Progress in my ODFW Experience

Reflections

I’ve been learning a lot about myself in this internship. With the pandemic, I had to adapt to the constraints of my current project and how to work remotely. I’m now equipped with the knowledge of what works and what doesn’t while working independently, and while this situation persists, this will definitely help me in future endeavors.

In the latter half of my internship, I’ve been continuously working on each new document quicker than the ones from the beginning. Learning about estuarine and marine issues in English and Spanish has made me a more culturally aware scientist. I believe that this may help me in the future to connect with people and places that couldn’t have been reached otherwise.

Upcoming

I’ve gotten more comfortable with the demands of translation and can now focus on my R training. I’m happy to be meeting with SEACOR team members to work through best practices and understand how they use R as a tool. It’s been great having the time and support to develop important professional skills.

Starting page of an R computer program that I’m learning from called Swirl

Coming up next on the translation front is a document that is of priority to SEACOR and seems heftier than the previous brochures I’ve had to work on. I’m looking forward to the challenge. Although time seems to be going faster now that I’ve settled into my role, I’ve still got a lot to look forward to in my internship and I’m excited for what’s coming next.

My next brochure will be about crabbing!

My advice for upcoming Scholars with Sea Grant

Some of my best moments in this experience came from attending lots of webinars. So many people are farther ahead on the scientific track and their insight can prevent you from making the same mistake they did. Also, I happen to think the webinars are very interesting as well!

I’m glad that I was able to set up some meetings with the Scholars and bond even though the pandemic has made this quite difficult. I hope to connect with the people I have met even after I’m finished with this experience.

If I were to start this internship over, I would take more advantage of the resources the Sea Grant provides. Don’t be afraid to ask if you need help. As I am going through grad school applications, I wished I asked for more support for the Sea Grant staff however I’m changing this while I still have time left!

Thanks for reading!

Summer Reflections

My summer fellowship with the Oregon DEQ began with a very general goal of reducing the environmental impacts of copper-based antifouling paint in Oregon. It was abundantly clear that excessive copper concentrations can be harmful, and even fatal to aquatic organisms, as I learned from the many research articles I read on the subject. Also clear was the connection between copper boat paint and elevated levels of copper. But what would be the most effective way to address this issue? What could I do over my 10-week internship that could have a tangible benefit for the DEQ, and for the health of my state?

There were a number of potential options: one way would be to develop surveys designed to understand boat owner’s attitudes towards copper paint and how widespread its use was among recreational boaters. Another possibility would be an outreach effort to marinas and boatyards, providing them with information about the harmful effects of copper in the environment, and suggesting alternative antifouling methods. I finally settled on a plan to put together a water testing program that could help to fill major gaps in knowledge about the actual concentrations of copper in Oregon’s waterways. Collecting empirical data on copper concentrations at sites of high copper paint use, such as marinas or yacht clubs, would be critical in establishing a clear and unambiguous link between the use of these paints and harmful levels of copper in the water.

Once I settled on the plan for a copper testing program, a whole host of other questions cropped up: How many sites should be tested to get a useful picture of copper concentrations around the state? How many tests should be performed at each site to ensure the results were statistically significant? Should we test for copper in the water column, or the sediment? How could we convince the owners of marine facilities to let us perform the tests? Most importantly, how would all this testing be paid for?

At this point, I was a few weeks into my fellowship, and I felt like the deeper I got into the subject the more questions I had. The answers to these questions came slowly, through many days of reading articles, reading the copper paint regulations from Washington and California, talking with people on Zoom or the phone, writing emails, making new connections and talking with more people, learning new facts that upset assumptions I didn’t even realize I had been making, and reformulating my plan again and again. The result felt like weeks of hard work with nothing really to show for it.

Except that’s not quite true. Even though not a single water sample has been taken and sent to the lab, something useful has still happened: I’ve gradually developed an understanding of a complex and nuanced subject. A subject with a wide array of interlinking, often competing or contradictory, social, economic, chemical, biological, and environmental components. As one of the people I talked to last week said, after all these weeks I’m still in the “development stage,” of my project, and that’s okay.

If there’s one takeaway I have from this summer, it’s that most of the time there’s no quick fix for “solving” environmental problems. Making a positive change is more often a long-term effort. The first step in that effort is always to get the best understanding of the problem as a whole, and I’m thankful for the opportunity I’ve had this summer to experience that for myself.

