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Endangered Species Act

Posted by: | July 15, 2018 | 2 Comments |

My work this summer focuses on the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The ESA is a law that was implemented in 1973 which recognizes “species of fish, wildlife, and plants are as esthetic, ecological, educational, historical, recreational, and scientific value to the Nation and its people.” Under this law it is prohibited to take an endangered or threatened species also known as listed species. The purpose of ESA is to protect and conserve listed species and their ecosystem, so that the species can recover and self-sustain itself without further protection by federal agencies in the future.

ESA is the backbone of NOAA Fisheries and the entirety of work they do. This is because NOAA Fisheries allows authorization of take whether it be direct or incidental of listed species under their jurisdiction. This allows states, privates, federals, and tribes to proceed with their programs knowing they will not violate the ESA only if the program does not jeopardize or imposes any adverse modification on the critical habitat.

Learning and understanding the ESA was a big challenge. The next step of my project is to determine and distinguish the different pathways of ESA. Whether the programs or projects proposed by state, federal, or tribe falls under one of the 4(d) limits, section 7 or section 10, all of which allows some form of take or incidental take. If you aren’t lost already and have no clue what I’m talking about. It is totally fine, because my goal by the end of the summer is to make the processes digestible for the applicants.

The work I do does not involve much field, however I did get the opportunity to visit some habitat sites a co-worker of mine has worked on involving section 7 consultation. In addition, Wes the other OSG summer scholar and I had the opportunity to attend a meeting up in Washington. On our way back home, we took a detour to a NOAA retiree’s house, where we harvested clams and oysters for the first time. Taking about clams, I should cook some now. Until next blog, I’ll let you know about the boat trip and the salmon hatchery tour. 

under: Uncategorized

Mesocosms and Mud shrimp

Posted by: | July 15, 2018 | 2 Comments |

These past three weeks have been filled with getting to know my new coworkers, fieldwork, and our first run with the mesocosms mentioned in my first blog post.

Kelly Muething (left) and Ylva Durland (right) enjoying the joy ride while pulling into port at Nahcotta, WA

I began working with Ylva Durland and Kelly Muething, two of Dr. Brett Dumbauld’s technicians. Kelly just finished her masters degree at OSU and had Brett as an adviser so has worked on many projects with him. She is also continuing her work comparing the growth of two oyster types in and out of eelgrass beds. Ylva Durland had been working with ODFW’s SEA-COR program before beginning with Brett and is bringing knowledge on both eelgrass and shellfish. Ylva earned her masters in her home country, Sweden, studying predation patterns of green crab on native oysters. I feel lucky to be working with such talented women and Brett, and appreciate their support and guidance.

We spent a hectic week finishing up preparations to have the mesocosms ready to deploy during the neap tides at the beginning of July. Being ready required collecting Pacific staghorn sculpin and housing them long enough to starve them for 24 hours, collecting over 130 second instar Dungeness crab and marking them with nail polish so we knew which crabs we placed at the end of the experiment, and acquiring oysters to place as our oyster habitat. We also had to find an appropriate edge of an eelgrass bed to work on. Most importantly, we had to determine how much time we would have during the tidal exchange to work within our two-foot tall mesocosms.

Dr. Brett Dumbauld USDA-ARS, searching for megalope in Yaquina Bay, OR.

Tagging 130 juvenile Dungeness crabs with red and orange nail polish.

On July 4th, we set out the mesocosms to acclimate to the environment for the following day’s experiment. The next day, we placed the crabs in all mesocosms and gave them one hour to acclimate before introducing the predator into the three treatments. After another hour, we placed dividers along the edge of the habitat and scooped out the sculpin and as many crabs as we could. We recorded the number and color of crabs on each side of the mesocosms to compare against what was originally deployed.

Ylva Durland showing off the installation of the mesocosms in Yaquina Bay, OR.

