Feb 19 2013

The World of WISE

Filed under Announcements

Welcome to the Watershed and Invasive Species Education Program’s blog, which features interviews, informative articles and pictures of science in action. The West Coast Sea Grant WISE program is dedicated to helping teachers learn about emerging watershed issues, which can be used as tools to engage students in science learning and community action. Feel free to explore, and thank you for reading.

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Feb 29 2016

Aquarium Fish make for an Ecotourism, Non-profit Combo

Filed under Feature Stories

Map of the Rio Negro Basin. Photo Credit: http://www.dtvisions.com/jungletrekker/english/pop_map_rionegro.html

Passengers from around the world, diverse in character and their scientific, social, educational and/or professional fields embark on a journey involving the “Dorinha” and her crew in exploring the river waters of the Rio Negro Basin, Amazonas, Brazil. What do you think is to be expected on such an adventure? When taking the popular perspectives of the Amazon by those who have never experienced firsthand its mysterious appeal, it may be one of exotic animals, the idea of poor villages, “uneducated Indians,” attacks by mosquitoes, and perhaps an increasing fear of the Zika virus. (At least these are the common views I received before and after my journey)

What species of bird do they see? Captain Mo is holding his bird caller as the passengers try to spot the birds in the trees. Photo Credit: Kayla-Maria Martin

But there is much more than I could have ever expected, including the goals of a U.S based non-profit organization called Project Piaba that places an interdisciplinary twist on its interests in the aquarium fish industry. In what I would like to call a collaboration with the Amazonia Expeditions Co., a Manaus based ecotourism company that utilizes brilliant scientific learning with its clients; this duo has the ultimate potential in positively impacting for a sustainable fish industry within the communities and individuals whose daily lives may depend most on this system in the Rio Negro. There exists an ability to establish and manage a self-sustaining model of capture of aquarium fish, transfers from local fishermen to export stations located in the capitol city of Manaus, and export out to aquarium folks and enthusiasts around the world. At the same time, involvement in monitoring the health of fish from their capture to export, water quality testing, considerations of the global impact this model may create with its success, and creating connections with the communities of people who have the potential to benefit most from this system are a few of the concurrent, and reachable objectives.


An aquarium tank filled with angelfish in the main center of the town of Barcelos, Brasil. Photo Credit: Kayla-Maria Martin

Known as the largest blackwater river system in the world, the Rio Negro contains a vast amount of species richness in animal and plant fauna within its tropical rainforest climate. Home to nearly 90 endemic fish species, the Rio Negro additionally holds over 100 species of fish sought after by the aquarium fish industry. The variety of fish species I was able to encounter included the smallest catfish in South America, to the ravenous piranha, and the vibrantly popular cardinal tetra. Catfish, angelfish, discos, tetras, arawana, piranha and cichlids are merely a small portion of the variety of fish species that exists in the Rio Negro in which I saw firsthand. It was some of these species of fish Project Piaba and Amazonia Expedition folks were able to collect together for identification, study, and perform examinations of fish health during our travels. In addition, a number of these species were what could be found at a transfer station in the town of Barcelos, at an export station in Manaus, and be discovered in aquariums around the world.

Take a preview of those sharp teeth. This piranha was caught during one of the last fishing trips. Photo Credit: Kayla-Maria Martin

The voyage provided for an educational exploration of the natural spaces and people where this model can be considered unique, and one of a kind in the world. Late night explorations, snorkeling and fish collections, seminar talks, birding adventures, hiking endeavors, witness to an increase in wildfire, meetings with local communities, long treks through woody debris ravaged rivers, audience to a lively, annual fish festival in the town of Barcelos, and full immersion into the beauties of nature are only a few of the undertakings I had the privilege of experiencing during this voyage. It was certainly the lead of the Dorinha crew that made all this possible for us, as their knowledge base to our natural surroundings was quite vast to say in the least.

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Elias, one of the Dorinha’s crew members, leads the way for us on our green canoe. Photo Credit: Kayla-Maria Martin

In the end, I must recognize that this learning privilege would not have existed without the cooperative work between Project Piaba and Amazonia Expeditions. I look forward to seeing the relationship that may continue between the two, and may develop with future collaborators as there is a great potential in establishing positive change for a sustainable fish industry and community development within the Rio Negro Basin.

If you wish to learn more about Project Piaba and ways that you may want to get involved, visit: http://projectpiaba.org/. Perhaps, you may want to take an adventure and learning of a lifetime yourself!

No matter where in the world you are, kids definitely have one thing in common. They know how to enjoy the silly things in life. Photo Credit: Kayla-Maria Martin

Special Thanks: I am eternally grateful to the variety of support I received for embarking this opportunity. Much thanks to Dr. Sam Chan and Tania Siemens from the Oregon Sea Grant College Program at Oregon State University for their always enthusiastic support for furthering my own, and other students futures. Thank you to aquatic veterinarian, Dr. Tim Miller-Morgan, from the Hatfield Marine Science Center for sharing, and allowing me to join him and the rest of the Project Piaba folks on a growing experience. Thank you to Amazonia Expeditions Co. for introducing a glimpse into the enigmatic world of the Amazon. Thank you to Project Piaba for your work, I have the highest hopes for the growth of an astonishing organization. Mahalo nui loa, and Go Acará Disco!!!

