In my last post, Navigating human subjects research in a time of social distancing, I highlighted how I utilized online data collection methods to continue my dissertation research. Soon after, I quickly realized that the pandemic was not only impacting my plans for interacting with my research participants, it was also impacting how and when I would be able to communicate my science. Prior to the pandemic, I had multiple in-person talks and presentation scheduled which were eventually postponed, with the hopes that an in-person meeting would be possible at a later date. However, after everyone adjusted to restrictions, I was faced with a new challenge, navigating virtual conferences.
I had the opportunity to present my research at two virtual conferences this year. For the first presentation, I was asked to complete a pre-recorded 5-minute lightning talk, which was something I had never done before. As a interdisciplinary social scientist, in a field primarily dominated by natural scientist, it sometimes takes a while for my audience to process why my research is important for natural resource management. Finding the best approaches to communicate my research in ways that are understandable to a broad group of people, is something that I enjoy, but can be time consuming. It usually involves me spending a decent amount of time explaining terms and theories before actually jumping into my research questions. So, as one can imagine, a 5-minute talk seemed like a daunting task. However, I quickly realize that it was a great opportunity to walk the audience through my research questions and demonstrate how I was able to adapt my data collection methods during the pandemic.
So, for this post, I decided to share part of my presentation. Unfortunately the initial file was too large to upload, therefore I had to reduce the video quality (which cause the images to be blurry) and divide the talk into the videos below. Hopefully you’re still able to follow along!
As I re-listen to the recorded presentation, it is hard not to nitpick at what I could have done better. Overall, it was an interesting process. Making sure the presentation was the correct length and that my voice recording lined up with the slides and transitions, took much longer than I expected. And while I don’t know if pre-recorded lightning talks are for me; I am glad I was able to experience it.
Kearney, A., & Kaplan, S. (1997). Toward a Methodology for the Measurement of Knowledge Structures of Ordinary People: The Conceptual Content Cognitive Map (3CM). Environment and Behavior, 29(5), 579-617
Amid COVID and wildfire related closures, finding a sense of order and normalcy in my research process has been challenging. Therefore, I consider myself lucky that I am able to continue the lab-based aspects of my PhD research. Lab work is time consuming and can be tedious, required days to months of repetitive tasks, but I am grateful for the order and organization that my lab workflow brings me. In this blog post, I’d like to share what this workflow looks like, the kind of information I gain from lab analyses, and some of my expected results from my last six months of lab work.
After collecting, identifying, and measuring the length of hundreds of juvenile fishes using SMURFs (see my May blog post), it is time to take these fishes back to the lab. My lab work flow looks something like this: I use forceps and a scalpel to peel back the dorsal (top) of the fish’s cranium from the nose to the beginning of the vertebra tools to very thin forceps – the tips are as wide as 0.7mm mechanical pencil lead – and begin to move the brain away from the lateral sides of the cranium. I work under a dissecting microscope. My eyes look through the eye piece while my hands manipulate the specimen. I prod, search, and finally find what I’m so carefully looking for. I remove small white object from either side of the brain. They are slightly smaller than a grain of short grain rice. I try not to let my hands shake as I deposit the object safely in a microcentrifuge tube for storage, and take a breath of relief. 400 dissections later, I relocate to a new microscope station – a compound and dissecting scope with cameras that allow me to see and capture the microscope images on my computer. I mount each of these samples to a microscope slide, use 2000 grit sandpaper to sand both sides of the sample, and place it under 400X magnification. I smile – now the fun begins.
So why all this fuss? What are these mysterious small, nearly microscopic white objects?
