New Job Update!

Hello! My name is Hilary Polis, and I was a Sea Grant Summer Scholar last year. I ran into Sarah Kolesar the other day and she asked me to write a blog update, because my summer scholar internship turned into a job opportunity! Last summer I worked for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife Marine Reserves Program as a socioeconomic analyst assistant. I was essentially collecting data on how people use the ocean at marine reserve sites, so that we can monitor this use over time. My work involved doing a lot of field work at the beach so that I could count and interview visitors the the reserve areas.

I continued my internship with ODFW in the fall, this time for class credit. My data collection in the fall consisted mostly of interviewing recreational fishermen to collect information for the state about how the behavior of these fishermen may  change over time as new regulations are put in place. I was lucky enough to receive a job offer to work for the ODFW marine reserves program full time as a socioeconomic analyst, after my mentor from last summer left ODFW for a different job and they needed someone to temporarily to cover her position until they can hire a new project leader. I feel very blessed to be given this opportunity and I feel like I may be in a bit over my head at times, it has created a tremendous opportunity for me to learn so much in a very short period of time.

My primary duty now consists of writing up all the research that has been done on the “human dimensions” or social side of marine reserve research since the program began for two sites: Otter Rock and Redfish Rocks. This write-up is now a 120+page report that will be published for the state when it is complete. I am finding that I am enjoying putting all the pieces of this work together. My favorite part of my job is reading studies that ODFW has contracted with researchers at OSU to complete. I am finding that many of user knowledge, attitudes, and perceptions of marine reserves from the OSU studies is matching up with the data I gathered while doing surveys on the coast last summer.

I have also been asked to do a regional economic impact analysis on the impact of research to Port Orford, Oregon (Redfish Rocks Marine Reserve).  This consisted of setting up interviews with anyone that has ever done research at Port Orford and asking them questions about their spending in the region, then summarizing the data so that an economist can plug it into a model. It was fascinating to learn about all the research that is going on in the area, but also how well this community involves all of their different ocean stakeholder groups to create this collaborative form of management. It has also given me a better perpective about the number of people and spending that occurs to support research beyond just researchers themselves.

So while I don’t get to go out into the field as much and I don’t have as many stories about crazy encounters with the public, I was ready for a bigger challenge. This is such an amazing opportunity and I couldn’t have done it without my experience as a summer scholar last year!


Fishing Trip and Angry Fishermen

This week I had the amazing opportunity to go down to Redfish Rocks Marine Reserve in Port Orford to go fishing with the ODFW Marine Reserves Biological monitoring team! Redfish Rocks was one of two Marine Reserves in Oregon to close down to fishing in January 2012, so this may sound a bit ironic. However, our fishing was catch-and-release and was purely for scientific purposes.

Fishing in Port Orford is quite the experience, because there is no marina, so all the boats must be hoisted from the water with a giant crane and then left sitting dry on the dock. In order to begin our trip we were lowered 30 feet down to the ocean. We spent most of the morning attempting to fish while the team serviced the CTDs. I will forever remember what a CTD is from answering the acronym wrong on an Oceanography test, but basically it is a device that measures salinity, temperature, depth, and this particular one was also equipped with fluorometer to measure chlorophyll content. There are two CTDs in this area, one inside the reserve and outside the reserve. These CTDs are unique in the fact that they are bolted to the bottom of the ocean (usually they are dragged behind a boat). In order to bring up the CTDs to extract the data, we had to have a diver go down and unbolt them from the bottom of the ocean. Unfortunately I wasn’t really able to help much with this part of the trip, because I was overly optimistic and didn’t take enough dramamine which unfortunately resulted in a bad case of seasickness and lost breakfast :(

