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Every day I get to go out on the Ocean I feel like the luckiest person in the world!

I was in Portland OR, attending the Ecological Society of America (ESA) meeting, when I first heard the good news that I had gotten the Malouf Marine Studies Scholarship! I could not believe it, and was so exited. I ran all over the Oregon Convention Center, trying to find my adviser to tell him the good news! I finally had the funding to start doing field work and begin my PhD research.

During September I had my first chance to go out with Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) Marine Reserves Team, and learn how their Hook and Line survey methods works. A method I plan to use as part of my research.  I learned so much those few days I was out there with ODFW’s David Wagman (also known as Wolfe, bottom left). He is a really good mentor and gave me great suggestions on how to improve my proposed research.

Photos: Alex Avila, Participating in ODFW’s Hook and Line Surveys

Photo: Alex Avila. Wolfe measuring fish

Unfortunately that was the last outing of the season. I need to finish writing all my permit application in the winter in order to be ready to hit the ground running next year.

NOAA scholarships have given me the opportunities I would have never even dream possible. Just like Oregon Sea Grant is part of NOAA Sea Grant College program , so is another scholarship that has greatly impacted my life, the Dr. Nancy Foster Scholarship, from NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries. I’m currently serving aboard the NOAA ship Okeanos in the Gulf of Mexico, as part of a program collaboration opportunity that was given to me as a Dr. Nancy Foster scholar. I’m here to serve as in data logging and samples processing. At the end of the expedition I will be writing a report that will help prioritize data for researchers, ensuring that the data can be efficiently used.

Photo courtesy of NOAA Office of Exploration and Research (OER)

Photo courtesy of NOAA Office of Exploration and Research (OER)

The  NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer expedition is running from November 29 through December 21 2017, and is investigating deep-sea habitats and the associated marine communities in the Gulf of Mexico basin. Through the Okeanos expedition,  other researchers and I, are exploring and discovering vulnerable marine habitats and investigating areas relevant to resource managers, submerged cultural heritage sites,  and marine protected areas. Okeanos is equipped with telepresence, meaning people on shore – whether scientists or the general public – and anyone can watch the remotely operated vehicle (ROVs) dives live in real time (click here to stream video).  In fact, next week, we will be conducting a Facebook Live event from the NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer in the Gulf of Mexico this Tuesday, December 12th 2017 at 11:00 am PST  (2:00 pm EST). Science Co-lead Dr. Diva Amon, Expedition Coordinator Brian Kennedy, and I will be there to answer everyone questions! Check out Diva’s, NOAA’s OER and my twitter profiles for daily updates from the Okeanos!

Left to right: Diva Amon, Brian Kennedy, Alex Avila. Photo courtesy of NOAA Office of Exploration and Research (OER)

 

 

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Being welcomed into a new workplace

Posted by: | November 6, 2017 | 1 Comment |

Over the first few months of my fellowship I have been overwhelmed with welcoming gestures.  It wasn’t until a tiny hamburger sticker came my way that I actually stopped to think about it…

The first day of a position normally starts with an introduction to your work space and people you will be working with, and I did get those introductions…along with introductions to every single person in the Salem DLCD office.  Patty Snow, the director of the Oregon Coastal Program personally introduced me to every person in the office and showed me all of the good spots!  I was blown away that a program director would take the time out of her busy day just to show a fellow around (seriously!  She does a tone.  If you don’t believe me take a look at her desk!).  Andy Lanier, my mentor and the Marine Affairs Coordinator for the Coastal Program , then sat down with me during my first week and straight out asked me “what do you want from this fellowship?” He explained it was his goal to make sure I get the experience that I was hoping for.

My desk is right near some of the Geo spacial Team desks.  All of the “GIS” people as I like to call them.  ell the GIS people all have wooden letters symbolizing the first letter of their names hanging on the front of their work space. I was truly touched when Cy, the Geo spacial team leader (from what I understand) also got me one of these letters!  I have never felt so welcomed into a work space.

It really shows that small gestures go a long way.

I’ve thought long and hard about how I want to use this blog space and I’ve decided photos are much more fun than words.  So instead of describing all of my experiences, here are some photos from them!