Most fishes (except sharks, rays, and lamprey) have ear stones called otoliths, which are the small, white structures found in the cranium. Otoliths are made of calcium carbonate, the same compound found in the shells of many invertebrates. These structures that aid orientation, balance, and hearing, similar to human ear bones. Otoliths are an important tool in fish biology and fisheries science because they serve as an annual record book, kept over a fish’s entire life. Otoliths have alternating translucent and opaque zones that correspond to alternating periods of fast and slow growth, respectively. Otoliths have a familiar terrestrial analog: tree rings. I remember my fourth-grade teacher leading our class through a guided exploration of a tree “cookie”. We counted the rings to age the tree, observed alternating light and dark bands of different sizes, and connected these observations with seasonality (light availability, precipitation) and growth rates in nature (see my January blog post on seasonality in the ocean). Otoliths are a similarly powerful tool for fish biology and management, as they allow us to understand how fish populations grow and age over time and in relation to a changing climate, pollution, and even management regulations. They are also a powerful ecological tool – allowing scientists to peer into the lives of the fishes and understand what kinds of environmental conditions result in faster or slower growth.
For many years, fish biologists have used otoliths from adult fishes to measure population vital rates and translate this information into management decisions. In 1971, a groundbreaking discovery credited to Yale geologist Giorgio Panella forever changed the fields of fish biology, fish ecology, and fisheries science: it was possible to read the information stored in larval and juvenile fish otoliths as well – only in these young fishes, the alternating light and dark rings represented a daily log book. Imagine the excitement of scientists when they discovered that they could now peer into the daily lives of young fishes! In marine fishes, upwards of 99% of fish eggs produced do not survive to adulthood. There is a mortality gauntlet through which all young fish must pass, and few survive, due to the challenges of finding food in a vast open ocean, of avoiding myriad predators, and of avoiding currents that would sweep them away from suitable habitat. Prior to the discovery of otolith daily increments, this mortality gauntlet was poorly understood, making it difficult to predict when and why adult fish populations undergo periods of boom and bust.
My research and expected results
Understanding this mortality gauntlet has been a central goal of my PhD research. Specifically, I study a socio-economically important nearshore groundfish found from Baja California, Mexico to Alaska, the cabezon (Scorpaenichthys marmoratus). Since COVID-19 made my 2020 field season impossible, I have instead been dissecting, polishing, and analyzing otolith data from juvenile cabezon with the goal of understanding what early life characteristics are important for growth and survival through the mortality gauntlet. Because the time series of samples for my project extend from 2013-2019, I am also able to investigate how these critical early life history characteristics change from year to year, and even from month to month.
Cabezon exhibit a somewhat unique recruitment strategy – that is, the timing and magnitude with which juveniles arrive to the nearshore to settle and grow into adulthood. Unlike many other nearshore groundfishes, cabezon recruit in multiple events, spanning the April – September months. This is a departure from the “single-pulse” strategy, where the juveniles (e.g. rockfishes) arrive over a short time window (e.g. two weeks in July). By the time the cabezon are collected in the SMURFs, they could be anywhere between 2 and 4 months old. That they arrive over a 6-month window means that they have experienced a vast range of ocean conditions (e.g. winter storms, changing currents, upwelling, downwelling, water temperature). I expect to find a “portfolio” of early life characteristics that enable the young fish to survive in different ocean conditions. For example, individuals that arrive to the SMURFs in May were likely hatched in January, experienced “winter” conditions, and could have a “winter” growing strategy (e.g. slow growth due to poor feeding conditions). In contrast, individuals that arrive to the SMURFs in July were likely hatched in April, experienced “spring” conditions, and could have a “spring” growing strategy (e.g. fast growth due to enhanced feeding conditions). Altogether, I am interested in understanding how this portfolio effect of early life strategies may enhance the resilience of the cabezon population to disturbances such as the 2014-2016 marine heat wave and other climate and fishing related changes.
Amid the chaotic nature of this summer with COVID-19, protests, wildfires, and an upcoming election, I have managed to seamlessly transition into my second year as a Natural Resource Policy Fellow with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW). Over the next year, I will continue to evaluate the impacts of marine reserves on coastal communities, communities of interest (e.g. commercial fishers), and ocean users (e.g. tourists).
