.

“President Obama has displayed historic leadership in setting priorities to address the most pressing threats facing our oceans,” Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar said. “Water is the lifeblood of our planet, and America’s treasured coasts and seas make up a significant part of Interior’s stewardship portfolio. Implementing this plan is a major priority for Interior and its agencies.”

Among other things, the draft calls for strengthening and integrating the nation’s network of ocean observing systems, sensors, data collection and management and mapping capabilities into a single national system, and integrating that system with international efforts. The council has already established as a prototype of the kind  tool that could make information easily available to everyone from scientists and policymakers to teachers and their students.

It also calls for ecosystem-based management approaches to fisheries and other ocean resources.  Where traditional management approaches typically focus on a single species or use, the draft notes, “ecosystems are complex, dynamic assemblages of diverse, interacting organisms, habitats, and environmental factors shaped by natural and human influences.”

Integrated information systems and ecosystem-based management were among the high-priority tools suggested by the West Coast Regional Ocean Research and Information Plan, developed in 2009 by Oregon Sea Grant and four other West Coast Sea Grant programs at the behest of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The new draft plan also calls for an investment in ocean literacy programs for America’s schools and universities,

The government is soliciting public comments on the plan through Feb. 27, 2012. To read the full plan and submit comments, visit

Funding Opportunity: Sea Grant Aquaculture Research Program 2012 Request for preproposals

NOAA Sea Grant has announced a funding opportunity for its Aquaculture Research Program 2012 to support the development of environmentally and economically sustainable ocean, coastal, or Great Lakes aquaculture.

Priorities for this FY 2012 competition include: Research to inform specific regulatory decisions; Research that supports multi-use spatial planning; and Socio-economic research targeted to understand aquaculture in a larger context. Proposals must be able to express how the proposed work will have a high probability of significantly advancing U.S. marine aquaculture development in the short-term (1-2 years) or medium-term (3-5 years).

To view the full announcement Go to and perform a basic search using the Funding Opportunity Number: NOAA-OAR-SG-2012-2003249.

This is a two-stage competition, with preproposals and full proposals. Each stage has specific guidance and deadlines, stated in the announcement, with Preliminary Proposals due 2/7/2012, and Full Proposals due 4/17/2012. Applicants must submit a preproposal in order to be eligible to submit a full proposals. Preliminary Proposals are to be submitted directly to the National Office via e-mail.

Pay careful attention to the instructions and contact Sarah Kolesar, Research Coordinator for the Oregon Sea Grant Program (, 541-737-8695) as soon as possible to discuss proposals.

Rising ocean temperatures: More male fish, fewer females?

Warming oceans could cause some fish species to produce too many males – and too few females – to sustain their populations, say scientists in Spain and Oregon.

Time magazine reports that Francesc Piferrer and other scientists working at Barcelona’s Institute of Marine Sciences have proved that rising water temperatures caused some species of fish to produce a disproportionate ratio of males to females, through a mechanism called epigenesis.

Unlike humans, whose sex is determined at fertilization by combinations of chromosomes from their parents, sex differentiation in most fish occurs during embryonic development. And in some species, the trigger that causes some fish to develop ovaries (and thus become female) turns out to be temperature-linked. Piferrer’s research suggests that a 3°C or 4°C temperature increase (roughly 37-39°F) could cause those species to go from a roughly 50-50 male-female ration to 80 percent male – bad news for the species’ survival.

Oregon State University fish biologist Scott Heppell, who studies rockfish and other species with Oregon Sea Grant support, reports that some canary rockfish populations are already showing more males than females. Although there are too many variables, thus far, for scientists to pinpoint the cause, Heppell says “The data shows a skew toward males, and the modeling shows that if this skew is real, then the population is in more trouble.”

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