An example of a mesocosm in action. One side contains eelgrass, the other oysters placed to mimic on-ground aquaculture. There were two with this configuration to have a treatment (predator) and control. We also had a treatment and control for mesocosms with oyster aquaculture on one side and bare ground on the other, as well as eelgrass on one side and bare ground on the other. 

Ylva Durland placing the two sculpins into a treatment tank with Kelly Muething on standby.

Our preliminary results show a trend of higher crab presence within eelgrass and less movement of crabs in the treatment mesocosms. However, we only retrieved 76% of the crabs deployed and are unsure if they were eaten or simply weren’t retrieved. We plan on rerunning the project in early August and are still fine-tuning the details beforehand.

I’m happy to say that I’m writing this blog while sitting in my hotel room, looking out on the Pacific Ocean. We are currently on a field-trip to Willapa Bay and staying in Long Beach, WA. We’ve been out in the field collecting data on burrowing shrimp size and frequency, checking on Kelly’s oyster growth study, and sampling native eelgrass to measure biomass later. Between the boat rides, working outside with great people, and stopping at the Cranberry Museum, it’s hard to choose a favorite part of the trip!

Brett Dumbauld and Kelly Muething heading back to the boat over the tide flats in Willapa Bay, WA.

Me and the trusty toothbrush I used to remove periphyton from the oyster-growing tiles for Kelly’s project in Willapa Bay, WA.

The boat waiting for us while we collect and monitor burrowing shrimp in an oyster aquaculture site in Willapa Bay, WA.

Brett Dumbauld measuring ghost shrimp carapaces collected from one of the monitoring sites in Willapa Bay, WA.

Kelly Muething (the frog), Ylva Durland (left), and I (right) taking advantage of the photo-op at the Cranberry Museum in Long Beach, WA.

under: Anna Bolm, sea_bol, Summer Scholars

Sophia and me posing while hiking in Shore Acres.

I’m lucky to be able to work with Wild Rivers Coast Alliance, an organization that funds community projects on the south coast of Oregon. It implements the triple bottom line concept, which consists of community, conservation, and economy, to help boost sustainable tourism and promote economic development in the region. This past week was a little different than my usual job – I, alongside Keana (OSU Marine Studies Initiative) and Sophia (Sea Grant Scholar), got to work on a grant-funded project to create a library of photos to be used in marketing the Oregon coast by the Regional Tourism Network.

Two photographers from Portland, Justin and Erik, drove down here to shoot the photos while Keana, Sophia, and I all tried “modeling” for them. We had a busy few days and got to shoot all over Coos Bay, Charleston, and North Bend. We modeled a night out at Seven Devils Brewing Co., awkwardly tried to pose while tasting tacos at the farmers market, pretended to shop in downtown Coos Bay, and ripped into a delicious plate of fish and chips at The Boat Restaurant. A majority of the photoshoot was outdoors. We went on a few short hikes, kayaked and paddle boarded in Sunset Bay, took a buggy in the sand dunes, went crabbing, and explored Golden and Silver Falls. We had a lot of fun and a lot of laughs (especially laughing at each other’s awkward poses, as you can see in these photos). I don’t have any photography experience, much less modeling experience, so it was super cool to see what goes into taking a stunning photo. Justin and Erik had a lot of patience with us newbie models, but I know they took some great photos and we had such a fun time doing it!  

I feel very lucky to have been a part of this experience. I worked with an incredible team of very talented photographers who captured the beauty of the Coos Bay area. This project was a huge collaborative effort by people along the coast to help promote tourism in this beautiful area; it felt great to be a part of that. I don’t know how or where these photos will be used, maybe on websites, brochures, or magazines, but I’m excited to see!