DSC_0060 (2)Kayla first started at Oregon Sea Grant as a PROMISE intern after graduating from Oregon State University in 2014. She has since been a part of the program as a Marine Educator, working in the areas of watershed health and invasive species research and educational outreach. She has been involved in developing an AIS toolkit lesson plan for K-12 educators, assisting with the Oregon Invasive Species Council (OISC), visiting local schools to teach more on invasive species, specimen collections, conducting survey-based research studies, and supervising student interns and workers. She will soon be starting her Master’s in Ecology and Biomonitoring at the Universidade Federal da Bahia in Salvador, Brazil.



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Jan 01 2016

My internship in Thailand: Journey to Freedom Project

Filed under WISE Students

One of my student I have taught at Journey to Freedom Project

The PROMISE internship and Oregon Sea Grant sparked my interest to do community outreach and environmental education for youth. This summer before starting my internship with Save Elephant Foundation I had a great chance on becoming a student researcher at Oregon Sea Grant. Besides doing research on “Don’t Pack a Pest Campaign”, we also have worked on AIS toolkit lesson plans for invasive species. When the opportunity came along to work for Elephant Nature Park (ENP) I wanted to continue my research and extend my skills of creating communication materials on environmental issues. However, the settings and opportunities were different at the park. After visiting a school near Elephant Nature Park I saw a potential opportunity to teach English for kids and I have expressed my interest to my supervisor. My wish was granted and I was sent to Journey to Freedom Project at Mae Hare village which is about four hours away from Chiang Mai city. The project is situated in a  rural area of Thailand where local people spoke very little or almost none of English language. During my stay, I had couple of goals and tasks to complete which were to interact with volunteers who come to the project, teach basic English to local children, and create an advisory column on ENP website for future coming volunteers. When Khun Lek created this project she wanted to focus more on support for local community development besides providing space and care for elephants (four elephants at this project so far). The village itself had beautiful scenery where rows and rows of farm cultivation were present. The difference between Elephant Nature Park and this project has to do with the fact that the elephants are not owned by the project but by their mahouts(elephant keeper), so before getting started she made a contract with the mahouts on “no ride, no hooks” rule and in return they will be part of the project where volunteers can watch them in the wild as well as  provide food and safety.

As I have mentioned, public community outreach was the main purpose of the project and this was done by allowing volunteers to interact with local children and teach them basic English lessons. As I have learned during my internship at Oregon Sea Grant it is important for communities to be involved in preserving the ecosystems, water and water ecosystems. Children in Mae Hare village have limited opportunity to learn about these important lessons in life, so in order to help them, we need to teach them some English. It is positive loop for what is hoped to come out from this idea, where children will learn English by interacting with volunteers and this will motivate them to study harder and create willingness to learn more. With education comes the knowledge and people will be more aware about the environment they live in and this creates better communities for next generations.

IMG_1970Since I was new to the place, the first week I have spent learning more about the project and adjusting to my new temporary home. Together with 8 other volunteers we have spent time learning more about elephant lives at this project and their amazing stories of rescue. Our daily schedules included harvesting sugar cane, walking with elephants in the forest and having afternoon English lessons with local kids. The week we had arrived the children were on a break, so we had a small group of students with us. It almost felt like private tutoring were at the end of the week I had my own student who only wanted to study with me and same situation with other volunteers. I liked the intimacy because I could see progress right away and it was very rewarding. The first day when I started teaching we began with colors and animals and after 6 days, they have already memorized the words and knew the English alphabet. At this point I had a good idea on how I can interact with children and what is the best way to teach them English when regular volunteers have only one week of stay. Some of the suggestions I have written for the ENP website column was that  it would be very helpful if volunteer brought along school supplies and interactive materials such as stationary, coloring books, fairy tales and maybe some games because a lot of the children that I have taught were 5-7years old (although their age  varied from 2-14years). In the past, the volunteers didn’t have good concept of what they could teach so I think it was useful to create an outline on what they already know and what could be taught next. By next week, I have helped out the new volunteers to adjust to their new role as a teachers and gave them suggestions on what they can do and what can be taught.

IMG_1888Overall, I have accomplished all my stated goals and was satisfied with the outcomes, but most importantly, I have met amazing group of people and from whom I learned a lot. All the three weeks I have spent there I was a teacher as well as student, a student of life.

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Dec 15 2015

My PROMISE to the Environment



Figure 1. The LABE YCC crew spent two days working and exploring at Crater Lake National Park with their four-person YCC crew.

Figure 1. The LABE YCC crew spent two days working and exploring at Crater Lake National Park with their four-person YCC crew.

