What’s the plan?

I am currently a second year Master’s student studying Fisheries Science under Dr. Scott Heppell at Oregon State University. When it comes to my research project, I have not started collecting or analyzing data yet (a global pandemic did get a bit in the way in that regard). However, I have put together a research proposal and successfully completed my “research review” (which is a formal meeting that confirms the organization of your thesis committee and allows for everyone to review and sign off on your proposal) in December, which certainly has helped me to feel more accomplished and like progress is being made!

The idea behind the project…

Fisheries monitoring is an important aspect of fisheries management, used to assess populations and determine sustainable harvest. In the commercial fishery there are several means of collecting this data (fish tickets, at-sea fishery observers, electronic logbooks, and various electronic monitoring technologies). In Oregon, however, there is currently only one way that we collect data on the recreational fishery, port samplers. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) conducts dockside interviews, counting landed catch (all fish caught) and interviewing anglers regarding discards (released fish) via the Ocean Recreational Boat Survey (ORBS). Of the recreational charter fishery alone, ORBS samples an impressive 30%. Yet, compared to the commercial fishery, there remains a significant lack of monitoring data.

Dockside sampling via ODFW’s Oregon Recreational Boat Survey
Photo credit: Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife

Which is why I am proposing an alternative form of electronic monitoring of the recreational fishery on the Oregon Coast. In collaboration with Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) and the California Collaborative Fisheries Research Program (CCFRP), my master’s project will test a stereo-video system onboard recreational charter vessels. Utilizing photogrammetry (the science of obtaining reliable measurements using photos and/or videos), I will identify and quantify recreational catch data off the Oregon coast and compare it to sampling data collected by state port samplers via standard sampling techniques. Both the ODFW Marine Reserves team and CCFRP conduct several hook-and-line surveys every year (targeting groundfish). These surveys are conducted both inside and outside of marine reserves and all fish caught are brought on board, identified, measured, and recorded by ODFW or CCFRP trained volunteers.

Volunteer anglers with the California Collaborative Fisheries Research Program (CCFRP) assist in conducting fishery-independent hook-and-line, catch and release surveys.
Photo credit: California Collaborative Fisheries Research Program

I will simultaneously collect stereo-video data on as many surveys as I can tag-along on in 2021. Which means I can then compare the length measurements I collect via stereo-video to the length measurements collected by hand during these surveys. Additionally, this is a unique opportunity to collect previously unobtainable data of the bycatch typically discarded on recreational charter boats. With this sampling design, I can make various comparisons that would shed light on whether electronic monitoring could be appropriate in recreational fisheries. Additionally, I will compare current reported data (collected via port samplers) to my own, with the ability to assess the accuracy of current reporting techniques and propose a cost effective, low maintenance alternative.

Given the current pandemic and potential for other disease outbreaks, I can imagine that in this new world of social distancing, an alternative form of port sampling may be necessary in the future. The stereo-video technology utilized in my project could be integrated into kiosks located at filet stations in all major Oregon ports. Thereby allowing the continued collection of recreational catch data without placing ODFW port samplers in danger or managing large absences in data.

Stereo-video systems are traditionally used in this manner (underwater) to identify and measure fish in a non-invasive way. I will be using this same technology and software ABOVE water and on the deck of a charter vessel.
Photo credit: Pilbara Marine Conservation Partnership

The second half of my research project, entails investigating further into the uncertainty associated with bycatch data in the recreational fishery. Retained catch can be measured directly at the dock, but accurate monitoring of bycatch requires (1) anglers accurately identify released species and (2) remember what they released. Due to event recall biases and variability in species ID skills, this can introduce a high degree of uncertainty in recreational fisheries data. The main source of bycatch data for the recreational fishery in Oregon are in-person interviews conducted by port samplers. To supplement this, three at-sea observers sample a portion of the sport charter vessels for species composition, discard rates and sizes, location, depth, and catch per angler as part of ODFW’s Sport Groundfish Onboard Sampling Program (SGOSP). My objective is to determine whether current average bycatch values are accurately represented in port sampler collected interviews. To assess this uncertainty, we will compare data currently being collected by ODFW via ORBS port samplers to data collected by at-sea observers via SGOSP. By comparing these data, I will determine if bycatch recall values reported by recreational charter boat captains are in line with the same data documented by at-sea fisheries observers.

That’s the plan anyway. As the sun starts to peak out from the clouds more frequently, plans begin to form and pressure begins to build for my upcoming field season. I have a few updates I would like to share soon, so stay posted!

California Collaborative Fisheries Research Program (CCFRP). Video put together by volunteer angler Matt Michie.