As part of my introduction into this project, Andy and I have been making some pit stops along the coast while on our way to other meetings.  This spot is Sea Rock!
 Far from rocky, but still beautiful – Florence Dunes
 Cape Perpetua
 Yaquina Head – What you can’t see in this photo are the 3 whales swimming around within this cove.  The wave climate was intense this day and wave sets were coming in that I couldn’t believe.  Yet the whales were not phased at all and moved around the jagged rocks like dancers.
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DLCD Month #1

Posted by: | October 7, 2017 | 1 Comment |

What a whirlwind of month!  Things have been very busy with exciting new personal and professional experiences!  From crab fishing to preparing for the first Territorial Sea Plan Rocky Shores working group meeting.  Traveling with the Coastal Program has been eye opening.  Even though I have been in Oregon for 2 years, there is still so much to learn about marine policy.  It has really made me appreciate the work that the coastal program does.

In preparation for the first TSPRS Working Group Andy put me to work on the OregonOcean.info website as well as the Citizens Guide to the Amendment Process and a needs survey.  Since, the website has been published along with the document.  Check it out at the link above!

We have also been traveling a bunch for different conferences spanning from Portland to Florence with many more to come!

Week 1 – OWET Conference in Portland.  Pictured is a marine cable cross section.

 

Week 2 (I think) – Coastal Staff Meeting in Newport, OR.  We also walked the evacuation route and tried to figure out how many fellows/past fellows we could fit in a photo!

 

Week 2 – My dogter, Timber, Mananita State Park after my first morning crabbing!

 

Week 4 – Florence Oregon for the Symposium by the Sea Conference

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I sat down to write this final blog post right after I finished my final day of field sampling for the year… and what a year it has been! When Sea Grant awarded me the Malouf Scholarship I was just starting to get a grasp of what I wanted to do for my PhD. I knew I wanted to work with juvenile rockfish (because collecting them is one of the most fun things on the face of the earth) and examine the role of oceanographic conditions during rockfish development in determining rockfish growth and survival. Over the course of this past year I developed my research plans, successfully defended my dissertation proposal, and just wrapped up a successful (though at times very frustrating) rockfish collection season. While my time at OSU is focused on accomplishing my research, Sea Grant has encouraged me to branch out beyond academics and I’ve discovered the world of scientific communication and educational outreach. This last blog will be a recap of the field work and outreach the Malouf Scholarship enabled and inspired me to accomplish.

 

My field collections of rockfish involve a three-pronged attack, or a triple threat, to capture rockfish during their early, offshore life stage (pelagic juvenile stage), their transition from offshore to nearshore (recruit stage), and once they have settled to nearshore habitat (benthic juvenile stage). While I was only able to collect 7 pelagic juvenile yellowtail rockfish during a research cruise on a NOAA ship, I was able to team up with ODFW, the Oregon Coast Aquarium, and commercial urchin divers in Port Orford to collect 622 black and yellowtail rockfish recruits (these species look very similar at this stage and I still need to ID them all). In addition, I did some freediving (with the help of two amazing undergraduate students) and SCUBA diving to collect 120 black and 25 yellowtail benthic juveniles.

I teamed up with Professor Aaron Galloway at the Oregon Institute of Marine Biology to do some diving in Port Orford to collect rockfish. Photo credit: Aaron Galloway

I was fortunate to work with two undergraduate students this summer Zach (left) is a Sea Grant Summer Scholar working with ODFW’s Marine Reserves team and Madeline (right) is an REU student working with me on rockfish recruitment patterns.

 

Though collecting rockfish is an absolute blast, the oceanographic conditions this year made my field work frustrating at times. An unprecedented number of pyrosomes clogged and threatened to tear our nets on the NOAA research ship, limiting our ability to trawl for pelagic juvenile rockfish. Unexpectedly late storms in late April broke two of our moorings used for collecting recruit stage rockfish, and three more moorings (of a total of 16) disappeared for unknown reasons. Finally, quillback and copper rockfish (some of my targeted species) never really showed up this year. While highly variable survival and recruitment of rockfish is to be expected, it was quite disappointing not to see any of these guys. I had really fond memories of night time snorkel collections of them the previous summer. After several night snorkels, I learned that these rockfish sleep on Egregia menziesii (feather boa kelp) and when you shine your dive light on the kelp blades, their eyes and swim bladders reflect light and look like Christmas lights on an underwater tree (I wish I had taken some pictures to share with you!). Now that the field season is over, and all the stress of repairing/rebuilding/replacing broken moorings, scheduling boat trips, and all the other logistics that go into a collecting rockfish has washed away, I find that I am already looking forward to next spring/summer.