As I began my second season as a Biological Science Technician at Lava Beds National Monument (LABE), specifically the Youth Conservations Corps (YCC) Crew Leader, I had set some new goals to improve upon last year’s accomplishments. The Youth Conservation Corps is an 8-week program for high-school-aged students hosted at many National Park Service and other federal agency units throughout the country. The crew works on a range of tasks, depending on the needs of that unit. Originally established at LABE in 1989, the crew, comprised of 8 teenagers from neighboring towns, focuses on the primary tasks of weed removal, brushwork, trail work, and cave cleaning. The program educates new YCC crew members about the natural and cultural resources of the monument while accomplishing work that positively impacts visitor experiences throughout the year. I set out to improve the program and benefit the park, using skills gained as a PROMISE intern at Oregon Sea Grant, within the context of the monument’s natural history and experience that I gained from the 2014 YCC season.

Figure 2. The 2015 Youth Conservation Corps crew at Lava Beds National Monument comprised of eight high school students ranging from ages 15-18 from the local communities.

Figure 2. The 2015 Youth Conservation Corps crew at Lava Beds National Monument comprised of eight high school students ranging from ages 15-18 from the local communities.


A Biological Science Technician is a broad term used by multiple federal agencies to describe a job position that assists with laboratory or field research. As exemplified in my position, not every task is research, but the tasks are research-based and in a very real world setting, they can vary substantially based on the situation. My work at Oregon Sea Grant as a PROMISE intern and student employee specifically shaped my interest of working towards the eradication of invasive species at Lava Beds. Learning about their effect on the environment guides my decisions and impacts my ability to educate others about the importance of controlling invasive species within the monument. The four primary invasive plant species within Lava Beds are cheat grass (Bromus tectorum), tumble mustard (Sisymbrium altissimum), flix weed (Descurainia sophia), and mullein (Verbascum thapsus). Cheat grass is a dry grass that covers any unclaimed ground and drastically increases the spread of fires in the high desert climate. Even though cheat grass is the most populous invasive species at LABE, there is no way to effectively eradicate it. Tumble mustard and flix weed, on the other hand, are silica-based plants with short root systems that can be easily pulled. When targeting these plants, we focus mainly on visitor use areas because they take much longer than most plants to decompose due to their tough silica-based stems. The final invasive plant species, mullein, can be found in the lower elevations of the park. Unfortunately mullein grows outside of the monument and it is inevitable that it will make its way back into the park through its many vectors, or methods of dispersal. All of the invasive plant species most likely traveled into the park as seeds attached to car tires, clothing, animal fur, etc. The tumble mustard may also have “tumbled” into the park as it does after it is dried and ready to disperse seeds.

Figure 3. The highest concentrations of mullein is on Gillem’s Bluff, which the YCC crew spent about four days this summer hiking up and down to pull the invasive plant and bag the seed heads.

Figure 3. The highest concentrations of mullein is on Gillem’s Bluff, which the YCC crew spent about four days this summer hiking up and down to pull the invasive plant and bag the seed heads.


There are many connections that I can make between my role as a PROMISE intern and a YCC crew leader. My goals were similar in both programs: to educate and engage the youth in an appreciation of the natural wonders of their own environment and their roles within that environment. Through the PROMISE internship, I focused on the development of educational materials to be added to the AIS toolkit, a curriculum for teachers to integrate invasive species topics into their classrooms,  and distributed to teachers across the west coast with the intention of integrating invasive species into classroom education. One of the most fun applications of this goal was when I led a group of students in a summer camp on an invasive plant species scavenger hunt through Peavy Arboretum. I created a scavenger hunt list of invasive plant species easily found at the arboretum and led the group of about 12 students along a trail to identify and discuss those plants. Little did I know that at that point, I was developing the skills necessary to lead the YCC group on educational tasks throughout Lava Beds National Monument. This year, one of our main focuses as a crew was the creation of a list of plants and animals that we sighted within the monument. At the end of the eight week program, we went through a presentation of these species and discussed details, including whether each was invasive or native.



Considering that the landscape of Lava Beds is very similar to that of the YCC crew’s backyards, another important topic that we focused on is maintenance of the quality of natural and cultural landscapes. There can be a sense of boredom among the crew regarding the landscape, and it was the job of the crew leaders to reclaim that wonder and desire to work towards preservation that many visitors get when coming to LABE for the first time. This task can be challenging, but it was also rewarding to watch the attitudes of the crew transform into a sense of awe and respect within the caves or among the petroglyphs at Petroglyph Point, for example. These constant opportunities to include education about invasive species, the lava tube caves, the Modoc people, the natural landscapes, and the wildlife are also a wonderful experience for me to learn about these elements of the monument. I am fortunate to be able to work in two unique settings that support individual growth while performing the required job tasks. Both Oregon Sea Grant and Lava Beds National Monument have provided settings for me to grow as an educator and develop skills to help me engage students in the natural wonders of the local environment. I plan to continue to utilize these skills to aid in the accomplishment of my career and life goals.