Over the last year working on this mandate I have discovered that there are no perfect data sources to answer this question. Data often have errors associated with insufficient sampling in small communities, issues with changes in methodology, or are simply not available for the years or communities of interest. However, we can’t let these issues stop us. Therefore, we are gathering and analyzing relevant data from as many sources as possible while documenting the limitations of the data.
One source of data we have used are ODFW’s one- through seven-day fishing and shellfishing license sales. Implementing marine reserves closes off any extractive activities within that area. Therefore, we might expect that daily fishing and shellfishing license sales in communities located near marine reserves would decrease following reserve implementation. However, we also need to control for the historical trend in license sales on the coast. If license sales are decreasing in towns located near reserves, but also decreasing across the entire coast, then this reduction may be caused by something other than the reserves, such as a change in culture.
License sales are just one example of the data we are using to analyze marine reserve impacts. While we don’t always have perfect data to work with, using the best data available from multiple sources should be sufficient to understand if and how marine reserves have impacted communities.
As we transition into the Fall, I am wrapping up my Master’s program in Marine Resource Management! For this post, I’d like to give a short overview of my project over the last couple years.
My project looked at ideas of adaptation in small-scale fisheries. Fishermen are constantly adapting and changing the way they fish in response to a variety of unpredictabilities in social-ecological systems. For example, changes in the weather, market, fishing seasons, and even larger scale climate and ocean patterns affect the ways people fish. Adaptive capacity is the abilities of fishermen to cope with these changes in order to continue fishing and maintain their livelihoods.
One way to adapt is to catch several different species. That way, there are other options of species to fish for in case certain species become unavailable. This strategy is called “portfolio diversification.” There are ways to build a diverse portfolio to make one more resilient or better able to adapt to change.
A resilient portfolio consists of species that are uncorrelated with each other, meaning that their landings do not coincide or overlap with one another. Here, a fisherman is able to fish for at least one abundant species throughout the entire year.
On the other hand, a less resilient portfolio would consist of landings peaking at similar times as one another. This scenario would imply “busy seasons” where a fisherman catches several species, but it would not allow for a continuous income throughout the year. A less resilient portfolio would look something like this.
Network theory helps to study the patterns of these portfolios in order to understand fishermen’s adaptive capacities. Fisheries connectivity networks display the timing of fisheries landings, and they can be measured to see the extent that species landings that may or may not correspond with one another. Representing small-scale fisheries this way acknowledges that there are several diverse target species.
I used this analysis to look at fishing portfolios of small-scale fisheries around the Baja California Peninsula in Mexico from 2001-2017. Region 1’s networks showed increasing adaptive capacity while the others decreased. This is important because it alludes to the fact that fishing patterns vary through time and space. Such information can be helpful when thinking about how to manage multi-species fisheries in areas of different adaptive capacities.
My project has been really interesting and I’ve loved learning about different aspects of fisheries resilience over the past couple years. Being a Malouf scholar over the last year and having access to professional development through Oregon Sea Grant has helped me think more about how to communicate these topics to others outside of academia, especially as more and more education is being done remotely. Currently, I am creating short 2-minute videos to post on social media that explain topics I study, describing keywords such as adaptation, resilience, and social-ecological systems. I’m excited to continue working on this as I move onto a PhD in Geography here at OSU.
It’s been interesting to study adaptation and resilience while experiencing unprecedented current events like pandemic and wildfires. Mostly, it’s heartening to see communities’ generosity and resilience as people all around Oregon help each other in times of need. I hope everyone is staying safe!
The days are getting shorter, and the nights are getting cooler, and it’s really starting to feel like this strange summer is winding to a close. In this last week before the start of my classes, I’ve been thinking about my fellowship with the Oregon Sea Grant. What have I learned, and how will this experience affect me in the future?
