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.
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.
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!