OSU grad student wins NMFS fellowship

Susan PiacenzaSusan Hilber Piacenza, an Oregon State University PhD candidate, has been awarded a prestigious National Marine Fisheries Service fellowship to study population dynamics of threatened and endangered sea turtles.

The fellowship, will provide $115,000 over the next  three years to support Piacenza’s work on the green sea turtle, Chelonia mydas. The turtle, considered threatened or endangered in most US and Mexican waters, appears to be recovering in other parts of the world.  “Not only is this good news for green sea turtles,” Piacenza said, “but it also represents an invaluable opportunity to study what happens to a large vertebrate population as it recovers from serious population decline.”

So far, signs of positive population growth among C. mydas colonies in Hawaii and Florida has been inferred from nesting beach surveys. What’s missing – and what Piacenza plans to study – is broader data on what happens to the animals after they hatch, and throughout their lives, and how that information fits into population estimates and trends.

The research could be useful to biologists and managers seeking to understand how populations of other threatened and endangered animals change over time, and as a population comes back from the brink. Solid, data-driven forecasting could also help scientists and the public understand how different conservation and management strategies might affect threatened animal populations.

Piacenza is working with researchers at the Southeast Fisheries Science Center Turtle Program in Miami, FL, and the Pacific Island Fisheries’ Marine Turtle Research Group in Honolulu, HI. Her PhD adviser in the OSU Department of Fisheries and Wildlife  is Dr. Selina Heppell.

The award is one of five population dynamics fellowships nationwide by NOAA/NMFS this year, and the first ever to an OSU graduate student. Piacenza’s application was sponsored by Oregon Sea Grant.

Learn more about the NOAA/NMFS Fellowships

Sea Grant and OSU at the Smithsonian

WASHINGTON, D.C. Two research efforts that got their start with Oregon Sea Grant support are among three from Oregon State University in the spotlight at the nation’s capital this summer in the Smithsonian Folklife Festival.

The festival, billed as the nationals largest annual cultural event, attracts more than 1 million visitors each year. It runs  June 27 – July 1 and July 4-8 on the National Mall.

This year, Folklife is celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Morrill Act, which established land grant colleges – the model from which, four decades ago, the national Sea Grant college program was drawn.

For its part in the festival, OSU chose to spotlight three innovative programs demonstrating how its Land Grant and Sea Grant Extension efforts contribute to research, public outreach and education, producing benefits for people, communities and economies around the state. They are:

Jae ParkSurimi School: With Sea Grant support, internationally recognized surimi expert Jae Park and  the OSU Seafood Laboratory in Astoria have developed research and continuing education that have helped transform a traditional Japanese seafood – a gel made from ground-up fish – into tasty new seafood products resulting in a $2.1 billion industry in the US over the past 30 years.

Making Waves: OSU’s O.H. Hinsdale Wave Research Laboratory will exhibit one of its wave-generating mini-flumes to show how scientists and engineers are learning how wave action affects coastal areas, helping communities better prepare for tsunami and hurricane waves. Sea Grant, with a program emphasis on hazard-resilient coastal communities, has supported several research projects at the lab.

Tech Wizards: Octaviano Merecias-Cuevas and others with OSU’s nationally recognized 4H program will be leading Folklife participants through the process of building robots. A bilingual after-school program that teaches technological skills to low-income, marginalized youth ages 8 through 18, Tech Wizards is now at more than 100 sites around the U.S.

For more information, visit the Smithsonian Folklife Festival site.




Rising ocean acidity threatens West Coast ecosystems

Humanity’s use of fossil fuels sends 35 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year. That has already begun to change the fundamental chemistry of the world’s oceans, steadily making them more acidic.

Now, a new high resolution computer model reveals that over the next 4 decades, rising ocean acidity will likely have profound impacts on waters off the West Coast of the United States, home to one of the world’s most diverse marine ecosystems and most important commercial fisheries.

These impacts have the potential to upend the entire marine ecosystem and affect millions of people dependent upon it for food and jobs.

George Waldbusser, an Oregon State University ocean ecologist and biogeochemist currently working under Oregon Sea Grant funding to study the effects of acidification on oysters and other commercially important bivalves, says it’s not clear precisely how rising acidity will affect different organisms. However, he adds, the changes will likely be broad-based. “It shows us that the windows of opportunity for organisms to succeed get smaller and smaller. It will probably have important effects on fisheries, food supply, and general ocean ecology.”

Japanese dock carries potential invaders

ODFW workers clean marine organisms from Japanese dockAGATE BEACH – A large section of a dock, ripped from the Japanese shore by last year’s tsunami and washed up this week on the Oregon coast, brought with it  a host of potentially unwelcomed visitors.

Scientists at OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center said the cement float contains about 13 pounds of organisms per square foot – an estimated 100 tons of wet plant and animal life. As of Thursday they had gathered living samples sample of multiple species of   barnacles, starfish, urchins, anemones, amphipods, worms, mussels, limpets, snails, solitary tunicates and algae – and there are dozens of species overall.

“This float is an island unlike any transoceanic debris we have ever seen,” said John Chapman, an OSU researcher who studies marine invasive species . “Drifting boats lack such dense fouling communities, and few of these species are already on this coast. Nearly all of the species we’ve looked at were established on the float before the tsunami; few came after it was at sea.”

Chapman said it was “mind-boggling” how these organisms survived their trek across the Pacific Ocean. The low productivity of open-ocean waters should have starved at least some of the organisms, he said.

“It is as if the float drifted over here by hugging the coasts, but that is of course impossible,” Chapman said. “Life on the open ocean, while drifting, may be more gentle for these organisms than we initially suspected. Invertebrates can survive for months without food and the most abundant algae species may not have had the normal compliment of herbivores. Still, it is surprising.”