Beginning your research project during a global pandemic

In the Haze

Graduate school can be hard and a dredge. You get lost in the details, in YOUR project, in the details of your project and you lose perspective. When I decided to come back to school for my graduate degree, I decided that I would lay down some boundaries that might help me keep better perspective. Work whilst at work, play and rest at home. Obviously there would be some exceptions (research is not a 40 hour a week job, between teaching classes, taking classes, applying for funding and grants, conducting your research, and professional service inevitably there is always some working during your planned free time), but I found that sticking to this plan to be very helpful. Working from my office gave me a chance to engage in work actively and intentionally, reinforcing a need to use my time wisely and efficiently. This also meant that I was able to disengage and recharge when I went home.

Then, COVID-19 made its internationally debut. EVERYONE has been impacted by COVID, I am no exception. Overall, I feel very lucky and privileged to have faired as well as I have. Yes, my field work has been continually delayed, but I have a paying job, food in my belly, and a roof over my head, and a loved one (and furry one) to keep me company at home. It is hard not to be grateful when I know that I am much better off than many. That is the large-scale perspective.

When I analyze how my professional life has been affected by COVID-19 things start to get fuzzy. For the safety of myself and my family, I work from home. I have a quiet place to work and have no real obligations or worries that hinder my ability to work from home (like children or loved ones that need my care). Yet, I know that my ability to stay focused and motivated has decreased. My ability to draw the lines between work hours and personal hours has blurred, my efficiency has gone down, and as a result my morale has greatly suffered. Being a graduate student can be hard… I have so many privileges including setting my own schedule and having ultimate flexibility and culpability with nearly every choice that effects my professional life. But it can be difficult to keep perspective when you have ONE over-arching goal over the course of several years to accomplish – your research project, your thesis, your publication(s). It is hard to see the progress you have made, to see the steps forward, and the steps you have already taken behind you.

In my experience, field work keeps you connected to your study subject. Working in the field rejuvenates your excitement, inspires new ideas, and thus keeps you motivated throughout the rest of the year. Like many, my field work has been delayed due to COVID-19 (hopefully, I will be collecting data this fall). However, the combination of working from home on a research project with no definite end date, and without any field work or significant excuse to leave the safety of my home, has left me feeling a bit lost and dejected.

Do the next right thing…

Alas, time continues to pass and the reality of an impending defense date looms somewhere in the future. Currently, it seems difficult to see the light at the end of the tunnel. It almost feels as though I have stalled out before my project even started, yet I remind myself of the long-term goal. The goal is to conduct a research project from start to finish, complete a thesis, publish, and obtain my master’s degree in fisheries science and hopefully along the way I will take a step towards doing some good in the world of marine science.

For now, I will keep in mind advice that I once received from a wise source, Disney’s animated film Frozen 2, “All one can do is the next right thing”. At this point in time that means continuing to engage in my quantitative ecology class where I am learning about how to better conduct data analysis; continue to make appointments with mentors and collaborators who can help inspire ideas and motivate me during this strange time; and lastly, to refine my methodology as much as possible before data collection begins this fall. One day at a time, one step at a time, just doing the next right thing.

Connecting During COVID-19: Research and Communication

Much has changed since last fall! To echo many other recent posts, much of my recent life has been adjusting to the new normal. We are about two months into Oregon’s initial stay-at-home orders. All things considered, I am feeling lucky in my situation. With plans to defend this summer, I am nearing completion of my Master’s research on the adaptive capacity of small-scale fishermen in Baja, Mexico. I am lucky to be able to continue to analyze data and write from home without having to change my research plans.

I have been wondering about the effects of current events on science outreach and collaboration. Although my research wasn’t disrupted, I am bummed about missing out on some outreach opportunities in the spring and summer. Back in February, I presented a poster of my research at the Ocean Sciences Meeting in San Diego. I was also planning to present at the Marine Socio-Ecological Systems Conference in Japan this week, but it was cancelled. I know that many people’s experiences are similar to my own: cancelled conferences, talks, meetings. These missed opportunities can challenge us towards developing new ways of disseminating science remotely. I recently presented via Zoom at the People and Nature virtual seminar here at OSU, and I quickly realized that presenting over Zoom (as opposed to in person) is a new skill in itself! I would imagine that this remote lifestyle affects collaborations too. I observed an (in-person) Marine Protected Area Sizing and Spacing workshop back in March that showed me how valuable it can be to gather experts in the same room to discuss ideas. Running this type of workshop remotely would absolutely still be useful but calls upon a different strategies and skillsets. As I ponder these ideas, I am finding myself continually impressed by the quality and variety of webinars, games, and other online resources that already exist or are actively being created to communicate science. It is encouraging, and it has been interesting to think about outreach and collaboration in this way.

Next fall, I am excited to be continuing on for a PhD in the Geography program here at Oregon State University. Working with my current OSU and NOAA mentors, I will likely be continuing my research into the adaptive capacities of coastal communities by focusing here in the Pacific Northwest. Some questions I am interested in are: How can coastal communities adapt to changes in ocean conditions? and How does collective action of fishing communities result in cooperation or conflict in fisheries? When planning out what my PhD research will look like moving forward, I will consider what is feasible with in-person interview methods that I hope to use. As Brittany mentions in a previous post, studying people recently has become much more complicated.