Figure 4. As a Biological Science Technician, my main task is to lead the Youth Conservation Corps crew to maintain Lava Beds National Monument focusing on the primary tasks of weed removal, brushwork, trail work, and cave cleaning

Figure 4. As a Biological Science Technician, my main task is to lead the Youth Conservation Corps crew to maintain Lava Beds National Monument focusing on the primary tasks of weed removal, brushwork, trail work, and cave cleaning

Danielle started at Oregon Sea Grant as a PROMISE Intern in the summer of 2013 and then became a student employee during her senior year at Oregon State University. Throughout her time working at Sea Grant, Danielle has been involved in the creation and editing process of invasive species primers and lesson plans under the guidance of Sam Chan, Tania Siemens and Jennifer Lam. Danielle has had the opportunity to assist with student activities, Oregon Invasive Species Council meetings, specimen collection, WISE blog posts, and more. Since graduating in June 2014, Danielle has continued to help with the AIS toolkit materials and has spent two summer seasons working for the National Park Service.

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Dec 14 2015

My internship in Thailand: Little about Elephant March

Filed under WISE Students

During my stay in Thailand I had a great chance to participate in march for elephants and rhinos. There purpose is to become the voice for these animals and bring awareness to stop ivory trade and poaching. The event happens every year at the park, but this year the military has given permission to hold it in Chiang Mai city for the first time. I had a chance to be part of the event organizing committee and was responsible for creating information booths at the event in Chiang Mai and also look after volunteer where we could provide them with essentials such as water and t-shirts.

Preparing to march

Preparing to march

It was a good way to see how team work is managed in this organization and see the dynamics.

From my observation , people here operate as one unit just like a family. I really appreciate how caring and considerate people are towards one another which makes any job more pleasant. At the day of the event it was quite hot and we had concerns for our volunteers, but actions were taken immediately were we could provide more shade and water for an unexpected delay. There were times when certain things did not go as we have planned, but the staff were quite relaxed about it and even in the middle of chaos people will still smile and try to work it out step by step. The event planning I have seen in U.S  is quite well planned and on schedule, but I have learned that even in perfect situation we have to prepared for some flaws and be prepared for it. Sometimes all you can do is find solutions on the spot  and that’s where team collaboration helps. Overall, the event in Chiang Mai had a big turn out and the event was a huge success for first timers. The event was also held in places like Burma(Myanmar) and Cambodia where other branches of SEF held their own event for ivory awareness. Ambassadors of SEF from all around the world also showed support through social media and some even had a chance to hold their own march in the cities, such as in Vermont where there is a big community of elephant lovers were able to show support.

Marching in Chiang Mai City

Marching in Chiang Mai City

After the event I started to see how the system works in the office and get an understanding of overall work environment. It is quite clean people have high respect to Khun Lek(founder) and a lot people choose to work directly under her and  talk about issues only to her. Even though there are a lot of assigned managers, the people who have personal connections with her will only follow her rules.  It is understandable as her being a powerfully inspirational person but also in a way lack of authority. There is definitely some aspects the staff focus more on and neglect other parts, however, every organization has its flaws and there is always room to improve but being  such a large non-profit organization in Thailand it is doing a great job.


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Dec 10 2015

My internship in Thailand: Management and organization at the park

Filed under WISE Students

As my second has been evolving I am starting to adjust to the new place and work environment in Thailand. The second week I have spent at the park has been a bit different. Now that my volunteer experience/training is over I had general ideas on what I could do during my stay. I was able to make good connections with my manager at the park and we have discussed about pros and cons at the park.

Volunteers for one week at the park

Volunteers for one week at the park

As for pros I would say the organization is doing a good on promoting and advancing the park. Each year the organization is receiving more and more requests for volunteering and ways to be involved. Elephant Nature Park has a good media and technology team where all the social media is updated daily and promotion videos are posted weekly. The general crowd especially those who are away are constantly on track on what is happening with the project. I had a chance to witness a new rescue of an elephant with Khun Lek and it has been promoted with live videos and footages. There are many more projects that Khun Lek has taken on besides rescuing the elephants. One of the upcoming ones is “Baan Lao cultivation”, the project is focused on local community growth and sustainable farming where organic coffee will be the main product for plantation. There are more than 4 upcoming project coming up and the process is ongoing.

