Reflection of my Time at the South Slough

Reflection:

This summer helped me grow immensely as a scientist and an educator. I received in-person learning of what it takes to teach children about complex topics, and while doing so, I learned much about coastal ecosystems that I never knew. I had the opportunity to assist in a wide variety of fieldwork with the science team and feel much more confident in my ability to soon conduct independent research. I worked with a great group of people and cherished my time at the South Slough Estuary. I will look back at this summer with fond memories, though I’m sure I’ll make many more at the slough… I will definitely be going back frequently to say “hello” to my mentors/friends and to walk the trails with my doggy. Also, special thanks to Jaime for being a great mentor this summer: working under your guidance was always super fun for me and valuable for my education! 

Did this internship affect my future career choices?:

My experience this summer has absolutely affected my future career path. I came into this program wanting to study animals for a living and to eventually manage a wildlife reserve. However, coming in, I also had no experience in these fields outside of the college courses that I have taken. After this summer internship, I am 100% sure that I want to pursue a career in wildlife biology. My path did not change this summer, but it was set in concrete.

Next Steps:

In my journey to a PhD in wildlife biology, I must first get into graduate school (obviously), but to provide myself with a competitive chance to get into the schools that I want to attend, I must first obtain lots of research experience! This coming fall, I will be completing my URSA research in the Hacker Lab at OSU with the help of my mentors, Dr. Sally Hacker and Katya Jay, a PhD student. I will be finding and analyzing nitrate concentrations in dune soil in the hopes to provide the lab with a better understanding of how and where dune grasses get their nutrients from. After my research ends through the URSA program, I will begin my honors thesis with the help of my mentor, Dr. Jim Rivers. I will be looking at the behavior of bees as it relates to their visual perception. I do not yet know what this specifically entails, but I am very excited to start! Oh, and might I mention… I still need to graduate! I have a long road ahead but can honestly say that I am excited for the ride.

Here’s a photo of a seagull that I took through a pair of binoculars two days ago; I took this photo while teaching campers how to be a proper birder!

Summer Winding Down at the South Slough

Happy Sunday, everyone! Hope you enjoy my blog for the week.

What I learned:

As my internship at the South Slough is winding down, I look back at my time there with great gratitude. I have had the opportunity to experience and learn many things! Here is just a condensed list:

  • I have had the opportunity to learn about how the South Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve System (SSNERR) functions on an organizational level, how it receives funding, what branches it is made up of (and what they do), and what it means to be part of the National Estuarine Research Reserve System (NERRS).
  • I have learned how to create educational materials and deliver outdoor/wildlife education to children.
  • I now have an in-depth understanding of how to properly conduct plant-monitoring surveys in varying types of environments. 
  • I have developed a much better understanding of estuarine environments and their watersheds.
  • I learned how to properly kayak!
  • My ability to identify local plants went from basically nonexistent to relatively extensive within the past two months.
  • I have also had the opportunity to learn about a bunch of animals I never knew how to identify, from invasive ocean-dwelling crabs to colorful high-flying birds… and much in between!
  • Luckily, I’ve also had the opportunity to work under great mentors who have shown me what it takes to foster a happy and productive team of people.
Taking a tree core from a 98-ft tall Western Hemlock. This tree was 60 years old and had a circumference of approximately 5 1/2 ft. Pictured on the left and right are some campers who got to learn all about the importance of natural resources last week!

What surprised me:

I am shocked by how quickly this summer has passed. My time at the South Slough has been super fun and had great variety… and for those reasons it has felt like a blink of an eye. There were so many projects I was allowed to choose from at the beginning of the summer, and when I looked at them, I was confident I could complete them all! Boy, was I wrong! Between days of fieldwork, camp preparation, and actually helping lead the camps, I rarely had time to do anything else in the 2nd half of my internship. Am I disappointed about that? NO! Being busy has been awesome… especially provided the circumstances of our nation right now. This summer, my greatest surprise was that I felt more like an employee or a true part of the education team than an intern. I was still able to complete a relatively hefty plant guide as well as introduce new camp activities and materials, but much of my time was spent like helping the education and science teams with daily tasks. I loved it.