Luckily I was able to rally in time for fishing. The purpose of our fishing trip was to gather some data about the biomass of fish in the reserve and outside of the reserve so to add to the collection that they have already started. This data can then be compared with fish biomass numbers five or ten years down the road to see what kind of an effect the reserve is having on the fish. Each fisher also wore a stopwatch to track total fishing time in so that catch per unit of effort can be calculated as well. We were definitely in a prime fishing location, because on several occaisions I would barely have my line in the water for a minute before I would reel in another fish. My favorite part was watching all the different types of species that came up; Black Rockfish, Blue Rockfish, Yellowtail Rockfish, Canary Rockfish, and Ling Cod. I was pretty proud of the fact that I caught 11 fish including a gorgeous 51cm Canary Rockfish. However, My catch piddled in comparison to the captain who kept bringing in 12 pound Ling Cod.  Although I enjoy my social science, it was pretty awesome be out in the field with biological scientists and I consider myself very lucky for having the opportunity!

I had a reality check when I returned to my job as normal in Lincoln City. I finally had the inevitable rough interview with a fisherman in the Salmon River area. Although I had been warned that these fishermen are adamantly against marine reserves, I truly believed it when in the middle of an interview one of them told me that I could take my marine reserve and shove it. It didn’t take long for my frustration with this interview to turn into amusement and I built my nerve back up to talk to another one. The next one was upset as well, and he described marine reserves as a type of conspiracy theory, I quote, “See this is what happens when people go to school and read too many books.” I had to laugh at this one. Props to the fishermen for of the Salmon River for  helping me to develop a thicker skin this summer.

Salmon River Detective work

This week I continued to do pressure counts and surveys at Cascade Head. This week I found the surveys to be challenging not because people weren’t willing to participate, but rather because they were very cautious about their answers. As I described earlier, I am finding that I survey a lot more local people in the Cascade Head area and naturally they seem to be more concerned about the Marine Reserve. People are asking me more and more questions before they give me their answers, which can be difficult because I don’t want to give away information that might influence their answers but at the same time I still want them to make a well-informed decision. The most common questions I receive are  about the size of the reserve and what activities will be allowed. However, I am starting to get questions about the impacts it will have on fishermen and the local economy. It’s good that people are thinking about these issues and that is exactly what the ODFW is trying to figure out right now, but at the same time I can’t give people a straight answer to these questions at the moment.

As I mentioned in my previous post, part of my job at Cascade Head is to look for boats that might be going over the bar from the salmon river into the ocean. After 10 stops of monitoring the ocean area past the salmon river with no sightings, I spotted a small motorboat in the ocean inside the reserve from a top a hill on Wednesday. I was hoping to find the boater when I went back to do my pressure counts at Knight Park later in the day. In order to do this, I asked all the fishermen in the parking lot at Knight park if they had gone into the ocean that day, and they looked at me funny. I got a lot of, “Are you kidding me, going over the bar in this tiny boat, do you think I am crazy?” I was feeling like I was the crazy one for asking and went to go check for boats in the ocean one last time. On my way back a man asked me what I was doing, and when I responded that I was looking for boats he told me that he had just seen a boater go over the bar and into the estuary, and he had just disappeared around the corner. I lept into my car and drove as fast as I could down the gravel road to chase down the boater. When I arrived back at Knight park there was a man pulling his boat out and he confirmed that he had indeed been fishing in the ocean, with a boat about the same size as the other fishermen who were laughing at me for the idea (This made me feel less crazy) . For some reason I think I was too out of breath to give the man a survey, but I did get all his information, so the ODFW can contact him and find out more about his fishing practices. Success!

Cascade Head

This week I changed sites from Cape Perpetua to the future marine reserve location at Cascade Head. On Tuesday, Melissa and I drove around area to scout out the best locations to do pressure counts. We figured out that the reserve basically spans the entirety of Lincoln City and around the Salmon River and Cascade Head. This site  isso different from Cape Perpetua, because it is located in one of the most urban areas on the coast rather than in the middle of a forest.