With employees who have been at the park for more than 10 years, the park definitely has a good system that is well followed. However, there are some cons I have analyzed as well. Being a science student, I wanted to know what kind of volunteers come here and why they have chosen ENP. With all the people I have met so far, including staff members and volunteers, I was able to conduct a few survey questions doing my casual conversations. It is discovered by that people divide into three categories: tourists/visitors, conservationists, and animal welfare enthusiasts. With general visitors people come here to see an elephant and that’s the main purpose. A lot of the times people forget to follow the rules (short safety video showed earlier on their way to the park) because they are so taken over by joy of seeing an elephant and because it is vacation for them people really want to know too much about what is going on. The second group are the true warriors. Those people start to think critically on situations they have encountered at the park and what could be further done for the elephants. Some of the conservation volunteers have been conserved about the density of the weekly volunteers coming in which creates a vulnerable environment for the elephants. Since most of the elephants have been injured or abused in the past it is very likely that this wild animal can attack at any point of time, volunteers have to keep a certain distance from the elephants and follow the designated tour guides. It is the tours guides and volunteers responsibility to stay away and always alert near the elephants. However, I could see that some tour guides did not pay too much attention to this matter and could concern people and this is something that the managers are taking into consideration. One more is there wasn’t a lot of educational programs at the park.



Although the park does have video presentation on elephant rescue and big brochures for visitors to read and as I stated my goals on my first blog post I wanted to work on educational part of the program to create more materials for volunteers at the park. However, realistically thinking I did not have time to create an actual program , so I have sat  with the manager and talked on what could be done. So for the decision, we have decided to take a social approach and create an information session for whoever is interested to learn more and I was the go-to person if they had any questions regarding the park. I have learned that the program itself is very large and has designated people to every piece of the puzzle so the idea of coming in and changing something is impossible with a short time frame. However, what we have discussed during meeting is to improve the training process of guides in order to better serve and educate the community. On my next blog, I will give updates more on Thai culture and how my social education has evolved.

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Dec 03 2015

My internship in Thailand continued. An inside look to Elephant Nature Park

Filed under WISE Students

As part of my internship my first task was to learn about the organization dynamics. I didn’t realize that the organization runs on a very large scale until I had a chance to be part of it. The very first and largest project that Lek manages is the Elephant Nature Park. Every week the park welcomes about 200 volunteers who come from all around the world to see and help the elephants. The program provides option of visiting the park for one day, overnight, one week or two weeks


Volunteers enjoying the sunshine after bathing the elephants

As part of my internship I got to spend the first two weeks at the park. The first week was my learning curve and I followed the same schedule as other volunteers. Our daily activities included cutting corn , scooping elephant feces, preparing food, and bathing the elephants. This gives the volunteers a great way of appreciation on how much work and hours need to be spent to take care of these big animals.

In my spare time, I went for further exploration and connected with several coordinators at the park. I got a chance to interview Jodi Thomas who has been working for Elephant Nature Park for more than 10 years and has quite a lot of insight to the organization. We have discussed on how ecotourism is helping to support the local communities as well as preserving natural resources of Thailand.

IMG_0434With 65 elephants and high demand of visitors there are approximately 300 volunteers working for the sanctuary. Various positions are need to be filled from visitor guides to cooks. Most of the workers are from Thailand who come different provinces and the “mahouts” or elephant keepers are from Burma (Myanmar). It is hard for Burmese to find a job as they migrate without knowing any Thai. The organization on the other had encourages people to work them only if they choose to follow the rule of “no hooks” and “no rides”. Being a mahout is a very demanding job as keeper has to be around the elephant all the time, especially at the park where most elephants are injured and each mahout has to look after their elephants for visitor’s safety as well as elephant’s wellness.

Food for the sanctuary is bought locally as well. Each elephant eats 300-600pounds a day, so for each day 15tons of food is collected for elephants. Bananas, pumpkins, corn and tamarin are few of the favorite foods of elephants. Some of elephants have bad teeth because of their age so they need special food such as rice ball which another job for volunteers. With all the food for animals comes food for volunteers and workers as well.

Not only Elephant Park is home for elephants but also for many other rescued animals. The mission for the park is to rescue as many animals as possible without discrimination. The animals I have seen were rescued race horses, pigs, water buffalos, and many more.


One of the rescued cats Puff

There also a big dog shelter that has about 500 dogs and a cat kingdom with 200 cats. Volunteers are encouraged to adopt the dogs as they need home where everything arranged by the shelter coordinators. All animals at the park are vaccinated and treated at the veteran clinic located inside. Recently, the organization was able to buy an x-ray machine for elephants for better examination and health for their injuries.

As you can see the funding organization gets from volunteers goes to a lot of maintenance and ongoing construction.The park itself is 60 acres wide and is looking for further expansion to save more elephants.

