Final Week

This is the last week of the Sea Grant program, which is both good and bad. It is almost time to leave Oregon and say goodbye to all of the great people I’ve met, which is sad. However, it is almost time to go home which means seeing my family and getting to sleep in my own bed again! This week will be finishing things up at our internships and then it will be time to leave. Last Friday was the symposium for our final presentations and posters for our summer experiences. This caused me to take a look at my reasons for being in the program this summer.

There were a couple of main reasons I applied to Sea Grant. First, I had my sights set on Oregon State for graduate school and this program was a good way to make contacts as well as experience Oregon for longer than just a vacation. Second, I have never done biology field work so I thought this would be a good way to get an idea of what that is all about. I am leaving Oregon having fulfilled all of those objectives and knowing all about the life of a field biologist. Tony D’Andrea and the rest of the SEACOR team (Bob, Tabatha, Joe, and Mo) have been instrumental in learning about fieldwork and future career opportunities. They have been an amazing team to work with and learn from this summer.

Everyone from Sea Grant and who lived in the yurt or ranch house has also been a pleasure to get to know this summer! I will miss all of you and cannot wait to see what great things you all accomplish!  

Drones, Beavers, and Sand Dollars

Watching drones, finding sand dollar beds, and seeing beavers were the highlights of last week. We spent the week in Tillamook, working in Netarts Bay. Drones were deployed to take aerial images of Netarts Bay ad the images taken will be used to create habitat maps of the area. The SEACOR team set out ground control points while instructors and students from Coastal Drone Academy took care of flying the drones. 

Here is how a typical day last week went:
The SEACOR team and the drone pilots went out on two boats at low tide. We set out ground control points while the pilot stations were set up. Unfortunately I was so busy watching everything else going on that I forgot to take a picture of the ground control points we were setting out! However, I did take pictures of the drone.

        -Drone on the landing pad, ready for take off!

Left side: Drone flying away from landing pad  Right side: Pilot station

        -Drone flying away on the left and partial view of the pilot station on the right      

Once the ground control points were set out and the drones deployed, we waited for further instructions. Usually it was to go gather up the points from areas which the drones had already flown over. Once the flights were done and the ground control points retrieved it was time to get back on the boat and leave. 

        -SEACOR team waiting on the boat in between setting ground control points

Netarts tide flats were different from the Coos Bay flats and one of the most interesting differences to was finding sand dollar beds. I have never come across a sand dollar bed before, just the occasional sand dollar on the beach.

        -Live sand dollars half buried in the sand

        -Top of a live sand dollar

In hopes of exploring the area during down time after work, I brought my bike and inflatable kayak. However, the week was spent covering a lot of ground and it was pretty exhausting. I did manage to go kayaking one afternoon and saw what looked like a miniature otter in the water, which turned out to be a beaver. Further upstream there was a sizable beaver habitat. This is the closest I have ever been to a beaver dam so it was pretty exciting and definitely a highlight of the week.

All in all, it was a good week with more new Oregon coast experiences!

Fieldwork with SEACOR

This summer I am stationed in Charleston doing fieldwork with SEACOR, a project in the Marine Resources division of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. SEACOR conducts bay clam population and estuarine habitat studies in all of the bays along the Oregon coast. The primary focus includes “documenting where recreationally important bay clams are found and the abundance, biomass, and preferred habitat type for each species” (source: SEACOR website, click to learn more). Clams which are recreationally harvested are the main targets but information on other shellfish in the estuary is also collected. The SEACOR project is a unique and important project, contributing to conservation of estuaries and clam populations.

In order to obtain the data used for recreational clamming maps, including calculating clam population and documenting clam distribution, it is necessary to conduct estuary habitat surveys. Summer time is the season for field work, which is where I come in.

Conducting clam surveys uses two main methods:

  • RAM- Rapid Assessment Method
  • DAM- Detailed Assessment Method.

RAM allows for more sites to be surveyed because it is a quicker process than DAM. First, a square 1 meter area is marked off, then the habitat is examined in and around the marked off area. Observations are recorded, including eelgrass and algae cover, substrate type, number and type of burrow holes, temperature, and depth of anoxic (low oxygen) layer. Once all of that information is recorded the area marked off is raked by hand and any cockle or littleneck clams are noted. Some sites will have extra samples collected and will be revisited for a more detailed assessment.

