I’ve had an incredible summer working with SEACOR (Shellfish and Estuarine Assessment of Coastal Oregon) at ODFW. I feel so grateful to have gotten the chance to work on such a dedicated and passionate team. 😊 This internship has been so valuable! For example, I knew prior to this summer that I enjoyed fieldwork, but I had never worked in a marine setting. Being able to spend 5+ hours in the water each day was a dream! Even though it can get tiring, it was so fun and cemented what I want to pursue in the future.
This summer has also redefined my career goals. I thought I’d want to work in completely marine settings, with ecosystems such as coral reefs or kelp forests. While I still think these would be amazing to study, I’ve become really interested in estuary work. Estuaries are so important no matter what lens you’re looking through—environmental, economic, and/or cultural. It has felt super rewarding to study and work with them this summer.
I’m very excited to share that I’ll be working at the Smithsonian Marine Station in the Benthic Ecology Lab in Florida starting in September! The research project’s focus is on characterizing the little invertebrates that live at the bottom of an estuary called Indian River Lagoon. The estuary has suffered biodiversity loss caused by many different threats, including harmful algal blooms, development, and excess freshwater input. For 15+ years, the Benthic Ecology Lab has used invertebrate biodiversity as a measure of ecosystem health! I’m incredibly excited to continue my scientific career focused on estuary work and am interested to see how I can apply what I’ve learned in Oregon down there!
I have only a few weeks left working as a member of the SEACOR (Shellfish and Estuarine Assessment of Coastal Oregon) team! ☹ This summer has been instrumental in my personal and professional growth. Before this internship, I thought I would want to pursue a career in academia. However, this summer has shown me there are so many other paths I can take while still doing exciting scientific work. I can totally see myself pursuing a career with a state or federal agency now. Being able to communicate our data so readily with the public is what sparked my interest in pursuing this different path.
A professional development opportunity arose to work on an independent data project. So, I’ve also taken time this summer to learn how to code in R, which is a programming language for statistics that is often used in ecology. We’re looking at habitat associations between the different clam species in Tillamook Bay. I’m still working on the project, but I’m excited to present my findings at the symposium next week! Coding is completely out of my comfort zone, but it’s such a valuable skill to have in this field. I’m hoping to continue my R learning after this internship.
The biggest thing that surprised me this summer is I don’t mind getting up at 4:00 AM to go sampling. Who would’ve thought?!
Four weeks down like that! Working on the SEACOR (Shellfish and Estuarine Assessment of Coastal Oregon) team has been incredible. We are collecting data on the four major bay clam species in Tillamook Bay to inform shellfish catch limits. This project involves lots of fieldwork on the tide flats of the bay, digging up clams, crab, and shrimp!
There’s no typical day for the SEACOR team. We work on the ocean’s schedule and try to go out during low tide so we can sample the most sites. This means some days start at 4:00 AM while others not until 9:00 AM! We have a variety of sampling methods, RAM (Rapid Assessment Method), DAM (Detailed Assessment Method), and Megacoring. Each site is RAM sampled which involves recording habitat data and collecting eelgrass, then raking about 15 centimeters (six inches) looking for clams (Photo 1). Some of our sample sites are further examined using the DAM method. This involves digging approximately 30 centimeters (12 inches) down. Some sampling sites are covered by too much water for us to DAM sample, so we use a giant pump to “megacore”. The megacoring pump basically acts as a vacuum that traps all the shellfish in a mesh bag and spits out the sediment (Photo 2). Species such as cockle clams are found at the surface whereas others such as butter clams and gaper clams are found at deeper depths, which is why we like to use a variety of sampling methods. The last few hours of our day are spent measuring all the shellfish we collect.
Since we are living in a hotel in Tillamook during the week, we all get tired of microwave meals pretty quickly. That’s why we go out for a team dinner at least once a week! We’ve become loyal customers of “La Providencia,” a Mexican food truck in Tillamook (Photo 3). During downtime, I love to facetime my friends and family back home.
While I really enjoy the work, my least favorite part is stripping eelgrass of epiphytes (Photo 4). Epiphytes are organisms that grow on plants. Algae and eggs are usually the epiphytes found on eelgrass. It’s a real time-consuming process that can feel tedious. However, it’s a job that must be done for accurate data on eelgrass biomass!
My favorite part of the job is simply working in the ocean. It’s been a dream to work in this ecosystem that’s been inaccessible to me growing up in the Midwest. While I spent so much time reading and learning about marine ecosystems back home, it’s remarkable to learn first-hand with so many intelligent biologists on the SEACOR team! (Photo 5).
I have officially finished my first two weeks as a Summer Scholar working for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife on their SEACOR (Shellfish and Estuarine Assessment of Coastal Oregon) team! These first few weeks consisted of some intense fieldwork on the tide flats of Tillamook Bay (Figure 1). We are focused on two main projects this summer. The first, and most extensive, is shellfish and habitat data collection. The goal of this project is to figure out where recreationally significant clam species are in Tillamook Bay, as well as the abundance, biomass, and preferred habitat for each species. The four major target species are cockle clams (Figure 2), butter clams (Figure 3), gaper clams, and native littleneck clams. Data collected from this field season will later influence management decisions regarding the commercial harvest of bay clams in Tillamook. To get these data, we dig a bunch of holes in the tide flat and collect any critters we find! We’ve already dug up loads of clam, crab, and shrimp. Since we rely on low tides to get a lot of our work done, we’ve had many early mornings!
The second smaller project involves using drones to map eelgrass beds. Since eelgrass acts as important nursery habitat for a variety of fish and invertebrates, the goal of this project is to see exactly where eelgrass is growing in the bay. This is a collaborative project with the Coastal Drone Academy which is based out of the Career Tech High School in Lincoln City. While the students operate the drones, the SEACOR team helps set up the GCPs (Ground Control Points) at known locations (Figure 4). GCPs allow us to overlay all our imagery data later on!
A large portion of Oregon Sea Grant’s vision and mission involves studying the human dimensions of coastal and marine fisheries. Currently, there is a lot of controversy regarding the recreational and commercial harvest limits in Tillamook Bay. Data collected from this project influences harvest limits which can cause conflict between different fishing communities. This bay has not been surveyed by the SEACOR team since 2012, so there is a lot of interest (and some pressure) to get all the tide flats surveyed.
I am super excited to be a helping hand on this project in hopes we can collect lots of good data this field season! I’ve already learned so much about Oregon’s marine ecology as well as research in general. I can’t wait to see where the season takes us. Here’s to more gorgeous 4 A.M. mornings! ;)