I’ll start by addressing the elephant in the room: this has been a crazy summer! I consider myself to be a resilient and adaptable person, but a pandemic, unrest and violence on the streets of my home town, and then huge fires looming down on us and spewing smoke was a lot to try and take in stride. I’m so grateful for my health and that I still have a place to call home!
I’m also so grateful to all the people who I’ve had the chance to work with during my fellowship. I know that at best these folks were going through the same experience that I was, and it’s entirely possible that this whole cascade of events has touched them in a more personal way than it has me. Despite everything that was going on, I consistently encountered generosity, kindness, and willingness to help from all the people I had the chance to work with. I would like to give a special thanks to Lisa Cox at the Oregon DEQ, who took me in as an intern at the last minute, was my guide to the wild world of water quality, and also got me involved with the amazing OASE program. Everyone I met with this summer helped to show me what true professionalism looks like, and that is something I’ll remember.
Another take-away for me is a greater understanding of the complexity of conservation projects and some of the particular challenges of applied science. I’ve had a chance to learn about how conservation projects can get started, how they sometimes get funded, how they’re affected by politics and the relationships between conservation agencies and other stakeholders, and how much work and expertise is needed to get one off the ground. To me navigating all these layers seems trickier than the science in many ways, and equally as important if the goal is to have a positive effect on our environment. I’ve developed a growing respect for the people with the skills and experience to do good work in the thorny world of policy and legislation. Maybe I’ll be one of them someday.
I’m also very happy to have had the opportunity to learn about the Oregon Applied Sustainability Experience. This program partners Oregon businesses with students from a variety of fields with a goal of reducing waste, improving efficiency, helping with certification processes, and generally working to improve environmental outcomes. As part of my video project on the OASE program, I’ve had a chance to meet a few of the interns and business owners, and it’s been a great experience to get to know this passionate, bright, and innovative group of people. Each time I’ve visited the interns at their work I always end up with a big smile on my face. Special thanks to Connor Nolan, Alexi Overland, Angel Contreras Cruz, and to POSS, Defunkify, and the Oregon Soap Company for letting me point my camera around and for sharing your experiences with me.
Looking back, this summer feels like it’s gone amazingly fast. Two weeks from now I’ll have my head buried in a textbook again, and the longed-for rain will probably not be far behind. I hope the changing of the seasons will bring with it peace and understanding for us all. Thanks for reading this, I had a great experience this summer, and I’m happy I got this chance to share it with you.
Reflection: Throughout all of the craziness that has ensued from 2020, I am still so grateful that I had the opportunity to be a Sea Grant summer scholar and to have had the opportunity to work with the ODFW’s Marine Reserve Program. I’m thankful that everyone I’ve worked with has been so flexible with everything that has happened and that we all still pushed forward to make this internship happen. It’s pretty amazing to look back and see all of the work done by all of the other summer scholars as well.
Moving forward: Doing this internship only solidified that I’d like to continue in learning more about marine policies and marine outreach. With the recent wildfires that have happened across the Pacific Northwest, I only feel more motivated to engage more with the public on policies and knowledge of the environment.
Next steps: My next steps are to finish my couple of classes for undergrad. After finishing my undergrad, I am considering graduate school but I know I’d like to take a year off by either doing another internship, or working for a year for an organization that engages with the public about environmental education. It’s hard to solidify any of my plans though because we don’t know how long COVID-19 will affect travel, internships, jobs, etc.
So, we made it! It’s been a very strange year and under the circumstances, it makes me especially grateful that I’ve been able to be a part of this program. I’m particularly thankful for the Sea Grant team and my mentors at the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW).
In these upcoming weeks, I have my last translations to work on which feels bittersweet. My lexicon with shellfish and estuarine ecology has grown a lot; it’s easy to see how far I’ve progressed with my documents as mile markers. I have a much better understanding about the shellfish populations in coastal Oregon and how important it is to the community on a recreational and commercial level. I’ve also been working with a SEACOR team member on best practices while using R, she’s been a huge help.
