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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. 

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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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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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Trees of Coastal Oregon

Posted by: | July 8, 2018 | 6 Comments |

One of my favorite things about being a Sea Grant Scholar is having the opportunity to spend time outside getting familiar with the native wildlife. The Pacific Northwest is well known for its plentiful coniferous trees that stay green all year long. When I first got to this part of Oregon, I assumed all the trees were just one same dominant species. Little did I know that although there are a few different species of trees that make up the coast, there are three main conifers that can be easily distinguished from each other.

They are the firs, pines and spruces. The main fir in the area is the Douglas Fir. This can be identified by its softer needles that stick out in all directions from the branch. Its cones have three pointed bracts pointing out, which resemble a mouse tail and two feet from a myth. The pine here is the Shore Pine. It has dark green pokey needles that come in pairs, and even its cones have spikes on it. Finally, the spruce in this area is the Sitka Spruce. Spruces are mostly known as being Christmas trees, but the Sitka Spruce is a little different. It has very sharp points and the bark is layered and scaly looking. The cones are very papery.

Although they all look similar to the untrained eye, once you know the distinguishing differences between these common conifers, you can identify them anywhere. It’s so fun to hike around the area and identify the local trees, plants, birds and other animals. I’m excited to expand my knowledge as the summer continues!

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My experience at NOAA Fisheries has been extremely educational thus far and I continue to learn new insights about the work daily. NOAA Fisheries is a very large organization and could not accomplish the daunting work that is needed without its regional branch offices. We work within the West Coast Region which covers Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and California. Within our office we have four divisions: The Office of Law Enforcement, Sustainable Fisheries Division, Protected Resources Division, and the Operations and Personnel Management. My position is nestled within the Sustainable Fisheries Division (SFD) which is largely responsible for the sustaining of salmon fisheries in the Colombia River. The SFD handles National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) permitting when NOAA Fisheries wants to take an action such as making a fisheries management change, funding a hatchery project, or allowing special harvest of threatened species.
I would argue that salmon are essential to most life on the west coast. They serve an important role in connecting the food webs between our oceans and land as well as cycling important nutrients into forests. Most salmonids are anadromous meaning that they live part of their life in fresh water and part of their life in salt water. A fish that spends the majority of the life history in salt water falls into NOAA Fisheries jurisdiction. Because many populations of salmonids are threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act, NOAA Fisheries has an obligation to work to get those populations delisted. Using hatchery programs for decades has allowed fisheries (a term used to describe an area where fish harvest is happening) to continue without driving native populations to extinction.
My project has focused on how to incorporate literature on climate change into the analysis of NEPA documents. Most of us are well aware of the risks being faced by increasing temperatures, rising sea levels, and more severe weather that is a result of climate change. These risks will continue to cause problems into the future and organizations like NOAA Fisheries must consider this when making management decisions for protecting fisheries. I hope that through my work NOAA Fisheries will be better equipped with the tools needed to make sound decisions into the future.

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So much to do.

Posted by: | June 25, 2018 | 3 Comments |

I am blessed to be an Oregon Sea Grant Summer Scholar. This summer I’ll be learning about the Endangered Species Act (ESA), and how it applies to Salmon and Steelhead hatcheries. Using what I learn I will develop educational programs to help better understand the beneficial and detrimental effects of hatcheries.

This summer I’ll be living in one of Portland State University residential hall. It is located near a bus route where I can hop on and start exploring the different parts of Portland. So far this weekend, I was able to explore the North and East parts. There are many more parts of Portland I haven’t explored. I still want to see and explore the rest of Portland and Oregon before the end of my summer here. Another thing I love about Portland is the variety of food places and food cart. Some blocks are filled with food carts. The food was amazing. I can’t wait to try them all.

In addition, every Saturday there is a huge farmers market right by campus. They sell a lot of local produce, from fruits, pastries, flowers and many more. It is never dull in Portland. There are events all over town.

I love to get lost and wander around Portland. There are so much things to see. I look forward to trying more food and learning more about the endangered species act.

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SSNERR: An Easy Sell

Posted by: | June 24, 2018 | 2 Comments |

A few years ago, the EMU (common building) at the UO was a complete mess. The halls were impossible to navigate and the space was making it harder for student life to flourish, so our government liaison decided to ask for government funding to build a new one. In addition to writing the proposal and going through all of the necessary steps, she held a meeting with the representatives in the EMU. She gave them only the room number, and every one of them turned up late to the meeting after frantically searching halls that more closely resembled mazes. When they finally made it to the meeting, they were greeted by our liaison and a presentation explaining the benefits of upgrading the EMU, which the officials had just experienced first-hand. Her plan worked, and today myself and thousands of other students happily attend events, lectures, and career fairs in a beautiful building that fosters student participation and interaction.

I’ll never forget when I heard that story, because it completely redefined the words “effective communication” for me. Effective communication isn’t just breaking down complicated terms and concepts so that people can understand them, but actually bringing people to the problem and getting them to connect with it. Knowing they would have meetings there in the future, and seeing what campus members were going through, those representatives had a personal stake in the improvement and maintenance of that building, and I hope to have that same impact at the South Slough National Estuarine Reserve (SSNERR) over the next ten weeks.

By connecting people with the SSNERR and the wonderful ecosystem that it protects, I hope to make people see that we all have a personal stake in protecting the environment. Summer camps, seminars, demonstrations, guided tours, research, and monitoring are just a short list of the many ways in which the staff, interns, and volunteers at SSNERR dedicate their time to showing people the magic of the outdoors and the importance of environmental research and protection.

On my most recent hike with one of my mentors, we reached this beautiful clearing and took a moment to take in the view. She told me, “you can kind of think of it like you’re trying to market the South Slough, and really, it’s such an easy sell.”

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After several months of looking forward to it, I just finished my first week of the Oregon Sea Grant Summer Scholars Program!

The Hatfield Marine Science Center is primarily a research center for Oregon State University, but there are also several other buildings on the campus with various agencies. One of these buildings belongs to the EPA Office of Research and Development, and this is where I’m interning this summer.

Working for the EPA is an interesting mix of science and regulation. Since the EPA is primarily a regulatory agency, this research facility is not the standard EPA workplace. Even so, a lot of federal regulations carry over. All new employees are required to complete an extensive online training, which took two of my days this week. There are also in-person safety trainings, work meetings, and paperwork. After that, I spent my time reading research articles and getting caught up on some of the background knowledge related to my project. It was a slower start than I was expecting, but I enjoyed having time to educate myself about the topic before jumping into research. In addition, the researchers have been extremely friendly and welcoming, and it is exciting to see the many labs, research boats, and scientific equipment.

I was also able to see some of my first sights of the Oregon coast this week, including South Beach, Nye Beach, and Yaquina Head. In Bellingham, WA, where I go to school, the beaches are almost all rocky, so it is a treat to get to enjoy long sandy beaches! I’m so excited to have a whole summer to enjoy here, and my list of places to visit grows every day.

At the end of the day on Friday, my mentor, Cheryl Brown, returned from travelling for a conference and we were able to start planning out research plans for the summer. We have an exciting and complicated project sampling water quality in Tillamook Bay and rivers that enter into this bay. We will be taking samples from the streams and the bay itself to try and get a better idea of how humans and agriculture may be contributing to ocean acidification in the bay. Stay tuned for more updates throughout the summer!

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