Moving Forward at Haystack Rock

Halfway Point

Moving past the halfway checkpoint of my internship almost doesn’t feel real! Now that I have become fully immersed in my research with the Haystack Rock Awareness Program (HRAP), time is flying by. It is so great to be a part of a team that shares my passion for environmental stewardship.

One of the most important things I’ve learned so far is just how connected people feel to Haystack Rock. Its icon status and beauty are not lost on the public, even if they see or hear about it almost every day! Both residents and visitors come to appreciate the rocky intertidal zone and every animal that lives there. HRAP remains a part of facilitating that connection as well, and I’m excited to continue unpacking the different ways it’s done. By the end of my internship, I’m planning on having a clear view of how those connections can be strengthened.

Project Progress

The bulk of the field work I have been doing so far involves reaching out to businesses in Cannon Beach and administering a short survey. Through this, I’ve been able to strengthen my communication skills by explaining my project in a short amount of time. Calling during business hours means that most people only have a few minutes to spare. I have had to learn how to quickly explain my project and its importance in a way that motivates people to participate. As I finish up with business owners, I will be engaging with members of the government and residents next.  

Graphic depicting the four interest groups in my study

I am also about to start analyzing some of my data as field work is wrapping up using Statistical Product and Service Solutions, or SPSS for short. This will be my first time using this program, so I am excited to start learning the ins and outs. I’m always looking for new ways to expand my skill set, and this will be a great addition!

Working Remotely

As I have spent the summer working remotely, I have come to realize the importance of having a schedule. Waking up at a certain time and scheduling in breaks to move around have become essential for a productive day. While I’m not the biggest fan waking up early, I always seem to be at my best in the morning. Funny enough, the opposite was true while I was an undergrad!

While our world continues to develop around the pressing health crisis, remote work and socially distant meetings are likely to be a part of our new normal. Over the course of the summer, I have been able to attend a whole bunch of webinars and networking events. This has definitely been a valuable addition to my time with Sea Grant. There are so many professionals who are open to having conversations about their work and post-grad journey. Hearing about their experiences and receiving advice is exactly the kind of thing I need to continue my career path. I am looking forward to maintaining these connections and someday becoming a mentor myself!

Thanks for reading!  

Nudibranch at Haystack Rock

The Summer of Learning

What I have learned on the job:

This summer, I’ve been able to learn a lot about what it is like to work in a field setting and what all goes into it. I had not done much formal field work prior to this internship so; it has been nice to see how scientists operate in the field. I’ve learned how to collect different organisms and more about how to work on a boat as well.

I am also learning how to use R statistical software and I’ve come a long way from where I was at the beginning of my internship although there is still a lot to learn. My project supervisor has helped me immensely when it comes to R and I have learned so much more about it from her than I did through my undergraduate courses. It is helpful to work with actual data and be given the time necessary to work through R that I haven’t had up until this point.

Being able to work with government scientists has allowed me to learn about what it’s like to be a scientist in a non-academic setting. Since I eventually want to be a government scientist, this has definitely made this area of work less mysterious to me. I also feel my supervisors have done really well at including me in their process of research as a whole. In past internships and positions, my supervisors often didn’t include me in certain aspects of the work and I’ve often felt I was left out of the loop or didn’t understand fully what I was working towards. My internship this summer has been quite the opposite and I’m grateful for that as it has allowed me to understand more how research works.

Surprising aspects of my work:

Surprisingly, I like field work more than lab work. I didn’t think I would feel this way because field work is labor intensive and exhausting but, as the summer went on, I found myself wanting to be in the field vs. the lab or working from home. I was sure I’d be loving spending my time in the lab but that ended up not being the case for me.

I also realized how little I really knew about operating boats or working on boats. As part of my project, I have worked on boats several times to collect minnow traps of staghorn sculpin. Below, there is a picture of my self pulling up one of these traps. Although I’ve been a passenger on boats many times in my life, I had never even tied a boat to a dock, so this was a learning curve for me. As an aspiring marine biologist, I feel I should definitely make an effort to learn how to operate a boat so that is a new goal for me.

What I might have done differently:

I might have utilized my free time better and explored Newport more. I’m coming close to the end of my internship and trying to cram a lot of exploring into my last few weeks. I do wish I would’ve gone out and explored more than I have but, I still have time left so I will be cherishing it.

For my internship itself, I don’t think I would’ve done much differently. I’ve been able to learn a lot in my short time here. I’ve also been going to all the webinars that I’m able to and working on my professional goals as well.

