Here, There, and Everywhere

I’m writing today not from the northern Oregon coast—where I spent the last year as a Natural Resources Policy Fellow at the Tillamook Estuaries Partnership—but from Raleigh, North Carolina. It’s different here, of course. From what I’ve seen so far, it’s significantly cheaper and significantly warmer. You can get a plate of hush puppies for fifty cents, beautiful bright red cardinals hop from branch to branch, and strangers about your mom’s age casually call you “honey.” But like Oregon, it’s a lush, green place invested in and dependent on its natural resources, coastal resources included. Sea Grant, the National Estuary Program, and the National Estuarine Research Reserve all have active, large branches in North Carolina. In addition, both Duke University and the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill operate marine labs out on the coast.

But I am not here to work for any of these fine institutions. Thanks to a fellowship with the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), I will be spending the summer at the Raleigh News and Observer as a science reporter. Every summer for over forty years, AAAS has placed current or recent science graduate students at newspapers, magazines, radio stations, and other media outlets. I am lucky enough to be one of 20 students or near-students (I actually graduated with my Master’s in March of 2014) selected this year.

Although I expect to cover a wide variety of science stories, after a year working for TEP and Sea Grant, I’m curious about the environmental issues faced by this coastal state. Like TEP, the Abermarle-Pamlico National Estuary Partnership seeks to monitor and restore its watershed and to encourage public participation in that process. In fact, the APNEP Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan reads very familiar. Like TEP, this estuary partnership seeks to rehabilitate an estuary from the effects of “forestry, farming, industry, mining, and development” and is working to improve anadromous fish passage, wetland function, riparian plant communities, public access to waterways, and landowner education about nutrient management. In other words, concerned citizens 3,000 miles away from each other are working on solutions to many of the same problems. Whether or not I am able to write about this topic for the News and Observer, this is the kind of connection I want to highlight in my future career as a writer.

Thanks to Oregon Sea Grant for putting me in action this past year at an agency working to effect change; now I will be reporting on such agencies. I believe my experience as a Natural Resource Policy Fellow will help me become a critical, accurate, curious, and well-informed science writer—this summer and wherever I find myself afterwards.


A Fleet of Meetings

How do you talk about issues like ocean acidification and habitat preservation and changing land use patterns? Where do you even start? Having now coordinated two such meetings, I can answer that question: Start with a working coffee machine. At the first of these meetings, the snazzy built-in coffee machine provided by the meeting place malfunctioned and flooded so we had to abandon the idea of making a pot of coffee– and the look on people’s faces as they tried to get coffee out of an empty pot can only be described as “crestfallen.” But eventually we got it working, and the meeting took off from there. That first day our topic was water quality issues. During the second meeting, we tackled the larger and somewhat more amorphous category of “habitat” issues.

Why were we meeting at all? As an Oregon Sea Grant Natural Resources Policy Fellow placed at the Tillamook Estuaries Partnership for a year, it is my job to coordinate the revision of the organization’s Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan, or CCMP. The original CCMP came out in 1999, and devotes a chapter each to habitat, water quality, erosion and sedimentation, flooding, citizen involvement, and monitoring. These early meetings are a way to meet with many of the agencies we partner with and get a sense of the issues they feel are most pressing; what they feel has changed since the original CCMP was written; and how these evolving policies can best be implemented.

It’s very satisfying to get twenty people in a room—a feat in itself because of so many busy schedules—and talking about these big issues and the long-term plans for addressing them. For me, this experience has really driven home how important it is to, well, talk to people. Reading and solo research is important, but nothing can quite substitute for the understanding that comes from conversing with the players who have been involved with the issue at hand for two, five, ten years. In fact, some of the meeting participants were involved in the drafting of the original plan back in the mid-90’s. Because they were starting from scratch, that process was much more intense. The people involved met every week for five years.

For the revision, we’re condensing that time frame. We’ll be holding another couple of meetings in February to narrow down and clarify the brainstorming list produced by the first meetings, and then we’ll be holding public information sessions in March to present a rough draft of the management plan and ask for input from the community. In early May, my time at TEP ends. I may not leave with the plan finalized, but I do think I’ll be able to produce a solid rough draft or outline at the very least before I leave TEP. Certainly I’ll leave with a better understanding of the process of planning an organization’s future and a knack for jury-rigging reluctant coffee machines.

Don’t Tread on Me: A post about tidepools!