For now, I’m grateful to be continuing on as planned with my Master’s research and looking forward to wrapping it up this summer. Until the next post, take care!

A Reflection on a Master’s Thesis

“Defense Season”: that’s what graduate students affectionally call the last few weeks of Spring term when students finishing up their Master and PhD degrees hurry to submit their thesis and present their research. Last week, I successfully defended my MS in Marine Resource Management with support from the Oregon Sea Grant’s Robert E. Malouf Marine Studies Scholarship (a picture from after my defense is below!).

mazur001TW

Over the past two years, I learned a lot about how scientific information is communicated to our natural resource decision-makers. I now understand the importance of an effective science communication process so our decision-makers have the information they need to best manage our natural resources.

 

My research: a recap

As a reminder, my research evaluated how a webinar series can improve engagement between National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) researchers and Oregon’s natural resource managers. NOAA West Watch currently communicates information about unusual climate and marine conditions to an audience of NOAA experts and key partners (white in the figure below). This type of science communication process is considered “one-way” because information is transferred from the webinar to the audience.

My research proposed that adding natural resource managers, specifically from Oregon, could better help the webinar’s information reach communities that NOAA serves. These managers would participate in the webinars, serving as translators of the science to their community stakeholders. In return, these managers could gather community observations regarding abnormal conditions that individuals experienced in their environment. Oregon’s natural resource managers could then report these observations  back to researchers through NOAA West Watch webinars (blue in the figure above). This movement of information in two directions (from researchers to managers to communities; from communities to managers to researchers at NOAA West Watch) is called two-way communication, and attempts to better match research with community or decision-making information needs.

What we found

We found that Oregon’s natural resource managers need information about our changing environment to make decisions regarding sustainable use of our resources. NOAA West Watch webinars provide this needed environmental information that gives context to Oregon’s changing terrestrial and marine environments. Having this “one stop shop” for information regarding both climate and marine conditions in a webinar saves time for our resource-limited managers.

However, we also found that it’s difficult to have engagement on a webinar. Looking at the diagram above, information is moving to Oregon’s natural resource managers, but it’s unclear how information should be moving back to NOAA West Watch. To improve this engagement mechanism, additional effort needs to be made to build relationships and facilitate discussion. In the case of NOAA West Watch, engagement needs to be incorporated into the goals of this program. To demonstrate why engagement with Oregon’s natural resource managers matter, the webinar needs to leave dedicated discussion time and facilitate engagement by posing questions.

Why this all matters

Science communication is an inherently difficult process, especially between environmental researchers and natural resource managers. These researchers and managers often have different perceptions of the environment and professional priorities. Science itself can be difficult to understand and communicate. Finally, not all science is useful for making decisions about natural resources. These factors all cause challenges when researchers and managers try to communicate science.

However, research has shown that built relationships between researchers and managers results in successful science communication. Relationships help researchers and managers trust each other and the unique skills and perspectives that the other group provides. By better integrating research and management problems, these two sides can work together to solve some of our challenging environmental questions.

Our environment is not static; it is constantly changing due to natural fluctuations, and there’s a continuing shift in “normal” conditions with climate change. Individuals and agencies who manage our resources need access to and an understanding of how the environment changes and what those changes means for our natural resources and communities. We (researchers, managers, communities) are all invested in the long-term sustainable use of environment, but it takes effective communication of sound science for that to be successful.

Fire and Drought and El Niño, Oh My!

Oregon Sea Grant Sponsored Study Looks at Improving Communication About Environmental Conditions Between Scientific Experts and Oregon’s Natural Resource Managers

It was the beginning of 2016. Unusually warm seawater named “The Blob” collected in the North-East Pacific Ocean. A massive harmful algal bloom formed in Oregon’s coastal waters. High amounts of a marine biotoxin called domoic acid resulted in closures of the recreational razor clam fishery. Almost 5,000 people along the North Coast (where the majority of recreational razor clamming occurs) stayed home because of this closure. “…You can imagine the lost economic opportunities,” said the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife Shellfish Program Manager. “People don’t come out and rent vacation homes or they don’t go camping, they’re not eating in the restaurants, state parks are not filled; all those kinds of things occur because we’ve made this decision to not allow harvest.”

This is just one example of how changing ocean conditions are affecting Oregon’s coastal communities. Now, researchers at Oregon State University are evaluating a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) webinar called NOAA West Watch. Specifically, they are seeing if the webinar can be changed to communicate these extreme environmental conditions to Oregon’s natural resource managers. Currently, NOAA West Watch communicates information about abnormal environmental conditions to NOAA scientists.

