Welcome, 2015 Summer Scholars!

Our 2015 Summer Scholars are here! They are attending orientation today at the Sea Grant office in Corvallis, then at the Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport. These seven undergraduates from around the country have been placed with federal and state agencies for the next ten weeks. In addition to supporting agency programs and initiatives, the goal is to offer students professional skills, agency workplace experience and real-life practice in marine resource science, policy, management and outreach. Check the blog next week for their introductions, and weekly from then on for updates on their progress. You can also follow them at #OSGscholars on Twitter.


The new Summer Scholars during the social media training, smartphones in hand. Yes they were asked to pull out their phones! Apologies for the dark picture

As this is my first blog post from my current position, I’ll introduce myself. I am the Summer Scholars Program Coordinator this year, drawing from my experience as a Summer Scholar in 2013. Since January, I have been helping to set up the program, including advertising, reviewing applications, interviewing, and event planning, among other things. In the fall, I am off to pursue a Master of Science in Marine and Environmental Science at the University of the Virgin Islands. Until then, I will be supporting the students and their mentors throughout the summer, helping them to achieve their goals.

Watch for updates on the scholars and their use of social media, on Twitter at @SarahLHeidmann and/or here on the blog!

Week 10: The End

Well, here I am, at the end of the summer. I am sad for it to be over, but looking forward to everything that lies ahead of me. This experience has helped me figure out the myriad of options that are available to me, and given me slightly more faith in my abilities.
I was able to do enough video analysis that yesterday, Daniel and I worked on actually looking at the numbers. It was difficult, because I don’t know enough about R that I could help very much, but I knew the data better than he did, so if errors popped up, I could usually explain them. Every day I get more impatient to learn more about R!
Today, I watched all the Hatfield REU students give their presentations. There were a lot of them, but they were all very interesting, and it was cool to see what had been on the minds of the faces I’d been seeing walking around Hatfield all summer. One in particular that stood out did what’s called stable isotope analysis on the diets of juvenile salmon. I later talked to the girl who gave the presentation, and she said she was really excited about it, and applied to this program specifically so she could do that analysis. I found it intriguing, and intend to learn more about the process in the near future.
So what does my life look like from here on out? After I spend some time visiting my brother at college, and my parents in California, I go back to school for a year. After spending so much time working and learning, I’m really excited to go back to normal classes. At first I found this strange, but I realized that I really love learning new things, and the college atmosphere is perfect for that. After I graduate, who knows what I will do? There are so many doors I could open. Thank you for taking the time to read my blog, and a big thanks to everyone who helped make my summer a success!

Week 9: Symposium

This week was marked by the arrival of our symposium, the soft ending to this whole summer adventure. There is still one week left in which to wrap things up, but we have all summarized our experiences and communicated them to a small audience of our mentors and others who supported us. I really enjoyed seeing what everyone ended up doing, comparing it to my impressions of their projects from the beginning. It seems like everyone learned a lot! I found myself being jealous of what other people had done, before remembering that I did just as many cool things as they did. Unfortunately, I didn’t take any pictures of the event.

After it was over, my mentor and everyone in my lab went out to dinner, along with spouses and a couple other Hatfield people. It was great to experience my coworkers in a casual environment, with no projects to work on or requests to make.

Before the symposium, my week was a rush to put together my presentation, and try to get some data analysis done so I could present results from the videos we took. Unfortunately, just watching them takes too long, so it didn’t work out. However, this is my goal for this last week: to get at least a couple days worth of video watched in every habitat, so Daniel and I can start to analyze it together. He’s been showing me some useful commands in R, and I intend to take full advantage of his knowledge for the rest of the time I have here.


A cabezon I saw while diving

This weekend, after the symposium, a couple friends and I went diving again, to relax! They had just taken finals in their classes this past Thursday, so we were all hankering to get out and have fun. We saw a ton of cool stuff, and it was the first time I really got to play around with my underwater camera. The visibility was only a couple of feet, but considering that, I think the pictures turned out pretty well.


A nudibranch, Hermissenda crassicornis

So, on to the last week!

Week 8: More Field Work

This week was one of the busiest ones yet! It was basically a repeat of the field work we did in Willapa Bay, Washington, except it was here in Yaquina Bay. We put out cameras every day, in addition to fish traps and more tethered crabs. It was great to get so much fresh air, but I was definitely exhausted by the end!


One of our tethered crabs molted its hook (empty molt on the left and actual crab on the right); the size difference after just one night is incredible!

After all the hard work, I managed to get away to Seattle for the weekend, where I had never been before! My favorite part was seeing the Pike Place Market, where they were selling tons of fresh seafood.


