Stuck in the Mud

So week two is already done…hard to believe; this summer is flying by. A lot has happened though since my last post! First, I got stuck in the mud haha. I guess it was bound to happen at some point. We went out on Tuesday for our first field sampling trip to Tillamook Bay (2 hrs north of Newport). Since we needed to cross both water and mud flats during our sampling, we elected to use one of the EPA’s hovercrafts. Yes, it was as awesome as it sounds. Everything was going great for the first hour or so! We got to 3 sites and collected water, nutrient, sediment, and eelgrass samples at each. Then we hit our first speed bump. The pillow-block (the part of the engine that holds the driveshaft of the propeller in place) failed in spectacular fashion due to old age. As a result, the belt connecting the driveshaft to the engine lost tension and we were left dead in the bay. Thankfully we were fairly close to shore and the tide was coming in so we started paddling towards shore. With some luck we made it to shallow water that was near our 4th sampling site so, like any good scientists, we stopped and took some more samples. We resumed pushing the hovercraft when we had finished. As it turned out, we had broken down very close to the Pacific Oyster factory and there was a makeshift boat-ramp by their jetty. That was when our luck ran out: to get to the ramp we would need to pull the hovercraft across 300ft of mudflat. After 10 minutes of yanking and tugging on the hovercraft’s bowline I found my right leg buried in mud up to the knee and solidly stuck. Once I had been dug out we resumed our struggle but my boss took my place being stuck. After an hour of this repeated pulling, getting stuck, and digging each other free we had only moved 50ft. To make a very long story short it took us 3 hours to get to the boat-ramp and it was only with the help of the tide and some very nice folks from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Tillamook Office did we get that head of metal back on its trailer and back to Newport. On the bright side I did get some pretty stellar ice cream at Tillamook Creamery.

Second, I processed a LOT of samples from our field collections. Every water and eelgrass sample gets filtered for DNA for qPCR (quantitative polymerase chain reaction) so we can start to identify whose fecal bacteria have made it into the bay (human, cow, chicken, or otherwise). Sediment, water, and eelgrass samples also need to be diluted down for IDEXX testing; this detects the presence of certain indicator bacteria such as Enterococci ssp. and fecal coliform and generates the most probable number of bacteria per 100ml of sample. We also enrich many of the samples with growth media to try and grow Salmonella, E. coli, etc. to see if they are present in the samples.

Third and finally, I started doing some research for my own side project that will feed into my work at the EPA: how eelgrass biology could play a role in enabling the retention of indicator bacteria in the Bay. I’m mostly reading papers right now but I’m going to start work on a lit review next week. Hopefully it works out and I can use it as part of my poster!

That’s all for this week! I’ve put a link to some of the fieldwork pictures below, sadly nobody thought to take a picture while we were struggling in the mud haha.

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2 thoughts on “Stuck in the Mud

  1. Not a bad spot to be stuck in the mud, I guess…and now you have a terrific field story! Your working hypothesis about eelgrass and indicator bacteria retention is interesting – is it a physical mechanism that promotes retention, or physiological?

  2. That story was a wild ride all the way through! I’m glad you guys made it out alive; it sounds like some tiring work.

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