Goodbyes and Blackberry Pie!

August 19th, 2019:

As predicted in my last blog, I blinked and it’s Week 10. So much has happened these past few weeks no wonder they completely sped by. For one, we had our final symposium and poster session last Friday! The day before that, my mentors and some members of the Marine Reserves program took me out for a farewell lunch at Local Ocean and got me the sweetest gift (plus a bag of sweet & salty kettle corn—my absolute favorite!!) I’m really going to miss the people I’ve gotten to work with these past 10 weeks; I seriously don’t think I could’ve dreamed up a better work environment. I’m extremely thankful for everything and everyone who has made this summer so memorable!

Though we wrapped up our last round of field days a few weeks ago, I still have things to keep me busy in the office before I officially head out. With whatever down-time I’ve had this summer (when I wasn’t in the intertidal, SMURF-ing, coordinating Sea Star Surveys, or creating my poster and presentation for the final symposium), I was down a Google Scholar rabbit hole sorting through all the research articles I could find that were published on rocky intertidal habitats along the Oregon Coast. The Marine Reserves will be presenting a huge progress report to the state legislative body in 2023 and they’ve asked for my help in making an Annotated Bibliography. Essentially, my job is to compile all the research that has ever been conducted in rocky intertidal habitats both inside and outside the Marine Reserves, before and after their implementation in 2012. As I’ve basically finished it off at this point, I can definitely say I know way more than I ever thought I’d know about Oregon rocky intertidal life.

As I began my series of blogs with dessert, I feel it absolutely necessary to conclude with it as well. Just to preface a bit before I dive completely in: before this summer, I had only been to Oregon once. I was 12 and stayed in a really cute beach town up north—Manzanita. During my stay, I had a genuinely life-changing dessert at a Mom & Pop restaurant on the coast: a slice of marionberry pie. Since then, I’ve deemed the marionberry as my ULTIMATE favorite fruit and marionberry pie as my ULTIMATE favorite dessert. At the beginning of this summer, I vowed to have a slice of marionberry pie (as I’m now back in Oregon, marionberry-territory). Well, unfortunately Newport isn’t close to any wild marionberry bushes so I had to compromise for its less lavish cousin: the wild blackberry. There are hundreds of ripe blackberry bushes scattered around Hatfield, so last week I went on a 3-mile loop and picked as many blackberries as my bucket could carry. I brought them back to the apartment and my roommates and I made a fresh blackberry pie to conclude the amazing summer. Though nothing can ever compare to a slice of marionberry pie in my book, this pie came pretty darn close.

Some of the blackberries I picked along the estuary trail at Hatfield!
The blackberry pie straight out of the oven!! Gonna miss Ariana’s pie crusts </3

So I guess this is goodbye—goodbye to the amazing people I’ve gotten to meet, goodbye to the amazing foods I’ve gotten to eat, and goodbye to the amazing memories I’ve made in this quaint little beach town. I’m going to miss everything tremendously. Thanks for staying tuned with my life as a Sea Grant Scholar, and thanks for (hopefully) not rolling your eyes every time I’ve rattled on about food :) And thank you, Newport, for the most amazing summer!

-Dominique :)

S’MORES and Tacovore!

July 31, 2019:

I’m sitting at my desk in the office right now absorbing the fact that it’s already Week 7; one more blink and I’ll be sitting on the plane flying home before I know it. As my time as a Sea Grant Summer Scholar is slowly wrapping up, I’ve been getting waves of realization and urgency; I only have 3 weeks left in Oregon and an infinite amount of places I still want to see and explore in town! 10 weeks isn’t enough time when you’ve already gotten so attached to the people and experiences you’ve made in this awesome Newport life.  

