Summer Scholar’s work displayed at NOAA open house

Joanne Choi's OLY-ROCs project on display at NOAA open houseCongratulations to Summer Scholar Joanne Choi, whose poster on her OLY-ROCS project was prominently featured in this weekend’s open house at the new NOAA Marine Operations Center in Newport!

Joanne’s work on a new kind of artificial breeding structure for oysters was front and center at the South Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve exhibit, alongside exhibits from NOAA units ranging from the National Weather Service to National Marine Fisheries Service.

Dr. Steve Rumrill, South Slough research coordinator, had great things to say about Joanne and her work this summer. He’s an enthusiastic supporter of the Sea Grant Summer Scholars program, and hopes to host additional undergrads in the future.

Several thousand people toured the exhibit area over two days as part of the weekend’s official dedication/welcoming/open house for NOAA’s newest, most state-of-the-art marine operations center, which will be home port for the agency’s Pacific research fleet.

Saving Oysters in Oregon – week 9

presentation. presentation… presentation.

Hey y’all!

Sorry this last post is so late.. it’s been super busy!  I had my final presentation for Oregon Sea Grant last Thursday, a guest presentation on Friday for the COSEE program, and I will give another presentation tomorrow to my organization.  Presentations are the bane of my existence, but I made a BALLER powerpoint, practiced a ton, and was able to get through the first two without fainting or hyperventilating.  Not that I was that close, but I can just imagine that happening..

Our final OSG presentations weren’t scheduled for the end of our summer internship though.  I still have another week left, and I am on a sprint to the finish line!  I still have a few projects to finish before this week is up.  (I have to analyze all 96 videos from last last week, and I have to shoot more with the oyster clusters turned around)


As for my thoughts on this whole experience.. It was amazing.  If you’re thinking about applying, DO IT.

I cannot express my gratitude to Oregon Sea Grant and my mentor for setting up such a great summer internship.  I came here because I needed more experience in the marine science/policy/mgmt arena to help my decision-making about graduate school, and I got that and much more.  Before, I knew I wanted to end up working with marine environmental issues, and I knew that I needed and wanted to get more schooling, but I didn’t know which way to go:  science? management? academia? government? etc etc.

Now, I have a better idea of what working in the marine sciences for the government is like.  Not only have I gotten experience with actual research, techniques and methods, but I have also been exposed to everything else that surrounds the science and definitely affects it.  Policy, money, bureaucracy, stakeholders, the citizens of Coos Bay.  It’s all in there.

I have also met amazing people.  Intelligent, hard-working, passionate scientists, directors, and managers, who have all been extremely friendly and willing to share advice from years of experience in the field.  I have learned a lot just by talking with them, and I’ll definitely take their advice when I start applying to graduate schools.  The students I’ve been living with have been amazing too!  The students here at Oregon Institute of Marine Biology and I went on some cool adventures in Coos Bay.  It’s been great.

And my mentor?  Awesome.  Since day one, Steve Rumrill has been there to answer questions, offer advice.. all those good things mentors should do.  He was always on the move, switching from one project to the next, planning another one down the road, and he always brought me along.  I came here looking to learn as much as I could and get as much experience as I could, and I definitely got that.  Thank you!

What’s next?

Although I don’t have a CONCRETE idea about which graduate program I will be applying to, I now know what I will be looking for in my search.  While that search is going on though, I will be in New Mexico, working with Sapphire Energy on algae biofuel for a few months.  Trying out the private sector!


It’s been a good summer, and I’ll miss everyone I’ve met here in Oregon.  I hope you all had fun reading this blog.  Sayonara, folks!

Saving Oysters in Oregon – week 8

adventures with Half-and-Half

This week, I was studying how water flow is affected by the shape of oyster shells and larger oyster conglomerations.  I used a flume, which looks like this:

A propeller pushes the water through the flume, and laminators (not in this picture, sorry) that are placed right after the white tubing straightens the water flow through the clear plastic compartment.  The idea is to place an oyster or a clump of oysters into the center of the clear plastic portion, dispense a little bit of half-and-half into the flow, and videotape how its flow is affected!  Half-and-half makes a good indicator because it’s buoyant and thick.