 

Collecting and learning about rockfish is my passion, however, over the course of this past year I have found that I really enjoy teaching others about rockfish. When applying for this scholarship and identifying where I wanted to focus my outreach efforts, I thought that teaching children would the most fun and effective way of teaching others about rockfish because children are so curious, excitable, and, if they were anything like me when I was younger, children can’t wait to tell their parents about everything they’ve learned. Through OSU’s Winter Wonderings program, I was able to teach 3rd-5th graders about how old rockfish can get, how scientists use their ear bones (otoliths) to age them, and tried to teach them how important this information was for fisheries scientists. I found that I got a little ambitious with the last point, but the students loved looking at otolith cross sections through a microscope. I also started volunteering for the Oregon Coast Aquarium as an interpretive diver. This was an incredible opportunity to be in the water and talking with an audience of aquarium visitors about our coastal resources. Most recently, I participated in an outreach event at Hatfield called the Sustainable Fisheries Workshop for Teachers where I taught several middle and high school teachers how to distinguish juvenile rockfish to species and how closely related species can have very different life history characteristics (life spans, reproductive capacity, and development rates). All of these outreach events have been really fun and I am excited to revamp my lesson plans to improve them for next year.

Helping teachers pick up the fine details of identifying juvenile rockfish to species. Photo credit: Su Sponaugle

 

Working with Oregon Sea Grant has really opened my eyes to the importance of outreach and communicating my work with the people it may affect. I now feel comfortable talking to fisherman (commercial and recreational) about rockfish populations and how they naturally change through time. As my research progresses I am looking forward to communicating how oceanographic conditions affect the survival of young rockfish and how survival of young rockfish translates into changes in the adult population. Now all I have to do is begin analyzing my data to discover this relationship! I wanted to take this opportunity to thank everyone at Oregon Sea Grant for awarding me this scholarship, and for all the encouragement and support this year. It has been an incredible experience working with you all. Thank you very much!

The Oregon Coast Aquarium provides a unique opportunity to interact with aquarium visitors while you are diving. I was able to teach these visitors about plastic pollution and about rockfish. Photo credit: Nick Brown

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Interview Participation

Posted by: | September 11, 2017 | 1 Comment |

Participation in the interview process for a Sea Grant Fellow position was one of the most valuable parts of my Fellowship. While initially it may seem like an extra task added onto an already busy schedule is actually exactly the kind of preparation Sea Grant seeks to provide its fellows in order to help them enter the work force. Just the initial read of applicant’s materials helped me see how to improve my own, and not just because they had better word choice. I started to see where I had not fully explained something and left an area open to interpretation that I actually had very specific answers too. I realized that if I cannot fully explain a subject in my cover letter that I should not bring it up at all, because the blank will be filled in by the reader and that distracts from other more important subjects. I also finally understood the value of letters of recommendation, especially from those who had clearly developed a personal working relationship with a student. Letters of recommendation that highlighted the same projects or attributes of a students cover letter demonstrated that the student was under no delusions about their strengths or even weaknesses they sought to improve. While grades where a factor and where important to complete the full picture of a student they carried far less weight than I thought. Really all they are need for is to demonstrate is that a person is capable of hard work and following through, or that they have acquired skills needed for a particular job.

Through discussion of the materials with other members of the selection committee I began to understand what parts of a cover letter we all responded to. Direct statements such as “This is my dream job, I would take it above all others.” where incredibly well received. While statements such as “I would like this job so that I can stay in Oregon” were less well received unless they were followed up with further explanation of a person’s commitment to the area or a particular issue. Sea Grant really responds to passion and commitment, they want students who are going to use this opportunity to develop further, not just as something to do while they figure out a better option. It was especially interesting to see how we all balanced the multiple parts of an application against each other, grades verse dedication to a certain area or letters of recommendation verse personal statement. Each person on the panel valued things differently and through our conversation we started to put together a whole picture of what this person would look like as a fellow. I really understand now how to make myself stand out to different kinds of interviewers.

The actual interviews helped me understand how my personality and interview style is viewed by different people. There was an incredible amount of understanding from the panel about nerves and how those are presented in different people. I learned that it was ok to be nervous as long as I addressed it if my composure slipped or I answered a question weirdly. Observing this part of the process and discussing it afterwards will definitely save me some sleep at 4 am in the future. I used to think that panel interviews were worse than one on one interviews but through this process I learned that they are actually better. Every person carries with them unavoidable biases based on their personal experiences, but its is also our experiences that help us balance them out, especially when combined with other peoples. As we discussed the differences in each candidates in person interview there were some things we all noticed and agreed on and others that surprised us and needed explaining from another person. I deeply value this experience and took away a lot more than I thought I would initially.