Specifically, the research team is including Oregon’s natural resource managers in this webinar to improve regional coordination and communication. This could lead to a more ecosystem-based view for problem solving. To do this, the researchers are inviting a variety of Oregon resource managers, local scientists, and non-governmental organizations to watch the webinars and provide feedback on how to improve the webinar for a more manager-friendly audience.

Why do we need a more “ecosystem-based” view and manager-friendly audience, you may ask? Historically, much of our natural resource science and management occurred on a sector-basis. For example, scientists who studied fisheries often didn’t talk to scientists who studied estuaries. The same often occurred with management, as agencies have specific jobs and management roles in the environment. Managers had to find information across many subjects and determine what was important for their decision-making. Over the past couple of decades, management has shifted to an ecosystem-based management (EBM) framework that considers all ecological and human connections within and to the environment. Despite this mentality shift, natural resource science and management is still highly disjointed.

Strengthening connections between natural resource science and management is increasingly important as our coastal ocean changes. Accordingly, both scientists and managers will have to anticipate and plan for changes to our environment and resources. Evaluating NOAA West Watch can determine if this communication tool can support EBM by including a variety of scientists and managers in a setting that is responsive and adaptive to environmental changes on the West Coast.

Taking A Deep (Ocean) Dive into EBM

To determine if NOAA West Watch is a useful tool for supporting EBM, researchers are evaluating the following:

  1. the most useful spatial scale for information;
  2. if it can connect human and natural systems;
  3. if it can serve as a way for discussing competing environmental values and uses; and
  4. if it can be flexible to changes in the natural and human environments.

On a cold, windy day along the Oregon Coast, it can be easy to want to head indoors and forget about the rest of the world. But as a larger ecosystem, Oregon’s coast is connected not only to the surrounding ocean environment, but also to land. Additionally, the coast serves as a place where humans make connections, including providing opportunities for managers and scientists to work together. Scientists and managers are tasked with effectively studying and managing this diverse, changing ecosystem. To do so, they need to understand ecological and human connections that are occurring in the coastal region. “Sometimes we get so focused on what is happening here that we might fail to look at connections that are happening in other places,” said one Oregon resource manager who participated in the study.

The Oregon State researchers think NOAA West Watch may be able to explore these connections. In particular, the evaluation seeks to determine the most useful spatial scale for the webinar’s information. By considering the West Coast as an ecosystem, scientists can communicate changes in large-scale environmental conditions. Managers would then respond to those changes that can impact local environments and communities. An estuary manager who participated in the study shared, “Thinking about those kinds of bigger-picture issues is always helpful. It takes the blinders off so you’re not just looking at your little estuary; there’s these bigger conditions and factors that are influencing what you’re seeing.”

Additionally, the researchers are seeing if NOAA West Watch can help with the reporting of Oregon’s local marine environmental impacts. As community representatives, Oregon’s managers would speak for a local perspective in global environmental changes. Managers can share community environmental observations with NOAA employees during NOAA West Watch. NOAA can then include these observations in future science and policy. Initial results indicate that NOAA West Watch can help communicate human connections in the larger western regional ecosystem.

 

 Large waves hit Haystack Rock in Pacific City, Oregon Crab pots sit on a fishing dock in Oregon.
Examples of unusual environmental conditions and their impacts to Oregon that were presented in NOAA West Watch. Left, large offshore storms created record high waves along the Oregon coast in January of 2018 that left one dead. Right, delays to commercial Dungeness crabbing along the West Coast resulted in $400 million of direct impacts in January of 2017.

 

Furthermore, evaluators are determining if NOAA West Watch can bring together a wide range of science and management fields to build communication among competing coastal users. Given the ocean’s limited space, stakeholders need to discuss which ocean uses they prefer. However, it can be difficult to explore costs and benefits of certain uses if information is distributed across natural resource subjects. This research seeks to represent a variety of Oregon’s coastal science and management interest in NOAA West Watch webinars. Broad representation may help promote individual connections to build into institutional partnerships.

Compared to land environments, the ocean is generally not as well understood. Therefore, Oregon resource managers have to be flexible to changes in scientific progress. NOAA West Watch may help improve understanding by quickly combining and communicating environmental condition information; Oregon’s managers could then use that information for decision-making. Frequent webinars may help managers monitor changing physical conditions used to anticipate biological events. For example, managers can keep an eye on conditions that may lead to harmful algal blooms and shellfish fishery closures.

January 2017 clorophyll off in Oregon's coastal ocean. March 2017 chlorophyll off Oregon's coast.
NOAA West Watch webinars present environmental condition information to follow changes in the coastal ocean, such as these maps of chlorophyll concentration which can indicate harmful algal blooms. On the left, January 2017 conditions show a low number of phytoplankton, our marine plants. However, two months later (right), chlorophyll concentrations increase, indicating that a harmful algal bloom may be developing.