I quickly noticed that giving surveys in this area was much different than Cape Perpetua as well. I started giving surveys in the parking lot of a huge beach in the heart of Lincoln City called “DRiver” and I was disappointed to find that more people refused to take the survey that day than perhaps the entirety of people I asked at Cape Perpetua. I think this crowd was headed straight to the beach and not interested in hanging out in the parking lot. On the bright side, hundreds of people pass through that area in an hour, so I still had no problem finding people to interview. The surveys showed that visitors to Lincoln City tended to include more families, locals, and day-travelers than Cape Perpetua. When I explained this to Melissa, she recognized that there might be some bias in our survey in this area due to the fact that I was only interviewing people coming from a parking lot and would therefore never sample people who had simply walked out to the beach from their rental houses/hotels. This would make the survey more biased towards locals and people on day-trips rather than multi-day visitors. To fix this bias, I started interviewing people on the beach, which actually turned out to be very efficient, because people were stationary, relaxed, and much more willing to take the survey so I could just jump from group to group.

The part of the Cascade Head reserve that is the most contentious is the area of the ocean directly beyond the Salmon River Estuary. Fishermen claim that they travel out beyond the large sandbar that marks the boundary between the estuary and ocean, so therefore a marine reserve in this area would affect them greatly. People at the ODFW are skeptical that they travel to this area often, because the bar is very difficult to navigate. I am helping to answer this question by observing whether or not there are boats beyond the bar at the mouth of the estuary. Also, I ask all fishermen that I at Knight Park (the boat launch area for the estuary) whether they fished in the ocean or stayed in the estuary. I can see that questioning these fishermen has the possibility of being a little tricky, but so far it has gone well!

Whale Distractions

This week I finished up pressure counts and interviews at Cape Perpetua. I am honestly going to miss spending time in this area, I have witnessed so many amazing and strange things here over the past month. Highlights from this week include trying to give surveys while grey whales spout in the background. At first I tried to use the whales as an excuse to talk to visitors…”hey do you see the whales out there, oh by the way would you be willing to take a quick survey…” This worked well until I had to start taking 2 minute breaks in the middle of the survey while we gawked at the whales. Whales have a strange power over people, I saw a family of 4 resting in their car until one of them spotted the whale and at first I thought there was an emergency the way all 4 of them immediately burst out of the car and sprinted to the nearest lookout.

This week I found several people to survey with a lot of interest and stake in marine reserves decisions. One man I talked to comes up to the central coast every summer to fish and he had helped out with previous ODFW marine reserves research at Redfish Rocks in Port Orford. Another man owned his own commercial fishing guide service in the area. I keep thinking that after 125 surveys I should be able to predict  peoples’ answers based on their demographics and what they tell me about themselves, but people catch me off guard all the time. I was definitely expecting the fishermen to be against marine reserves, several of them have seen them successfully implemented in their home states and see benefits of them if they are implemented correctly.

Outside of work I have been watching as much of the Olympics as I can squeeze into my day. One of my former teammates at OSU and dear friend, Patricia Obee is racing in the lightweight double (Rowing) for Canada in London and another one of my best friends is also there cheering her on. It definitely makes the Olympics seem more real when I have raced both with and against many of the women competing!


Ups and Downs

One of the things that I am enjoying most about giving the intercept surveys is being able to meet some very fascinating people while I am out in the field. One of the park rangers that I talk to frequently is a retired professor of veterinary medicine who grew up in South Africa. I enjoy hearing about his experiences with marine wildlife in South Africa, because I am hoping to travel there after I graduate. He also has a lot to say about marine reserves and I appreciate his opinions not only because he is very intelligent, but also because he has spent so much time in the area and he can see all the different dimensions to the situation. Another highlight this week was meeting a retired couple who were in the middle of a bicycle trip from Vancouver BC to Mexico, and they had some interesting experiences to share.

I have noticed a trend that an overwhelming number of visitors from out of town support turning Cape Perpetua into a marine reserve. On the other hand, locals tend to have more opinions on how the marine reserves might affect commercial fishing and recreation boating and are weary about how this in turn might affect their local economy. I had my first negative experience with the survey this week when one person, who was clearly against marine reserves, became very angry with me in the middle of the survey. This person misunderstood my role in the process and thought that the areas were going to be set aside so that students like me could do research on them. He began questioning my credentials, asking what I was studying and personally blaming me for the program. I just did as Melissa had trained me to do and explained that had no opinion on the matter and I am an just an intern who is trying to gather opinions. It also helps if I mention that I work for Sea Grant, because Sea Grant is not actually responsible for the implementation of the reserves like ODFW is. This method seemed to work and my interviewee started to feel bad and explained to me his back story about why he felt so strongly about the situation. I was pretty angry for having been slightly personally attacked after that survey, but when I stopped to think about it, I realized that as my sample size increases I am bound to get the occasional rude person so I am glad that I was able to practice dealing with it.

