Wow, how the last nine weeks have flown by me. To start this post, I want to present a sample of the analysis I was able to draw from the survey data. In terms of basic demographic data, 75% of the respondents were female and fifty percent of those surveyed lived outside of Oregon. Over ninety percent of people also identified as Caucasian. While my coworkers and I can tell you that an overwhelming percentage of those who visit Haystack Rock are Caucasian, in reality it is probably less than ninety percent – probably closer to 75-80%. Both this stat and the idea that three out of four visitors are female might be attributed to a few different factors. For one, I was the only person to conduct the survey, therefore I, myself, may have inadvertently introduced some bias. To counteract this and create a random sample pool, I should have asked others to also conduct the survey. We also receive visitors from all around the world so one possibility for the extreme difference could be those visitors who do not speak English as a first language may have felt timid about talking to me or taking a survey which was not in their primary language. Our organization has tried to increase our diversity with the hiring of an inclusivity coordinator who has translated some of our brochures and information into Spanish while also running a program which allows people to check out beach wheelchairs for free. The other piece of analysis I will touch on is just how much Haystack Rock is a family activity. When I first arrived and learned from other HRAP staff that we did have visitors who returned, it made sense to me, yet I did not comprehend the degree to which people return to the Rock. I found that more than 35% of tourists had visited the rock not just once, not just twice, not even five times, but ten or more times! Reading through the comments and having conversations with people from areas all over the US, I came to learn that many people have returned to Haystack Rock year after year. Some have family reunions here every year, some live in Washington but make the trek down at least once a summer, but all felt a connection to the Rock.
It is this connection that I think could be the key to protecting Haystack Rock and its inhabitants. People who have not visited in a few years are shocked by the drastic reduction in sea star population from even three years ago and many are clearly concerned by the fact that it is possible their children, or grandchildren, may not get to see the mosaic of sea stars that at one point painted the area. For humans to see what effect we have had on our environment is crucial to building a bridge towards conservation. A few, certainly the minority, citizens of Cannon Beach and Tolovana Park, as well as those who make the pilgrimage almost yearly, believe HRAP enforces too much. In their mind, if we do not allow a child to see what happens when they poke a closed sea anemone, or look at the underside of sea star, or look for nudibranchs on their own instead of an interpreter pointing one out to a child – all of which they would have done as a child before HRAP was established – we are stunting their growth and inhibiting their naturally curious side. I choose to tell the visitor that if we do not recognize that the ways of the past have left us where we are today, and if we do not learn from the past’s mistakes, we are bound to repeat them. This aside, I am constantly amazed at the number of guests who do want to see the puffins, as well as their avian and aquatic neighbors, thrive at Haystack Rock.
Personally, this summer has been incredible. It was the first time I was more or less living on my own, while simultaneously working my first 9 to 5 job. I learned how to cook with modest supplies…and not have a dining hall to bail me out when I was not in the mood for cooking. For the most part, the food I made was pretty good, and I believe I did a decent job crafting meals that covered most of the food groups. Given that I had a decent amount of down time after work and on the weekends, I had to figure out what to do. Hiking became my go to and I will sorely miss not having jaw-dropping hikes within a ten to fifteen minute drive of my place. Oregon never ceased to amaze me with gorgeous coastal views, dense coniferous forests that were shrouded in a heavy fog during my morning hikes, and colorful bridges (no, really, for a kid who has spent time in Denver and Miami, this last item was a highlight).
I have to mention my coworkers who made our small office a great deal of fun and could always make me laugh, while simultaneously teaching me crazy facts about marine life and just about anything else, too. My standards for professional conferences were significantly increased this summer when most of our staff traveled to Portland for a week at the Northwest Aquatic and Marine Educators (NAME) conference. I had the opportunity to spend a week with amazing people from Alaska, British Columbia, Washington, and Oregon, many of whom are (or were) educators in high school, universities, and community colleges. Both inside and outside of the conference that week, our boss, Melissa (who also happened to be the coordinator for the conference), ensured that we had a fantastic work environment, and there truly was never a dull moment. These people made the quiet Oregon coast a whirlwind of activity, engagement, and welcomed me to their community. I will miss them, every one of them, a lot.
If someone asked me if they should apply and try to be a part of Oregon Sea Grant, I would emphatically say “yes” as it is a professional experience that teaches you so much and connects you with knowledgeable people, all while giving you the opportunity to spend a summer in a state that has more to offer in terms of unique culture (I am looking at you Portland Timber’s Army) and outdoor activities than can be completed in ten weeks.
Until next time, Oregon!