This past week was absolutely amazing—I went on a 3-day camping trip in Central Oregon with the other Scholars! By now you’ve probably already read the other Scholars’ blogs about Tacovore (the absolute best taco place in ~the WORLD~) and how we began AND concluded our weekend trip at the restaurant. (Yes, we went twice, and yes we each ordered the same thing each time, and yes we basically stripped the restaurant clean of their flan and vegan blueberry shortbread). It’s a jackpot of a restaurant and I can only hope that all future Scholars christen their camping trip with Tacovore and make it an annual tradition.

View of our campsite at Rujada Campgrounds!
Hiked to a waterfall with Jenny and some of the other Scholars!

Before I move on to the work-related segment of this blog, I CANNOT forget to mention the single greatest dessert discovery that was made this past weekend. It was the love child of Honour’s package of Oreos and Hannah’s supply of Reese’s cups: a Hershey’s chocolate, Oreo, Reese’s Peanut Butter S’MOREEEE!!! I will leave the pic below and say no more.

The oozing Oreo cream says it all…

As if the weekend couldn’t have gotten any better, I came back to work and immediately hopped on the boat to SMURF! I absolutely love SMURF-ing and am convinced I could do it every day for the rest of my life and never get bored or tired of it. We also happened to see 10 different gray whales, and one of them breached and flopped their fluke 30 FEET away from one of our SMURF moorings while I was in the water! Super cool experience. For those who may have forgotten or haven’t have the chance to read my previous posts, a SMURF stands for the Standardized Monitoring Unit for the Recruitment of Fishes. In this case, we are specifically catching juvenile rockfish, and the data we collect helps create holistic fish stock projections for coastal waters inside and outside the Oregon Marine Reserves. Each snorkel SMURF-ing session is concluded by measuring the fish and categorizing them by species—there are some that are tinier than my pinky finger!!  

Just the cutest darn thing you’ll ever see :’)

Once we finish categorizing and measuring the fish, they’re sent off to the lab where their otoliths (tiny ear bones) are harvested and studied under a microscope. Otoliths are neat in that they’re comprised of multiple banded growth rings (just like trees!), which carry a wealth of information on a fish’s life in terms of migration and dietary patterns. The otolith rings are counted to approximate the age of each fish, and the microchemistry of the rings are studied to gauge what food sources the fish have been eating and how much of it is eaten per day! It still blows my mind that I’m lucky enough to participate in these processes that supplement front-running marine research with the most amazing and knowledgeable people every day. Gotta pinch myself at times!

I’m getting ready for another round of low tide series, and that means…more Sea Star Surveys! I’ll be leading two more intertidal field days at the end of the week at both Otter Rock and Cascade Head. A special shout-out to Autumn, Ariana, and Suhn for being rock star volunteers at SSWD monitoring. They’ve been coming along each time I lead the surveys and are such an amazing help, so (if they’re reading this) THANK YOU x1000! :) Looking forward to their help in the field again and getting able to work in the tide pools! Till next time,

-Dominique :)

Late Nights and Field Sites!

July 17th, 2019:

Today officially marks one month of being a Sea Grant Scholar. This week is also the half way point of our program—5 weeks down 5 more to go! Crazy how fast time is flying—I swear just yesterday I met all the Scholars at the Corvallis orientation with super aesthetic donuts and banana bread.

Since my last blog, the “Intertidal Survey” baton has been passed down to me; I’m officially in charge of leading Intertidal Sea Star Surveys on my own! I’ve been training for this the minute I stepped foot in the Marine Reserves office—it’s super exciting to finally take on this responsibility. As the designated Intertidal Survey Leader, I’ll be recruiting volunteers and overseeing sea star data collection at both Otter Rock and Cascade Head for the remainder of the Marine Reserves’ low tide series. We record data on sea star species abundance, size (measured from the tip of the sea star’s arm to the middle of the body), and health; there are specific health affliction codes assigned to the varying degrees of SSWD disease symptoms (lesions, deflation, twisted arms, lost arms, disintegration etc.), and it’s our job in the field to categorize both the healthy and diseased sea stars as accurately as we can! Yesterday was my first day conducting the surveys at Otter Rock and it was a ton of fun. Autumn (my roommate and fellow Scholar) came to volunteer, and a few of us got waist-deep in water to record data in a tide pool that was washed by the tide (I had never even flooded a boot before this, so it was pretty fun to get wet in the field!) Tomorrow I’m doing the same thing with a different group of volunteers (including Suhn, another Scholar!) at Cascade Head—personally my favorite Marine Reserve :)

Collecting data with volunteers along a Sea Star Intertidal Survey transect at Otter Rock.

