A Quarantine Fellowship

Since I last posted two weeks ago there has been quite a bit of progress, and a few changes, in my two projects for the summer. The copper boat paint project has started taking shape, with the identification of a potential funding source for a small pilot testing program to measure copper concentrations at various sites around Oregon. The testing will likely focus on heavily used marinas and boatyards, where high concentrations of copper from antifouling paint are more likely to occur. These tests could help shed light on the the extent of copper contamination, and if the results indicate an unhealthy level of copper at a particular sites they could serve as starting points for a discussion between stakeholders to decide how to remedy the problem.

The OASE video is also going well, and I have been able to visit Connor Noland at Port Orford Sustainable Seafood and Alexi Overland at Defunkify and shoot some video of them at work. It’s been fun to learn about the projects they’re involved in, and it’s also been a great excuse to get out of town for a little bit :)

Fishing Boats on the Oregon Coast

Aside from these trips out of town, my work life has settled in to a pretty standard routine. Once the sun is up I’ll head out to the back yard with a big cup of coffee to check new emails, look at my day planner, and watch the furious activity of the honeybees at the flowering mint plant by my chair.

Bees on the mint plant in my yard.

The rest of my morning is filled with reading articles, planning my projects and writing in my notebook, and phone calls and zoom meetings. I usually take a break every hour or so to say hi to my wife, who’s been hard at work in her first term at graduate school. And of course, I can never resist giving a scratch between the ears to our dog Mesa, who seems to have permanently installed herself on our couch since we got her a few months ago :)

Mesa on the couch.

In the afternoons I’ll usually have a late lunch, again usually in the back yard to take advantage of all the nice weather we’ve been having.

Lunch time in the back yard.

Later on in the day is when I’ll take care of things around the house, run errands and go shopping, and hang out with my wife and take the dog for a walk. I’ve found that I start to feel most creative when the sun goes down, and I’ll spend most nights editing away on my OASE video project.

The Covid-19 pandemic has, of course, meant a huge change in my life, but at this point I feel that I’ve mostly gotten used to the changes and have made the best of the current situation. I miss being able to go to the library and coffee shops to work. Most of all, I miss being able to interact with people and do all the simple things that I used to take for granted like attend a lecture or meet someone for a cup of coffee. However, being able to make my own ours and work from home has its advantages, and I really love being able to spend lots of time with my family and work my projects when I’m feeling the most energized and inspired.

I hope everyone else is also having some positive experiences this summer, and I will check in with you all again in a few weeks!

Summer at the Oregon DEQ: Learning, Planning, and Spreading the Word

My name is Chris Schmokel, and I am an environmental chemistry major at Oregon State University and also an Oregon Sea Grant Summer Scholar Fellow. My fellowship placement is with the Oregon DEQ, and this summer I’m working on two projects: starting up a pilot program to test for copper concentrations in Oregon waters, and creating a short video to share all the good work being done by the Oregon Sea Grant’s Oregon Applied Sustainability Experience internship program.

Some background on the copper testing project:

A boat in dry dock with a hull covered in algae and barnacles.
A sailboat with an extremely fouled hull.

Organic growth on the underside of boats is known as fouling, and it can range from a mild inconvenience to a major problem, depending on how long a boat is in the water and the type of aquatic organisms present at a given location. Many techniques have been developed over the years to deal with this problem, but currently the most prevalent solution is the use of special antifouling paint for the undersides of boats. This paint contains a large percentage of copper, which acts as a biocide, slowly leaching into the water adjacent to a boat and discouraging organisms from attaching to it. Unfortunately, copper ions released in this way can spread beyond a boat’s immediate vicinity, and can cause unintended ecological harm. A great deal of research has shown that excessive copper concentrations are toxic to many types of aquatic organisms, including freshwater mussels and salmonids, among others. Both California and Washington have passed regulations to control the use of copper based boat paint, but Oregon has yet to do so. My project for the summer will focus on developing a pilot water testing program to help the DEQ get a better picture of the concentrations of copper at various sites around Oregon. This sort of testing may be the first step towards Oregon enacting copper regulations similar to its neighboring states.

My second project this summer is creating a short video to highlight the work of the Oregon Sea Grant’s Oregon Applied Sustainability Experience internship program. This program partners college students with local businesses to find ways to improves efficiency and prevent waste and pollution. Tomorrow morning at 4:30 AM (!!!) I’ll be hopping in my car and heading down to Port Orford to get some shots of the halibut boats coming in to offload their catch. I’ll also be sitting down with intern Connor Nolan to talk about the work he’s doing with Port Orford Sustainable Seafood to reduce processing waste and maybe even convert it into a marketable product in the form of fish paste for cooking.

I’m very excited about these projects, and I hope next time I post I’ll have some fun photos from Port Orford, as well as some new information on a copper testing pilot program.

Video equipment laid out on a bed.
All my video gear laid out for tomorrow.