The tales we tell…

Stories are a near universal aspect of human existence. They define who we are as a people, illustrate the values we hold as individuals, and provide a common medium by which to communicate the shared human experience. The more that I delve into my work and examine myself, the more I realize how integral storytelling is. On any given day, any single aspect of my work can ultimately be related back to some form of narrative, whether that is looking for a shared narrative or spinning some of my own novel yarns.

One way that we use stories is to connect the public, or some subset of it, to the places, resources, and activities that the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) manages on their behalf. By invoking imagery, cultural values, and common experiences associated with the resources that we manage, we are able to better communicate the results of our stewardship and inform the public.

A great example of this is the outreach and education materials that the Marine Reserves Program produces.You can check out some of their work on their website. Some of this material describes the structure of the program or the status of recent monitoring trips while others communicate issues of concern, like Ocean Acidification (OA). They have produced a wonderful the wonderful video below where you can learn about what causes it and how it relates to the Oregon coast and see many of the great people that I work with.


Sometimes the stories we tell are not to convey new information but demonstrate involvement and commitment to an issue. This last week, Cat Dayger and I have been editing press releases describing the work of the Ocean Acidification Alliance (alliance). The alliance is the nonprofit we helped launch to elevate OA on the international stage. The press releases are intended to highlight the West Coast regional efforts to address OA in light of the alliance attending the Ocean Conference hosted by the United Nations in New York this upcoming week.

The alliance, as well as California, Oregon, and Washington, are all making voluntary commitments towards Sustainable Development Goal 14.3 to continue their work on global ocean change and OA. The narrative here was not to tell a new story about OA but to keep the spotlight on the issue and communicate that work is underway to understand and address it. Sometimes the issues or status of a topic can be more effectively told not with words or other traditional media but through other means…

Everyone has heard the adage that “a picture is worth a thousand words.” Most people, however, don’t usually bring charts, tables, or maps to mind when they hear this phrase, let alone matrices or databases. But data is essentially the building block, or base-unit, that scientists work with. Every dataset has a story that it can tell and part of what scientists do is to use visual, mathematical, and statistical tools to piece together the plot points of a dataset’s story, identify its main characters, and expose the details hidden beneath the surface.

During my time with ODFW, I have been hard at work creating an interactive toolset to illustrate the story behind  the Ocean Acidification and Hypoxia (OAH) Monitoring Inventory which is one of the main projects I work on. The OAH Monitoring Inventory is a catalog of monitoring assets (buoys, moorings, sensors, etc.) and research projects related to OAH that helps determine where OAH is already being monitored and where it needs to be monitored more. This is very similar to the inventory a restaurant manager takes at the end of a week before ordering more supplies. However, before we can decide where to place new instruments, we must understand the “lay of the land,” as it were, by identifying where assets are located, what they are collecting, and how long have they been there. These are are just a handful of the 70+ odd bits of descriptive information that were recorded. To communicate the complexities of this in a typical narrative would be almost certainly lose some of the finer details of the inventory’s story. Unfortunately, this interactive web app still needs some refining but I hope to be able to share it soon.

Storytelling is an innate practice permeating nearly every facet of our lives. When we are at home playing a game, reading a book, or watching netflix we are ‘listening’ to the tales presented before us. Moving out into the real world to telling stories with friends around a bonfire, tall tales on social media, or drafting a press release we move from consuming to weaving our own tapestries. Framing and polishing a narrative to reflect either how we want to be perceived or best fits the situational context. Medium is yet another facet that can change the experience. Some elements of a story will be more apparent in one format and lost via another. When watching a movie of a popular book your favorite character can take on an entirely new light due to how they are portrayed. With technical information this is no less true. The takeaways one has looking at a table of values will be far different than those represented on a map or plotted in a chart. All of these differences demonstrate how deeply saturated we are in stories and how they color our perceptions and, in turn, our own personal narratives.

I look forward to the opportunity to continue to ‘tell my tales’ here to you and to the audience of my professional work.

Perspectives on Transitioning from Research to Resource Management

Howdy, everyone!

My name is Daniel Sund, and this is my first ever blog post! I could not be more proud to be doing it for Oregon Sea Grant, an institution so very close to my heart, as a 2016-2017 Natural Resource Policy Fellow!

Seven years ago – when I officially transferred the focus of my academic studies to marine science – I passed along a nascent resume to my favorite oceanography professor in the hopes of gaining some hands-on experience. Low and behold two weeks later, after an out of the blue phone call from his colleague and then an interview I didn’t know I was walking into, I started work as a research assistant conducting a literature review on environmental hypoxia and its impacts on fish.

Since that first experience, which lasted nearly two years, Sea Grant and I have continued to have a long and fruitful relationship. I have had the distinct pleasure of mentoring other students developing their professional experiences in the Sea Grant Summer Scholars program, serving as a part of the interview committee placing students with mentors for the same program, interviewing for a few of Sea Grant’s fellowships myself, and, coming full circle, becoming a full-fledged Sea Grant Scholar.

Before accepting the Natural Resource Policy Fellowship, I spent that last four years as a field ecologist. I have spent endless days on the small bays in the Pacific Northwest looking at burrowing shrimp, juvenile crab, and intertidal habitats and endless nights watching video, making maps, and analyzing data to try to understand the role commercial oyster and clam aquaculture plays in the ever intricate and dynamic ecology of our estuaries. It surprises many people who know me that I have turned in my field gear and floppy old fishing hat for a position where I am at my desk 100% of my workday. My “fieldwork” now consists of organizing workshops, gathering sets of experts in a room to pick their brains, and rending even more time commitments from their busy schedules to inform resource management. All I have to say is that I am extremely happy with the transition.

As a fellow, I have stepped in as the only support staff in the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and am the only person within all of the state’s executive agencies entirely focused on Ocean Acidification (OA) and, on occasion, Hypoxia (OAH). For those of you who don’t know, OA refers to the process by which carbon dioxide (CO2) is removed from the atmosphere by our oceans, where it chemically transitions to carbonic acid (H2CO3), a weak acid, resulting in seawater with lowered pH (acidified) as our oceans remove more and more CO2 in response to increased atmospheric concentrations. Hypoxia (H) refers to an environmental condition of low oxygen dissolved within the water leading to decreased productivity and stress on organisms that respire on one end to massive fish die offs on the other. This focus of my position on OAH means that I am a single issue type of guy granted the unique ability to entirely immerse myself in the realms of science and policy to better understand and inform resource management as they relate to OAH along the Continental West Coast.

Day to day, my work duties include drafting emails, editing documents, reading literature, and compiling information. However, at a broader level, I have been an integral part of launching an international collaborative focused on combating OAH impacts across much of the globe (OA Alliance). I have also participated in high-level discussions between state, federal, and international governments. Additionally, I have organized regional-level efforts to understand how state governments are monitoring OAH on behalf of the public as well as started the process of identifying the monitoring improvements necessary to insure resource managers are able to respond threats to our coastal resources and the communities that rely upon them. While it may seem like a lot to have been part of in only two months, this list is far from exhaustive.

Being engaged in work that has tangible products with societal benefit is a very different experience from the academic research I have been a part of up until this point. After working as a technician and research assistant, I often felt that the information and insights we were generating were lost to the annals of a journal or our own filing cabinet. In comparison, this fellowship has placed me “where the rubber meets the road” with regards to being able to use research to create tools used both by natural resource managers and stakeholders. It seems to me that the efforts I am currently part of make a more immediate and meaningful impact than anything I have previously worked on. I look forward to continuing my work here and seeing where it takes me.