Plastic walls and a room full of windows ensured that glare would be a constant foe, so we decided to block out almost all sources of light by making this:


It was a pretty cozy set-up.

That’s my half-and-half dispenser right there.  It exerts a tiny bit of pressure that pushes a small volume of half-and-half out of a curved glass pipette (I made it myself! glass-blowing skills, yeah!).


And you get something like this:


We used different shell combinations, different water velocities, and dispensed the half-and-half at different depths to see how water flow changes near the bottom of a shell, right at the center, or right above.  You can even go a little crazy and try to direct the flow through spaces between oysters and make the half-and-half corkscrew!

These are the different oyster formations we used:



From the 96 videos we shot, we have learned that the shape of oyster shells or oyster clusters can ultimately slow down particles in the water by creating turbulence.  This can have implications for the benefits of arranging in clusters, by increasing rates of feeding and larval settlement.


next week…

preparing for my final Oregon Sea Grant scholar presentation on all my work I’ve done here!

Saving Oysters in Oregon – week 7 (?!)

bug bites & muscles.

The two things I have accumulated this week.  They can be credited to a great, oyster-saving feat full of brute strength, artistic genius, and self-sacrifice.

Nah.. I’m exaggerating a little.. but it was pretty epic, in my humble opinion.  Basically, we have successfully deployed our Oly-Rocs!  The brute strength comes from lugging >60 lb concrete formations down rocky hillsides to intertidal areas that are known to have good oyster larval recruitment, the artistic genius is just from the fact that they’re pretty pleasing to the eye, and the self-sacrifice comes from the many many bug bites I had to endure during this undertaking.

I’ll take you along this week’s experience with a step-by-step guide on how to deploy your own Oly-ROCS!


Step 1.

Place your newly formed Oly-ROCS into a vehicle for transportation to its future site. (A truck bed will do fine).  If you want to compare different Oly-ROC styles, you can copy this arrangement and deploy 2 with horizontally-placed shells, 2 with vertically-placed shells, and 2 with live juvenile oysters on shell or rocks.  Don’t lay them on top of each other; you don’t want to crush the shells!


Step 2.

Find a nice location at low-tide for the final resting place of your Oly-ROCS.  You should look for a muddy area near other juvenile oysters.  The point is to enhance the habitat for the oysters, so you don’t want to cover up other rocks or hard substrate that they would naturally select, but at the same time, you want to find someplace where you know oyster larvae will be.



Step 3.

Carefully carry the Oly-ROCS down steep rocky slopes or long muddy paths to the general area of where you want to eventually place them.  Do this with a friend!  These Oly-ROCS are made for partner work, and >60 lbs is a lot for one person to carry.  Tip: You can even put together a make-shift sling-carrier for more ease of movement (picture on the right)



Step 4.

Put each individual Oly-ROC into its desired location.  Drive stakes into both sides of the burlap to hold them in place.  We have used 3 on each side, but 2 may suffice.  Flag each Oly-ROC for more visibility so you can find them again (especially useful when the tide isn’t low enough), and use different colors if you want to be able to distinguish the different Oly-ROC styles. (Make sure to clear away any live oysters that may be on small rocks or loose in the mud before putting your creations down!)


Step 5.

Place them in a straight row so you can compare different Oly-ROC styles.  They should all be at the same water level, but do the best you can.   In our site, we were trying to avoid the protected native eelgrass, so it wasn’t perfect.



And… TA-DA!!  You are finished!  Well done.

You  may be fatigued from all that heavy lifting, and you may have suffered some blood loss from mosquito bites, BUT, you have done a great favor to all of native oyster-kind, and they will tell stories of your bravery and goodness of heart for years to come.





Make sure to tune-in next week for some tips on how to study water flow and turbulence related to oyster formations!