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So I think I’ll start off by saying that I am writing my final yet very late blog post from Kawasaki, Japan. It’s currently 6:41 in the morning and my jet lag has still not adjusted itself. I got here three days ago and it’s been quite the culture shock. After leaving Oregon, I drove and stayed in Santa Cruz for two days, then I drove back home to Redlands where I stayed for a week, until going to San Diego for a night before leaving for Japan. This rapid change in scenery and cultures that’s occurred in the last week and half has me a bit discombobulated, making my time in Oregon feel like it was a year ago rather than a week. Being here in Japan especially, where the only things I can say to anyone is “Konichiwa” and “Arigato,” really make me appreciate the fact that I was living in a place where I could actually communicate with its members of society. So this final blog post is dedicated to those members of Oregon’s South Coast that I befriended during my 10 weeks and the knowledge I gained from them about something my knowledge is a bit rusty on: relationships.

I think it’s fairly obvious that older people are full of experience and knowledge about many subjects, sometimes with wisdom, sometimes without. It’s been a while since I was in a real relationship myself so whenever I get the chance to connect with the older generation I make it a point to observe them and ask about their love life if they’re comfortable discussing it. I spent my free time with more “old” people than people my age this summer so I will tell you some of the advice they imparted upon me and what I learned through observing them with their significant other. I would prefer to give a more detailed account about the event where each person gave me advice because I think it gives the advice context and depth but in order to preserve anonymity I will just list the things that I learned from all these good ole geezers.

  • Find someone with similar interests with you. Whether it’s something like bird photography or yoga or any other niche little thing, I think having someone you can share these unique experiences and interests with is important.
  • A person who you can laugh with is truly sweet or as one person put it, “someone you can talk sh*t to.” The two people who told me about this one would just clown on each other constantly and both would just laugh about it afterwards. The world seemed lighter being around them and their banter.
  • Now this one was a bit more explicit but someone who you can link up with in bed in a cooperative and positive manner is apparently very important.
  • Be real. Don’t try to be the cool guy. Know what you’re feeling and say how you feel.
  • Find someone where you genuinely love the person that they are. 
  • “Realize that all the sh*t you think is big in your twenties is little minor sh*t when you look back on it in your thirties.” Ex: “He wants to hang out with his friends tonight. Back then I would freak out and be all upset but now I’m like pushing him out the door to do it.”
  • Get your heart broken as much as possible. As tough as it is in the moment, looking back on it you’ll realize it’s the times you grew most as a person and learned the most about yourself.
  • Don’t forget your friends in a relationship. You should never have to ask for someone’s permission to hang out with your friends, especially not your significant other.
  • “The second marriage is usually the right one.” (ain’t that encouraging?)
  • Cherish the times you have away from that person. That’s the time you have to do something for yourself, like watching TV where you’re the one in control of the remote.
  • Find someone who you want to take care of. People don’t stay healthy forever and being with someone whom you genuinely want to care for is special
  • “Acknowledge and accept that every relationship is f***ed up.” Relationships are hard and they require work from both parties in order to succeed. 

 

 

 

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At the very end of the legislative session, on the very last day, Oregon took a big step in the fight against the impacts of ocean acidification and hypoxia.  Oregon’s Legislative Assembly passed a bill called SB 1039, relating to ocean chemistry. This bill declares state policy on ocean acidification and hypoxia and forms a 13 member council, the Oregon Coordinating Council on Ocean Acidification and Hypoxia. Why are either of those things important?

First, setting state policy demonstrates to the public, neighboring states and the world that OAH is affecting Oregon, that Oregon is a leader in research and monitoring on OAH, and that Oregon is taking the impacts of OAH seriously. Now, to be fair, Oregon has arguably been demonstrating some of these already by participating in regional collaborations to address OAH like the West Coast OAH Science Panel, the International OA Alliance, and the OAH Monitoring Task Force with Federal agencies. Regional collaboration is valuable, but Oregon’s marine resources and coastal communities face specific local impacts of OAH too. Acknowledging that the impacts of OAH are especially profound in Oregon and threatens Oregon’s resources and communities is critical to work towards finding solutions to mitigate and adapt to OAH.