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Nov 11 2015

My internship in Thailand and current expectations

Filed under WISE Students

Yet again I was lucky enough to get another internship experience and this time with Save the Elephants Foundation. This is going to be another exciting challenge for me especially the fact that it’s in Thailand. This opportunity came to me in a short notice which was a bit overwhelming, but with a good summer start I am able to take it on with pleasure.
Learning from the website, the organization mainly focuses on elephant rehabilitation programs, sustainable ecotourism as well as community outreach to local people in Thailand . Founder of the organization is Sangduen Lek, who has been a passionate advocate for elephants from a very young age, was able to create a unique sustainable and safe tourist experience where elephants are away from cruelty and human rides, but instead they are able to spend a day or more providing help by doing activities such as preparing food for them, bathing and having long strolls around the park. This experience for volunteers and visitors takes place at the Elephants Nature Park. However, the sanctuary is only one of the big projects that SEF leads. Other projects include Cambodian Wildlife Sanctuary, Surin Project, Journey to Freedom, etc.
From the past interns I have learned that each individual went through a different journey and the tasks that they had to do highly varied from want the intern desired and what the supervisor wanted them to do. For example, the most recent intern for summer wanted to obtain more editing and filming skills so he spent more time with the camera crew out in different projects, whereas last year’s intern was mostly working for park facilitation. As for me, I am hoping to work more with outreach and interactions with visitors and incoming volunteers. I have realized through my internship with Oregon Sea Grant that I enjoy communicating with people and taking more creative approach to address a certain issue. I want to help with creating education materials for ongoing projects and coming up with better communication strategies. Since I will be spending quiet a lot of my time in the park I am hoping to learn more about the ecosystem, water, and invasive species in near Chiang Mai and report it by making blog posts on our website. These are some of my prior goals upon arrival, but it will probably change once I actually start working.
The fact that the internship will take place in Thailand will be another test itself and I mean it in a positive way. I think it is  important to observe and compare how different countries operate their organizations and see where I can contribute myself as a source. I would like to take a challenge for myself on creating information such as handouts or educational programs that I have learned at Oregon Sea Grant and applying it to my work at Save the Elephants Foundation  . The possibilities are endless at this point and my goals will probably change on the way but I looking forward to this opportunity.

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May 12 2015

To Flush or Not to Flush? Part III

Filed under Feature Stories

Further In-depth Understanding of the Human Capacity to Act Model

Previously in this three-blog series, we discussed how the Human Capacity to Act (HCA) Framework could be used by researchers to learn about what influences people to dispose of Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products (PPCPs) the way that they do. PPCPs get into the environment through flushing and other improper disposal methods and studies have shown that the best way to influence people to change their behavior is by affecting them at the social level. This can be done by educating people about the potential negative influence of their actions and starting a discussion about this within communities.


Figure 4

Figure 4. Human Capacity to Act (HCA) Framework


When understanding HCA, the larger the area of the triangle, the more likely a person will change their behavior. With institutional choice having the largest area of the triangle, it shows a greater expected change for behavior change, followed by social proof, and then rational choice at the very top. According to this triangle concept, rational choice has the smallest impact on behavior change, though many agencies and organizations base their outreach and education on rational choice.

Let’s take a look at potential everyday situations:

  • Rational choice: You’re a chain smoker and you see a commercial that says “stop smoking, it’s bad for your health”… does this make you quit smoking cold turkey?
  • Social proof: You move to Corvallis, OR and because most of the people around are OSU Beaver fans, it is easy for you to automatically become one too.
  • Institutional choice: You wear your seatbelt every time you’re in the car because there is a seatbelt law and you may be fined if you don’t wear it.

Now, let’s take a look at a PPCPs example situation:

You look into your medicine cabinet and see a handful of prescription medications that you no longer need or use. What do you do with them? Here’s how the Human Capacity to Act Framework would work in this scenario:

  • Rational choice: You remember seeing a poster at the bus stop that said, “Don’t flush your medication down the drain!” You think that since a poster was made with this message in such strong command words that it must be valid and that you should listen to whomever made that poster. This thought process can be attributed to the assumption that people want to do what is right and that decisions are based off of what people care about. It was mentioned in blog two that typically when someone doesn’t do something, those around them will assume that they simply don’t care about the cause.
  • Social proof: You’re chatting with your neighbor and he tells you about the medication collection boxes where he was able to dispose of a bag of unused medication safely at the law enforcement office in town. Since other people seem to be able to easily do this, it would be achievable for you too. Also, the fact that others are taking the time to protect the environment and waterways by properly dispose of medication, you too can afford to do this.
  • Institutional choice: There is a law against throwing away or flushing your unused medication down the drain and a fee is imposed (hypothetical situation). You avoid flushing simply to avoid paying the fine in this situation.

In the case of institutional choice, you want to avoid being fined for throwing away or flushing your unused medication, so you decided to just keep them in your medicine cabinet longer. In the rational choice situation, you see the poster tell you what not to do, but how much influence does that really have on your decision? Convenience is a huge factor in rational choice – you could think that just flushing a few pills down the drain won’t hurt much. Social proof brings into perspective that when you are unsure of what to do in a situation, you look to the people you trust around you to help make your behavior choice. A person’s experiences and stories can have a great influence on the everyday decisions they make.


“The challenge lies in a willingness to do things differently than we have in the past” (Hungerford & Volk, 1990).


Routine and convenience have become influencing factors in the decisions we make today, but those are usually driven by individual intentions. With community and trusted networks around, they can become the new source of united intentions. Because responsible behavior is important in the face of PPCPs in the environment, the Human Capacity to Act Model is a new model that displays that education on the community level can lead to PPCP stewardship actions.