Sophia pretending to look for gray whales.


under: Rasha Aridi, sea_ari

Since I last posted, I have settled down here in Cannon Beach and begun my work with the Haystack Rock Awareness Program. Cannon Beach is a fairly quiet town with weather that varies from overcast and high 50s to sunny and 70s – a welcome change of pace for a kid who grew up under Denver’s sweltering desert sun and the torrential downpours and intense humidity that come with Miami summers. Haystack Rock is listed by National Geographic as one of the 100 Most Beautiful Places to visit in the world, and I have quickly realized why. I spend my days off hiking and exploring northeastern Oregon and, on occasion, Portland. Some of my great adventures so far have included hiking Saddle Mountain and from up above taking in the sweeping landscape of the Pacific Ocean, Washington, Mount Hood, and even Cannon Beach far off in the distance; watching the Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders game from an Irish pub in Portland; and driving to neighboring Seaside and seeing one of the largest fireworks shows in the US on the Fourth of July. Sometimes, when I am feeling lazy, my free time involves simply pitching my hammock and reading my book.

Haystack Rock is always fantastic to visit early in the morning (Photo Courtesy of Haystack Rock Awareness Program)

The organization I work with, Haystack Rock Awareness Program (HRAP), focuses on protecting the intertidal habitat and marine birds through educating all the visitors who come to The Rock. So, whenever it is low tide, whether it is 7 in the morning or 6 at night, HRAP is out on the beach with our big red truck explaining to anyone who is curious what they can find here at Haystack Rock. To find us, you look for our big red truck, and depending on the weather, you can find us in our red jackets, or on warm days, in our bright red shirts. Given that a large part of my time here so far has been spent learning what our organization does on the beach, what I want to focus on in this blog post is all the different things you might see and find when you visit us at The Rock.

At low tide, it is possible to wade out pretty far

Only two hours later, if I stood where I took the previous picture, the water would come up to my hips!

For starters, Haystack Rock formed 13 to 18 million years ago when lava flow from the Yellowstone caldera formed a large basalt monolith. Today, vegetation blooms on top of Haystack, allowing different marine birds to nest here every spring. Our most famous summer resident at Haystack Rock is the tufted puffin, which people come from all over the world to see. We always tell guests the best way to try and spot one is look in the air for a nerf-football-shaped bird with a black belly that is flying frenetically. When you spot one, you immediately notice that the emphatic flying motion makes them look like terrible flyers – an accurate conclusion. In fact, puffins are much better swimmers than they are flyers. Puffins often dive up to 1000 times per day to catch fish and once underwater they dive to depths of more than 90 ft. They have grooves in their beaks which allow them to hold fish. There are records of them holding up to 35 fish in their beak at once. These marine birds only come to land when it is time to breed, spending the rest of the year out at sea. When they do nest, they burrow under the ground six to seven feet (which is partially the reason it is easier to find them while they are flying) and will only produce one egg per season. The eggs are entirely white as they are well concealed underground and don’t need to be camouflaged. Unfortunately, these birds are threatened and HRAP has seen a decline in their population over the years. Today we have just under 100 puffins nesting on the rock. Some threats are natural, like the bald eagles and peregrine falcons in the area who will pull a puffin right from the mouth of their den. Some are human induced, such as puffin consumption of microplastics and loss of prey with warming sea temperatures. Other species of marine birds on the rock include Common Mures, Brandt and Pelagic Cormorants, Black Oystercatchers, Western Gulls, and Guillamont Pigeons – all of them unique birds and each deserving of a blog post on their unique adaptations to The Rock.

Tufted Puffins can be found at Haystack Rock March through August (Photo Courtesy of Beth Wise and Haystack Rock Awareness Program)

Within the intertidal zone, we have a plethora of life from nudibranchs to chitons to sea anemones to polychaete worms to sea stars. When the tide is low, it is incredibly important visitors are aware as to where they are walking given that it is very easy to step on an organism if they are not paying attention. Since a great deal of life grows within the marine gardens on the smaller rocks, we also emphasize why it is important to walk on the sand and not on the rocks. Most people are extremely nice when we ask them not to step on the rocks and are curious as to what specifically lives and grows in the area. Young children are especially fascinated by the closed up sea anemones and how they can open up when the water level rises. It’s also common to find kids looking and picking up hermit and mole crabs…something of which the crabs are not huge fans.