Eelgrass restoration project: here, I am holding an eelgrass plant that had been taken from a location flourishing with eelgrass in a bay near Charleston. This eelgrass was planted higher up in the estuary in a location that has seen heavy eelgrass decline in recent years. Eelgrass serves an important role for many estuarine animals as sources of food and habitat. It is hoped that relocating eelgrass to this location will allow it to reproduce there and flourish once again.

What I would have done differently:

I really enjoyed my time and got a ton out of it. I don’t know that I’d do anything much differently because I learned so much. If I knew what I do now, maybe I would’ve started earlier! In the past couple weeks, I have also become super interested in birds… So I guess I would’ve asked a lot more questions about birds! I feel I could have networked more, but I much prefer in-person interaction and have a difficult time networking with people virtually. I developed great relationships with the people I worked with in-person, but those that I never met in person were hard for me to connect with.

Science Policy and the Organization of the South Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve

Before I get to the real substance of this blog post, try saying “South Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve” five times fast… It takes some practice, so good luck!

Once you have mastered saying “South Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve,” you can move on to the remainder of this post.

Okay, games aside… For this week’s blog, I have answered questions related to science policy that can be seen below in bold.

Now that you’ve been on the job for several weeks, how has your view of science policy changed (if at all)?

My views on science policy haven’t really changed, though working for a state-run organization has given me a better understanding of the resources available to organizations like the South Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve (SSNERR). I’ve also heard more about what it takes to get additional funds through grants for various projects (and it doesn’t seem easy).

Do you have a better understanding of how policy organizations work?

One of my goals for this summer is to have an in-depth understanding of how the SSNERR is run. As of now, I have not had time to learn more about how it works on a macro-level, but I have definitely developed a better understanding of how the SSNERR team works on a micro/local level. I have had the opportunity to work with both the science and education teams this summer; as a result, I feel I have a solid understanding of how similar programs may be organized. I also have a better understanding of what positions are necessary to run a state-guided science organization.

Have you had a chance to attend any agency-level meetings?

I meet frequently with the education team, but have not yet attended an all-staff meeting or meeting of higher status. I will be attending the next all-staff meeting in order to learn about how the meetings and agenda-setting work, though my role at the South Slough (given my limited time) has not made it imperative for me to attend such meetings. I believe I will get to attend a National Estuarine Research Reserve (NERR) meeting this summer as well, which will help me understand the larger system as a whole. 

Does your agency have ties to other states, and/or to national-level organizations?  

The South Slough was the first location designated as a National Estuarine Research Reserve (NERR) and is affiliated with the National Estuarine Research Reserve System (NERRS). This system functions under NOAA. As seen on NOAA’s website, “The National Estuarine Research Reserve System is a network of 29 coastal sites designated to protect and study estuarine systems. Established through the Coastal Zone Management Act, the reserves represent a partnership program between NOAA and the coastal states. NOAA provides funding and national guidance, and each site is managed on a daily basis by a lead state agency or university with input from local partners.”

Logo for South Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve
Our logo at the South Slough!

Work Variation at the South Slough Estuary

Since my last blog post, I have spent much of my time coordinating and preparing for summer science camps at the South Slough. After assisting in the first summer camp two weeks ago, which was virtual, I have worked closely with my mentor, Jaime Belanger, and other members of the education team to create activities for the next camp, which is an in-person camp that starts this upcoming Tuesday, the 14th. Due to regulations intended to prevent the spread of Covid-19, preparations for this camp have been very tedious. It was only yesterday that we finally worked out every last detail regarding how to sanitize all the materials and environments that the children in the upcoming camp will interact with on a continuous basis. Although COVID-19 has limited what our education team can do with the kids at camp, it has also forced us to be adaptable and creative in this time, which in my opinion, is going to be helpful in the long run.