So, how will this bill actually help address OAH in Oregon? Big thorny problems are daunting. No one change in policy or program will solve them. There are pros and cons to almost all ideas to address big problems. Limited funding, capacity and will needs to be focused on the ideas that stand the most chance to make the biggest difference while minimizing the costs. The Oregon Coordinating Council on Ocean Acidification (OA Council) hopes to do just that. By formally gathering representatives from state agencies, academia, fishing and shellfish industries, Native American tribes, and other thinkers and charging them with coordinating the Oregon’s response to the impacts of OAH, Oregon hopes to effectively address OAH in a way that works for Oregon.

The OA Council is charged with identifying research and monitoring priorities to better understand OAH, and recommending priority actions the state could take to address OAH. Maybe those actions include active mitigation, increasing monitoring and research capacity, identifying socioeconomic impacts of OAH, increasing public awareness of OAH or leveraging local work on OAH in coordination with regional and even international efforts. Other states, such as Maine, Maryland, and Washington have taken a similar approach to addressing OAH, forming multi-stakeholder panels to coordinate state action.

Addressing ocean acidification could be contentious because it may involve prioritizing some uses of the ocean over others. For instance, protecting or restoring eel grass beds has been proposed by scientists as a way to help mitigate acidic ocean conditions, at least near the eel grass. Eel grass could help oysters thrive, but can make it harder to harvest the oysters. One method to harvest oysters involves dredging the sediment to collect the oysters, but dredging disrupts eel grass, at least temporarily. So, how to design a program of restoring eel grass to protect the shellfish industry without displacing the very industry we are trying to help? Having extensive stakeholder involvement from the very beginning is the best way to find solutions and broker compromises that can actually be implemented.

My role in the Governor’s office was to support the drafting the language and making sure interested parties were aware of developments as the legislature considered the bill. Much of the work coming up with a concept for the bill happened before I joined the Governor’s office, but I still felt a sense of ownership watching the bill work its way from introduction, through amendments, through Senate and House committees and finally seeing it get passed.

My time in the Governor’s office has now ended and I’ve been reflecting on what I accomplished during my year as a Natural Resources Policy Fellow. I found working on policies to combat the effects of climate change on the ocean was the most compelling and interesting part of my work. The OA Council stands out to me as a concrete step forward to address ocean acidification, one of the repercussions of climate change that is already affecting Oregon’s waters.

 

 

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In standard fashion, a week after finishing this internship, it is really starting to hit me how lucky I was to have been surrounded by such incredible people this summer. From prepping for the final presentations to the last minute literature review on community engagement evaluation, the last two weeks of the internship were a whirlwind with no down time. Since that time there just hasn’t seemed a time to collect my thoughts and finish off this final blog (sorry Sea Grant!) Two flights and a U-Haul trip later (more on this in a hot minute), I was right back in the swing of things. Four hours after my getting picked up from the airport I was sitting in a lecture hall in New Britain Connecticut getting briefed on the syllabus for the upcoming semester. I know I’ve got plenty more to experience, but I’d like to think I’ve done a fair share of traveling for my age. Yet of all my experiences, coming home always feels the weirdest. Feeling like your experiences have given you new perspectives on life and helped shape you more into who you really are. Then coming home to find that, while you were out there exploring and growing, life at home had just kept on going without you. Home hadn’t changed a bit. Which to be honest can be pretty nice, but at the same time makes you just want to scream. I’ve got so many stories to share, but no audience to listen to them.

This summer has been different to all the traveling that I’ve done in the past. I wasn’t backpacking my way through Europe while I should have been in class, hitch hiking through Nepal or diving in the South Pacific in the name of science. Newport Oregon was the closest to home that I’ve spent an entire summer in 3-4 years. That feels pretty odd when I write it out. But what’s even weirder, is that it I felt more out of my comfort zone this summer in my own country than I did in any of my trips in recent memory. For the longest time I couldn’t figure out why that was. The people I was surrounded by were incredibly friendly and I was in a state that I had dreamed about visiting for years, why would I be out of my comfort zone?

Until this point I had only met individual peers whose commitment and motivation just caused you to respect them. This summer I found myself living with 18 of those people all at once. Every single one of them joked around like a normal person, but get them on the topic of their field or their passion and they would blow you away. It was humbling and inspiring. Being surrounded by so many incredibly intelligent and motivated people properly intimidated me at first. What was I doing there? I was older than they were and still procrastinated so hard that my final blog post was a week late (my bad). Did I have what it would take to make it in this field? Oddly enough, at the same time that I was nervous, I was hopeful that there were so many amazing young people who hadn’t decided to chase the money. Instead they chose a career to make a difference in the world. I had found a group of people who cared more about helping the planet more than the nice things money could buy. Intimidation gave way to motivation and I wanted to do as much as I could for the environment that I loved so much. Maybe I couldn’t make it in the hard sciences, but I feel like I knew that all along. I’m a people person who loves the environment and I reckon the best way of doing my part is to work with the people.