Another draw to Cannon Beach in past years was the sea stars which coated the marine garden. Unfortunately, a virus known as the Sea Star Wasting Disease has devastated sea stars ranging from Canada down into Northern California over the past four years. The issue has only been exacerbated by warming sea temperatures which pushes sea stars out of their normal temperature range and putting a great deal of stress on their immune system. People who visited Haystack Rock even as recently as four years ago are shocked by the drastic change the area has experienced and visitors who are older are saddened as they wished to show their children or grandkids the sea stars that paint the rocks various colors. However, there is reason to hope the sea stars may return to something similar to their original numbers. HRAP conducts sea star surveys once a month and has noticed they are growing bigger, which means they are living longer and may be developing a resistance to the virus. This does not mean that within a year they will once again be present in the thousands, instead it means there is a chance they could rebound if presented with liveable conditions. In other words, sea temperatures cannot continue to rise, thereby assisting the virus attack the weakened sea star and we as an organization must ensure people are not intruding on their habitat or pulling sea stars off the rocks to take home as souvenirs.   

The Sea Star Wasting Disease is still quite prevalent in the intertidal zone of Haystack Rock

The past few weeks have gone by so quickly what with early morning and late evening shifts, participating in the town’s July 4th parade along with the rest of the HRAP staff, researching various themes for my upcoming survey, and learning all about Haystack Rock and all the great biological, conservation and geological facts the HRAP staff has taught me. One of my favorite things about working on the beach is the diversity of people I get to talk to, some of whom are just toddlers, while some are residents who have lived in the area for 40+ years and are now in their 90s. I will be able to dive even more into this in my next blog post as I start to get results back on my human dimension research. What is human dimension research you may ask? Check back in two weeks for that and more adventures from Cannon Beach!


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As Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) Marine Reserves’ intertidal intern, I am fortunate enough to travel all along Oregon’s coast to participate in fieldwork. So far I have visited 4 of the 5 marine reserves: Otter Rock Marine Reserve, Cascade Head Marine Reserve, Cape Perpetua Marine Reserve, and Redfish Rocks Marine Reserve. The first time I went to the intertidal in Oregon I was shocked at how different it was from the intertidal where I live in Southern California. Otter Rock was the first place I visited and the intertidal area there is massive, continuing on out well into the ocean. But because Oregon’s intertidal areas are so vast and surrounded by such large sandy beaches, the walk to our sites always takes way longer than you think it will. At Otter Rock and Cascade Head I saw so many cool organisms. I got to see tidepool sculpins, an opalescent nudibranch, and spotted dorid nudibranchs.

Opalescent nudibranch

Tidepool Sculpin

Cape Perpetua was my favorite site to explore because the sea stars there are massive and very abundant. At that site I helped count sea stars per age class and species while looking for indications of sea star wasting syndrome. Around one tidepool I counted over 60 sea stars. Unfortunately there were some that showed signs of wasting such as the ochre sea star below which is losing its grip, one of the symptoms of wasting.

This last Tuesday I was fortunate to join a researcher from OSU  at Redfish Rocks and help with her experiment on intertidal sponges. Since Redfish Rocks is a 4 hour drive from Newport we camped the night before and woke up at 4:30am to hike to her experiment site in the intertidal. One of the best parts was that she brought her dogs with her for the trip.

Driving to Redfish Rocks with these two cuties

While I do spend a decent amount of time doing fieldwork, I spend more in the office analyzing data about the intertidal, helping with science communication about the intertidal, and creating field guides for sea star wasting symptom identification. I really enjoy seeing all the steps from collecting the data to finding out what it means and finally communicating this with the public.

But not all my time in Oregon is spent working, I have gotten to experience so many of the amazing things that Oregon has to offer. I went blueberry picking in Corvallis, saw Thor’s Well spraying, hiked in the Siuslaw National Forest, and so much more.

Me inside a tree!