It’s 7 AM on my day off, and somehow I am already out of bed and driving north on Highway 101. The radio is staticky on this part of the coast and all that’s coming in clear is the bombastic finale to some sort of romantic classical piece. I pull off the narrow, two-lane highway at the Tolovana Park exit in the city of Cannon Beach and keep heading north on Hemlock Street. The road curves extravagantly. As I brake to round a bend, the magnificent Haystack Rock suddenly comes into view.

The music on the radio now feels appropriate. Two hundred and forty feet tall, shaped like the pope’s hat and encircled with squawking seabirds, Haystack Rock is a commanding presence on this long sandy beach. The rock itself is nesting habitat for about a dozen species of seabirds, and the foot of the rock is composed of turquoise tide pools that provide a home for countless marine organisms. Thousands of people from all over the country and even the world flock to Haystack Rock every summer. And that’s why I’m here. As a volunteer interpreter, my job is to educate the hordes of summer crowds and also to protect the marine garden and wildlife sanctuary from them.

I’m better at the former than the latter, to be honest. Having spent many hours scrambling over tidepool rocks, picking up snails and starfish, and, yes, even poking sea anemones, it feels hypocritical to dissuade others from these activities. But the Haystack Rock tidepools are visited by tens of thousandsof people every summer, unlike the deserted tidepool spots I’ve visited in southern Oregon. Haystack Rock is visible for miles and easily accessed from the beach– it had no chance of being kept secret.

Luckily I don’t spend too much time in the role of ‘enforcer.’ In the last six weeks or so, I’ve also started writing the program’s weekly nature blog entries. After a couple of hours on the beach, I head to Cannon Beach City Hall, where the group is headquartered, and use staff notes to write up a summary of what the animals of the Rock have been up to during the past week. You can check out the blog here: Lately I’ve been focusing on one, relatively common animal—so far I’ve chosen the brown pelican, hermit crab, and aggregating anemone— and highlighting how surprisingly special and complex it is.

I’ve worked and volunteered at a number of environmental education programs over the years, but the Haystack Rock Awareness Program is perhaps the most impressive I’ve ever been involved with. Born from a grassroots effort to protect the tide pools and nesting habitat, this program puts interpreters—some paid, many volunteer— out on the beach at every low tide during the summer. The group operates out of a clever truck and trailer operation on the beach, where they store signs, binoculars, scopes, and pamphlets. Interpreters roam the tidepools pointing out animals, aiming scopes at birds’ nests, answering questions, and discouraging visitors from trampling the barnacles and anemones on the rocks.

TEP, where I am carrying out my fellowship, also began as part of a grass roots community effort. Recently, I’ve been helping TEP write a report for its 20th Anniversary celebration, which means I’ve been learning a lot about how the organization got started. It’s really encouraging to be involved with not one but two organizations that came into being via the sheer willpower of concerned citizens. Encouraging enough to get me out of bed before 7 AM on a day I’m not working (the coffee and bagels at the Sleepy Monk Café help too.)

More information about the Haystack Rock Awareness Program can be found here:

Field Trip

On a recent sunny day, not long after my fellowship began, I found myself waist-deep in a pit of pondwater by the side of the highway.  It was a good place to be. I was spending the day—three days, in fact—at the Miami wetlands restoration site, about fifteen minutes north of the city of Tillamook and just east of Highway 101. Over the past few years, TEP has been working to transform this site from an unused property riddled with ditches and dominated by invasive weeds to a lush wetland. We—me; Scott, TEP’s project manager; Tracy, an environmental consultant; and Katherine, a botanist working for The Nature Conservancy— were there to check up on the willows, elderberry, spruce, alder, cottonwood, twinberry, slough sedge, and other native species that TEP had planted the previous winter and several years before. Although the site is by no means free of invasives—reed canary grass, for example, swayed above my head at many of the sites we surveyed, even when I wasn’t sunk in a hole—TEP’s restoration work is giving native species a chance to take over and turn things around.

This isn’t part of my typical day as a Sea Grant Natural Resources Policy fellow at the Tillamook Estuaries Partnership in Garibaldi. Usually, I’m in the office, working on the update and revision of the Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan. What does that look like exactly on a day-to-day basis? Well, that’s something I’m still figuring out. The original CCMP came out in 1999, so the first step is to gather as much existing information as I can about what has happened in the intervening 15 years. That means combing through TEP’s internal documents, talking to staff, and reaching out to the dozens of agencies that TEP partners with.