Alright introspective monologue over. Onto more important things:

 

The Objective Top 3 list of the Summer at Hatfield Marine Science Center


Forward: Top 3 was a joke that originated in Angelina making fun of me for saying it constantly. It turned into a way to exclaim something that is properly epic. Saying something in the top 3 does not rank first, second or third, but rather a collective top 3. These are some of the things that stood out this summer and get the nostalgia running pretty hard.

 

Top 3 Modes of transportation:

  1. Hatfield marine science center foldable bikes
  2. Begging the Californian interns to drive us around
  3. U-Haul Truck: Zach and I had our flights home out of Seattle. We had originally figured we’d be able to hitch a ride with someone, but the Wednesday before the internship ended we realized that was not the case. As a semi joke a friend of ours suggested renting a U-Haul since we had to be 25 to rent a car. After having a good laugh we took a look into it. Not only was it cheaper than renting a car or taking a bus/shuttle combo, we only had to be 16 and could drop it off in any of the U-Haul drop off points in Seattle! So without further hesitation we rented a full size (the only size available) and drove this bad boy 6 hours north. Was it the most extra mode of transportation? Possibly. Was it genius? Well.. we would like to think so. Did we have a blast doing it? You betcha.

Top 3 Cinnamon Rolls (No brainer on this one):

  1. Fishtail Café
  2. Fishtail Café
  3. Fishtail Café

 

Top 3 Waitresses at Fishtail Café

  1. The sweet middle-aged lady that calls Zach and I baby
  2. The sweeter older lady that refers to Zach and I as her boys
  3. The 20 something lady that assumed we were there to flirt with her (We just wanted cinnamon buns)

 

Top 3 “Songs” of the Summer

  1. Norf Norf by Vince Staples
  2. The entire Moana Soundtrack
  3. The entirety of Funk Wave Bounce Vol. 1 by Calvin Harris

The last two albums were basically extended songs as that is all we listened to this summer.

 

Top 3 Movies of the summer

  1. Moana – watched it 3 times and listened to the soundtrack ~a million times
  2. Shrek – ability to quote this movie is amazing
  3. The Dark Knight – So many people hadn’t seen this movie??

 

Top 3 worst Lil Yachty lyrics – Lil Yachty is a terrible rapper, but his terrible lyrics are one of the things that really brings people together.

  1. “You need to stay up out them streets if you can’t take the heat. Cause it get cold like Minnesota, cold like Minnesota.” – Because he’s been to Minnesota and its “really cold there”
  2. “Almost had a lifetime sentence, but I beat it, shout out to Pat! Pat, that’s my lawyer, he got me off them charges. 8 stacks for that boy, he took care of the boy” – Hits a soft spot because we, regardless of gender, are part of the “boyssssss”
  3. “Remember that time I put those pepperoni on your face. Made you a creature. Now I think about you, every single time I eat pizza.” – Top 3 most heartfelt love lyrics of all time, FOR SURE.

 

Top 3 Activities to Participate in on the Hatfield Dorm Porches

  1. Cold Ones and Ice Cream Porch Nights – A time for people to come together and talk about science, our feelings, Lil Yachty, race relations in the U.S., travel stories, and anything that comes to mind. A proper judgment free zone.
  2. Beer Can Hockey w/ broom sticks– self explanatory
  3. Impromptu dancing while waiting for any of the Californian’s to drive us places.

 

Top 3 Exclamations

  1. YA BOYYYY – A true classic way to welcome someone into your home or welcome yourself into someone else’s home
  2. TOP 3 “insert object being pointed at”, TOP 3 “insert another object” – just a great way to display affection of whatever you’re looking at.
  3. I AM SHOOK, I TELL YOU, SHOOK. – Usually exclaimed after Game of Thrones.

 

Top 3 Things to get stressed about

  1. Lack of proper signage at the Marine Reserves
  2. Lateness of blog posts
  3. Game of Thrones

 

Top 3 things spotted while snorkeling in Newport Harbor

  1. Some kelp
  2. Rocks
  3. TWO crabs

 

This could go on forever, but this is already super late. So I will finish it here. Thank you everyone for a wicked summer. Especially Sea Grant staff for organizing everything and constantly being supportive of us.