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Organic Oregon

Posted by: | July 14, 2018 | 1 Comment |

WOW! I feel as if I have left the country and that I am living in an entirely different world. I have never seen so many Subaru cars in my life or beards! All in all, I am having a fantastic time here in Corvallis and I am loving my project. Since my last blog post, I have had the pleasure of attending the 3rd Tribal Environmental Health Summit held here in Corvallis, OR and have had the opportunity to speak with high school students from various summer programs about my experience as a college student and Oregon Sea Grant scholar. My project is quite challenging as I attempt to navigate my time meeting with administrators and program directors affiliated with various organizations and universities across Oregon and the country. Despite some difficulties, everyone that I have met thus far has been very welcoming and helpful with the project. I have not had the opportunity to visit the Confederated States of Siletz Indians reservation yet, but hopefully I will be able to make a visit there soon.
As far as my own Oregon adventures outside of my work environment, I have been able to visit quite a few places since my arrival. To begin, I went river rafting for the first time in my life from Corvallis to Albany which was quite the adventure of me trying not to freak out about drowning. :) I have also managed to make quite a few friends from the REU and other summer programs here on campus. Our groups have had the chance to visit some of the local hiking spots around the city and we go to the Farmer’s Market from time to time. One weekend we went on a coastal road trip to see the Sea Lion caves, visit Newport, and to hike up a random trail alongside the highway with spectacular views. We spent the Fourth of July watching fireworks from the riverfront downtown and have gone to the movies a couple of times, as well as, discovering some awesome dinner spots along the way. (Although, I do have to say that one of the only things I miss about AZ is the food. For example, I have had a pulled pork sandwich without any barbecue sauce because the owner does not “believe” in barbecue sauce and I just had a Huevos Rancheros dish made with Spaghetti Sauce!!! That is unacceptable!!!) Sorry, but I LOVE my Southwestern and Mexican food with a passion! Finally, last weekend we hiked the South Sister summit which was one of the most challenging hikes I have EVER completed in my life! At 10,380 I thought I was going to die from exhaustion, but in reality I survived with just sunburns. It was a breathtaking sight that I will never forget and one of the most beautiful views I have ever seen on this planet, simply time stopping. Afterwards, we drove to Bend to be tourists and explored a nearby cave where we had to crawl on our bellies to reach the end of that underground trail! We then ended our trip by stopping at the Dee Wright Observatory in the Willamette National Forest to check out some volcanic rocks and to see some more mountains in the distance.
I am thankful for all of the academic and non-academic activities I have had the pleasure of experiencing over the last few weeks. I am beyond thankful to be an Oregon Sea Grant scholar this summer and to have the opportunity to share my aid to the OSG-OSU project. Now I must hurry to pack my bags once again as I head to Crater Lake for the weekend! Until the next blog everyone and thank you for reading!!! :)

under: sea_mol
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I’ve never left a yelp review, nor have considered myself a “foodie,” but today I had a great burger. I also had great company, Rasha, another sea grant scholar. I must give a shout out to Cornucopia restaurant’s “Aloha Burger” in Eugene, Oregon. Topped with pineapple, house made slaw, and teriyaki sauce, this burger was one of the best I’ve had! The fries were great too, and our waiter was a nice guy. This was a tasty, highly recommended experience!

Last week I worked in the ODFW Newport office, which allowed me to get together with some of the sea grant scholars spending their summer in Newport. We caught up on our busy new lives, watched SNL clips on Youtube, (my favorite is “Totinos with Kristin Stewart – SNL”), visited the Oregon Coast Aquarium, saw the Incredibles 2, walked along Bayfront, and to stick with the theme of my blog, got dinner. Now this was another food experience worthy of a restaurant recommendation to M & P Authentic Thai Cuisine. The menu was larger than any I’ve seen for it had pictures of almost every food option they served, a very useful development for people who do not like reading menus, such as myself. I ordered the Chicken Drunken Noodles with extra spice, out of the two times I’ve had Thai food, I must say this was my favorite. The noodles were soft, the vegetables tangy, the chicken drunk, everything was perfect.

