A day in the life of Natalie Holsclaw

In case you haven’t seen my other blog posts, this summer I am interning with researchers from the USDA-ARS. We are studying estuary ecosystems related to shellfish aquaculture. Most of our work involves burrowing shrimp because they are considered pests in shellfish aquaculture.

I am a little over two weeks into my internship and so far, I have worked a bit in a field setting collecting burrowing shrimp. I also spent some time in the lab measuring and processing the shrimp. Most of my time has been working remotely reading various scientific articles and beginning my journey using R statistical software.

My daily routine:

My routine varies depending on what’s going on. When I work from home, I typically wake up around 7 and start working around 8. I usually start my day checking/answering emails and then I’ll move to a combination of reading and taking notes on scientific articles and going through a guidebook to R. This is my at home work space:

 I’ll take breaks throughout the day to eat and move around some by taking short walks or doing yoga. I’ll typically stop doing work related activities around 5 or 6 in the evening. Below is a picture from one of my walks at Hatfield Marine Science Center:

When we do field work, this involves spending the day or days in mud flats of estuaries collecting data, shrimp, and staghorn sculpin. Subsequent days after we do field work are spent going through these samples and data as well as entering the data into Excel sheets.

Every Friday I have a virtual lab meeting with members of my supervisor’s lab. Starting last week, I also have weekly Friday afternoon meetings with scientists outside the lab I’m working with along with my supervisor and other interns. These meetings are related to ocean acidification which is one of my areas of interest.  

The downside of working during COVID-19:

I think the major downside of working during the pandemic is the lack of human contact. I feel like because we are unable to work in person as much and many people aren’t able to at all, this causes many missed opportunities to meet other interns and scientists.

Since I’m specifically working at Hatfield Marine Science Center, I feel like normally outside of COVID-19 times, I would have tons of interaction with other interns and scientists but that just isn’t possible right now.

The upside of working during COVID-19:

The major upside of working during the pandemic for me is the flexibility of it. I am able to work at my own pace when I’m at home and take breaks whenever I need to. This has allowed me to attend virtual seminars I may not typically get to attend. I am also able to work at times that are best for me and am not restricted to a typical work schedule.

My first day in the field

My first day working in the field also happened to be my first day working in person with researchers of the USDA-ARS. I woke up at the not so bright and early time of 4 am and I left at 5 am for Tillamook Bay. This was a two-hour drive and we started with field work right away at 7 am to take advantage of the low tide.

We donned our waders and lugged all of our gear to the mud flats. These mud flats are thick and sandy making it quite difficult to walk through, some areas being more difficult than others. I definitely fell and got stuck in the mud multiple times.

Part of the area we worked in was previously used as oyster aquaculture, pictured below is PVC pipes oyster lines were attached to.

We collected different species of burrowing shrimp, one of the mud shrimps I found is shown below.

My first day in the field may have been difficult but it was very cool to see the species I’m studying in their natural habitat. Although the drive was long and early, it was beautiful getting to see the Oregon coast along the way.

Goals for the summer to the bigger picture: Working with the USDA-ARS

My position for the summer:

This summer I am working with the USDA-ARS in Newport, OR. I am just getting started so much of my current work duties involve training. I anticipate that my primary responsibilities will involve field work. I will likely assist other researchers in the lab that I’m working with in their collection and monitoring of burrowing shrimp and staghorn sculpin populations located in estuaries along the Oregon and Washington coasts.

This project is a part of larger project to find possible biological controls of burrowing shrimp which are considered a pest of oyster aquaculture. Typically, chemical pesticides are used to control their populations but, they are moving away from this attempting to find more sustainable/environmentally friendly population controls. I will help the lab I’m working with reach this goal by collecting raw data that is necessary for the project. I may help with data analysis as well.

Looking at the bigger picture:

Since Oregon Sea Grant’s vision involves “thriving coastal communities and ecosystems” this project will directly help advance those goals. Local shellfish aquaculture is a major source of income and livelihood for coastal communities in the Pacific Northwest. Burrowing shrimp pests negatively impact this industry causing oyster mortality so, for many years chemical pesticides have been used to control their populations. There have been concerns on the environmental impacts of these pesticides so certain chemicals have been discontinued and oyster growers are working with scientists to find a better solution to control burrowing shrimp populations that will allow the shellfish aquaculture industry thrive while simultaneously allowing coastal ecosystems to thrive.

Since the mission of the USDA involves providing leadership for agriculture based on science and management, this project will hopefully provide the scientific background to efficiently manage burrowing shrimp populations allowing for better shellfish aquaculture practices along the Oregon and Washington coasts.