Adult Dungeness crab for sale; it is easy to forget how large they get when you’re working with ones that are only 2 cm wide!

I did some walking around the city too, and even made it to a Mariner’s game. The trip was short, but oh so sweet, and I can’t wait to go back. It’s good to know Seattle loves the ocean as much as I do!


The coolest bike rack I have ever seen


Cool sculpture on the waterfront; the aquarium is in the background

Sadly, it doesn’t look like it will be possible to get through all our video before this wonderful adventure comes to an end. However, I may be able to do some analysis on other data, to get more practice. Our final presentations are on Friday, so I have this week to prepare for that and get as much video analysis done as I can. I can’t wait to see what everyone else has been doing!

Week 7: Beginning the Analysis

So much has already happened this week that I’m going to get ahead on my next post before the weekend starts.

When I returned from Willapa Bay, I thought everything was going to get back into routine, but no! Now that my foot is (mostly) better, I can get back into field work! After looking at our data from the fish traps in Willapa, our lab tech thought that although the traps we were using looked pretty much the same as the set of traps they used a couple years ago, they might be different enough that we cannot compare data between the two. This week, we set out to determine if the trap data is similar between the old and new traps by putting out several replicates of pairs of each along the shore next to the HMSC Visitor’s Center. Unfortunately, so far we have not caught very many fish, so we may not be able to tell, but hopefully we will put more out next week in a different location and see what we get.

This week was also my 21st birthday! A small group of friends came over to my house and we had a wonderful time. Despite the fact that our oven is not currently working, one of my housemates managed to make me a no-bake cake, which turned out to be delicious.


The no-bake cake my housemate made

I also managed to go diving with some friends off the South Jetty in Newport earlier this week. There was a good-sized group of us, so after a few issues with gear on multiple people, it was a short dive in which we kicked up a lot of sediment, but I still had a great time. For my birthday I got a new camera with underwater housing, so I was eager to try it out on the dive, but we couldn’t see much at the bottom. My best, but still not great, picture (below) was taken while we were still on the surface, in the shallows. I’m looking forward to another opportunity in which I can try out my camera.


A sea star in the shallows in Newport

Last, but not least, I started analysis of the video we took with the GoPros in Willapa. I’ve gotten through one day’s worth of video so far (and seen about 200 fish), so it’s going to take me a long time. I hope we can finish the video analysis and start some statistics before my internship is over! I really want to see the data that I helped collect go through the process and come out with some results, in addition to getting some more practice using GIS and R.

I’m also taking a boat education course online so that I can drive the boat when we take more video here in Newport in Yaquina Bay, which should be happening next week. My workload is picking up quickly, but it’s all very exciting, and I can’t wait to see what these last couple weeks have in store for me.

Week 6: Windy Work in Willapa

I’m a bit behind on my blogging, but I intend to catch up in this post, as well as make up for the lack of pictures in my last two posts!
This week I was lucky enough to take a trip up to Willapa Bay in Long Beach, Washington, to finally do some serious fieldwork. I went with the Daniel Sund, the Masters student I’ve been working with, and Lee McCoy, our lab’s tech and general awesome go-to guy. We were out in the field for about 12 hours each day for a week, which was hard, but the work wasn’t too involved, and tons of fun!


Me on our little but sturdy boat

While we were up there, we deployed our cameras using the mounts we made, leaving them out for four hours at a time in four different habitats: oyster, Zostera marina (the native seagrass), Zostera japonica (the invasive seagrass), and clam. My lab has done this before, but they used to leave them out for three days at a time, while our GoPros are limited by their four-hour battery life, despite the battery pac accessory we bought for them. The video is meant to record the fish and crabs that wander through the field of view. It had to be video, rather than time lapse, because often fish spend only a second or two in the frame, and you usually need to look at their behavior to determine the species. We are going to look at the number, species, size, and time that each organism appears in the video.


The mount with a GoPro on the end when we went to pick it up- there was often a lot of seagrass caught on them

We put them out around high tide, which meant we had to go by boat. Since our trips were four hours apart, there was a lot of waiting around in which we often tried various restaurants, as well as a lot of time on the boat, since some of them were pretty far apart. Because of this, even when I was walking on dry land I still felt like I was swaying on the waves. It was pretty disorienting sometimes, but went away in a couple days. Deploying the cameras was pretty difficult sometimes, because of the wind and the waves. It was harder than we expected to slide our camera mount over the poles we placed in the mud, slide a bolt through holes we drilled in the poles, and screw on a wingnut, all from a boat that is moving up and down and drifting away.

