About Makinna Miles

Spanish/Cultural Anthropology/Law & Politics. Interested in telling human stories through the use of digital media, particularly surrounding topics such as the environment, health, and human rights. Mediocre kayaker and expert crafter of banana bread.

Closing Up with Camp

Finishing up this internship with the last week of Summer Science Camp could not be more appropriate. For 9 weeks I squeezed into vans, followed groups of kids on hikes, ran with them on the beach, crafted shirts and art projects, explored with them, all the while catching someone’s first time holding a crab, someone’s first hike down to the Slough, someone’s first beach cleanup. I got to be there for so many moments, working to capture them in just the right way so I could weave them into our digital story. For my final week, I get to simply enjoy their growth and enthusiasm as a camp counselor.

Every group of kids is so different and so unpredictable. Some groups have proven to be a worthy test of my patience, others offered a refreshing worldview. In all cases, I feel so privileged to be able to participate in this program and I’m so happy that so many staff members and parents have already watched my video and told me what it captured for them.

As I finish up my final report and type this last blog post, I find myself struggling for the correct words to sum up these 10 weeks. Today, after the last camper was picked up, I trudged up the steps to the interpretive center, desperate to close my eyes and rest my aching head from a long day with 19 kids. I plugged in my camera to see the shots I took and found myself smiling, feeling better, remembering each moment as I scrolled past it. On the drive home, I found myself thinking of how much energy, patience, and attention it requires to foster a child’s learning and ensure their time in nature is productive. As our society becomes busier and busier, I hope we continue to protect programs like Summer Science Camps and that we keep investing in our children because the results speak for themselves (Youtube: South Slough Summer Camp Cultivating Wonder)

Campers race to the top of the dunes at John Dellenback.





4 Million Years of Fish

This lamprey is waiting to be tagged

Often inaccurately referred to as “lamprey eels,” this slippery creature is actually a jawless fish that dates back millions of years. Richard Litts, monitoring coordinator for the Tenmile Lakes Basin Partnership (TLBP), teamed up with Statewide Lamprey Coordinator Ben Clemens and Doc Slyter, Elder of the confederated Tribes of Coos, Lower Umpqua, and Siuslaw Indians, to monitor lampreys in the area. Litts and Clemens were there as a continuation of a data collection project monitoring lamprey population trends, while Slyter provided some cultural context for the importance of lampreys. I spoke with him about the history of lampreys in the area and what they mean to the tribe, and he told me that he used to take his kids swimming in these rivers when there were “hundreds” of lampreys among the rocks. “Now,” he says, “you’re lucky to see one at all. If these ancient creatures are being this severely affected, then something’s wrong.”

Several volunteers, members of the watershed council, a veterinarian, and a couple of South Slough interns all gathered together yesterday to try to figure out what that “something” was. The process began by stationing volunteers with nets at all the possible escape points just downriver from the backpack shocker, used to stun fish into the nets. The process sounds simple enough, but lampreys are excellent escape artists and we did several rounds before we caught a fish.

When the man in the backpack yells, “Shocking!” you better have your hands out of the water and your nets in the rocks, because lampreys are swimming your way.

If and when we do catch something, it’s collected in a bucket like the one shown above. When we think we’ve hit the max for the day, the fish are put in a big tub of diluted MS222, the equivalent of anesthesia for fish. When they are motionless, they are quickly picked up, weighed, and measure by length and girth.

Putting the lamprey on the scale.

Lamprey getting its measurements taken. It needs a minimum 85mm girth to be radio tagged.

Then, a small portion of the caudal fin is taken for genotyping and they’re sent off to the “surgery station”

A volunteer handed me her special scissors and let me have a go at DNA collection!

One – by – one, these vials are filled with lamprey DNA for genotyping.