But it’s fun to get out of the office, and also really valuable to see some of the projects I’ll be writing about. Hopefully I was of some help—I don’t have the plant ID skills that Scott, Katherine, and Tracy have, so I assigned myself the role of pack mule, quadrat-assembler, and picture-taker.  I also made a pretty fantastic human flag pole, if I do say so myself.

Whatever help I was, I certainly learned a lot. I can now identify dozens of plants I would have only vaguely recognized before. I also learned that I have a wicked allergy to reed canary grass. Two tabs of Claritin later, my head cleared enough for me to think about the distinction between working in a ‘wetland’ rather than working in an ‘estuary.’ Despite the “E” in “TEP”, most of this organization’s habitat restoration projects take place on the banks of rivers, in marshes, and in wetlands. It’s not false advertising—those kinds of habitats are vital to the health of the estuary. Because of my experience working in mudflats, my understanding of estuaries before joining TEP was pretty literal: they are bodies of water where ocean water and freshwater meet and mix. But for those interested in protecting them, estuaries are inseparable from the rivers that feed into them and the marshy margins that surround them. Estuarine health is wetland health is riparian health is watershed health.

Or, anyway, that’s what I told myself as I was I scrambling out of that mucky, waist-deep hole. Thank goodness it’s there.


Things Learned Lately

This is something I have never wanted to admit, especially as a young marine scientist. It is something that I did not think was true. It is something that I never thought could happen to a person who has grown up riding roller coasters.

I get sea sick.

I discovered this last friday when we went out on the boat in my deep sea and subtidal ecology class. Instead of staying in the bay, we found ourselves passing through the mouth the jetty into the ocean. We were going out to deploy a go pro camera sled to look at the sand dollar beds right offshore, hoping to discover something about their distribution after discussing a study on sand dollar bed ecology earlier in class.

I was excited to finally go out in the open ocean! Even though I grew up in the San Francisco bay area, my time spent on boats has been very minimal and mainly limited to paddle boats in the lake or kayaks during summer camp.

As we made our way out of the bay, a few of us sat up front on the bow, enjoying the sunny day as the sea breeze whipped past.

Upon arrival at the sand dollar beds, my friend looked over and warned, “This is when it’ll hit.” Little did I know what was coming next.

We deployed the sled for 4 minutes, hauled it back up, and looked at the video with excitement. Of course, the go pro moved on its way down, so we did not see any sand dollar beds.

Round 2.

When we started lowering it down again, I realized I did not feel good… At all. Trying to hold a conversation was about as difficult as an o. chem exam. I quickly shed all my layers and moved up to the bow. The entire rest of the trip I spent curled in a little ball, anxiously awaiting our return trip back home. Let’s just say when we got back, chili hot dogs for lunch did not sound a bit appetizing.

Thankfully, I learned a few more pleasant things this past week:

1. Teaching is really fun! We had the opportunity to take a visiting class of freshmen and sophomore biology majors to the mudflats and tide pools sunday morning. Even though I’ve only been taking invertebrate zoology for 2 weeks, I had fun sharing what I did know about the worms we dug up in the mud flats and all the amazing creatures we found tide pooling. My favorite moment was when one girl asked about “floating jelly balls” she saw at the dock the previous day. I was excited to tell her all about ctenophores, which we just learned about in class.

2. There is nothing like a long run with friends on the rim of sea cliffs to start a Saturday after a full, hardworking week.

3. Making tissue sections is a pretty relaxing way to spend a couple hours after studying all morning, especially when listening to my favorite podcast. I’ll write more about this project next :).

4. Worms are wondrous! We learned all about Platyhelminthes (flat worms) and Nemerteans (ribbon worms) in class today. I particularly like the flat worms; their little tentacles and eye spots are cute. We also placed Nereis (a polychaete) in a tub full of Paranemertes. In the mudflats, when Paranemertes  comes across a mucous trail of Nereis, the chase is on! OnceParanemertes catches up, it attacks with its proboscis injecting paralytic toxins into the polychaete. It was amazing seeing these tiny nemerteans attack this giant polychaete with their proboscises.

I’ll end with a wondorous picture of Emplectonema gracile, a beautiful green Nemertean. I put it under a compound microscope to be able to draw its internal structures (gut, brain, gonads, etc…). I saw all these giant cells next to the gut thinking they were normal cells (what constitutes a “normal cell” I’m not really sure…), but when I asked my professor he was surprised to see so many eggs!
Emplectonema gracile
The adventure of work and learning continues!

