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The work part

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

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

The play part

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

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

Holding a crawfish during the OSG camping trip

The feels part

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

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

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

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Presentation Time

Posted by: | August 21, 2017 | 1 Comment |

This past week felt like the end of school before summer break: the last week of true work, tying up loose ends, and taking finals. For us, the final test was a symposium consisting of short five-minute presentations and a poster session. I wrangled together as much as of the field data from this summer as I could and commanded it to inform me of the goings-on’s of the underwater world we had been working in this summer in Willapa Bay, Washington. Essentially what it told me was that my hypothesis may be supported, but we need much more data samples before any real conclusions can be made. A bit of a sassy response, but I’ll take it. To quantify just how badly we needed more samples, one of the statistical tests we ran came out with a power value of 0.09 (on a scale of 0-1, 1 being the goal). As a pretty universal rule of science, the more samples the better. However, I was not aiming to end this summer with publication-ready results. For the size of this project, that goal takes years (i.e. graduate school).

My poster: Habitat use of oyster aquaculture by fish and crab

In addition to the importance of replicates, I also have some take-away tips on presentations. The first is to practice in front of peers. It may seem obvious, but the value of my practice presentations in front of my friends and mentor last week were not fully evident to me until after the symposium was over. Not only was I able to shake out some nerves and gain confidence in my presentation, I was able to receive feedback on my speaking skills and the content itself of the presentation. My second tip is: if you are making a poster, find a way to project it on a TV or projector screen. This will allow you to better notice little errors such as spacing and typos that are much less noticeable on a small computer screen.

As I said in the beginning of this blog post, this past week felt like the last week of school before finals. Now, with one week left in the internship and the symposium in the books, it feels like the true last week of school that we used to have in grade school. The week in which tests are done and the weight they held over us has been lifted, and summer break is about to start. Although of course we are all about to go back to school or move on to other jobs, I will definitely be making the most out of my last week here at Hatfield in both the workplace and with the friends I’ve made here.

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This summer I have been interning with the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) contributing to my mentor’s ongoing research on the ecological role of oyster aquaculture in estuaries. As part of my mentor’s work, he maintains relationships with the oyster growers at our sites, who are actually some of our biggest stakeholders in supporting the continuance of the work that we do. This initially took me by surprise, as agriculture and environmentalism are often pinned against one another. As we continue to hear about pesticides contaminating our water and soil (https://water.usgs.gov/edu/pesticidesgw.html ), rainforests being destroyed for cattle ranching (http://globalforestatlas.yale.edu/amazon/land-use/cattle-ranching ), and monoculture bringing the demise of domestic honeybees (https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/guest-blog/honey-bees-and-monoculture-nothing-to-dance-about/), agriculture is an easy culprit to pin many of our environmental woes on. I, myself, have been vegetarian for the past four years in order to reduce my environmental impact and “vote with my dollar” as they say (http://time.com/4266874/vegetarian-diet-climate-change/ ).

So, when I had the chance, during our most recent field trip to Washington, to meet the senior biologist of a local Washington oyster growing company, I was pleasantly surprised and excited by the experience.

Oysters scattered in the mud: on-bottom oyster aquaculture– one of the culture types I have been studying this summer

Aptly named Longline Aquaculture– the other type of aquaculture I have been studying

It was lunch time during one of our days out in the field and my mentor told us (us= myself, our lab tech, and graduate student) that a friend of his from one of the oyster companies was coming to meet up with us for a bit. During the lunch, we discussed issues such as the use of pesticides on burrowing shrimp (which loosen the mud causing the oysters to sink into it and suffocate), the difference between the value of punishing environmental harm and the value of preventing degradation before it starts, and the age-old question in ecology: what is natural? If we want to conserve or restore something, what is the true natural state of the system that we want to restore it to?

It was exciting getting to meet and talk with an employee of agriculture who so passionately spoke of the same issues that I am concerned with. I’ll be honest, between my degree in Environmental Science, the like-minded environmentalists I surround myself with, and media today, my education on agriculture has been very one-sided, lacking near any perspective from the agriculture side. Of course, there are (huge) differences between industrial agriculture and smaller-scale farmers (like the oyster growers), however it is still comforting to see environmental concern at any level of agriculture.