This blog is the third part of a three-blog series introducing a model and detailing its use through the example of PPCP disposal. As we conclude the series, readers can reflect with a few questions to discuss on your own, with friends, or even in the comments section of this blog: How can you apply the Human Capacity to Action Model in your life? How have you come to the decision to dispose of your unused medications?



Credit to: Jennifer Lam, Samuel Chan, Tania Siemens, and Kayla-Maria Martin


Resources:UpClose Interviews: A behind the scenes look at the researchers working on the topic of PPCPsOSU extension survey 2014: This survey looks into where Oregonians go to for information and want to invest additional funding on different environmental/natural resources, hazards, economic, academic/professional development, youth and human health issues.Ruben Anderson’s blog “a Small and Delicious Life”: The idea of compassionate systems to address the frustration and failure of behavior change

Oregon Drug Collection Box locations (PDF)



Literature Cited (all three blogs):

Anderson, R. (2013). Compassionate systems. Invasive Species Forum. Lecture conducted from Invasive Species Council of BC, Richmond, British Columbia.

Daughton, C. G. (2004). PPCPs in the environment: future research—beginning with the end always in Hungerford, H. R., & Volk, T. L. (1990). Changing learner behavior through environmental education. The journal of environmental education, 21(3), 8-21.

Frey, T. (2013). Our alarming culture of pill people and future trends in healthcare. Retrieved June 23, 2014, from http://www.futuristspeaker.com/2013/02/our-alarming-culture-of-pill-people-and-future-trends-in-healthcare/

Hungerford, H. R. , & Volk, T. L. (1990). Changing learner behavior through environmental education. Journal of Environmental Education , 21(3), 8-21.

King County (2013). Brightwater Treatment Plant- a clean water treatment facility. Wastewater Treatment; King County, Washington.

Lam, Jennifer, et al. (2014). Dose of reality: What can we learn from pet owners in veterinary and education professions to guide more effective environmental stewardship of pharmaceutical and personal care products (PPCPs)? AMERICAN WATER RESOURCES ASSOCIATION (AWRA) National Conference “Social Science of Emerging Contaminants”. Nov. 3, 2014. Tyson’s Corner, VA.

McLeod, K. L., & Leslie, H. M. (2009). Why ecosystem‐based management. In K. L. McLeod & H.M. Leslie (Eds.), Ecosystem‐Based Management for the Oceans. Washington, D.C.: Island Press.

Morace, J. L. (2012). Reconnaissance of contaminants in selected wastewater-treatment-plant effluent and stormwater runoff entering the Columbia River, Columbia River Basin, Washington and Oregon, 2008-10. US Department of the Interior, US Geological Survey.

OSU extension (2014). OSU extension statewide survey. Retrieved April 30, 2014, from http://extension.oregonstate.edu/announcements/osu-extension-statewide-survey

Piore, A. (2013) Blissed-out on Prozac. Nautilus. Issue 7 Chapter 1: Available at: http://nautil.us/issue/101/in-our-nature/blissed_out-fish-on-prozac-rp

Zhang Y, Geißen SU, Gal C. Carbamazepine and diclofenac: removal in wastewater treatment plants and occurrence in water bodies. Chemosphere 2008;73:1151–61.

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Apr 29 2015

To Flush or Not to Flush? Part II

Filed under Feature Stories

Introduction to the Human Capacity to Act Framework

In order to promote responsible environmental stewardship, education must focus first and foremost on effective environmental education. Changing human and consumer behavior can be difficult, but the topic of Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products (PPCPs) can capture attention of people and lead to a better understanding of how environmental science and protection can work together (Daughton, 2004). The challenge here is to see education turn into action. “The traditional thinking in the field of environmental education has been that we can change behavior by making human beings more knowledgeable about the environment and its associated issues” (Hungerford & Volk, 1990). The assumption here is that knowledge will lead to awareness and thus motivation for action. In this case, the action is what folks do with unused PPCPs-whether that is to flush them, throw them away, or bring them to a voluntary disposal site.


Figure 3

Figure 3. There is currently a gap in understanding human practices that needs to be addressed by learning more from people about specific questions such as how they perceive PPCPs, how they are making their decisions, and where they get their information. Social science research is needed to fill this gap and eventually lead to improved prevention efforts (Lam, et al. 2014).


The ecological effects of emerging pollutants on the environment and web of life are a focus in current research, but not much of the human dimensions side of the issue has been studied. Many of the social programs to reduce PPCPs from reaching aquatic ecosystems are based on education leading to consumers making informed decisions or different forms of take-back programs. Using the Human Capacity to Act (HCA) Framework as a basis in research, we look at how rational choice, social proof, and institutional choice may drive consumers in making decisions on the use and disposal of PPCPs. Learning how people understand, perceive, learn and make decisions about facing and avoiding risk is an important research element when looking at PPCPs disposal.