DAM is a more time consuming and in-depth assessment of randomly chosen RAM sites. This method involves megacoring which means going out on a boat, lowering a steel ring into the ground, and vacuuming out everything inside the ring about a meter down. Specimens are collected, sorted, measured, all data recorded, and the specimens returned.

One of the biggest differences between the two methods is RAM has to be performed when the tide is low and the flats are exposed. DAM, because it requires a water vacuum the sediment, has to occur when there is at least half a meter of water over the site. DAM requires a dry suit because maneuvering the pump requires standing in water and the Northwest Pacific Ocean is cold. RAM requires waders and boots because it can be extremely messy. The SEACOR team has been awesome and has made sure I get to fully participate in both types of data collection. My first week was gathering information via RAM and it was MUDDY! Never having been on a tide flat or walked through a shrimp bed, I quickly realized you have to embrace the mud and get comfortable with being muddy. Once that happens, it is actually quite fun to play in the mud (though trying to walk through can be exhausting).

Me raking for cockle clams inside the grid during the Rapid Assessment Method

And to illustrate how muddy it can get, here is a picture of me in the mud after I lost my hiking boot in the mud. Ignore the weird face- I was talking and didn’t realize anyone was taking my picture!

Lost my boot in the mud during RAM field work.

My first week consisted of three days of RAM work and I was exhausted. Little did I know the next week would be megacoring, which is a different type of exhausting. It involves about six hours on a boat with a team of three people. Two people are in the water, one person maneuvering the pump nozzle and another person maneuvering the pump while a third person is on the boat sorting the sample collection from the previous site. Below is a picture of me holding the pump nozzle and dredging the site.

On my way to becoming a megacoring pro!

During the megacoring weeks, it has been interesting sorting through the samples and finding the crabs, clams, and shrimp collected. Everyone on the team has been quick to share their knowledge identifying what is dredged up so the sorting and measuring process has been great for learning to identify different the different types of shellfish in the estuary.

Next week is yet another new kind of data collection involving images taken by drones to map eelgrass habitats. I am excited to get to spend a week in the Tillamook area (I have never been there) and see firsthand how the data is gathered. Be prepared to read all about it in the next post!

First Impressions as a Sea Grant Scholar

My name is Melissa Wood and I am a 2019 Oregon Sea Grant Scholar, which means spending 10 weeks on the Oregon coast while working with a marine science team. I have been here about 4 weeks and the Oregon coast is amazing. There are so many things to see and do that it feels like there will never be enough time for it all. As part of the Sea Grant Scholar experience, I am staying in a yurt (for the first time) on an estuary reserve. Here are some pictures from one of the yurts on the property and one of an attempt at the view but it is hard to do justice to the beauty of the area.

One of the yurts on the reserve.

Inside of the yurt showing bunk beds, table with chairs, and a dresser.

My attempt at capturing the view outside the yurts.


Yurt life has been an interesting cross between camping and staying at an Airbnb. What’s not shown in the pictures above is a ranch house, which sits right by the yurts with two bathrooms and a full kitchen, so yurt life has been sort of like camping but warmer and right next to all of the comforts of home. An added bonus is the yurt is on a nature reserve so it is located right next to hiking trails, bird watching trails, and a great kayaking spot. Yurt life has been an unexpectedly awesome part of the summer.

The real focus of being here this summer is to participate in a permanent project of the shellfish program within the Marine Resources Program of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW). Though the official project is titled ‘Shellfish and Estuarine Assessment of Coastal Oregon’ it is often shortened to SEACOR. The SEACOR team has a big job tracking clam populations and studying estuarine habitats along all of the bays in Oregon. The information collected is useful to recreational clammers by letting people know where to clam and what kinds of clams are found. Even more importantly, the data SEACOR provides is used for conservation purposes to ensure future generations will be able to enjoy the abundance of life and beauty of the Oregon estuaries.

My fourth week with the team has just finished and I have learned so much already. Everyone has been welcoming, patient, and willing to share their extensive knowledge about estuaries and the project.

This is data collection/field work season for SEACOR so that is what I am learning this summer. There are three main types of data collection going on this summer:

  • Rapid Assessment Method (RAM)
  • Detailed Assessment Method (DAM)
  • Eel grass habitat mapping using drones

My next post will have more detail about the data collection methods (hint, it involves lots and lots of mud). Until then here a picture of me learning how to megacore, part of the Detailed Assessment Method.

Image by: Bob Mapes