Though I have been working on logistical planning for much of the past two weeks, I have also had the opportunity to assist in upland forest biomonitoring in that time, lead educational hikes through the South Slough Estuary, and continue my work on an extensive plant identification guide for the South Slough. This variety is more indicative of my daily-routine (or weekly routine) at the South Slough. During a given week, I usually spend time assisting the science team conduct fieldwork near the OIMB, coordinating events for the South Slough education team, and working on projects (such as the plant identification guide) at the South Slough Visitor’s Center.  My hours and location vary with the day, but all of my work so far has been in-person. I work Tuesdays-Saturdays with work days that are usually around 8 hours, though some days require longer hours and some require less. On days that I assist the science team conduct fieldwork that is dependent on the tide, my day may start very early in the morning or end late in the evening. 

Student research collects data from a water well in an upland forest in Charleston, Oregon.
Collecting data from a water well in an upland forest in Charleston, Oregon.
Student researcher uses a 1 meter x 1 meter quadrant to measure the percent cover of various plant species in a forest clearing.
Using a 1m x 1m quadrat to measure the percent cover of various plant species in a forest clearing experiencing primary succession.

One special aspect of my work has been that whether I am at the Visitor’s Center or out in the field, I always have the opportunity to be active during these strange times. When I’m in the field, I often go home physically exhausted (which is a good thing!) and when at the Visitor’s Center, I always have the opportunity to hike trails or collect materials out in the marsh if I start feeling antsy from computer work. 

Another special aspect of working at the South Slough is that within the education team, I feel like an important member. While I am an intern and am directed to take care of various tasks, I am also given much freedom to influence the educational materials and camps as I like. I speak with my mentor and the other team members frequently every day. I also participate in team meetings and feel grateful that the ideas I come up with are not only considered, but also often implemented. Overall, my time so far at the South Slough has been great. I have been learning valuable skills while getting to do lots of fun work! It’s awesome!

Summer Roles and Summer Goals at the South Slough in Charleston, Oregon

So far, in my experience as a Sea Grant Summer Scholar, I have been presented with the opportunity to be involved in a variety of projects, research, and activities at the South Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve (SSNERR). I have been working for a little less than two weeks, but have already had the chance to work closely with the science team at the Oregon Institute of Marine Biology (OIMB) to monitor eelgrass beds, water quality, and green crab populations (an invasive species) in Charleston. In addition to assisting the science team this summer, my main task is to help improve the education outreach at the SSNERR. I will help plan, coordinate, and lead educational summer camps throughout the summer that teach kids about estuaries, ecosystems, and biology. In the past week, the education team at the Slough Slough (including myself) has begun planning all of the logistics for how to run the camps while ensuring a safe and sanitary environment for the kids. This summer, I am also tasked with updating and improving educational materials at the South Slough Interpretive Center. For example, in the past couple of weeks, I have been creating plant identification guides that visitors can use on the trails at the South Slough once the interpretive center is allowed to open up again (it is closed to the public right now because of COVID). 

Student researcher Lucas Parvin stands on a boat lowering monitoring equipment into the water of the South Slough.
Assisting in water quality monitoring.
Equipment used for estimating population and health of eelgrass.
Equipment used for estimating population and health of eelgrass.

I hope to develop an in-depth understanding of estuarine ecosystems this summer, while also learning about how wildlife reservations are managed. These goals will be accomplished while working diligently to achieve the goals of our education team: to improve locals’ understanding of how estuarine systems work and why they are so important. If my summer internship is successful, I will help also enhance the materials that the South Slough has for delivering education in the future.

The work I do this summer will help improve educational outreach because I will be directly teaching and leading groups of local kids. I will also add to the educational materials that the South Slough has to deliver education by working on projects ― like the creation of the plant guide that I have been working on. In addition, I will add to the pool of information known about the South Slough Estuary by assisting in data collection with the science team.

These project goals will help advance Oregon Sea Grant’s mission because for coastal communities to flourish, citizens of coastal communities must understand how to properly utilize and care for their natural environments. Specifically, improving the understanding amongst youth can increase levels of interest in fields such as biology, conservation, and sustainability. Influencing future generations in this way can help achieve healthier coastal communities.

Similarly, my project goals help advance SSNERR’s mission, which is to serve as a model for how to properly manage coastal communities on regional, national, and global levels.  Part of management involves public outreach, education, and data collection.  These are the aspects of coastal management that I intend to improve in any way I can over the course of this summer.