I’m just now realizing I forgot to give an update on my intertidal graveyard shift! This “shift” wasn’t technically a “shift” because it didn’t involve the Marine Reserves team nor my Sea Grant job at all; I was helping a CSUN graduate student, Jenn Fields (also stationed at the Hatfield Center), collect data and run water samples at Otter Rock. Let me begin by saying I have mad respect for Jenn and her project team—they pulled two intertidal all-nighters back to back, each time working for 8+ hours. Though we ended up working around 9-10 hours, pulling the all-nighter with them the first night surprisingly went a lot quicker than I had envisioned, probably because we were constantly kept busy. Overall, I’m really glad I went out to experience the rocky intertidal from dusk to dawn—can definitely say it was a “once in a lifetime” experience.

Best part about working through the night is getting to see the early morning fog roll in! Otter Rock Marine Reserve, pictured at 5:20 AM.

I’m not going to conclude this blog without an apartment-baking update; to add to the running list of baked goods, we have: a Dutch baby (a fluffy skillet pancake—I had never heard of this before Autumn) and homemade granola. Though this doesn’t exactly fall under the category of “desserts”, I’ve also been making myself skillet-popped popcorn every night from organic kernels I got from Oceana, the natural food store in town. Still, though, the salty/buttery combo contributes to the amazing “you-can-tell-we-just-cooked-something” scent perpetually wafting in our apartment. Continuing on the topic of food, Autumn and I went to the dock last weekend to pick up fresh Red Snapper from a boat coming back from a morning fishing trip! We both seared it on a cast-iron skillet and basted it with butter and fresh rosemary (courtesy of Autumn’s rosemary shrub she bought from the store). I can honestly say that meal made my list of Top 3 favorite fish dishes I ever had—will definitely buy fresh seafood from the docks again. If I’m feeling a bit more adventurous next time, I’ll buy a live Dungeness crab and attempt to prepare it!

I’m really looking forward to this upcoming week; the four other Scholars I haven’t seen since orientation will be joining us “Hatfield-stationed Scholars” for a beach picnic, professional development day, and a weekend camping trip! Will keep you posted on this action-packed week in the blogs to come! :)

SMURFS and Desserts!

July 10, 2019:

The timing of my previous blog post was a bit off sync, but now I’m finally up-to-date and writing in (somewhat) real-time. So much has happened these past few weeks that I honestly don’t know where or how to begin explaining it all. I guess I’ll start off with what I know best: DESSERTS! To keep you updated on my ~food and cooking endeavors~ at the Hatfield dorms with my roommates, I’ll disclose our running tally of baked goods thus far: cherry pie, carrot cake, banana bread, olive rosemary baguettes, strawberry rhubarb cobbler, cinnamon rolls, and banana oat muffins. At this point, the only thing we’re missing (and what I’ve been craving) is a chocolate-chip pizookie (for those who aren’t from Southern California—as I’ve realized it’s a SoCal thing (my roommates had no idea what it was)—a “pizookie” is a pizza cookie. You bake a massive-sized cookie in a skillet and put ice-cream on top: quite certainly my all-time favorite dessert). For the record, we bake everything from scratch (one of my cooking-connoisseur roommates came fully prepared with a separate suitcase packed with spices and baking ingredients, so our pantry’s fully loaded). Preparing these desserts from scratch means that each recipe comes with hours of planning, shopping, prepping, baking, cooling, and best of all: gorging. It also means that for an entire day, the apartment smells of melted butter and cinnamon, seasonal cut berries, fluffy, eggy, dough, and caramelizing brown sugar. Heaven or Hatfield? You tell me.

