Report from Oregon Ocean Science Trust Science Summit

For two days in Newport in May, over 40 natural and social scientists and agency natural resource managers met to discuss research and monitoring priorities in Oregon’s nearshore. Convened by the Oregon Ocean Science Trust with funding support from The Nature Conservancy, Oregon Sea Grant, and the Packard Foundation, the goal of the workshop was to identify and prioritize research and monitoring funding needs, scalable to budget resources available, to provide baseline and trend data and inform key research questions. These research questions could relate specifically to changing ocean conditions such as ocean acidification and hypoxia, marine habitat, fish and wildlife, and the vulnerability and resilience of coastal communities to changing ocean conditions and the effects on marine resources.

The Oregon Ocean Science Trust is intended to serve as a funding mechanism for research and monitoring in Oregon, and by convening an interdisciplinary Science Summit to prioritize funding needs, the Trust will better be able to direct available funds to the most relevant and urgent areas. The attendees at the Summit were a Who’s Who of oceanography, fisheries science, marine ecology, geochemistry, economics, sociology, and anthropology. It would have been enough to be a fly on the wall for this event, but I was fortunate to be one of the breakout session facilitators. The breakouts were organized to spread representatives of different disciplines out among all the groups, making the groups as academically diverse as possible. Each group was then tasked with generating research and monitoring plans at three different budget levels that would address key nearshore questions. There were great back-and-forth discussions, and it was fascinating when all the groups came back together, to see how each group had approached the tasks. As a facilitator, I used a much lighter touch than I otherwise might have because it seemed like a good idea to let the conversation and exchange between group members really develop, and then bring everybody back to the template we were given. The end result will be a report with key research themes, questions, and monitoring approaches identified, as well as a plan for a comprehensive research and monitoring program for Oregon’s nearshore with three budget levels identified. The event, which was conceived of in late January, came together quickly and nearly everyone invited was able to attend, and produced substantial results which can be used to guide funding for important efforts in the nearshore as we face changing ocean conditions and the related impacts on communities. Definitely one of the coolest gatherings I’ve gotten to attend in my time with OSG!

Wading into the data…

The end of week three signaled the shift into high gear or perhaps “low gear” because time doesn’t pass so quickly. The databases have been selected, the data has been pulled from papers, additional numbers have been received from researchers in several countries, and now I’m  faced with making sense of it all. I know, it sounds pretty boring, and at times it can be. Looking at 4000 rows of data, debating how to weigh a lack or surplus of information from one site in order to compare it to another, figuring out how to make it all useful…it’s particularly challenging. But before we can begin teasing out exciting new information, the data mining stage is crucial. Outside the mind-numbing, we had a number of other activities going on this week: we had a productive and clarifying conference call with the lead developer of one of the models we will be working with, the Natural Capital Project’s inVEST Blue Carbon model. In addition, the grad/postdoc students at the EPA hosted an extremely helpful resume/CV workshop…it’s been 4 years since I changed the format of my CV and it definitely needed a refresh.

This past weekend was also the Fourth of July and I can’t think of any better way to celebrate America than going out bright and early to explore Caper Perpetua, part of a federally protected National Forest. It’s a beautiful manifestation of one of the world’s greatest land conservation schemes–the US National Forest System, which is truly something all Americans should be proud of. While there, I finally satisfied one of my goals coming out to Oregon: tide-pooling on the Pacific coast.


I now know what I wanted to know

In my last post I mentioned that I was deeply entrenched in data analysis. I am now happy to report, that I made it through the trenches! What a great feeling it is to have taken pages and pages of transcribed words, to work with it and mold it like play dough until I come to some understanding of what all those interviews were telling me. That being said, I have found that qualitative data analysis is an iterative process, and as I begin the write-up for this project some elements are still evolving.

While I don’t want to get too deep into detail, interviewees reported fascinating preferences regarding important ecosystem services and scientific data needs that I would be remiss not to at least touch on here. Overall interviewees reported 20 ecosystem services as being important benefits provided to the community and state through ocean resources, four of which rose above the rest as they were expressed by 50% or more of participants. These services included a broad concept of recreational opportunities, broad level economic prospects, commercial fishing, and tourism. A telling pattern emerged from these important ecosystem services when they were analyzed by exploring interviewee proximity to the resources. This pattern portrays a relationship between place based ways of knowing ocean resources and perceptions on importance of services.

A similar pattern can be seen in the stated scientific data needs of policy and management decision makers interviewed. Overall, interviewees stated that current scientific data needs related to:
• Ecosystem services analysis
• Updated information for estuarine ecosystems in the state
• Local baseline habitat information
• Spatial mapping studies
• Stock and fisheries data
• Effects of renewable energy on ocean resources

However, a closer look at proximity to ocean resources revealed further emphasis on certain data needs for coastal decision makers, and certain needs for decision makers located geographically inland. Analysis of other interview descriptors revealed some interesting, though less widely prominent, patterns regarding preferences and correlation to entity affiliation as well as years in the field. I hope this teaser of results as successfully enticed you to read the unabridged results and discussion in the final project report when it is completed this summer.

These results of the interview analysis will be used to feed into a data Synthesis Session to be conducted this coming spring. From the beginning of this project I wanted to work with some tool meant to bring stakeholders together around this issue of effective ocean resource management and policy based on data driven decisions. For this reason, the Information Needs Assessment for Coastal and Marine Management and Policy in the Pacific Northwest project will be conducting a Synthesis Session of the results from interview analysis. This Session will bring together coastal decision makers and policy practitioners with academic scientists from a range of institutions. Various structured and semi-structured interactions will be used to communicate data needs and scientific research interests among parties involved. The Synthesis Session will try to generate the basis for evolving-mutualistic relationships in which policy practitioners and academic scientists work together to define research projects oriented around informing a pressing policy or management decision. Ultimately, some understanding will be garnered from this experience regarding how well relationships may be formed in this setting. With the significant threat to ocean resources, understanding various perspectives and related scientific data needs is crucial is creating more effective policy to protect, enhance, or restore coastal and ocean ecosystems in the state.

Plans are forming now about where (Corvallis), when (May 30th), and how the Synthesis Session will be conducted. Interview results regarding how policy and management decision makers find data transfer most effective are being used to formulate the types of interactions to be had during the Session. I am very much looking forward to seeing what may evolve from the next portion of this project, and will happily report back in posts to come!