Next week will be my last week at Cape Perpetua and on Tuesday I am heading to Cascade Head with my mentor to stake out the best spots to do pressure counts, which I will start in August!



This week, I added a new element to my job as I started conducting intercept interviews. These interviews basically consist of me walking up to visitors at the sites where I conduct pressure counts and asking them if they would be willing to take a survey on the place that they are visiting. The survey is very short and has many questions about distance traveled, travel cost, and opinions and general knowledge on marine reserves. Although the survey is very brief, it still allows ODFW to extract a lot of data about the type of people that visit the marine reserves and how they would be affected by the implementation of the reserves. The data can also be further analyzed for impacts on the local economy.

So far I think the surveys have gone much better than I was expecting. I was able to fit in 33 surveys over two days, and I have hardly ever been turned down. It’s so nice to be able to talk to people while I am in the field, and most of all I think it has given me an appreciation for being able to live on the coast this summer, because almost everyone gushes to me how much they love the area and how far they have traveled to enjoy it!  I have even surveyed people from as far away as Germany and France! I also encounter the occasional odd person,which helps make the day more interesting. One man tried to tell me all about his 5,000 year old pinniped tooth that he had found in the area previously and bragged that Cape Perpetua is the most bio-diverse place on the planet…I will have to do some fact-checking on that one haha. Another man lectured me that the marine reserves won’t solve the problem, because the problem is the ethics of the humans species….I just stand there and nod for these conversations.

I now wear a brown ODFW jacket for my job as well, which resulted in my question-load doubling because many people mistake me for a ranger. Luckily, I spend so much time in the area that I feel like I can answer most of the questions! I have learned that creating and conducting surveys for social science is actually very difficult, but luckily my mentor has had a lot of practice so I can avoid a lot of first time mistakes. All of the answers for each questions must be coded numerically so that the data can be quantitatively analyzed. I must also work hard to avoid bias while I am giving the survey, so when people try to have a conversation during the survey or pry me for more answers, I have to keep them focused. I am hoping that I can get in about 100+ surveys during my time at Cape Perpetua to give ODFW a really good idea about how people interact with the areas slated to become marine reserves.


Pressure Counts

This week has been a lot more of the same with completing pressure counts. I feel like I have gotten good at figuring out the demographic information of the people that I am counting rather quickly. Also, I had some of the highest counts yet this week, with the gorgeous weather and the Fourth of July Holiday. I felt sort of in over my head at one stop, where the people seemed to be moving everywhere, making it difficult to count, and when I got done I realized I had counted over 150 visitors!  Its also interesting to see the patterns that play out with the numbers of visitors, so far I think that the weather has more of an effect than whether or not it is a weekend/weekday.

I took advantage of my time off this week with the holiday to try some new activities. Maryna, Kate, my friend Liz and I went clamming on the 4th of July. I came to find that it can be kind of addicting once you start having success. We ended up collecting enough to make a Clam Boil for our 4th of July potluck. I also took my first stab at surfing today! Maryna and Liz make it look so easy! I was able to surf on my knees but I can’t stand up yet, so I am hoping that I can get some more practice in this summer!


Interacting with the Public

This week has been very interesting in the least. On Tuesday I had the opportunity to attend an ODF&W office meeting with all the department heads. For this meeting, my mentor, Melissa was trying to give people in her office more information on the community fishing profiles that the Marine Reserves department released. Melissa explained to a mostly biologist-filled audience how qualitative social science methods work and that they should be respected as a form of science. It was interesting, because you could tell that the biologists had a really hard time wrapping their heads around the idea of a report that included only text and quotes, and they kept asking for more numbers. For me this didn’t seem like an issue of right or wrong, but more of an issue of being right or left-brained and it was really rich to watch them try to compromise so that both groups could comprehend the information.