One thing I might have done differently is scheduling more meetings with other Sea Grant scholars from the beginning so we could have gotten to know each other more. Other than that, I have had a fantastic experience with Oregon Sea Grant.

Final Reflection

This summer has definitely been one that I will never forget. I’ve learned a lot about computer coding, ocean chemistry, and myself over this remarkably short 10-week internship. Doing an internship during a pandemic was a very bizarre experience, but it showed me how to be resourceful and resilient. I learned how to take advantage of the resources I had available to me through Oregon Sea Grant as well as ask for help when I needed it, which was something I needed to improve upon. I also learned that I am far more resilient than I had previously thought, seeing as how I was still able to teach myself R while trying to navigate through finding affordable housing during a pandemic. Oregon Sea Grant and my mentor were extremely helpful and supportive through that whole process and I included a picture of me in my new workspace where I am surrounded by plants and one of my aquariums. I must say, the nicest part about working remotely is having the option to wear pajamas on a regular basis and I hope to gain the will to wear real pants again once we are past this situation.

Learning how to code in R was both challenging and rewarding and I cannot wait to see where this code will go. The thought of seeing my name in a publication for something I did over such a short period of time is so exciting and will be a huge asset to my future as a scientist. I am excited to continue working with Steve and the EPA on building a Shiny app so others can analyze their data quick and painlessly. Steve mentioned that YSI is one of the main distributors of ocean sensors so this app could potentially help researchers all over the coastal US.

I’m also excited to see where this code takes me, since I am going to be applying to graduate school very soon. I am hoping to get accepted into a PhD program without completing a Masters first, which sometimes requires having your name on some sort of publication to show that you’re ready. Now that I know R, I can help analyze data for my lab mates at PSU or ask my professors if they have any backlogs of data that needs to be analyzed. Having this type of skill will not only allow me to get a sneak peak at other people’s data, but I’ll also potentially be mentioned in any publications that come out from it. This internship has been an amazing learning experience and will be an unforgettable steppingstone on my journey to becoming a scientist.

Reflection of my Time at the South Slough

Reflection:

This summer helped me grow immensely as a scientist and an educator. I received in-person learning of what it takes to teach children about complex topics, and while doing so, I learned much about coastal ecosystems that I never knew. I had the opportunity to assist in a wide variety of fieldwork with the science team and feel much more confident in my ability to soon conduct independent research. I worked with a great group of people and cherished my time at the South Slough Estuary. I will look back at this summer with fond memories, though I’m sure I’ll make many more at the slough… I will definitely be going back frequently to say “hello” to my mentors/friends and to walk the trails with my doggy. Also, special thanks to Jaime for being a great mentor this summer: working under your guidance was always super fun for me and valuable for my education! 

Did this internship affect my future career choices?:

My experience this summer has absolutely affected my future career path. I came into this program wanting to study animals for a living and to eventually manage a wildlife reserve. However, coming in, I also had no experience in these fields outside of the college courses that I have taken. After this summer internship, I am 100% sure that I want to pursue a career in wildlife biology. My path did not change this summer, but it was set in concrete.

Next Steps:

In my journey to a PhD in wildlife biology, I must first get into graduate school (obviously), but to provide myself with a competitive chance to get into the schools that I want to attend, I must first obtain lots of research experience! This coming fall, I will be completing my URSA research in the Hacker Lab at OSU with the help of my mentors, Dr. Sally Hacker and Katya Jay, a PhD student. I will be finding and analyzing nitrate concentrations in dune soil in the hopes to provide the lab with a better understanding of how and where dune grasses get their nutrients from. After my research ends through the URSA program, I will begin my honors thesis with the help of my mentor, Dr. Jim Rivers. I will be looking at the behavior of bees as it relates to their visual perception. I do not yet know what this specifically entails, but I am very excited to start! Oh, and might I mention… I still need to graduate! I have a long road ahead but can honestly say that I am excited for the ride.

Here’s a photo of a seagull that I took through a pair of binoculars two days ago; I took this photo while teaching campers how to be a proper birder!

Blog Post 3 – Answering Questions About Science Policy

My view of science policy hasn’t changed too dramatically over the past several weeks. I’ve always revered it. I have definitely grown a better understanding of how policy organizations work though, and also an even deeper respect and awe for it. There’s a lot more that goes into the process than I realized. It’s been really neat to sit in on the ODFW Marine Reserve program team meetings and see how the team comes together. I do feel like I understand more how science policy operates in the state of Oregon, at least for the Marine Reserves Program. They have partnerships with many organizations that are within the state and also out of state.