Autumn’s Olive Rosemary Bread

Autumn’s Strawberry Rhubarb Crumble (so so amazing)

Aside from all the baking, I’ve been incredibly busy in the field. As promised in my previous blog, I’ll elaborate now on my role as a Marine Reserves intern and the root of our efforts—monitoring Sea Star Wasting Disease (SSWD). First, let me paint a holistic picture of the rocky intertidal: when you think of sea stars, you think of cute, dainty, innocent little tide pool gems, right? Wrong—(well, at least for mussels, barnacles, urchins, snails and other intertidal critters who frantically flee at their sight).  Sea stars are considered the “Great White’s” of the intertidal—they’re the top predator of the intertidal trophic cascade. Since sea stars have such a strong top-down influence, they’re what you call a keystone species—when you remove them from their habitat (as ~80% of the sea stars were wiped out along the Oregon Coast in 2014 from SSWD) the dynamics of an intertidal community dramatically change.

Me with a rare Leather Star that was spotted along one of our sea star survey transects!

With all that said, I’ve spent a majority of my time this past week conducting field surveys with the Marine Reserves team, MARINe, and Bio Blitz—two other data collecting marine science groups. The data we collect from these surveys gives us insight on how the community dynamics have shifted since the devastating loss of sea stars in 2014. Are mussels and other prey proliferating in the absence of sea stars? Are there fluxes in juvenile sea star recruits? Are there new predators dominating the rocky intertidal? These are the questions we seek to answer!

Collecting data and admirin’ the rocky intertidal :)

This past Monday and Tuesday, we were up at 1:30 am cataloguing all the different species of intertidal organisms found at Otter Rock and Cascade Head. Running on 1 hour of sleep and working 8 hours in the field may seem like quite the task, but my sheer love for gumboot chitons, lemon peel nudibranchs, and celebratory group Pig N’ Pancake breakfasts made those early intertidal mornings some of the best so far. On Thursday I switched gears a bit—we took a break from intertidal surveys and worked off the ODFW boat! I helped a graduate student, Megan, collect juvenile rockfish off the coast of Cape Foulweather with SMURFS (Standard Monitoring Units for the Recruitment of Fishes). The SMURFS are large, plastic entanglements that are suspended a few feet below the surface of the water—when a juvenile rockfish swims through it, they hide and take refuge in their new “cozy condominium”. The collected juvenile fish are brought back to the lab for measurements, where the data is then used to create fishing stock projections–these projections are used to aid marine reserve and fishing preservation efforts. At each of the 8 SMURF sites, Megan and I would back-roll off the boat, snorkel to the buoy, swim down to the SMURF, and enclose it with a net. We would then swim the SMURF back to the boat and remove the juvenile fish. SMURF-ing is easily my favorite thing I’ve done so far—give me an excuse to ride a boat and snorkel and I’m here for it.


The MARINe and Marine Reserves teams finishing up transects at 5 am–almost done for the day!

As I speak, I’m preparing myself for THE ultimate testament to my love for field work: my first intertidal graveyard shift. It’s exactly what it sounds like—I’ll be in the field from 10pm to 6am. Will keep you posted on this hefty field day (*night) in the next blog–I’m leaving the office now so I can attempt to power-nap and power-chug some coffee!!

Newport and New Cohorts!

June 28th, 2019:

Hawaiian pancakes, farmers markets, whale flukes, beach runs, cherry pie, baby starfish, and brown weather boots—the staple associations I’ve made to Newport, Oregon and being a Sea Grant Summer Scholar thus far. To formally introduce myself, I’m Dominique—I just finished my junior year at UCLA, and was selected as a 2019 Summer Scholar for Position #2: Ecologically Monitoring the Oregon Marine Reserves. I’m currently stationed at the Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport with four other Sea Grant Summer Scholars.