I also started doing pressure counts this week, through which I have learned a lot as well. Pressure counts involve a ton of driving, and take up most of the day, because I drive the width of the marine reserve/MPA at Cape Perpetua and make 10 stops, then repeat this three times per day. When I count people I also have to include their age, sex, and what kind of activity they are doing. In a trial run I quickly figured out that this can be very difficult when you have tour groups of 30 people coming through and I had to refine my methods a bit. So far the counts have gone smoothly and I am definitely enjoying the scenery, but not so much the driving time.

The biggest amusement so far for me has been the people that come up and interact with me. Although I dress in normal clothes, I don’t look very inconspicuous with a pair of binoculars and a clipboard. By the end of the day I end up feeling like a huge creeper. This is part of the reason why I don’t like to tell people what I am doing (Melissa also told me to keep it very vague, because this is such a controversial issue). I started trying to explain it at first, but by the end I gave up and just nodded whenever people asked me if I was doing a specific job. I mean what I am I supposed to say when someone comes up and asks me if I am counting seals…..No… I am counting you? Creeper status. So as of right now people think I am counting fish, seals, cleaning up the beach, and watching for Tsunami debris. Speaking of which, I found a float from the tsunami covered in invasive mussels and they were some of the strangest organisms I have ever seen. I also had a conversation with an elderly man, who told me that he was on the lookout for a boat coming in from the tsunami. I told him about the float and the invasive mussels, and he responded with, “I always knew Japan would invade us eventually.” Oh dear! Then he started launching into some World War II stories. I think this helped prepare me a little better for some of the things I might hear when I conduct interviews with people visiting the marine reserve next week. Melissa trained/prepared me really well to give straight and unbiased interviews, but you never know what someone is going to say to through you off…Nevertheless I am sure I will have some good stories for next week.

A Great Start

It’s been a wonderful week! I eased into my position this week and because most of my work will require traveling and collecting data I spent most of my time learning how to go about this in the weeks ahead. My internship this summer is centered around figuring out how the  implementation of new marine reserves will affect the people in the communities surrounding them. I will be focusing on three locations along the coast; Cascade Head, Cape Perpetua, and Pacific City. Cascade Head and Cape Perpetua are slated to become Marine Reserves in combination with Marine Protected Areas in 2014. However, before these reserves go into effect, it is required that the government collect two years of baseline data on the use, economic implications, and human dimensions of the reserve, and this is where my job comes into play this summer.

My job is to help gather the baseline data in the form of pressure counts, local business interviews, and assistance with recreational fishing surveys. For the pressure counts, I will actually travel to the future marine reserve and count the number of visitors at the reserve each day. I will repeat this three times per day to give the government an idea of how many people use the area. I already traveled with my mentor, Melissa to Cape Perpetua and it is absolutely breathtaking! I couldn’t be happier to have my office this summer be the best beaches and vistas that Oregon has to offer. In between the pressure counts I plan to head over to local businesses in the area and interview them about their awareness and opinions of the proposed marine reserves.

I am also getting along really well with my mentor, Melissa Murphy. She graduated with the same degree as me from Oregon State (Environmental, Economics, and Policy) so I feel like it will be really helpful for me to get insight on her career path. Likewise, Melissa is very excited to have another economist in the office, because she claims that most everyone else in the Oregon Department of Wildlife are biologists and they don’t always see where she is coming from. While the people in the office work hard, they are also very relaxed and like to have fun. Melissa’s boss even offered to take me out surfing, she says they like to have “board meetings”….haha

Since we didn’t do pressure counts this week, I had some extra time to get settled in and explore the coast. I went hiking at Cape Perpetua, tide-pooling at Strawberry Hill, and slid down the sand dunes in Florence. I can’t wait to start pressure counts and see more of the coast in the weeks ahead!