I wouldn’t necessarily see any tradeoffs in the organization that I’ve been interning at between serving the public good and being able to respond nimbly. I think that the Marine Reserves program has been doing a great job in trying to educate the public about the Marine Reserves but still being on the side of science. For example, my project that I’m working for is creating a summarized report of the visitor intercept survey. It’s important that I’m not biased and put my own opinions in the paper about why I think the Marine Reserves should be kept. I’m simply stating the facts of the data, then the readers of the report can make their assessment about it.

I am inspired to continue in this line of work in the future. I think it’s incredibly important to have these surveys implemented to figure out what the public knows and does not know. Understanding what the public thinks is crucial for education and implementation of new policies. Although I’m very interested in marine policies, I’m also interested in recycling/waste policies. But at the core of both of those topics are issues caused by humans.

Thanks for reading – I hope everyone is staying safe!

Environmental Stewardship in Policy

A lesson from my Oregon Summer Scholar Fellowship

At the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW), I’ve learned about the bureaucratic process necessary to make changes to rules and policies. The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission (OFWC) is the entity responsible for creating new policies concerning the recreation and harvest of natural resources. However, ODFW does have an important role in providing background, evidence, and advocating for (or against) rule changes. The process can be summarized briefly by the flowchart below: 

Flowchart of OFWC Rule Making Process

Rule making can also be initiated by the public through a proposal (for sport rule changes) or testimony/comment.

This bureaucratic process can be tedious and slow, but if rushed, can lead to misinformed decisions. Data collecting over time using both fisheries dependent data and fishery independent data (in SEACOR’s case) allows for better informed decisions based on science for management of natural resources. An example is that of the Bay Clam Fishery in 2016 where the cumulative pounds of harvested bay clams in the last years were hitting the limit within the first months of the season, shown through data collected by ODFW. In response, the regulatory rules of bay clam harvesting were adapted by OFWC from their last change 20 years ago to reflect the new data of changing harvest patterns, newer clam stock assessment data, and differences with recreational users. 

Netarts Bay Clammers, photo can be found on ODFW SEACOR website

The SEACOR team’s stock assessment data is vital for benchmarks on whether these regulatory rules were a success or not. The longer a study goes on, the more reliable the results can be. In this way, ODFW plays a role of environmental steward; I can definitely see myself in a similar role investigating populations of species in marine and coastal areas. I also realize that conservation scientists and regulatory agencies such as ODFW cannot be the only stewards affecting the policies that govern how we interact with our environment. The more people involved and educated on their state’s and county’s natural resource policies as well as the more people who interact responsibly with nature, the better we can connect and take care of our environment. Aldo Leopold, a champion for the idea of stewardship, put it best when he wrote

“I have purposely presented the land ethic as a product of social evolution because nothing so important as an ethic is ever ‘written’… It evolves in the minds of a thinking community.

Thanks for reading!

A Conservation Policy Story

Today I’ll spend some time talking about the experience I’ve gained this summer regarding conservation policy. I’ll start off with an interesting policy story that I’ve learned about that involves the State of Washington’s recent attempts to regulate the use of copper-based antifouling paint through legislation. I got to know this story through my meetings with people at the Washington State Department of Ecology, and also from reading documents published by that same agency. I find this story very interesting because it highlights the unexpected ways that policy can take shape, and also the unforeseen consequences that a policy decision can sometimes lead to.

In 2011, the Washington State Legislature passed Senate Bill 5436 2011-12 into law. This new law committed Washington to phasing out the use of copper-based antifouling paint for recreational boats by 2020. This would be a dramatic change for the state’s approximately 200,000 registered boat owners, since banning copper paint would eliminate the primary means for controlling the build-up of mussels, barnacles, seaweed, tunicates, worms, and a myriad of other marine organisms that would slowly but surely attach themselves to the bottoms of their boats.

Interestingly, Senate bill 5436 was not introduced by any conservation or environmentalist organization, or by any state agency tasked with preserving water quality. Instead, it was introduced by the Northwest Marine Trade Association, an advocacy group for the recreational boating industry. Why would a boater’s advocacy group want to pass legislation to restrict the use of the most widespread antifouling tool available to recreational boaters?