I can honestly say Newport is the most wholesome city I’ve ever visited—to paint as vivid of a picture as I can, it’s the exact opposite of Los Angeles (where I’ve lived the past 21 years). The air has that briny, crisp scent of seawater, traffic is nonexistent, dining options all comprise of “Mom & Pop” restaurants, and the people are shockingly friendly—they’ll actually make eye contact and chirp “Good Mornin’!” to you when you pass them in the street.  I’ve now had over a week to get used to the quaint, small-town/coastal vibes that Newport has to offer, and I absolutely love it. How could you not when your apartment is 50 feet away from the beach, an aquarium, and a baby seahawk nest?

View of the harbor from Newport Bridge

View of Newport Bridge from the South Jetty trail

Though I’m only here for 10 weeks, I’m trying to acclimate as quickly as I can to the active Oregon lifestyle. After work, I go on 3 mile jogs through the estuary trail and along the South Jetty (if you exit the Hatfield parking lot and pass the Rouge Brewery, there’s a mile-long trail that’ll lead you to some sand dunes and the cleanest stretch of beach I’ve ever seen). Last Saturday, the other Scholars and I walked into town—which is a 3 mile round-trip over the bridge—to check out the Farmer’s Market. We sampled orange-zest chocolate, cinnamon-sugar butter (the best thing you’ll ever try), smoked Colby-jack cheese, wild berry jam, and too many fresh cherries; I honestly don’t know how I got away with sampling that many without getting asked to buy some or leave—like I said, Oregon folk are nice. The next day, we did the 3-mile trek again to try out Pig-N-Pancake, the Newport staple brunch spot. We were lured in by the window advertisement of “Pineapple Coconut Pancakes”, and like every other food item I’ve tried in Newport, they did not disappoint.

Without a doubt, the best part of this internship has been my exposure to all things new: new people, new places, new food, new experiences—new knowledge. They say: “Ya’ learn something new every day” but here, I swear that’s not the case: I’m learning 12,203,942 new things every day. Last week my roommate taught me how to ferment and boil ginger to make kombucha. A few days ago my other roommate taught me how to make a multi-layered carrot cake with cream-cheese frosting from scratch. Just yesterday, my roommate (again!) taught me how to pit cherries and make pie crust without a rolling pin (hint: use a glass VOSS water bottle, it’ll do the trick). Most importantly, though, I’ve learned what it takes to be an Ecological Marine Reserves Monitor stationed on the Newport coast.

Cherries found at the Saturday morning Farmer’s Market

Ariana’s lattice cherry pie before getting baked in the oven!

I’m just now realizing that I’ve rattled on this entire time about food (it’s 2:06 pm in the office and I haven’t eaten lunch yet—you can guess where my mind is at). Let me finally introduce my work! (though I honestly shouldn’t even be calling it “work” because what I do is too fun to be associated with that gloomy connotation).  For 10 weeks this summer, I’m interning with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Ecological Marine Reserves team alongside Cori (my mentor), Lindsay, Jessica, and Stephanie. Our job is to ecologically monitor the five Marine Reserves along the coast—Cape Falcon, Cascade Head, Otter Rock, Cape Perpetua, and Redfish Rocks—via fish recruitment, urchin recruitment, sea star, and mussel bed surveys. Through these surveys, we can observe and analyze the changes in the rocky intertidal community since the Sea Star Wasting Disease (SSWD) outbreak hit the Oregon Coast in 2014 (I’ll elaborate on this a bit later). My job comes with lots of field work—Day 2 in Oregon and I was already half-submerged in tide pools tallying juvenile sea stars at Otter Rock! I’ll stop here before I delve deeper in the explanation of my internship and what I have planned these upcoming weeks—I have a ton of exciting field days scheduled and can easily rattle on for pages about what’s to come. I’ll save it for the next blog, so ~stay tuned~! :)

Me on my first day out in the field!