I am grateful for the opportunity I have had this summer to see first-hand the agricultural process, especially for a non-vegetarian product, and humanize the farmers behind it. Most of the growers in the bays we work in truly love their bays and want to minimize their impact.

Boating off to one of our study sites in Willapa Bay (a rare sunny morning)

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In the past two weeks, I have gone camping twice, shocked my body with frigid water on multiple occasions, memorized the soundtrack to Moana, and even managed to break my hand (a boring detail compared the rest of the recent adventures). The first camping trip was with all of the other SeaGrant interns at Trout Creek. The creek itself was chilly, but the valley air was like a warm blanket compared to Newport’s constant ocean zephyr (GRE vocab word meaning gentle breeze). The next body of water I encountered was my coldest yet, Tamolitch Blue Pool. It’s up to 40ft. deep, a delicious blue like a melted skylight-flavored snowball, and 38◦F. All of the interns took our turns jumping into the pool (and scrambling out as fast as possible), and two even cliff-jumped into it from a height of some 60ft. Shout out to Neal and Dustin, I’m still insanely impressed at that.

Trout Creek

Tamolitch Blue Pool

The weekend after was camping trip #2: Crater Lake! This water was around 50◦F, and yes we swam in that too. After spending as much time in the water as we could bear, we crawled out and basked on rocks, chatting and reheating our cores to a decent temperature. During this weekend trip, we also hiked through clouds of butterflies, befriended some trippy Oregonians living out of a school bus, and participated in hours of car singing, at least 40% of which was the soundtrack to Moana. I am not ashamed nor sick of it yet.

Crater Lake feat. Allie

The last cold-water encounter was a ride in the relatively swift current of the Rogue River, and also my favorite. It was a spontaneous decision at the end of the long day at Crater Lake, prompted by us driving right past it and being a little toasty in the car with five people crammed inside. I was definitely the most hesitant, traumatized by the cold water at Tamolitch, worried about only being able to swim with one hand (remember the other is broken), and honestly just being scared to make the jump into the current. After watching everyone else float some 40 yards down the river multiple times and begging for someone to hold my hand, I succeeded in floating the river too. It was numbingly cold, but the excitement of riding the current (think strong Lazy River from water parks) and conquering my fear overrode the temperature drop. Getting out of the water also sent a surge of heat to the muscles as they regained feeling, leaving all of us giddy with adrenalin and endorphins.

While we are all here because of our love for the marine world, Oregon’s freshwater systems have certainly demanded their equal respect and awe as well. You go Mother Nature, you are one beautiful being.

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First off, let me say that farmer’s markets are one of my top three favorite things in life. I don’t know if it’s the good food, free samples, or variety of characters at the market, but the sun always seems to shine a little brighter at the farmer’s market, so it was about time that I gave the Newport one a whirl.

And I loved it. It was honestly bigger and better than I expected, with the highlights being: a lady selling grandma-sweaters with patches sewn on of cats, puffins, and the like, loads of sweet Oregon cherries, and a honey-vendor who not only sold honey but also some bomb honey mustard and honey barbeque sauce. He also educated me on something called Royal Jelly. It’s basically a paste made for the Queen Bee that he cited to have great health benefits and swore by it for helping him beat Stage 4 cancer! I love these kinds of interactions at farmer’s markets because you get to learn about and interact with people over your common love for food. Back in Los Angeles, there was a kombucha lady at the Brentwood farmer’s market who I would always look forward to seeing for her cheery attitude and funny stories.

I know farmer’s markets can get a bad reputation for being too expensive or bougie, but I find the value of these interactions and getting my food from local small-scale farms worth the price. Plus, the way I see it I would much rather spend my money on good food than new technological gadgets or the latest fashion trends.

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My research this summer with the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) is on the ecological role that oyster aquaculture plays in estuaries. It is commonly accepted that current industrialized agriculture has a huge impact on the environment, and we (a team of my mentor, a lab tech, a Master’s student, and myself) are specifically looking at how the fish and crustaceans utilize these aquaculture beds as habitat. Are they hiding in and around the oyster shells? Are they hunting? Just passing by to get to the more natural eelgrass beds? Or do they completely desert the area? Only data will tell.