The answer has to do with wastewater and stormwater runoff from boatyards and marinas where cleaning and repainting of boats occurs. The runoff from these boatyards and marinas is subject to testing by the Washington Department of Ecology, and these businesses could face fines or the loss of their operating permits if the copper concentrations in this runoff exceeded stringent thresholds. Because these businesses do a lot of cleaning and repainting of boats, and because so many boats had paint with very high concentrations of copper, it was very difficult for these businesses to keep the copper concentrations in their runoff and stormwater below these thresholds.

This is why the Northwest Marine Trade Association pushed for a ban on copper-based boat paint; if boat paints had no copper, than it would be easier for marinas and boatyards to avoid fines and keep their permits.

However, as mentioned previously, this new law presented a major challenge to boat owners; how could they prevent fouling of their boats when the most common tool would become illegal to use by 2020? The most straightforward solution would be to switch to an antifouling paint that used a biocide other than copper. There are an number of commercially available antifouling paints that use alternative biocides such as Irgarol, Tralopyril, DCOIT, or Zinc Pyrithione. These compounds were known to be effective at preventing the buildup of marine growth, but they are much less popular than copper paint, and they were used on only a small number of boats. What would be environmental impact of a wholesale switch to one of these alternative biocides?

A part of the new law specifically tasked the Washington Department of Ecology with finding out the answer to this question. The Department of Ecology was directed to research the environmental impacts of these alternate biocides and submit a report to the Washington Legislature by 2017. This report was duly submitted, and it contained a surprising conclusion: The Department of Ecology recommended that the Washington Legislature delay the ban on copper boat paint!

The Department’s research into these alternate biocides showed that they had the potential to cause serious environmental harm, and that the benefits of eliminating copper-based paint would be outweighed by the negative impacts of switching to different antifouling paints. The Washington State Legislature agreed with this recommendation, and at the moment the ban on copper-based antifouling paints is on hold, while the Department of Ecology continues it’s research into the safety of alternative antifouling methods.

This story is so interesting to me because so much of it is the opposite of what I would have expected to happen: a marine industry advocacy group proposing a ban on a widely used and popular paint, and the Department of Ecology arguing against that ban? I think it serves as an example that policy changes are not always as straightforward as they might seem.

From the Books to the Beach

Policy in Action at the Haystack Rock Awareness Program (HRAP)

A lot of the research I am doing at HRAP this summer is revolving around a policy that was written in 1990 and included in the Oregon Ocean ­Resources Management Plan. The document ­recommended ­numerous ­programs to protect and benefit ­Oregon’s coastal environments–including the ­designation of Intertidal Marine Gardens.

Haystack Rock is now one of seven Marine Gardens along the Oregon coast that have special sets of rules. These include prohibiting people from collecting plants or animals and climbing above the high tide level onto the rock. The plan also encourages educational programs, like HRAP, to promote public use of Marine Gardens as long as visitors do not jeopardize the environment’s health.

On a positive side, this policy has been protecting the delicate marine life for years and has allowed it to flourish. Staff and volunteers at HRAP are hard at work everyday engaging with visitors and encouraging them to safely appreciate the environment. You know what they say—take nothing but pictures, leave only footprints! On a downside, lots of activities people previously took part in, such as climbing on rocks or exploring caves, are not allowed. Sometimes, visitors wonder why this is. Once they realize it helps minimize disruptions, they are usually pretty receptive to the rules!

Haystack Rock, taken from HRAP’s Facebook page

Unpacking HRAP’s Success

I have learned quite a bit so far during my time with HRAP, especially about how this policy works within the community. One thing I really appreciate is the immense amount of support HRAP receives from its partners. Friends of Haystack Rock (FOHR) is a non-profit in the area that works closely with HRAP to achieve similar goals. I attended a board meeting last week and was better able to understand the collaboration and partnership serving Haystack Rock.

Part of the reason HRAP has been so successful at protecting Haystack Rock is because of partnerships not just between other orgs, but also between businesses and residents. During the next few weeks of my project I’m excited to continue unpacking those connections a bit more. One of my intended outcomes is to identify different ways community connections can be strengthened as well.

A Future in Environmental Policy?

In trying to illuminate the effects of Marine Garden status, my understanding of environmental policy continues to grow. It is so important to ensure there is a constant flow of information between researchers and policy makers. I am definitely interested in learning more about that process as I go forward. Now more than ever, it is time to build bridges between science and policy to keep us on track towards healthy oceans!

Thanks for reading!

Sea stars at Haystack Rock, taken from HRAP’s Facebook page