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Hello Everyone,

I will not be graduating until early 2018, so this is not my last post as an Oregon Sea Grant Scholar. However, this IS my last post as a Robert E. Malouf Scholar. With that in mind, I decided I would give a taste of what I have been doing this summer, but leave the “whole shebang” for my final post.

Recall, my project is characterizing metformin, a pharmaceutical drug, as a contaminant of emerging concern (CEC) in the lower Columbia River estuary. Fully characterizing a CEC in the environment should obviously include an ecosystem component. Thanks to the Malouf scholarship, I am currently exploring the effects of metformin on the lower food web.

This summer is best described as a series of never-ending lab experiments and instrumentation. It turns out that testing the effect of metformin on phytoplankton and microbes is harder than it looks! Currently, my lab bench looks like an explosion of flasks, vials, pipettes, and sediment. Like most scientists, I spend more of my time washing and prepping experiments than I do actually collecting data – an unromantic fact of the scientific existence that the public tends to ignore. I will focus on my phytoplankton work, since the microbe experiments are currently taking an unexpected turn (more on that in the future!).

Most of my phytoplankton work has revolved around the PAM fluorometer – an awesome device that measures the kinetics of fluorescence in photosynthetic cells.

The simple beauty of PAM.

If you recall basic photobiology, photosynthesis (the production of energy from sunlight) works through an electron transport chain that takes place in the thylakoid membrane of chloroplasts in photosynthetic cells. Pigment molecules (e.g. chlorophyll b, xanthophylls, or carotenes) within a membrane photosystem (Photosystem II) absorbs photon energy from sunlight. This energy is used to excite electrons donated by oxygen in water. The excited electrons are held less strongly by the oxygen nucleus and escape into a “pigment funnel” (i.e. antenna complex), where it is passed from pigment molecule to pigment molecule toward an ultimate electron acceptor (i.e. chlorophyll a) at the reaction center of the photosystem. The chain continues after the electron is shuttled to another photosystem (Photosystem I) and a different electron acceptor. The electron will ultimately be used in the production of NADPH and a proton gradient that fuels ATP synthase to produce energy.

The concept of photosynthesis: an electron from water is excited to a higher energy state and escapes into Photosystem II where it is passed from pigment molecule to pigment molecule until it hits an ultimate electron acceptor. The electron is then passed through an intermembrane system to Photosystem I where it is funneled to another electron acceptor and eventually used to reduce NADP+ to NADPH. This forms an intermembrane proton gradient that drives ATP synthase and the production of energy.

In a nutshell, the PAM fluorometer stimulates and measures this process by delivering light pulses to a water sample containing photosynthetic cells (algae, in my case). Recall, photosynthesis is based on the idea of an excited electron losing energy. Whenever an excited electron moves to a lower energy state, it must release energy. This energy is released in the form of long wavelength fluorescence, which can be measured by a fluorometer. By measuring minimum and maximum fluorescence in response to a series of light pulses, the PAM fluorometer can measure electron transport rate and non-photosynthetic quenching processes (e.g. energy lost via heat, instead of fluorescence). In my case, this is perfect for looking at the effect of a chemical compound on photosynthetic efficiency.

My labmate jokingly dubbed the PAM fluorometer a “magic box”, however, there is a scary amount of truth to that term. The PAM fluorometer is an amazingly compact device that can measure an amazing number of photosynthetic processes. People tend to take it for granted since it appears simplistic: turn it on, insert sample, measure photosynthesis, and you’re done! WRONG.

There are so many quirks to the device. First off, the manual. Or, should I say, manuals. Part of one topic will be explained in one manual, but an important note on the same topic will be explained in the other manual. Confusing is an understatement. Let’s not mention the calibration protocol which cost me a month of fiddling.

As a result, I have learned the PAM fluorometer from the inside out. Some examples of what I have learned over the past three months: (1) there is an optimum time to “dark-adapt” samples to make sure photosystems are completely receptive to light (i.e. completely empty of electrons), (2) far-red light should also be used to fully oxidize Photosystem I and the intersystem electron transport chain to maximize electron receptivity, (3) the sample should be diluted until the fluorescence value does not exceed a maximum value, and (4) the sample cuvette has an optimum volume and should be cleaned with ethanol in between samples to prevent obscured light paths. These are just some of the many things that I had to learn by trial and error through countless failed phytoplankton experiments.