In addition to putting out cameras, we also put out traps to catch fish, which we could use to compare the number and species of what we found in the traps to what we found in the video. We did this at low tide when we put out the poles the mounts would go on. We also wanted to look at juvenile Dungeness crab predation, so we (bear with me here) superglued small fishing hooks tied with fishing line attached to their carapaces. We tied them to a stake out in the same four habitats as the cameras, and left them out for a day. The hooks are supposed to catch whatever fish may try to eat the small crabs, and the fishing line keeps the crabs in one place so we can find them again the next day.


One of our juvenile Dungeness, all ready to go!

I thought we were tying up the crabs and leaving them to their deaths, but most of them survived the whole day! The hooks also came off pretty easily at the end, and we let the crabs go. We never caught any fish, and always found the crabs burrowed in the sediment, well hidden.


By the end, we had a little army of attack crabs on leashes

We had to go collect the crabs ourselves, so we went and sampled bags of oyster shells (which I have mentioned in previous posts), to try to find some for our tethering experiment. Most of them were across the bay, in deep mud, so because of my toe still being sensitive, I often supervised from the boat while the other two did all the work. However, I did try my first raw oyster while we were out there. Lee shucked it for me with a screwdriver, and it was probably still alive when I ate it (gross!), but I am proud to say I kept it down. Now that I have tried it, I never have to again.


Some cool colonial tunicates we found on the boat when we pulled it out of the water at the end of the week

One day during our free time in the afternoon, we went up to the lighthouse at the top of the point on the Washington side of the mouth of the Columbia. It was a great view, and I never realized how large the mouth is! It was a beautiful view. Also, at the end of the trip we stopped in Astoria for lunch, and got to drive across the bridge and see a bit of the city.

Overall, it was a week of trying new things and spending a lot of time outside. In addition to the oyster, I also tried thimbleberries, pickleweed, raw cockle, elk, and probably several other things I can’t remember. I’m so glad I had the opportunity to go on the trip, and am looking forward to see what kind of fish show up in our video!

Week 5: Some Important Lessons

This week was marked mostly by preparations for the trip I am currently on in Willapa Bay, Washington, just north of Astoria. We made and triple-checked lists of supplies, wrote out exactly what we were going to do each day at what times (which matters a lot because of the tides!), researching methods for a study we are going to do about predation on juvenile Dungeness, and finished making the mounts for the GoPro cameras we are putting out in different habitats.

While doing these preparations (I wrote out the protocol myself), I was asked at multiple stages to send my work to various people so they could look over it. Originally I thought that I would be the only one looking at some of it, so I had little notes to myself inserted in various places, and sentences that made perfect sense to me, but wouldn’t to anyone else. I also left out crucial details like exactly how to turn on the cameras and how to know whether they are recording or not. Not only would it be difficult for my coworkers to follow it, but if anyone wanted to copy the methods in the future, it would be very difficult for them to replicate. I learned quickly that you need to always keep your work extremely organized and readable by anyone who may want to see it, even if you don’t think anyone else will see it. At the very least, if you ever want to look back at your past work, details will help you remember much better.

Another lesson I’ve learned through this amazing opportunity is how to talk to people who are much older and more experienced than I am. Previously I have had difficulty with this, as I thought they would not be interested in what I have to say. However, as I talk to more people about a wider variety of subjects, I am quickly learning that is far from true. I am treated as an equal, and asked with real interest about my research. I have also been able to receive tons of good advice about biology research, graduate school, career options, and life in general. I have so many questions about it all, and everyone I’ve talked to has been so friendly and helpful! I am really grateful for the opportunity to be around so many people who are tackling important biological research.

I’m going to save talking about the trip until the end of this week, but I’m having a blast!

Week 4: Self-Directed Accomplishment

This week I was supposed to be on a trip with my lab in Willapa Bay, Washington, doing field work. My foot is not healed enough that I was comfortable to go, so I had to sit this one out. I was able to go to the doctor and get an x-ray and my pinky toe is definitely fractured. This means another month of healing, which is basically my whole summer. The silver lining of the situation is that my injury lined up nicely with my move to a new house, allowing me to take it easy while still getting things done, like unpacking and getting settled. My injury means that I had to miss out on the fun and the other people in the lab have to do a lot more work to do, but we’re trying to make the best of it. I should be able to go on the next one though, which leaves this upcoming Friday!