Unfortunately, I did not take photos of the food I’ve mentioned, I’m not one to judge food by its cover. Instead, I’d like to show some other cooler nature pictures I’ve captured such as the spores found beneath the leaves of a Western Sword Fern. I’ve never seen this process of plant reproduction, it was super exciting to find this. I also have included a photo of an Amphipod, otherwise known as a sand flea, or beach hopper. They are adorable and are found hopping all over the Bay coast. The crab I’m holding is a Purple Shore Crab found at Sunset Bay State Park. In my completely honest, unbiased opinion not at all affiliated with Oregon Sea Grant, I will admit I think this crab is the prettiest.



under: sea_mai

When I’m not chasing down summer camp kids to get their photo or staring at a computer editing footage, I offer myself up as an extra pair of hands for research projects being conducted through the South Slough or OIMB. In between data collection I like to step back and take in what’s beautiful about the work we’re doing or the site on which we’re standing. To some, using binoculars to estimate the percentage of live crown coverage in a tree plot seems like a normal field task, but when I saw it, the binoculars looked like little reflection pools similar to those that have been built for stargazing in the past.

Then there’s the tall grasses that catch the morning sunlight and look reminiscent of oil paintings. Watching some of the other interns walk through the fields to get a better perspective for tree height estimation was a magnificent display of nature’s indifference to our intrusion that morning. As quietly and efficiently as possible, dedicated environmental scientists check up on their beloved reserve like an attentive parent; measuring its growth, checking for invasive species, metaphorically taking its temperature.

An intern evaluates the surrounding plants

OIMB intern electronically calculating tree height

Finally, there is a definite art to fieldwork, as the conditions may change at any moment and you need to be ready to adapt. For example, during a trip to Bull Island for more habitat sampling, the tide came in higher than we thought and took our kayaks down river! After a long day of identifying different species of grass, the last thing you want to do is retrieve and tow your crew’s kayaks back up river, but that’s exactly what our amazing mentor did. In the picture below, I’m standing next to the empty spot where are kayaks used to be, all smiles even though I know I’ll soon be paddling against wind and current back up river. That’s perhaps the most beautiful thing about South Slough fieldwork, it tends to make your spirit tougher and more adventurous.

Every day here I wander a little further out of my comfort zone, and I’m loving the view!

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How are humans affecting the water quality in Tillamook Bay?

This might sound like a simple question, but studies have been going on for decades and there is still ongoing research working to answer it. Tillamook Bay is a great habitat for oyster aquaculture, and it also happens to be in a valley largely occupied by dairy farming. In fact, there are more cows than people in the city of Tillamook. This makes monitoring the water quality and important, but complex, task. The EPA at Hatfield has been working on this current research study since 2016, which includes many projects working from various angles to try to understand the whole picture of the water chemistry in the Tillamook Bay.

One of the longest-running projects is monitoring the water quality in the bay. Multiple different devices are being left in the water for months at a time to take continual measurements of water quality. These include a Sea-Fox, Sea-FET, and a Multi-Parameter Water Quality Data Sonde. These instruments provide long-term measurements of pH, chlorophyll, salinity, depth, temperature, and dissolved oxygen. This is not one of my specific projects, but I still got to tag along while the instruments were deployed to learn about the project.

Deploying instruments to measure water quality in the bay after they were briefly taken out for cleaning.

One project that I’m working on is looking at how the water chemistry in the Trask River changes over the course of a day. On June 27, we left a data sonde at two different locations along the Trask river to measure dissolved oxygen, pH, chlorophyll, temperature, and depth over a period of two days. On June 29, we left Newport at 5:30am to drive to Tillamook, and then we collected water at 4 locations along the Trask River at five different times throughout the day. These water samples will be measured for nutrients and carbon, since these measurements can’t be taken with a data sonde. At the end of the day, we collected the data sondes left on June 27 and took them back to the lab along with the samples. These measurements will allow us to get an idea of how the chemistry of the water changes throughout the course of the day so that we can account for this when we compare the levels of carbon and oxygen in other streams. It is likely that we will return to get measurements from a longer time span that includes the evening and night.