I am aware that this entire post is about the PAM fluorometer, but it has arguably been my greatest achievement this summer. I am proud that I am mastering such a deceptively complicated device. By the end of this project, I plan on having written a detailed calibration protocol and detailed illustration of the PAM fluorometer so that future lab members can easily take measurements without a similar summer of trial and error. The long process was a blessing in disguise though – I truly have a better grasp on photosynthesis and fluorometry instrumentation.

What about the results? Well, if you don’t make it to the CERF conference this year, you will have to wait for my last blog post. I am currently doing my fine-tuned toxicity experiments with Chlorella vulgaris (a basic green algae) and will be performing the same experiments with Thalassiosira weissflogii (a diatom, which tends to be more sensitive). This should give us a good idea of the effect of metformin on the photosynthetic processes of two representative organisms in the Columbia River estuary.

Stay tuned.

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The work part

It’s cliché to say (and it’s cliché to say “it’s cliché to say”), but these ten weeks really have flown by. Looking back, it’s as if the first week and a half flowed like molasses, and then the rest of the summer got dropped into a time warp that spit me out here on the second to last day of my time at Hatfield. I have to honestly say that this internship did not always follow my expectations, however it did not disappoint. First off, I expected to be interning with the US EPA, but due to issues with technicalities I ended up being taken in on a USDA project. I expected to be working in an office and finally getting some wear out of the ‘business-casual’ clothes I bought in high school. I ended up wearing t-shirts and working in a lab with eelgrass samples still caked in mud. I did not expect I’d get to go on multiple fieldwork trips to Washington and I definitely did not expect to experience a month-long power outage of a federal building. However, these are all details, and while we can form predictions of how we think such details will play out, I’ve learned that things never are completely how you expect them. My expectations of the internship that were met include the experience I gained in estuarine ecosystems, affirmation of my love for marine science and field work, and the initiation of a professional social network. I was able to present my research to experienced scientists, attend two graduate student thesis defenses, and form many friendships with young scientists like myself. Working at the Hatfield Marine Science Center has been a great experience to participate in research and learn about some of the many other research projects going on in the Pacific Northwest.

My PTU (Predation Tethering Unit) fortress- a daily activity in the field to organize PTU’s prior to deployment

The play part

I’d like to revisit the tourist in my own life concept that I discussed in my first blog post. I said Newport, OR was very different from Los Angeles and Maryland, however, I now would also like to say I’ve had the most American summer of my life here. I spent the 4th of July on the beach, had a BBQ, and watched fireworks over a river. I’ve floated in rivers and waded in creeks, gone camping and hiking many times. I watched monster trucks at a county fair and worked in the realm of agriculture (USDA). Did I mention we’ve been living in wood cabins all summer? I felt so out of my element my first day here, and I felt so at home by the end. I have always valued living in a new place for extended periods of time over traveling to many places for a week or so because you really get to experience the place rather than visit it, and I feel this experience has definitely accomplished that goal. I got to not only visit Oregon, but become a part of it for a while. I went to a local “beer and dogs” festival at a brewery, cheered on fellow interns and REUs at a state volleyball tournament, and became a regular at Fred-Myer.

I think the most rewarding part about making yourself a tourist in your own life is overcoming the tourism. It’s conquering the fears of being on your own in a new place with new people, and turning those strange places and strange people into home. At the beginning of summer, I asked myself “why do I keep putting myself in these new and uncomfortable positions?” and this summer has truly reminded me of the joy that can come out of those challenges.

Holding a crawfish during the OSG camping trip

The feels part

One thing that really made a difference to my overall quality of life this summer was the amazing group of students and interns that I have had the pleasure of living with. Having a group of adventurous, passionate, and intelligent people to see every day after work and explore Oregon with has been an extremely valuable part of this experience. It’s a little weird being back to Los Angeles where topics of daily discussion don’t include bomb calorimetry and marine reserves, and beach volleyball is not the dinnertime entertainment. Where it may not be as casual to discuss climate change as it is to discuss the latest Calvin Harris album. Every person I have befriended here is not only bright but driven. I consider myself not to be an easily inspired person (it takes more than a documentary or article), but the REU’s and Sea Grant scholars I met this summer really do inspire me to be a scientist even when we are not always listened to, to stay passionate and engaged about the state of our environment and country, and to stay open to meeting new people even though it may be challenging at first.

Some of the Sea Grants and REUs this summer– if you follow any of us on social media you’ve probably already seen this ~5 times, but dang we look good)

Thank you to Sea Grant and my mentor for the internship and thank you to all the friends I made along the way for making it unforgettable.

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