Figure 4

Figure 4. Human Capacity to Act (HCA) Framework


Human Capacity to Act Frameworks – compassionate systems

Ruben Anderson talks about the idea of compassionate systems as a result to deal with the “frustration and failure of behavior change” (Anderson, 2013). The most ignored fact about behavior, according to Ruben, is that the brain has a limited attention. We can watch 20 commercials or read 15 advertisements in magazines, but what will we take away from all of that? Are these commercials and ads actually communicating successfully enough that it will influence you to change your behavior? The failure of creating change occurs at the approach.

We live in a world that is built for rational people, so when we don’t do something, we get blamed for not caring. Compassionate systems recognize our limits and accept that humans can only do so much based on the influences around us. Instead of asking people to pay attention to what PPCPs they are buying, we need to look into the influences of social proof that have roots to rational choices influencing institutional change, not the people. Some research has shown that 95% of behavior is social, while the other 5% is rationally chosen (Anderson, 2013). By focusing on the social proof influence of PPCPs stewardship behavior change, there could be an increase in effectiveness with community engagement.

In a recent OSU extension survey studying where Oregonians get information, 95% and 67% of people look for emails from organizations/business in an online and phone survey respectfully (OSU Extension, 2014). There is a sense of trust in social networks and in what others are doing around us, so there can be an influence from social networks in positive environmental behavior change.

This blog is the second part of a three-blog series introducing a model and detailing its use through the example of PPCP disposal. Next time on the WISE Blog: we go more in-depth of the Human Capacity to Act Model with a specific case study that details the process.

Illustration 3


Credit to: Jennifer Lam, Samuel Chan, Tania Siemens, and Kayla-Maria Martin

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Apr 14 2015

To Flush or Not to Flush? Part I

Filed under Feature Stories

This blog is the first in a three-part series introducing a framework for considering social circles, institutions and rational information to guide and enhance environmental education programs. We introduce the use of the “Human Capacity to Act” (HCA) framework – through the issue of Pharmaceutical and Personal Care Products (PPCPs) disposal.

Illustration 1

Illustration by Yuko Shimizu


Have you ever thought about what you should do with your unused medication? Although the drain might be an easy way to dispose of those medications, it is not the safest for water and other natural processes outside your home. A growing concern for people and the environment is the frequency of pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCPs) emerging as pollutants in our lakes, rivers and estuaries.



Figure 1

Figure 1. Studies have shown that the worldwide annual per capita consumption rate of pharmaceuticals is 15 grams, but it is actually three to ten times higher in developed countries (50-100 grams) (Zhang, Geißen & Gal, 2008). The average American today takes slightly more than 10 pills a day (Frey, 2013). With this increased use, comes the increased presence of these pharmaceuticals in the waterways (Morace, 2012).


People’s Actions Can Make a Difference

A large portion of PPCPs enter our natural waterways through wastewater due to improper disposal. As described in Adam Piore’s “Blissed out by Prozac”, most wastewater treatment facilities are not designed to treat and remove pharmaceuticals, and many of these substances pass through the treatment process into nearby rivers, lakes and streams consequently affecting drinking water and other environmental resources for humans and other organisms. Planning and building new wastewater treatment plants can take decades, and it is near impossible to anticipate emerging contaminants. For example the Brightwater Treatment Plant in Washington went into plan in 1999 and building was completed in 2012 (See Figure 2). New classes of PPCPs that were not planned for treatment emerged during the plants construction. The Brightwater project uses an advanced Membrane Bioreactor (MBR) technology during the secondary treatment to remove remaining debris and inorganic material. Still trace amounts of pharmaceuticals and pet care products can be left in water after the process (King County, 2013). It would not be economically feasible to include the technologies needed to remove all PPCPs.


Figure 2. Bridgewater Advanced Wastewater Treatment Plant, Seattle WA. Completed 2012.


With advances in medicine, wastewater treatment technology will often lag behind new drug chemistry- an unforeseen consequence. The increased levels of PPCPs in the environment are putting the ecosystem at risk, with problems ranging from degradation of water quality to negative impacts on aquatic organisms. Fish and other animals accumulate high concentrations of chemicals when exposed to them through water and these can have detrimental effects on the ecosystem function if it continues to excel. Providing education and means that enable people to reduce and properly dispose of unwanted or expired PPCPs can reduce the amount of and risks from them in our waterways.

“The ultimate aim of education is shaping human behavior” (Hungerford & Volk, 1990). Consumers and stewards of PPCPs are exposed to ever increasing forms and volumes of outreach and education to influence their actions. Learning how to better reach and inform consumers on proper PPCPs disposal is a new focus for scientifically based education activities. Our blog proposes a framework for considering the influence of social circles, institutions and rational information to guide more effective education programs that can help reduce the amount of unused PPCPs improperly disposed into the environment.

Next time on the WISE Blog: learn about the Human Capacity to Act framework that researchers use to direct their education measures at their audience.

Illustration 2

 Jack Ohman, The Oregonian

Credit to: Jennifer Lam, Samuel Chan, Tania Siemens, and Kayla-Maria Martin

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