(I may or may not have read one too many “guide” articles on this week)

Saving Oysters in Oregon – week 6

Call me Captain!

I now officially hold an Oregon boater’s license.  After two whole days of an online crash course, I should now know about the official road rules of the sea.. and the appropiate types of toilets for different vessels.  The course was very comprehensive, and after taking it, I know a lot about boating legalities and issues I had never even thought of before, but there was just so much information!  I hope I can keep straight who has the right of way on the ocean and what different honks mean.

The course, however, didn’t teach me HOW to drive a boat.  After I had my printed boating certificate, I excitedly got into our 16-foot vessel, and immediately realized.. “I don’t know how to START this thing..”.  I had two great teachers though – Ali and Adam.  Ali dealt with the fundamentals, like pump the gas to start the motor, and Adam dealt with the get-to-know-your-boat’s-limits, like quickly push the throttle to the max to see how fast it can go from neutral!  I’m starting to get the hang of it, but other boats should probably still watch out when I get on the water!


Oly-ROCS go into Mass Production

We are revving up for our first deployment of 10-15 Oly-ROCS into the bay!

It will happen next week, so I have been busy building.  Our prototypes seem pretty hardy so hopefully they’ll survive their new homes in the water.  If not, we shall see what’s wrong with this first deployment.  We’re also going to be testing different shell orientations in the cement – how they fare out against the elements, how well they attract native oyster larvae to settle, and how settled juveniles survive on them.

We have two different shell orientations we’re checking out:

1) Shells sticking up, and
2) Shells flat against the concrete.


Both orientations can be found in nature, the former usually found on the sides of smaller rocks or on rounded sides, and the latter usually seen on the flat sides of larger rocks (from my observation).



These are Pacific oyster shells (non-native, from Japan), that have native Olympia oyster juveniles on them.  Two years ago, these ‘shell bags’ were strategically put out in the bay to attract Olympia oyster larvae, but the oysters can’t stay in these orange bags forever.  Some restoration efforts have simply scattered those shells with the attached juveniles into bays, but they can be easily washed away with the tides or smothered with sand and mud.

Our idea:  A few Oly-ROCS will also be made with these shells, and we shall see if this is an option for them!






Saving Oysters in Oregon – week 5

Minivan Diaries.

Good times with my good ol’ green minivan!  Drove up and down the central Oregon coast, getting some spectacular views, hitting up nice beaches, and went to a festival in Corvallis before driving back to Charleston.

Well, I was actually doing work, and it was a state car, but all of that happened!

At the beginning of the week, I collected a series of water samples from different docks and beaches in the Coos Bay area, so I could measure their pH.  There are several reasons for this work: 1. ocean acidification, which is caused by increasing carbon dioxide in the air from combustion being absorbed by the ocean, affects oyster shells, 2. increasing alkalinity in the bay may be a precursor of eutrophication, and 3. we wanted to check the accuracy of our field pH meters with a new, expensive lab pH meter.  I’ve probably collected 5-6 samples from 9 different sites, along with getting measurements at the sites with a handheld field meter.  We saw that the field and lab meters are slightly off, but pretty much at a constant rate, so there is a pretty good correlation between the two.  This took up a good three whole days, driving to different sites, lugging around a heavy “handheld” meter, and then coming back to the lab to measure the pH levels.  I hope the data and results I got will be useful!

Thursday morning (4:30am), my advisor, a grad student and I went to Florence (~1 hour north of Coos Bay) to monitor eelgrass beds that my advisor had planted a few years ago.  A bridge was to be built, but in the process, a protected species of eelgrass was going to be ripped out.  So they transplanted all the plants that would be affected downstream, and they have to be monitored quarterly to ensure their survival.  I am happy to say they are doing well!