 

Keeping Pace with Oregon’s Changing Environment

With a changing climate, Oregon is expected to have increased droughts, changes in fish distribution, and increased wildfires. Natural resource scientists and managers have to predict and plan for these types of changes. Oregonians have recreational, economic, cultural, or personal interests in ensuring our resources are managed sustainably for long-term public use.

Ecosystem-based management is a framework that managers work under, and scientists can inform. Better communication can help managers understand our changing environment. Results from this NOAA West Watch evaluation suggest that this communication tool can be changed to fit the needs of an EBM management system. It can connect scientists and Oregon’s natural resource managers to promote collaboration and co-management.

As our coastal environment changes, what marine resources are you concerned about managing? [Comment below!]

  

 

Latino Conservation Week

June 14 through the 22 is Latino Conservation Week. In the spirit of this week I will be participating in a twitter version of ask us anything. Learn about all the amazing for Latinos around the country are doing in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields and in ocean conservation. Details: https://go.usa.gov/xUXgE 

To ask questions on twitter us the hashtag #LCWChat and #LCW2018

 

Here is a previous of some of the types of questions I have been answering:

 

What does the National Marine Sanctuary System mean to you?

Imagine if we had no Yellowstone or its iconic Old Faithful geyser and American bison, no Statue of Liberty or its history, no Grand Canyon that was carved into the red rock by the Colorado River. The national parks have helped ensure these special places will still be there for future generations to enjoy. That is what national marine sanctuaries do for special places that are underwater.

 

Sanctuaries help preserve and protect iconic coral reefs, protect nursery habitat essential for many fish and other marine life, preserve historic and culturally-important sites that are part of this nation’s history, and more. National marine sanctuaries help ensure that we will be able to enjoy these special places for generations to come and that we can continue to use these resources in a sustainable manner.

 

How do you help protect the ocean?

 

Here are a few of the way I try to help out the most:

I make sure to make sustainable seafood decisions. When buying any seafood, I make sure they were caught sustainably by either buying locally and asking the fishermen how they caught it (this of course requires a bit of research on what are sustainable fishing practices), or you can check through Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch list or look for certified sustainable seafood by the Marine Stewardship Council.

I also make sure to try and recycle everything, and use least amount of plastics possible. For example I never buy disposable single-use plastic water bottles and always carry my refillable, reusable stainless steel water bottle. In my family we also use small mason jars and re-fill them with juice instead of buying juice boxes that also create a lot of waste, and have a few stainless steel straws at home which we use instead of plastic ones. We always use paper bags or reusable bags when going to the grocery store. It has been well documented that many marine life die because of ingesting plastic materials, such as plastic straws or plastic bags.

Beach clean-ups and dive clean-ups are also a great way I like to help out ocean. Every piece of plastic or other marine debris removed from our beaches and ocean make a huge difference. We are now learning about the effects of microplastics on our ocean, and just picking up one single-use plastic water bottle (which eventually breaks into thousands of microplastic pieces) can make a huge difference! Anyone can help pick up a few pieces of trash anytime they visit the beach.

 

How does your heritage inform your experience in the outdoors?

 

I grew up in Ecuador surrounded by amazing marine and aquatic ecosystems. Since I was quite young, I was drawn to the Galapagos Islands and the Amazon region. Being part of this vast and unique biodiversity gave me an unbounded curiosity and enthusiasm for nature, for animals, and for our water resources. I saw their inherent beauty, and early on recognized what an important resource our waterways were to all living things and how much we owed them in return.

 

At a young age, I also realized that there were issues troubling our ocean, and it was then that I made it my goal to dedicate my life to finding ways to protect them. When I was little, my mom would take me to the beach in Ecuador, and I remember always going to the fishermen’s boats as they would come in early in the morning after spending all night fishing and looking at all the fish they caught and being fascinated by all the unique life that lived just beneath the surface.

 

My whole life since I was little I always thought of myself as a mermaid, mean to live life in the ocean, beneath the waves. The first time I dived into the deep blue I could not see the bottom. I was in a very special marine protected area off the coast of Ecuador called Machalilla, Isla de la Plata. My heart started racing with a mixture of excitement, curiosity, and a slight fear of the unknown. As I slowly started to descend I began to see the wondrous life that surrounded me; I could hear the fish pecking at algae on the reef, I saw a wall of fish dance and change forms as other fish swam around them. A baby sea lion playfully came close to me, blew bubbles in my face, and ran off to bring back its toy piece of algae. I felt like my heart skipped a beat, that moment I knew that is where I was meant to be, I have to come back as often as possible to visit the most beautiful places on Earth.