And one day, sea sickness will be conquered.

Back in the Bay

It’s hard to believe Winter quarter is over, and I am back at OIMB after an eventful, yet relaxing spring break in California’s Bay Area. I enjoyed spending time with my parents, my best friend from back home, visiting my sister and her husband in their new house in Southern California, rock climbing with my older brother, and going to San Francisco with a few of my friends from Oregon. Now it’s back to work!

Returning to OIMB on Sunday and seeing friends from fall quarter as well as meeting new friends was great. We even got Easter baskets with our dinner! :)

This quarter I am taking Invertebrate Zoology and Deep Sea Ecology as well as a class in preparation for a 2 week trip to Panama in the summer (I’ve never been out of the country before!). I’ll also be working on my honors thesis. This will be a busy quarter, but I am looking forward to the work and learning.


Tethya california. A cross section looks like an orange, with spicules radiating from the center.

Tuesday was our first class of inverts, and we learned all about sponges. I’ve seen sponges before. I’ve touched sponges before. I thought I knew a bit about sponges. I also thought they were not very exciting…but I was wrong! Sponges are pretty cool little creatures, especially considering their sessile life. Essentially, two cell types are responsible for the circulation of water, capturing and digestion of food, excrement of waste/foreign particles, and capturing or dispersal of sperm/egg. It’s crazy that four processes that require four different organ systems in humans can be carried out by two cell types in a sponge!

In the lab, we looked at sponges under microscopes, which we then had to draw in our lab books. Some people’s drawings are amazing! (and I’m not talking about my own…) Besides going out to the tide pool to look for sponges, my favorite part was looking at the spicules that form the skeleton of the sponge, especially the spicules of Leucilla nuttingi

Thursday in inverts was part 1 of Cnidaria: Anthozoa. After lecture we walked down to the docks to look for sea anemones as well as collect jellies for later on. We found so many cool organisms! There were a lot of lion’s man jellies (Cyanea capillita), which are rare to see in the boat basin, the shaggy rug nudibranch (Aeolidia papillosa), ctenophores, and of course sea anemones! While we were out, it was pouring rain with strong winds, making it for a wet, but fun adventure. To top it off, we came back to grilled cheese and tomato soup for lunch! I also learned that sea anemones are much easier to draw than sponges.

The adventure of going out in stormy weather continued on friday in Deep Sea Ecology. After lunch, we went out in the bay for some otter trawls to study species richness. This was only my 4th time out on a boat and my first time doing this type of trawl, so it was really fun, even in sideways rain, choppy water, and crazy wind. We found a lot of cool organisms in the trawl, and since we just learned about sea anenomes the day before, we were able to identify Metridium senile to species! A tiny Pycnopodia (~4 cm in diameter) came up in one of the trawls. It was really cute, but right after we threw it back in the water, a gull came and ate it. That was a sad moment for all of us in our cruise.

Apparently we can’t get enough of the rain because we went out tide pooling on Saturday, in our free time, in a down pour… If the rain keeps going as hard as it has this week, I will definitely get my money’s worth out of my rain pants. I sure hope that the sun pokes out sometime this week to say hello.

Cyprids, Nauplii, and Copepods…Oh My!

These past couple weeks have been busy in Eugene due to outings with my outdoor leadership class, vertical rescue class, an overnight backpacking trip on the coast, and a term paper for my animal behavior class. The quarter is slowly winding down, as I was reminded last week when I signed up for spring classes at OIMB! I am very excited to take invertebrate zoology (I hear we get to do many dissections!) and deep sea ecology. I can’t wait to be back in less than a month!

At OIMB, classes are small and meet once or twice a week for the entire day. This allows plenty of time for hands on learning and actually doing science rather than simply reading and talking about it like most undergrad classes, which is why OIMB is such a great experience.


Ready to collect some data in the wee hours of the morning

My weeks during fall quarter started with Biological Oceanography on Mondays. Before this class, I was never particularly interested in the physical aspects of the ocean, but I soon discovered the fascinating relationship between the physical condition of the ocean and how it affects the biology. We learned all about the seasonal cycles of phytoplankton and zooplankton, currents, the thermocline, warm core rings, upwelling, the coriolus effect, and so much more.

During one of our classes we were supposed to go out on the boat to collect plankton samples, but the ocean was too choppy. I was disappointed we were unable to go on the ocean because I have only been out on a boat in the ocean once before. Instead, my classmates and I performed a 24-hour plankton survey off the Charleston Harbor docks.