Then I continued on to Newport, where I met up with my fellow Sea Grant Scholars.  We all had to convene in Corvallis Friday morning for a mid-summer check-in, where we would tell each other about our projects, talk about what is expected of us at the end, and possible next steps after this internship.  I had a great time hearing about what everyone else is up to.  We are all doing such different things, some working in the field to do experiments and collect data, others reading through literature to create databases of information, and yet others creating online websites and editing videos to spread information about marine issues!  I also found out that I saw a video edited by one of my fellow Sea Grant Scholars at a seminar in Coos Bay!  It’s nice to know that our work is being put out there and reaching people.

From there, I helped out at da Vinci Days!  A festival for arts and science (I think..).  I helped man the Oregon Sea Grant booth, and I will admit that I think I learned more than the people visiting our booth!  Not only did I have to learn quickly enough to explain what Sea Grant was about and answer questions about all the marine issues Sea Grant tackles, but I also spent a lot of time with our interactive learning activities (games for kids) because they looked so fun!  I had an awesome time and I have to make sure to go to more of those in the future!

I finally drove back down to Charleston Saturday afternoon (about a 4 hour drive). As much as I liked my quality time with the green minivan, I am spending the rest of my weekend walking around!

I have no idea what I will be doing this next week… probably one of the many exciting and interesting projects I’ve been working on, but not sure which one!  So I’ll let ya know =]

Come see us at DaVinci Days!

Setting up for DaVinci Days

Setting up for DaVinci Days

The Oregon Sea Grant Summer Scholars are on campus this weekend for their mid-summer check-in, a tour of OSU’s Hinsdale Wave Research Center, and to help staff the Sea Grant booth at DaVinci Days, Corvallis’ annual festival of the arts and sciences.

If you’re in Corvallis this weekend, you can find us in the “Discover OSU” area on the lower campus just off 14th Street. Drop by for information, activities, games – and giveaways!

See more photos of today’s activities on the Oregon Sea Grant Flickr gallery.

Saving Oysters in Oregon – week 4

fourth of July!

(sorry, no firework pictures)

Remember how special and exciting those 3 or 4 day weekends were in school?  Didn’t matter which holiday it was, it was just an excuse to stay up late watching movies and spend the whole next day reading a good novel? .. maybe that’s just me.. but anyway. THESE WEEKENDS ARE SO MUCH BETTER WHEN YOU WORK.  I just did not know how to really appreciate those long weekends (that also make the next week go that much faster).

NOT TO SAY that I hate my job.  Far from that.  I loveee what I’m doing out here.  I just need some time to re-energize so I can go at it with a renewed vigor the following week!

Back to July 4th.  It was amazing.  A weekend full of long sandy beaches, calm bays, picnics with barbecued oysters (I DID eat one.. I could learn to like them), the quintessential fireworks over the water, and a last-minute visit from my friend, Jake Bruene!

I kept him pretty busy showing him my favorite nature spots, the oysters I’ve collected, and of course my Oly ROCS.  I guess I tend to ramble, because as I was trying to explain to him my work and the problems oysters are facing, he had to slow me down to be able to digest all this new information I was throwing at him.  He was impressed by how much I had learned in a few weeks, and at that point I realized.. Yeah!  I HAVE learned a ton.  If you want to learn more about a field, there’s nothing better than jumping right in to a hands-on project with a great advisor.  And that’s exactly what OSG provided ( <– mid-internship thank you for this opportunity).  I’m also beginning to understand the term “trusted broker of information” that is in the OSG mission statement.  I would say I’m starting to become one; I just need to slow down when I explain things, apparently.

Now, about this week’s tasks!

remember the Dredge Islands?

They contained all those oyster shells from the subtidal environment, and I collected those shells to be able to compare shell sizes with those in the intertidal environment.  Well, early this week, I was able to measure living oysters in the intertidal for the comparison… and guess what I found?  There was a similar bell-curve type of distribution for both intertidal and subtidal oysters, but on the average, the subtidal shells were a good 20mm larger than the intertidal ones.  The shells for this comparison were randomly selected to include the whole spectrum of sizes, so the next project will include comparing all the largest oyster shells to see if there is a significant difference in their maximum sizes.

boats and pH.