A final focus of mine is a better look on how projects are funded. My mentor Dr. D’Andrea is showing me his previous proposals and explaining the process. As a hopeful scientist, this information will be necessary when my own projects need to be funded as well as understanding why some topics are rigorously studied while others may not be prioritized.
I reflected a little bit in my previous post on how great the resources at Sea Grant are and the many benefits but the best part was learning about Oregon. I’ve really appreciated the larger perspective I’ve gained in resource management and the role of science in a community. I’m finishing this internship even more keen to go to Oregon.
In the future, I hope to be attending graduate school studying biological oceanography or marine ecology. Coming in, I had this goal but it’s been solidified and seems more attainable to reach. As for those interested in this program, I highly recommend it. The Sea Grant team wants each one of the Scholars to succeed and they will help wherever they can.
Finally, thank you for reading and for contributing to my experiences this summer.
At the start of my internship with the Haystack Rock Awareness Program (HRAP), I wasn’t sure what to expect. Working from home was a new experience for me, but a welcome one as I was excited to still get to be a part of the team despite the pandemic. Of all the different avenues I could have chosen for my project, I’m glad I picked one that had more of a community-based focus. Interacting remotely with different kinds of people in Cannon Beach gave me a bigger picture of how and why a site like Haystack Rock is so important.
By managing the different sections of my project, I have been able to improve my time management skills. Between blocking off time for data collection, interviews, and analysis, I have to make sure that I’m giving myself plenty of time to complete everything. I’ve also learned how to conduct a research project that focuses on more of the human dimensions side of environmental conservation. This was a great way for me to apply what I learned from my anthropology studies, while looking into the complex interactions between humans and their coastal environment.
As things are winding down and my data collection is now complete, I’m focusing on my analysis. With the visitor intercept surveys, I’m interested in understanding where people are coming from when they visit and why they come. I’ll also be paying close attention to respondent awareness of Haystack Rock’s Marine Garden status and visitor opinions of HRAP. With the business surveys I’ll be looking for why business owners think visitors come to the coast, which businesses are most familiar with HRAP, and what their perceptions of HRAP are. Identifying the businesses with weaker connections to HRAP will help illuminate where they can be strengthened.
Talking with residents and members of the local government over the past few weeks provided some free response answers delving a little deeper into their perceptions of HRAP and Haystack Rock. Their perspectives are being used to help create a legislative history and a guide to how Haystack Rock was able to enact their protections.
Looking to the Future
This internship with Sea Grant has been a wonderful learning experience. I was able to utilize a wealth of opportunities to network, build meaningful connections, and gain valuable skills for my future career in marine conservation. If I could give any advice to future Sea Grant Scholars, I would tell them to say yes to everything! Attend every webinar and networking opportunity you can because you never know what you might learn or who you might meet.
Next year I am planning on attending graduate school for a master’s degree. When I began my internship with Sea Grant, I was pretty set on obtaining a master’s in conservation biology. Now, after working with HRAP, I have started to take an interest in resource management and policy. I’m excited for my next steps and to hopefully visit Oregon someday to see Haystack Rock in all it’s natural beauty in person! In the meantime, I hope everyone is staying safe out there on the west coast between the pandemic and wildfires.
I have had an amazing summer internship working with the USDA-ARS in Newport, OR. It has been a summer of adapting as we deal with the pandemic and wildfires here in Oregon. Newport has been safe from wildfires, but the smoke caused some eerie scenes last week. The picture below is right outside of Hatfield Marine Science Center housing. Looking out of the window seeing this when it was midday definitely made working difficult!
I am still glad that I was able to do some work in person while using social distancing protocols throughout the first half of the summer. The second half of my internship has been mostly working from home and doing data analysis with R statistical software. I am learning a lot about how to use R and I spend most of my time making plots of the data I am working with. Pictured below is a screenshot of some of the work I have been doing in R.