Road tripping to Washington

Because our main study topic is aquaculture, and the Yaquina Bay where our Hatfield offices and my summer residences are located does not experience aquaculture, our field work involves taking trips of 3-6 days to other bays that do. This past Friday, while everyone was gearing up for the weekend, our little research team trucked up to Willapa, Washington for my first taste of estuarine field work.

Boating to site on a deceptively calm morning

So far, here’s what it tastes like: wind, salt, and great hotel coffee. The wind blasts in your face while on the boat, giving a nice dose of salty muddy estuary water with it, but to compensate the coffee provided at our hotel has been amazing (and I’m not even a big coffee drinker).

Our days have consisted of getting up at the crack of dawn and boating around the Willapa Bay to deploy and retrieve our many devices that will reveal the secrets of the “fishy” behavior going on below. Our technology ranges from camera rigs fastened with the highly regarded GoPro to sticks with squid piece super-glued to them, such is field work.

12-foot camera rigs at low tide (me for scale)

Same camera rigs at high tide

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My favorite parts have been retrieving the minnow traps and counting and measuring the little critters we catch. So far, we have found: the feisty Dungeness crab, the “always looks kind of dead” shiner perch, the slimy gunnel, the abundant stickleback, the English sole that looks like Flats the Flounder from SpongeBob, and my favorite the staghorn sculpin (the namesake of my favorite IPA). The days are long and tiring, but to me zooming around on a boat and tromping through mud all day feels doesn’t really feel like work.

We will continue collecting data for the next few days (stay tuned for Field Work Part 2 next week), and upon return to Hatfield, I will finally have my own data to analyze! As a contribution to my mentor’s work on estuaries, my personal project for the summer will be to compare the collected video and predation data from this trip between two different types of oyster aquaculture (long-line vs. on-bottom).

For the past four years, I have been vegetarian to reduce my environmental impact. Being able to further learn about the impacts of agriculture and contribute to research that will help reduce those impacts has already been an amazing opportunity that I am excited to be a part of, and I look forward to what is still to come.

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As many of my fellow interns and Hatfield summer inhabitants have heard, I dedicated a majority of this past week to the task of scraping mud off of grass. The scientific version of this activity is “processing seagrass for morphological data and epiphyte biomass.” However, I was essentially scraping mud off of grass.

Seagrasses are a diverse group of vascular flowering marine plants that are more related to terrestrial grass than any of the photosynthetic organisms in the sea. For a quick history of earth’s plants: in the Precambrian time period, the first plant life began in the ocean, by the Silurian period some these organisms had migrated onto land and were evolving as land plants. Fast forward to the Cretaceous period (about 100 million years ago), and some land plants were re-invading the ocean. Today, the ancestors of these invaders are mangroves and seagrasses. Fundamentally, seagrass is a terrestrial grass that no longer lives on land.

Seagrasses are distributed around the world in tropical, temperate, and even sub-polar environments. As primary producers that grow in high density, similar to terrestrial grasses, seagrasses are the foundation species of seagrass habitats. They add oxygen to the water, attenuate wave energy, trap sediment, and act as a nursery for many marine species. Although often outcompeted by other stable environmental states such as coral reefs and kelp forests, seagrasses are present in nearly every coastal region around the world, answering the primary question to the work I have been doing “Why study seagrass?”

Now for the next question “Why scrape mud off of seagrass?” What I was actually doing was scraping the epiphytes (organisms that grow on top of another organism in a non-parasitic manner) off of the seagrass. The epiphytes provide surface area for the mud to stick to, making the blades (and my fingers) very muddy. For clarification, I did also gently rinse the blades to remove any outstanding mud and sediment clumps. Epiphytes are viewed as an indicator of nutrient levels (more epiphytes= more nutrients) as well as provide insight into the state of the ecosystem. Epiphytes are beneficial as they are a food source for primary and secondary consumers, but also pose the disadvantage of competition for nutrients and light to the seagrass.