Although I began scuba diving later in life, I was able then to observe our impact on coral reefs and other marine habitats, and how we have decimated so much of our marine life. As I have grown, I have learned that marine ecosystems and the fisheries they support are some of our most priceless legacies, but if not handled properly they may soon be irreparably damaged. I cannot remember ever having a different life goal than to dedicate myself to preserving these special places.

 

As an optimist, I believe that change is possible and this is my motivation. It is a common misconception that conservationists, scientists, and fishermen must forever be embattled over “to fish or not to fish.” Rather I believe that we have a common goal: to ensure best practices so that this source of livelihood and cultural heritage does not decline over time, and that our descendants may enjoy and benefit from it too. It is possible to have both a healthy ecosystem and a prosperous economy.

 

What is your favorite way to enjoy the ocean and Great Lakes?

 

When I was little I loved to go tide-pooling and see all the cool little critters that make the rocky shoreline their home. I also love bodyboarding and hope to learn how to surf. It wasn’t until recently that I was able to experience the joy of diving. Diving has given me the opportunity to become a mermaid and to interact with the most amazing marine life. I have had the opportunity to go diving with sea lions and sharks in the Galapagos, dolphins and manta rays in Hawai‘i, and I hope to be able to go diving in kelp forests off the Oregon and Washington coastlines and see the rockfish that I am studying first-hand in their natural environment.

 

The importance of outreach and good science communication skills and why I love this aspect of my job!

Doing research is an essential part of the scientific process. In the scientific community, the epitome of valid research is having it published in a peer-review journal. Unfortunately, this is as far as many scientists go.  But what about sharing your research with local communities, i.e., non-scientific audiences, that might be impacted by this research? What about connecting your research to a bigger picture?  For the public to be able to make intelligent decisions in many areas–how to allocate the communities’ budget, what fish to eat, personal choices on use of plastic and other trash—they must be able to understand what is at stake.

Me presenting a poster at Land Sea Symposium in Yachats OR, sharing my research with other scientist and coastal community members. Photo: Cyndy Leoro

However, many in the scientific community have spent decades seemingly separating themselves from the non-scientific community. Scientists use a whole different vocabulary than the average person in an attempt to explain natural phenomena. They use complex statistical analyses to prove their theories, and some may even pride themselves in knowing what is best for the disadvantaged communities that are in need of a scientist’s help. But this is where we have gone wrong. As scientists, we have at times alienated ourselves into a bubble, stopped listening to others without fancy degrees, or have acted arrogantly towards those outside of the scientific community. Furthermore, many scientists find themselves embattled in the publish or perish dilemma, and may not see it as part of their job or even understand the importance of sharing their research outside of the scientific community.

Before I started my PhD at Oregon State, I was unaware of the importance of outreach and good science communication. It was at a NOAA internship at the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries in the Education, Outreach and New Media Division, where I learned what outreach was and its importance. Outreach gave me an opportunity to share my love and passion for the ocean and tell audiences why sea critters are so cool and why ocean resources are worth protecting and why I was so much in love with the work I was doing. In this manner, I also learned to love outreach.

NOAA’s yearly community outreach event. I got to help out and tell the communities about Marine Protected Areas, like National Marine Sanctuaries, and why they are important for Ocean conservation.

Once at Oregon State, I took my first science communication class with COMPASS. After addressing the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) with a call for a “New Social Contract with Science”, Dr. Jane Lubchenco and other like-minded scientists founded COMPASS on the “premise that ocean scientists, in particular, had a wealth of knowledge that was not reflected in public understanding or policy and management practices.” (Lubchenco 1998; Smith et al. 2013). In this class, students are encouraged to use a tool they developed called a message box to hone in on their main message, get rid of the jargon and tell their story (develop story-telling skills). I learned that while I may find my research to be absolutely fascinating, other people might find it more interesting if I tell them my story. In telling my story, I can also tell them about my research. Developing these story-telling skills is crucial for humanizing scientists and making our research more relatable.  If you have ever been to a lecture in college or school, in which the professor drones on and on in a monotone voice on some obscure topic using vocabulary and examples that no one else but him seems to understand, then you have witnessed bad science communication. The difference with a teacher or professor with good science communication skills, is that you fell connected to the topic being discussed and want to learn more. The scientist or professor does not bog you down with jargon or all the nitty gritty details of the research. Rather the scientist or professor may tell you a story related to their research, or take you on a journey that gets the class intrigued on the subject. This skill is the hardest one to develop. Letting go of this jargon and the nitty gritty details of our research may at first seem impossible. As scientists, we are trained to be very cautious in the conclusion we read and specific in the language we use. However, when we communicate our science to general audiences we must learn to forgo that and get the main point across.

Having good science communication skills does not only mean being able to express yourself and explain your research eloquently, but having good listening skills as well. Too many times, scientists have alienated the communities which they wish to help or work with, by not listening to them. Going into a community with open ears and hearing what their concerns and research needs are and how you can help has been shown to result in much more successful collaboration, than going into a community with a mindset that I, the outsider scientist, know what is in the best research interest for you, the lay people.  Local knowledge and wisdom have too often been ignored by many scientists, when they should be complimentary/collaborative to our research.