Although I can’t go in the field, I have still been useful doing computer and lab work, which I had a lot of this week. My mentor wanted to give me something hands-on to do, so instead of processing some samples in the field like they normally would do, they brought them back in Ziploc bags so I could process them in the lab. These samples were from the mud and eelgrass areas near some bags of oyster shells that were put out a couple months ago, when Dungeness crabs were recruiting (metamorphosing from larvae into juveniles). The oyster shells create three-dimensional habitat at low tide, attracting crabs seeking shelter and providing suitable habitat for . We periodically sample the bags and some of the sediment underneath, as well as areas nearby with no bags, to look at the number and size of any crabs we find, which are mainly Dungeness (Metacarcinus magister) and shore crabs (Hemigrapsus spp.). This data helps my mentor look at the recruitment and growth of juvenile Dungeness, as well as their preferred habitats. In the lab, I sorted bags of eelgrass, measuring crabs I found and weighing the eelgrass both wet and after drying in an oven.

Because everyone was gone this week, I was responsible for my own success in getting things done, but I think I did a very good job. It helps that I am so used to being in school, where you set your own schedule. I’ve learned a lot of time management, and it’s good to know that this helps in the real world too!

I’m not sure what this next week has in store for me, but I’m definitely looking forward to going to Washington on Friday!

Week 3: Happy Fourth of July

This week of my internship turned out to be quite short. Because of an unfortunate accident over the previous weekend, my foot might be broken, (a week later, it is feeling much better and I can almost walk normally but I am still not able to do field work), so I missed Monday to go to the doctor and rest up. The Fourth of July and the following EPA furlough day gave me a four-day weekend. I guess it was great timing, because I was able to rest up plenty and relax but still have fun. My friends hosted a BBQ at their house, and we all biked down to the Willamette River in Corvallis where there was a fireworks show, as well as hundreds of people lighting off their own in the street. The Fourth is one of my favorite holidays, and although I was not in tip-top shape, it was still a wonderful time.
Before I hurt my foot, I was able to go tidepooling in Boiler Bay, just north of Newport. I spent three hours there (and consequently got a little sunburned, it was a beautiful day), and had a great time taking pictures, touching things, and trying to catch fish. The Oregon Coast has an amazing diversity of marine life, and I’m so glad I get to experience it!


To respond to a question from my last post, “testing” the GoPro cameras involved taking pictures and videos, trying to figure out the battery life, size of the SD card, and the size of the field of view at various heights off the ground. I put testing in quotes because it felt more like playing with the cameras. We came up with a design for the mount of the camera and built and deployed it last week to get some test video. It worked surprisingly well the first time, and I learned how to use a drill press. We just bought materials for the rest of the camera mounts, and will be building them soon.
In the meantime, I am continuing my video analysis from previous years so we will have historic data to compare to. I am also sorting through samples of seagrass, measuring any crabs I find and weighing the plant matter, as part of another ongoing project looking at the crabs that live in Yaquina Bay. We are trying to determine where they are most abundant (in the native seagrass, the invasive seagrass, or bare mud), and if the ages of the crabs is different between them.
Hopefully my foot will be better soon so I can get back to field work!

Week 2: First Day in the Field!

My work this week has been defined by many miscellaneous tasks I have done for various members of my mentor’s lab, almost none of which are related to my project, but I had a lot of fun with them. I have done analysis of videos taken in an estuary in Washington, measured tiny mud shrimp recruits (juveniles) after sorting through mud to find them, and measured, sexed, and examined adult mud shrimp to look for parasites and infection. I also “tested” the GoPro cameras we will be deploying in July to record the fish and crabs found in the invasive species of eelgrass.

A picture of the video I’m analyzing. You can see a full-sized Dungeness crab.

Mud samples on a tray that I sorted through looking for small mud shrimp recruits (juveniles)

Today was the first day I went out in the field to do sampling, on the mudflats near Hatfield Marine Science Center. Thank goodness it was a beautiful day today, so we didn’t have to wear heavy rain gear. We got very muddy, and I wish I had pictures but I don’t have a camera I wouldn’t mind getting dirty. We were looking for mud shrimp to measure and look for parasites. We used what is called a bucket core, which looks like a giant stainless steel bucket without a bottom and is about three feet tall. We pushed it all the way down into the mud, and shoveled the mud out into sieves, sorting through them and pulling out the shrimp as we found them. It was hard work, but the most fun I’ve had so far, and a great excuse to get outside and play in the mud!

Overall, it was a great week. I also bought a new camera, so hopefully I’ll have some higher quality pictures from now on. Next week I’m looking forward to building the mounts for our cameras and testing them in the field, and the Fourth of July, of course!