Left: Getting set up to leave a YSI data sonde overnight in the Trask River. Right: Preparing water samples from the Trask River to be stored. Water samples for carbonate are put in glass bottles and then poisoned with very small amount of mercuric chloride to prevent further changes to the carbon composition; samples for nutrients are filtered and stored on ice.

Another part of the picture is looking at in-stream processing from periphyton, which are the algae and other organisms attached to the rocks at the bottom of the river. We know that land runoff has a significant effect on the water chemistry, but we have not yet looked at the biological processes in the stream itself. So, how do you measure exactly the amount of respiration occurring from the slimy periphyton on river rocks? It took some pondering, but we decided to take all the rocks from a given area and place them in sealed container in the river, while measuring the amount of dissolved oxygen in the water. The challenge is, all the containers that are able to seal around the oxygen probe have an opening that is too small to fit rocks. The solution? Find a new container. So, we took a trip to the Smart Foodservice Warehouse Store, where there are containers of all shapes and sizes to choose from, and got a few weird looks as we measured and puzzled over containers in the food storage aisle. It’s still a work in progress, but we’re getting closer to setting up this portion of the study.

Searching for a container to measure periphyton respiration at the Smart Foodservice Warehouse Store.

When I’m not in the field, I’m measuring the nitrogen and carbon samples in the lab. The EPA just got a new machine for measuring dissolved CO2 and total CO2 called the Burkolator, developed by Burke Hales at OSU in Corvallis. It is one of only 20 or so in the world, and he came to Newport to teach us how to use it. As you can see, there are a lot of tubes; not shown in the photo is the computer screen used to control everything. I’ve been spending a lot of time learning how to work the machine and developing a written set of instructions, which is a fun challenge. We’re hoping to get some of my samples running as soon as Tuesday, July 10!

Learning how to use the Burkolator.

Like I mentioned, there are a lot of projects going on to answer the big overarching question! I have only gotten started on some parts of my project; there will be more to come. My work for the summer is only a small piece of the large overall study, but I am excited to be contributing to our understanding of the bay and to have the opportunity to learn about the diverse array of other projects happening at the same time.

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It’s 6 am. We’ve just arrived at Cascade Head, which is one hour north of Newport. This is when the intertidal of this ODFW marine reserve is exposed to the marine mist. With sleep deprived eyes I witness one of the reasons why the reserves are in place–to preserve and study the rich biodiversity of the Oregon coast.

I have so many memories I would like to share with you. I feel lucky. It’s only been three weeks since I arrived at the Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport, OR, but they have been filled with rich moments. Most of these I have shared with my fellow scholars in Newport (Taylor, Dani, Abby, and for just last week Alexa) immersed in the natural beauty of the Pacific Northwest. But I have also spent a significant portion of my time digging deeper into the psyche of those that call the Oregon coast home.

As described in my last blog post, I am working in the Human Dimensions Project of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) Marine Reserves Program. This means that I am learning how to conduct research and think like a social scientist about environmental policies. For the past two weeks I have been hard at work coding nearly 800 open-ended responses to a comprehensive subjective well-being study conducted in part by my mentor Tommy Swearingen. This systemic survey captures how people think, their moral frameworks, their sense of place, personal and community resilience, and what people believe contributes most to their well-being, among other things. The robust data set also reveals how coastal residents respond to hypothetical changes to the community–such as an expansion or contraction of the marine reserves. The possibility of change prompted many respondents to voice their opinions.