The “surgery station” was put together by members of this group. The tub is filled with diluted MS222 and PVC pipe supports the lamprey while it is being tagged. The tube has a cloth where the lamprey sit and a sponge at the bottom to keep its head from being damaged while allowing it to remain partially immersed in the anesthetic. The radio tag is activated, then surgically inserted and the lamprey is sutured up. Post-op, the lamprey are put in baskets situated in the river where they can safely wake up and eventually be released back into the current

All prepped and ready to go! The “surgeons” admitted that all the bananas in their house have been tightly sutured as their practice runs.

After all seven had been tagged, the group sat down for lunch together and discussed everything they learned about lamprey and lamprey monitoring that morning. One of the interns expressed how rewarding it is to be around so many people with a common goal, and I found a similar contentment in knowing that everyone here feels strongly enough about the protection of these ancient fish to spend their morning in the river.

Art and Beauty in Scientific Research

When I’m not chasing down summer camp kids to get their photo or staring at a computer editing footage, I offer myself up as an extra pair of hands for research projects being conducted through the South Slough or OIMB. In between data collection I like to step back and take in what’s beautiful about the work we’re doing or the site on which we’re standing. To some, using binoculars to estimate the percentage of live crown coverage in a tree plot seems like a normal field task, but when I saw it, the binoculars looked like little reflection pools similar to those that have been built for stargazing in the past.

Then there’s the tall grasses that catch the morning sunlight and look reminiscent of oil paintings. Watching some of the other interns walk through the fields to get a better perspective for tree height estimation was a magnificent display of nature’s indifference to our intrusion that morning. As quietly and efficiently as possible, dedicated environmental scientists check up on their beloved reserve like an attentive parent; measuring its growth, checking for invasive species, metaphorically taking its temperature.

An intern evaluates the surrounding plants

OIMB intern electronically calculating tree height

Finally, there is a definite art to fieldwork, as the conditions may change at any moment and you need to be ready to adapt. For example, during a trip to Bull Island for more habitat sampling, the tide came in higher than we thought and took our kayaks down river! After a long day of identifying different species of grass, the last thing you want to do is retrieve and tow your crew’s kayaks back up river, but that’s exactly what our amazing mentor did. In the picture below, I’m standing next to the empty spot where are kayaks used to be, all smiles even though I know I’ll soon be paddling against wind and current back up river. That’s perhaps the most beautiful thing about South Slough fieldwork, it tends to make your spirit tougher and more adventurous.

Every day here I wander a little further out of my comfort zone, and I’m loving the view!

SSNERR: An Easy Sell

A few years ago, the EMU (common building) at the UO was a complete mess. The halls were impossible to navigate and the space was making it harder for student life to flourish, so our government liaison decided to ask for government funding to build a new one. In addition to writing the proposal and going through all of the necessary steps, she held a meeting with the representatives in the EMU. She gave them only the room number, and every one of them turned up late to the meeting after frantically searching halls that more closely resembled mazes. When they finally made it to the meeting, they were greeted by our liaison and a presentation explaining the benefits of upgrading the EMU, which the officials had just experienced first-hand. Her plan worked, and today myself and thousands of other students happily attend events, lectures, and career fairs in a beautiful building that fosters student participation and interaction.

I’ll never forget when I heard that story, because it completely redefined the words “effective communication” for me. Effective communication isn’t just breaking down complicated terms and concepts so that people can understand them, but actually bringing people to the problem and getting them to connect with it. Knowing they would have meetings there in the future, and seeing what campus members were going through, those representatives had a personal stake in the improvement and maintenance of that building, and I hope to have that same impact at the South Slough National Estuarine Reserve (SSNERR) over the next ten weeks.

By connecting people with the SSNERR and the wonderful ecosystem that it protects, I hope to make people see that we all have a personal stake in protecting the environment. Summer camps, seminars, demonstrations, guided tours, research, and monitoring are just a short list of the many ways in which the staff, interns, and volunteers at SSNERR dedicate their time to showing people the magic of the outdoors and the importance of environmental research and protection.

On my most recent hike with one of my mentors, we reached this beautiful clearing and took a moment to take in the view. She told me, “you can kind of think of it like you’re trying to market the South Slough, and really, it’s such an easy sell.”