Kids area always super exited when they get to see and touch marine critters

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Combining outreach with good science communication skills can help scientists connect their research with communities that may be affected differently, get public support for their work, inform policy to make the best science-based decisions, increase collaboration opportunities, inspire a next generation of scientists, make a difference, and possibly even get more funding for this research.

I had the great opportunity to teach kids about Marine Protected Areas with a game I created for them

I got to explain to kids what Marine Protected Areas are and why they help fisheries

Personally, I particularly love going to schools and telling kids about the ocean, seeing their face light up with fascination as I show them pictures of odd and beautiful sea creatures and answering their questions about the sea. I love answering questions from my friends about how to make smart choices when it comes to sustainable fisheries and about the health of our oceans’ marine resources. I love it when a stranger on a plane asks me what I do, and I get to tell them about all about some of the cool things I get to do for my research, like going fishing. My goal in life is to make a difference in conservation of ocean resources and ensure sustainable fishing practices so that we can continue to fish for generations to come. I hope that through the outreach work I do and the improved science communication skills I have acquired, I can inspire others to take care of our oceans whether by taking small steps such as helping in local cleanups or using less plastic, or by one day becoming scientists in this fascinating field.

Best part of doing outreach is that I get to have fun, work with amazing people that also love the ocean, share my knowledge, and its a great opportunity to be silly once and a while

 

Lubchenco, J. 1998. Entering the Century of the Environment: A New Social Contract for Science. Science 279(5350):491–497. American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Smith, B., N. Baron, C. English, H. Galindo, E. Goldman, K. McLeod, M. Miner, and E. Neeley. 2013. COMPASS: Navigating the Rules of Scientific Engagement. PLoS Biology 11(4):e1001552. Public Library of Science.

Starting out as Malouf Scholar, ODFW Marine Team, and deep-sea research on the Okeanos

Every day I get to go out on the Ocean I feel like the luckiest person in the world!

I was in Portland OR, attending the Ecological Society of America (ESA) meeting, when I first heard the good news that I had gotten the Malouf Marine Studies Scholarship! I could not believe it, and was so exited. I ran all over the Oregon Convention Center, trying to find my adviser to tell him the good news! I finally had the funding to start doing field work and begin my PhD research.

During September I had my first chance to go out with Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) Marine Reserves Team, and learn how their Hook and Line survey methods works. A method I plan to use as part of my research.  I learned so much those few days I was out there with ODFW’s David Wagman (also known as Wolfe, bottom left). He is a really good mentor and gave me great suggestions on how to improve my proposed research.

Photos: Alex Avila, Participating in ODFW’s Hook and Line Surveys

Photo: Alex Avila. Wolfe measuring fish

Unfortunately that was the last outing of the season. I need to finish writing all my permit application in the winter in order to be ready to hit the ground running next year.

NOAA scholarships have given me the opportunities I would have never even dream possible. Just like Oregon Sea Grant is part of NOAA Sea Grant College program , so is another scholarship that has greatly impacted my life, the Dr. Nancy Foster Scholarship, from NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries. I’m currently serving aboard the NOAA ship Okeanos in the Gulf of Mexico, as part of a program collaboration opportunity that was given to me as a Dr. Nancy Foster scholar. I’m here to serve as in data logging and samples processing. At the end of the expedition I will be writing a report that will help prioritize data for researchers, ensuring that the data can be efficiently used.

Photo courtesy of NOAA Office of Exploration and Research (OER)

Photo courtesy of NOAA Office of Exploration and Research (OER)

The  NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer expedition is running from November 29 through December 21 2017, and is investigating deep-sea habitats and the associated marine communities in the Gulf of Mexico basin. Through the Okeanos expedition,  other researchers and I, are exploring and discovering vulnerable marine habitats and investigating areas relevant to resource managers, submerged cultural heritage sites,  and marine protected areas. Okeanos is equipped with telepresence, meaning people on shore – whether scientists or the general public – and anyone can watch the remotely operated vehicle (ROVs) dives live in real time (click here to stream video).  In fact, next week, we will be conducting a Facebook Live event from the NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer in the Gulf of Mexico this Tuesday, December 12th 2017 at 11:00 am PST  (2:00 pm EST). Science Co-lead Dr. Diva Amon, Expedition Coordinator Brian Kennedy, and I will be there to answer everyone questions! Check out Diva’s, NOAA’s OER and my twitter profiles for daily updates from the Okeanos!

Left to right: Diva Amon, Brian Kennedy, Alex Avila. Photo courtesy of NOAA Office of Exploration and Research (OER)

 

 

Do you have a moment?