Jessica Miller, an Oregon State University marine ecologist, said that a brown algae (Undaria pinnatifida), commonly called wakame, was present across most of the dock – and plainly stood out when she examined it in the fading evening light. She said the algae is native to the western Pacific Ocean in Asia, and has invaded several regions including southern California. The species identification was confirmed by OSU phycologist Gayle Hansen.

“To my knowledge it has not been reported north of Monterey, Calif., so this is something we need to watch out for,” Miller said.

Miller said the plan developed by the state through the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and Oregon State Parks is to scrape the dock and to bag all of the biological material to minimize potential spread of non-native species. But there is no way of telling if any of the organisms that hitchhiked aboard the float from Japan have already disembarked in nearshore waters.

“We have no evidence so far that anything from this float has established on our shores,” said Chapman. “That will take time. However, we are vulnerable. One new introduced species is discovered in Yaquina Bay, only two miles away, every year. We hope that none of these species we are finding on this float will be among the new discoveries in years to come.”

Read the complete story from OSU News & Research Information

(Photo credit: OSU Hatfield Marine Science Center, Newport)

First confirmed tsunami debris hits Oregon shores

AGATE BEACH – A chunk of concrete and steel that washed ashore Tuesday on this central Oregon coastal beach has been confirmed as a floating dock swept off the coast of Japan by last year’s devastating tsunami.

It is the first confirmed landing of tsunami debris on the Oregon coast. Scientists and governments have been tracking debris in the 15 months since the disaster, and expecting items to begin making landfall on the West Coast this summer.

According to The Oregonian, a plaque on the 66-foot-long section of debris helped the Japanese Consulate in Portland identify it as a dock cut loose in Misawa, a northern Japanese city struck by the powerful tsunami waves on March 11, 2011.

“It’s one of four floating docks washed away by the tsunami, which means there are three more floating somewhere possibly,” said Hirofumi Murabayashi, deputy consul general. “In Oregon this is the first item obviously from the tsunami.”

The consul has turned the matter over to the Oregon Department of Parks and Recreation, which has jurisdiction over the beach, to determine what to do about the chunk of debris, which measures 66 feet long by 19 feet wide by 7 feet tall.

Read the entire story in The Oregonian

Apply now for summer science communication fellowship

If you’re a senior undergraduate or graduate student interested in a career in science communication, you have until June 25 to apply for a summer Science Communication Fellowship with Oregon Sea Grant in Corvallis, OR.

Under the mentorship of communications director Joe Cone, the fellow  will have an opportunity to work with our professional communications team, developing and writing stories for the lay public – primarily for print, but potentially for Web, video or audio projects as well.

The fellow is required to maintain minimum enrollment requirements for their program of study during the summer months (undergraduates 1 credit, graduates 3 credits).

The fellowship is intended to run from approximately July 1 to October 1, 2012, with the possibility of extending into fall term.

For information about stipends, requirements and how to apply, visit the Oregon Sea Grant Website.

New Confluence looks at Oregon Fisheries

Confluence: Science & Fishermen Working TogetherOregon’s Fisheries: Scientists and Fishermen Working Together is the theme of the summer edition of Confluence, Oregon Sea Grant’s new magazine, available now in print and online.

The cover story, “You Talk and You Change the World,” highlights Sea Grant’s fruitful efforts to connect  Oregon’s coastal fishing communities with ocean and coastal researchers. Written by Nathan Gilles (the program’s 2011 communications intern, now a working journalist), the story traces more than a decade of work by Sea Grant Extension agents such as Ginny Goblirsch to get fishermen and scientists talking – and listening – to each other in small, regular, informal meetings. The resulting Scientist and Fishermen Exchange (SAFE) program provides researchers with the experience-proven insights and knowledge of those who spend their lives working with marine resources – and occasionally with valuable opportunities to conduct research directly from fishing vessels. At the same time, fishermen gain early access to research results, and the opportunity to play a part in the science that helps shape marine resource policy.

Additional articles look at new seafood processing techniques that are generating products, markets and jobs on the south coast, recent discoveries about how hypoxic “dead zones” may be affecting the reproductive capacity of certain fish and other organisms, and a surprising discovery by Sea Grant researcher Guillermo Giannico about where some Willamette Valley salmon spend their winters.

Published three times a year, the new magazine is available – with added video and other content not included in the print edition – at http://seagrant.oregonstate.edu/confluence, where a downloadable .pdf version is also available. Print copies are also available, free, by emailing  sea.grant.communications@oregonstate.edu (please include a name and mailing address).

Wave energy on tap at June 11 Science Pub Corvallis

Sea Grant wave energy exhibit at HMSC Visitor CenterMarine renewable energy – from waves and from the wind – is the topic of the June edition of Science Pub Corvallis.

Held on the second Monday of the month, 6 to 8 p.m. in the Old World Deli, 341 2nd St. in Corvallis, Science Pub is sponsored by the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, the Downtown Corvallis Association and OSU’s Terra magazine. Admission is free; food and drink are available to purchase.

For this month’s edition, Belinda Batten of  the Northwest National Marine Renewable Energy Center will discuss ongoing research into wave energy under way in Oregon and elsewhere. “We’ve got the technical side, the environmental side and the outreach to communities through Oregon Sea Grant. You don’t have that everywhere,” she says. Engineered systems, she adds, will need to survive extreme ocean conditions and minimize impact on the environment and traditional ocean uses.

NNMREC is a collaborative effort of Oregon State University and the University of Washington. Oregon Sea Grant is involved in the Center’s work through its ongoing public outreach and engagement efforts on the Oregon Coast.

Learn more about Sea Grant’s work in marine renewable energy.