The result was hundreds of insightful explanations into what constitutes a good quality of life overall. I had the privilege of looking at the world through the lens of people with disparate opinions than my own, and was surprised on more than one occasion by the complexity of their worldviews. For the most part, people get that balancing economic needs with the environment is a difficult trade-off to maneuver. Many of the towns up and down the coast rely on the commercial industries of fishing and logging to survive. People think on the scale of the individual to the community; often, when faced with these changes, they worry about their neighbors who work in these industries and might lose their jobs because of regulations. They fear the loss of their culture, their way of life. Some responded to the survey in all caps, telling the government to back off. History has disappointed them, and they prefer autonomy over future mistakes. People on the other side of the coin also fear. They are worried that we will further degrade our public lands, that their grandchildren won’t have access to a high quality environment. Most everyone is concerned about personal or community financial security. In this inflammatory age of politics, we often categorize people by the political party they stand behind, of which there are only a handful. What I realized when coding this response is that what is more important than ideology are the values that motivate it.  If we seek to understand each other on this level, we might start to feel for one another again.

I’m in the process of developing a technical backbone for social science coding though this work. But inadvertently, the empathy I hold for my fellow human beings is expanding the more I listen.

Firefighter training high above the rocky intertidal of the Cape Falcon marine reserve.

This is not the only work that I am poised to do during my summer scholar experience. In fact, it is secondary to my role as an interviewer of local fishers. However, as many projects go, our timeline did not proceed according to plan. Because this type of work has ethical considerations for human subjects, such as confidentiality, every detail of my involvement had to be cleared with OSU’s Institutional Review Board (IRB) within the Office of Research Integrity. I was left hanging, feeling like the firefighter to the right for a short period of time before knowing what might impact my involvement in this work. At the present moment, most worries have been smoothed over, and we are proceeding onward with the project. So fingers crossed that next time you read my post in a couple of weeks I will be speaking of an entirely new and exciting adventure!

Since my work revolves around the marine reserves, I have also made an attempt to see what they are about with my own eyes. Even if this required waking up at extreme hours to see the intertidal. My fellow summer scholar in the ODFW annex, Taylor Ely, has already woken up around 4 am to complete her work in the field, and will likely have many more mornings like this. But as far as I have seen, the reserves are worth it.

My first encounter with one of the reserves was Otter Rock. It is the smallest reserve and is situated just outside of Newport. Once the sun broke over the cliffs, rays of light were punctuated by fantastic rock formations. At low tide anemones dripped from the rocks reaching toward the water, and we could walk right into Devil’s punchbowl–which is a churning mass of water when the tide rushes in.

Sun breaking over the cliff at Otter Rock

Otter Rock in the distance behind a wall of dripping anemones.

Cascade Head was equally as impressive. Biodiversity filled each and every cranny, and at one point while helping the ecological team survey starfishes, we found over 170 sea stars (predominantly Pisaster ochraceus, but also the six-legged sea star Leptasterias) in a single transect! That was within an area no larger than a typical living room.

Me at center within the rocky intertidal of Cascade Head. At points we were down on our stomachs face first in invertebrates such as starfishes, anemones, and the occasional nudibranch.

The rocks at Cascade Head. Though we were conducting survey work with ODFW, we were not the only people exploring the rocks at daybreak. Recreation is an important past-time for people living on or visiting the coast–both for enjoyment and as a key part of the modern economy.

The little Leptasterias starfish that I found. It was the first and only one of the day!

Though I still have Redfish Rocks and Cape Falcon on my bucket list to visit, I have most recently explored Cape Perpetua–and from an entirely different view. Instead of viewing nature through a macro lens, up close and personal, I took a step back. Within the easily accessible old growth forest there are a multitude of trails. We took one that led to a 550 year old Sitka spruce, and another that gave us a sweeping view of the shoreline. It was worth the effort of climbing 800 feet above sea level to see the land (and even a resident gray whale). Cape Perpetua is also where you can watch the spouting horn and Thor’s well, which in action convinces the viewer that the ocean is breathing. With each ocean swell the divot in the volcanic rocks fills with water only to expel it in a massive exhale. Breathing in, the water recedes from Thor’s well, exposing thousands of mussels which cling to the water’s edge. And this repeats, indefinitely.

The land and the ocean are violently alive. And the people–they are right here to endure it all.

700 feet above sea level and counting. Cape Perputua down below.

Thor’s well on a mild day.

under: Madison Rose Bristol, Summer Scholars
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