I am really grateful for my time at Hatfield Marine Science Center. I am working with some amazing scientists who I have learned a lot from and that in itself has been invaluable. I also really love the Oregon Coast! It has really made me think about my career path. I did not expect to enjoy my internship as much as I have so I feel like it has opened up another potential career path that I may be interested in pursing if working with coral reefs doesn’t work out for me.
After I leave Newport, I will be heading to Reston, VA to do an internship with USGS. This internship will focus more on biogeochemistry of watersheds so it will be a totally different experience. I am also hoping to start applying to graduate schools next year so hopefully I will get into some programs! I will definitely be keeping Oregon in mind; I would like to spend more time here!
It’s hard to believe that it’s already September and that the end of the year is fast approaching. Over the last few months we’ve made significant progress on development of a Conservation Plan (CP) for the commercial Dungeness crab fishery describing the various efforts and management measures being implemented to reduce the risk of marine life entanglements off Oregon. To date, much of our work has focused on drafting descriptions of the fishery and protected whale and turtle species. Additionally, we have been working to refine our methods for assessing the anticipated incidental take of those species that may be expected to occur under the CP.
In the coming weeks, we will shift gears and tackle another key component of the CP which describes the adaptive management components that are an integral part of the overall CP strategy. Adaptive management is a tool that is commonly used, particularly for large-scale systems, to address uncertainty in conservation planning. This uncertainty may stem from limited data or information on the ecology of the species or its habitat, or from lack of clarity about the effectiveness of various management techniques and their potential impacts on the species. A direct relationship exists between the level of biological uncertainty for a species and the degree of risk that an incidental take permit (ITP) could pose for that species (USFWS and NMFS, 2016).
With regards to whale entanglement and conservation planning across the West Coast, various efforts are taking place by state and federal fishery managers, scientists, researchers, industry members, and other stakeholders to fill some of the critical information gaps in order to effectively address this issue. In Oregon, this includes work to better understand seasonal whale distribution off our coast (see my last post here), analyses to estimate the potential impacts (i.e., reduction in pot-days; a metric equal to one pot fished for one day) of proposed management measures, and collaboration across the West Coast to consider the effectiveness and feasibility of alternative management techniques (e.g., gear modifications or configurations).
The development of a complete CP and ITP application is slated to be finished and ready for submission to the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) this winter. While we are working hard to ensure that this CP includes the best available information, many of the efforts to better understand and respond to this issue will still be underway when an ITP is applied for. It is for this reason that adaptive management is such a crucial element.
The CP handbook borrows from the 2009 Department of the Interior Adaptive Management Technical Guide to describe adaptive management as follows (Williams et al., 2009):
An adaptive approach involves exploring alternative ways to meet management objectives, predicting the outcomes of alternatives based on the current state of knowledge, implementing one or more of these alternatives, monitoring to learn about the impacts of management actions, and then using the results to update knowledge and adjust management actions. Adaptive management focuses on learning and adapting, through partnerships of managers, scientist, and other stakeholders who learn together how to create and maintain sustainable resource systems.
As this description points out, partnerships and collaboration are essential to developing an effective adaptive management approach. To this end, adaptive measures will be a key topic at our upcoming crab industry public meetings which will take place in October. At these meetings, we hope to provide information and solicit feedback from industry to design an approach that both minimizes impacts to the fishery, while maximizing the conservation benefit provided to endangered and/or threatened species. Through additional collaboration with NMFS, we will refine this strategy to ensure that it meets the necessary standards.
While this is certainly going to be one of the more challenging components of the CP process, I look forward to seeing much of the work that I have been doing over the last few months come together into a refined strategy that is responsive to new or changing information and circumstances.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service. 2016. Habitat conservation planning and incidental take permit processing handbook. 405 pp.
Williams, B. L., Szaro, R. C., and Shapiro, C. D. 2009. Adaptive management: the U.S. Department of the Interior Technical Guide. Adaptive Management Working Group, 84 pp.