After scraping off the epiphytes, I would dry the mud/epiphyte concoction to remove the water and obtain mass, and measure the length of width of the seagrass samples. The seagrass that I was processing was from multiple bays in the Pacific Northwest, each with three different treatment environments of: seagrass bed, oyster aquaculture bed, and edge between aquaculture and seagrass beds. The variation (or lack thereof) of epiphyte mass and seagrass size will give us insight into the type and level of impact that oyster aquaculture has on seagrass and the local ecosystem.

This project is one that I am truly excited to be a part of. I am using research to better understand how humans are impacting the environment, am learning first-hand from other ecologists about the local ecology and aquaculture methods, and am realizing my dream of improving the environment through research. Although I joke about doing the stereotypical “intern grunt-work” with grass and mud, this internship has only confirmed my career choice. I would much rather be spending my internship and summer handling grass and mud than sitting in front of a computer all day.

An example of how the seagrass beds look here in Oregon estuaries

 

 

Special thank you to my professors Dr. Fong and Dr. Willette for teaching me about the world of seagrass. All information in this blog post was provided from their lecture material.

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I never thought I’d be the person to experience culture-shock. I especially never expected it to happen in my home-country, in a town not that different from the place I grew up. I’m from a small town in Maryland, a suburb grown out of farm country at the intersection of two decently small highways. I went off to college in Los Angeles, excited to be on the west coast and ready to adapt to the city life as quickly as possible. Four years later, I considered myself a local.

One week ago today, I was graduating from UCLA, packing up my bags, and getting ready to fly up to Oregon. I’d never been to Oregon until this week, but from google images and the TV show Portlandia, I thought I had a pretty good idea of what I was in for: lots of trees, lots of water, and some pleasantly quirky Oregonians. It wasn’t until I got here that I realized how different Newport (the town I am currently living in) is from Los Angeles, and even Maryland.

This past Wednesday I wanted to go into town. The one small thing standing between our Sea Grant Intern dorms and the rest of Newport is one very large bridge. I don’t have a car, so I decided I’d take the bus, just like I’d always done in LA. Turns out there is only one bus in Newport and it runs a total of five loops around the town per day. I managed to somehow catch the last bus, which is harder than it seems as there are no bus signs here. My confusion with this was confirmed once on the bus as a gentleman informed me “It’s Newport, we don’t have signs.” The casual irregularity of this system was further enforced when the bus driver told me “You just gotta holler at me when you want to get off.” So, I hollered as best I could and strolled off the bus about a block past the store I was aiming to go to. Once ready to go home, I faced my next challenge of getting home without the bus running. I asked the women in the store if there was a taxi service. They said no, “It’s Newport, you’re lucky to even have the bus running.” I half-heartedly asked if uber existed here? Definitely not. So, is my best option to walk across the bridge? “Yes,” they said, “but hold on to the railings, it’s really windy.” And windy it was. I don’t know what the speed was, but it was windy enough that every time someone walked into the store, the door would burst open and rattle the ceiling tiles. It was the kind of wind that gives you a little shove forward while walking if you pick your foot up at the right time. So, I braced myself, held on to the railing, and walked across this bridge like an obvious out-of-towner. I’d also like to point out that I have a rather large fear of heights, and this bridge is 246 feet tall (according to Wikipedia).

Yaquina Bridge

I survived the walk across the bridge, with a burst of adrenaline as the prize for conquering my fear. I decided to take this opportunity to go for a run and explore some of the surrounding area. I picked a route that would send me to a nice beach run. As I’m running, I look to my left to discover a surprise secret waterfall carved into the bluff right next to me. It was amazing! A secret not-so-little waterfall hiding in the cliffs! It must have been about 30 feet tall. I ran over and stuck my feet in. The cold water felt as refreshing as if I were drinking it. I climbed all around the edges of the waterfall, sliding in the dark gray mud like a little kid.

The magical waterfall

What is this mysterious place that I’m in? A place where they don’t have ubers (even my small town in Maryland has uber) and Mother Earth humbly juts out waterfalls right onto the beach. I read a Humans of New York post recently which reminds me a lot of this point in my life. The interviewee was describing how she wanted to move to a new country because she wanted to be a tourist in her own life again. After four years of trying to become a local in Los Angeles, a city swimming with tourists, I find myself in a state I’ve never been, in a sleepy beach-town with a population of ten thousand and once again a tourist in my own life.

 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yaquina_Bay_Bridge

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