In Coos Bay and South Slough, my advisor has a good number of dataloggers that measure temperature, conductivity, salinity, dissolved oxygen, and pH every 15 minutes.  They have been recorded for at least a decade now, meaning that they have a significant amount of data to study the smallest changes that have been going on in these waters.  For good measure though, we wanted to compare the pH measurements of the field dataloggers to those of a more precise lab instrument.

So I took Jake with me on a nice, chilly and wet boat ride to collect some water samples near the dataloggers!  I’ve been trying to show him a good time in Coos Bay, but of course, that day had to be the coldest, foggiest day to be out on the water.  I had a good time though.  I was able to use field instruments, record data, and collect samples all by myself!  I felt very independent.  Well.. I don’t have my boating license yet so Adam was driving the boat for me, BUT I was able to drive the state truck the next day to different beaches to collect more water samples.  So all in all, this was a great week of gaining independence.

As for the pH comparison, it didn’t go so well.  It seems as though the lab instrument and the field instrument were not calibrated or standardized the same way, because I was getting slightly different readings.  No need to worry though, I’ll just try again next week!

And those Oly ROCS…

We did end up making more of those, and they’re definitely closer to what they need to be for implementation.  (I also recruited Jake to help make his first Oly ROC).  I think we’ll be putting them in the bay soon, so I’ll have those pictures for you when that happens!

Saving Oysters in Oregon – week 3

office time.

For the first time in 3 weeks, I spent some good bonding time with my desk.  I finally got my internet, login credentials, email, etc figured out, so I spent a good portion of this week doing some office work.  Plus, the tides weren’t so great the beginning of this past week and it was raining, so it was best to stay in.

What I’ve learned:  Science isn’t all about the lab or even field work.  You have to spend time writing grants to apply for funding, putting together reports, seminars, or powerpoints for meetings, and gathering information into summaries void of scientific jargon so that the vast majority of people can understand them.  The last one is what I did.  I read many many many scientific articles, powerpoints from workshops, and shellfish restoration manuals, and pulled together all the important pieces of information.  I’ve noticed that my advisor has to spend a huge amount of time at his desk, too.  He’s busy writing grants to secure salaries, conference calling to inform and spread knowledge to policy makers, among other things.  I guess it’s just how things are.  I personally think it adds a bit more variety to the job.

I also did online research on how to improve my Oly ROCS (we’re going to implement those next week, so you’ll be hearing about those soon!).


searching for oysters.

There’s a plan to build a liquid natural gas pipe through Haynes Inlet of Coos Bay, and despite much community resistance, that plan was approved.  Was.  Then it was brought to their attention that the Olympia oyster (species at risk) may be inhabiting areas that would be affected by the current plan.  They wanted someone to go and check if they were there, so my advisor, Laura (a postdoc) and I did just that.

In some places, they were amazingly abundant.  Others, there were smatterings.  And in one area, none at all.  We could basically foretell where they would be by the different characteristics of each area.  The rocky shorelines  had more oysters than the muddy, almost anoxic flats.  It’s not always that simple though.  We also began to see that the residence time of water was a major factor of whether or not juveniles would be present.  Salinity is important too.  I also observed that there were many juveniles, but not many older, larger oysters in some areas.  I began to question whether these areas with seemingly abundant populations of oysters were actually good for them.  Did certain environmental conditions create hostile environments that led to premature deaths?  Is there good larval recruitment but something else that’s killing them?  Or are they thriving just below the surface where we can’t see them, and the ones above the tideline just can’t tolerate being out of water for that long?

I know I won’t be able to answer all of these questions, but I hope I can get closer to knowing the answers.  They’re important questions for the restoration effort.

What’s next:  probably more field work for their restoration, and working more on the Oly ROCS.  I’ll let ya know next week!


Saving Oysters in Oregon – week 2

research by kayak. a break from science. playing with concrete

Sea kayaking. Is hard.