The goal was to note the variation in abundance of different plankton during various physical conditions (tide, time of day, vertical distribution). We were split into groups of two to cover a six hour shift from 10 AM on Saturday to 10 AM the following Sunday. We sampled every two hours by lowering a CTD through the column and collecting phytoplankton and zooplankton samples from the surface and at depth.I felt like a real scientist while lowering the CTD and dragging a plankton net through the water. Chris, my partner, and I collected samples on Sunday morning from 2 AM to 10 AM. Despite the fact that it was early and cold, it was exciting to collect our own data.  The sunrise was also very rewarding!

We spent all of lab analyzing our samples, which mainly involved counting plankton. This may not sound exciting, but it was so much fun! The first couple days were more difficult, as we were learning what all the different plankton looked like, but soon it was easy to tell them apart. The phytoplankton we counted were Coscinodiscus, diatmos, Navicula, Pseudonitzchia, Tintinids, and Distephanus. The zooplankton we counted were harpacticoid copepods, calonoid copepods, copepod nauplii, barnacle nauplii, barnacle cyprids, bivalves, polychaetes, zoea, and gastropods. My professor and TA’s enthusiasm quickly rubbed off on me as I realized how intricate, beautiful, and exciting plankton are. I always appreciated how excited my TA was when she saw a cyprid. I was always excited when I saw one cyprid in the midst of an overwhelming number of copepods. I have a fond liking for cyprids now and I think they are pretty cute :).


The sun is about to come up!

In total we had 52 samples to count between 8 people. It took most of the quarter to count all the samples and once we finished, it was time to research what the abundance of plankton meant. At first I was overwhelmed by all the data we had, but my professor suggested to focus on relationships that I found interesting. I decided to focus on the influence of the tides and time of day on the abundance of zooplankton, specifically cyprids, barnacle nauplii, harpacticoid and calanoid copepods, gastropods, and polychaetes.

I found that the vertical distribution of zooplankton in the water column determines whether or not they enter, leave, or stay in the estuary. For example, harpacticoid copepods live in the brackish waters of estuaries, and during ebb tides, these copepods were more abundant at depth, possibly to avoid drifting out to the ocean with the tide.

Due to my fondness for cyprids, I was particularly interested in learning more about them as well as their earlier stage, the nauplius. Barnacle nauplii are late stage planktonic larvae while cyrpids are the non-feeding stage of a barnacle that is ready to settle in the estuary. Both nauplii and cyprids came in with the flood tide, but only nauplii left with the ebb tide, suggesting that the cyprids settled into the estuary to grow into adult barnacles.

This project was a lot of work, but it was also a lot of fun. I enjoyed collecting my own data and learning how to analyze the overwhelming amount. I was able to better understand all the relationships between the zooplankton and the water conditions because I collected this data rather than solely finding the information in a textbook our journal article. Learning from experience is the best (and most enjoyable) way to learn!


Hi everyone!

My name is Christy Stumbo and I am a junior undergraduate marine biology major at the University of Oregon who has a slight obsession with sharks and giant squid. I am from the San Francisco Bay Area, but have fallen in love with the great state to the north. Growing up, my family  frequently went to Monterey to explore the tide pools and visit the aquarium. I believe these trips (and watching countless Jacques Cousteau documentaries on PBS) is where my fascination with the ocean began, and by 5th grade, I knew I wanted to be a marine biologist.

I specifically chose to attend the University of Oregon because of the marine biology program at the Oregon Institute of Marine Biology (OIMB), and I spent my first term there in the fall of 2012. It was a great experience! I was a bit nervous at first because I did not know anyone. I was even scared that what I dreamed of doing my entire life might not be something I actually enjoyed, but I had nothing to fear. I enjoyed all my classes, the field and lab experience, and making new friends who share the same excitement for the ocean. During fall quarter, I took Biological Oceanography, Molecular Biology for Marine Sciences, and Marine Environmental Issues. Although my classes were so diverse, there was a lot of overlap between all three.

I am  currently  in Eugene taking classes on the main campus, but I am anxiously awaiting my return to OIMB for the spring and summer. I am looking forward to being back, learning more about the ocean, working on my project, and surrounding myself with all things related to marine biology. Until then, I will share about my classes and experience during fall term as well as anything marine related that happens in Eugene.