Would you help us improve our customer service by completing a short survey?

How many times have you been asked this question? How many times have you been the one asking it? The number of times I have asked someone to complete a survey has increased considerably in the last three months.

In May I asked all participants in the science-stakeholder engagement portion of the Willamette Water 2100 (WW2100) research at OSU to complete an online questionnaire about their participation in, expectations of, experiences with, and outcomes from WW2100. After inviting all 238 members of the WW2100 listserv to participate in my survey, reminding them, and then reminding them again, 137 WW2100 participants took the time (approximately 30 minutes) to thoughtfully respond to my questions. 137 respondents out of 238 invited is a respectable response rate of 48%. The questionnaire was about 30 questions long and looked something like this:

Qualtrics

In my last post I shared about conducting interviews of select participants in WW2100. Using more than one method to gather data is called a ‘mixed methods approach’ and can deliver more robust results because they were found by more than one way. That is what I intend to do with my qualitative interview data and now my quantitative survey data.

Qualitative data analysis can be done in several ways but I have chosen to use a ‘fancy highlighting program’ called MaxQDA (description credit to Sarah Calhoun, MRM, OSU). This program allows a researcher to identify relevant text and organize it according to codes, or repeating ideas, which can then be displayed together on request. I have just completed my second pass of coding (identifying repeating ideas and organizing them into themes) so that now when I open MaxQDA on my computer, it looks something like this:

Concepts that emerged in the qualitative data can be assessed quantitatively using the survey data. I would like to share some (very) preliminary results from my analyses with you. One challenge that consistently emerged in the interviews was that participants held different expectations for the roles that stakeholders and research team members would play throughout the process. However, although the survey results indicate that stakeholders and research team members were expected to fulfill different roles, stakeholders and research team members did not differ in their expectations for each other. That is, albeit preliminarily, there was not a quantitative difference in expectations for the role of stakeholders and research team members. I’ll have to explore this challenge more.

Another aspect of stakeholder engagement that my survey can really illuminate involves the outcomes of having participated in such a process. My survey measured participant concepts of model utility (the scientific results), process utility (was it worth the time?), feeling heard, and understanding. I then correlated these concepts with a participant’s participation in the project. All four concepts were significantly positively correlated with participation. This means that individuals who reported greater participation also reported greater perception of model utility, process utility, feeling heard, and understanding. How neat is that?!

There is still a lot of work to be done but the data are in and now all that is left is to make sense of them. I split my time between the words of my interviewees and the numbers from my survey. Together they will tell a complete story of the WW2100 science-stakeholder engagement process which can then be read as an example for future engagement projects. Stay tuned for the final results and presentation!

A Sea Grant Update from C-MORE

Hello Sea Grant community! This is a blog update from the Center for Microbial Oceanographic Research and Education (C-MORE) at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, where I’ve been participating in a summer training program for the last five weeks. The course, “Microbial Oceanography: Genomes to Biomes,” is offered to graduate students and postdoctoral scholars with interests in marine microbiology and biological oceanography. As an Oregon-based zooplankton ecologist, I felt like a bit of an odd duck in a microbial oceanography training program in the oligotrophic North Pacific subtropical gyre. But, since I study predator-prey interactions, and my study organisms (appendicularians) feed on microbes, I decided I would benefit from a more comprehensive perspective of the prey. The C-MORE summer program provided the idyllic introduction to microbes, including a weeklong research cruise aboard the R/V Kilo Moana, during which we measured processes such as bacterial production using tritium-labeled leucine incorporation, primary production using 14C, cell types and abundances using flow cytometry, and particulate carbon and nitrogen flux using sediment traps.

IMG_1930

Preparing to deploy sediment traps aboard the R/V Kilo Moana at Station ALOHA in the Pacific Ocean north of Hawaii.

I’m excited that my work with microbes will continue in Oregon through the support of a Julie and Rocky Dixon Graduate Innovation Award, a fellowship designed to support Oregon doctoral students who are interested in pursuing innovative, “nontraditional” career development experiences. I received the fellowship to extend my collaboration with Oregon Sea Grant to develop an educational exhibit on marine microbes. Through my research, I plan to produce a collection of microscopy images of the ocean’s more abundant microbes (e.g. Synechococcus, Prochlorococcus, Pelagibacter, Ostreococcus), which can then be an educational tool, promoting public understanding of the critical role of bacteria in marine food webs.

One of the microscopes I plan to use to produce such images is an Atomic Force Microscope. I just began training on our instrument at the University of Oregon.

AFM

The Atomic Force Microscope at the University of Oregon

The microscope is rather finicky, and I’m still working on the best technique for immobilizing cells, but if you squint hard enough at my first image, you can detect the spherical outline of a microalga cell.

First AFM image

My first Atomic Force Microscopy image of microalgae cells (less squinting required in future iterations)