Steve, my advisor, wanted to visit the dredge islands of Coos Bay to collect oyster shells for several different projects, and he suggested kayaking to get them.  I immediately loved the idea.  Recreation and science together!  So we got buckets, trash bags, and ziplock bags to gather up hundreds of forgotten oyster shells and set off for these islands.

The dredge islands were formed the many times Coos Bay was dredged for the safe passage of ships.  Deep canals were created by digging up all the sediment and placing it on one side of the bay, creating heaps of stuff that used to be on the bay floor.  After years and years, grasses, shrubs, and trees colonized the newly formed islands and created what you see on the left.  Much of it is still inundated with water except during low tides as you can see on the right.  What’s most interesting about these dredge islands, is that they are comprised of thousands of old oyster shells that were picked up from the bottom of the bay along with all the sediment during the dredgings.  Apparently, oysters used to be abundant in the subtidal waters of Coos Bay, and you can still see their remnants by the hundreds in some areas, just like in the middle picture.

We collected oyster shells for a number of different projects.  1) Since these oysters were most likely from subtidal waters (always submerged), we wanted to compare their sizes with the intertidal oysters (exposed during low tides) that are common today.  We expect the subtidal oysters to be larger because Olympia oysters seem to fare better if they are submerged for longer periods of time.  A known-sized square was sectioned off, and all the whole and intact shells within that area were collected and will be used for the comparison.  2) We also collected the biggest shells we could find, and about 10 gallons of crushed shells to use in our Oly Roc project, which I will describe later.
I’ve found that field research is a great deal of fun, but a lot of hard work.  I was completely exhausted by the end of this collection trip, which is probably explained by the fact that my kayaking partner and I could not seem to paddle in the direction we wanted for about an hour, and maybe because we got stuck up to our knees in soft mud several times, but that seems to be the life of a field researcher.  You go up against the elements, explore to find new and exciting things.. and learn where you shouldn’t go next time.
I finally took a break from science and got the chance to sit in on a national reserve’s board meeting.  The administration, the scientists, public relations, education outreach, and the head of the Department of State Lands all came together to talk about all the issues that pertain to an estuary reserve.  I did not realize how complicated and complex these could be.  Governmental departments, non-profits, community groups, academia, are all involved, and they all want to help but also need to be appeased.  To be honest, I got pretty lost after only maybe 10 minutes in this meeting.  I also did not realize how much the operations of such a group rely on money.  They need to be funded to employ staff, maintain the grounds, implement projects, and do scientific research.  It seemed like a very stressful topic.  Even though they are granted money by the state’s budget, it is not much, and they have to apply for more funding through grants, and they lose money left and right from budget cuts.  It seemed like they had a lot on their plates, what with the responsibility to meet the demands of many different groups but being restricted by money, manpower, and their own jurisdiction.  I have a lot of respect for them.
Moving on, the last project of the weeks was the Oly Rocs!  Olympia oyster restoration is happening all over the Northwestern coast, but what makes Coos Bay special is that there is constantly a high level of larval recruitment.  That means that the bay gets thousands and thousands of little oyster babies looking for a suitable place to call home.  The problem is, much of the suitable places have been destroyed by man and nature, and the tiny oysters have nowhere stable and safe enough to be able to survive.
So we’re going to try to create some for them!  We need lots and lots of shells because oyster babies love growing on them, and something heavy and durable enough to not just disperse into the open sea because of the major tide action.
Answer: Lots of shell and concrete.
So I made my first Oly Roc – a trial run, I would say.  It needs a lot of work and tweaking in terms of the process of making it.  I am just learning about mixing, placing, and curing concrete, and then I have to think about toxicity for the oysters and the possibility of the concrete weakening in saltwater.  If you know anything about those two, let me know!
What’s in store for next week:  probably working on perfecting the Oly Roc, gathering information for short blurbs to educate the public on native oysters and restoring them, and learning about data loggers that will help us track environmental changes in the bay!