A truly shrimp-tacular summer

Looking back, this has probably been the best summer of my life! Although it started off rough leaving my family and friends behind, it progressively got better with time. I got to meet so many new and wonderful people, visit places I’ve never been, and experience things that I never imagined for myself. I mean, it was my actual job to go out and play in the mud like a little kid! This summer internship has truly been an amazing experience and I recommend it to anyone looking to get a foot in the door with marine sciences.

Top left: John and me on my very first day out in the field. Bottom left: Exploring a lake in Alaska with Mattias. Middle left: John on the first day of Alaska field work. Right: Phoenix and me at the Bayfront before the program started.

Hearing from my roommates and the other Sea Grant Scholars has helped me to narrow down my future aspirations. I know that my summer experience has been a bit different than others in the program by being more of a scientific research experiment rather than scientific community/policy outreach. Working with Oregon State University and USDA-ARS has given me the chance to work with a real research team instead of a classroom research team. Not only has it led me to meet and work with other students and professors from OSU and CU Boulder, but it has allowed me to visit and make professional contacts in Washington and Alaska. While I would like to work with a government agency in the future, I would prefer to do a similar role as here that has less interactions with the public and more hands-on science.

Left: learning to play the cello with the Banks family. Middle: Joshua and me psyching ourselves up for field work with Brett at 4:45am. Top right: Emily and me with several Alaska mud shrimp. Bottom right: blueberry picking with the roomies.

The next step in life for me is heading off to graduate school for the Marine Resource Management master’s program at OSU in September. At OSU I’ll be continuing working with Brett, John, the Upogebia, and the Orthione for my master’s thesis to try and keep that balance between economy and ecology. I’m thrilled to be a part of a program that focuses on so many of the things that I care about. It will be an interesting transition to go back to school, especially in-person school. No matter what happens, I am extremely excited and nervous to start this next chapter of my life and see where it takes me. 

Top left: last Yaquina Bay field day for Joshua and me. Bottom left: exploring Yaquina Head Lighthouse with Mattias. Middle: a typical day of lab work. Right: a double infested mud shrimp from Alaska.

Alaska is shrimply amazing

Interning with USDA-ARS and OSU through Sea Grant has been an absolute blast. It made all the difference to have such great mentors and an awesome lab partner. The summer may be coming to an end, but the next two weeks still have a chock-full schedule here in Alaska. Oh yeah, you totally read that right. We’re in Alaska!! I’ve learned so many things from this internship that I honestly can’t remember them all. The most important thing that I’ve learned is how to be a good lab manager. One of my mentors had to be away for an extended period of time and since we’ve worked together virtually since last summer, he left me in charge of the lab. I got to take on and learn more serious responsibilities, such as schedule making, coordinating, and even a bit of mentoring.

Alaska Views
Top left: views of Alaska from the plane. Bottom left: some sea stars from the mudflat. Right: views from the mudflat

A really interesting thing that has surprised me about this summer has been learning about all the other people and projects that are involved in the mud shrimp system. I mean, it makes sense, this has been a 10+ year project with lots of collaborators. John and Brett have folks all over the world (like Colorado, Japan, Russia, and Australia) who have worked or are currently working with Upogebia and Neotrypaea. A completely unrelated thing that completely surprised me however, is the fact that using the yabi guns (slurp guns, as I call them) hurts my back waaayyyyy more than using the sediment/clam cores to obtain shrimp!

Alaska field work day 1
Top left: me wearing my field work vest from University of Colorado, Boulder (CU). Bottom left: Joshua and our new CU collaborator. Top right: everyone checking out our first mud shrimp in the field. Bottom right: John and our CU collaborators analyzing shrimp in our “Alaska Lab.”

Knowing what I know now, I would only do a couple of things differently if I could restart my summer. First and most importantly, I would have things a bit more organized and set-up at the beginning of the summer. It was mostly fine, but I feel having a slightly more detailed schedule would be beneficial and less stressful. Next, I would make sure there was allotted time to go to the Art in Science meetings. As it was, I was travelling for field work both times. And finally, I would have made Joshua come to movie nights sooner with my awesome house mates, Lisette and Phoenix, so we could have all finished watching She-Ra together.

Shrimping in Washington was not a (Cape) Disappointment

The last two weeks have been absolutely crazy! Joshua and I went to Tillamook, OR and Long Beach, WA last Tuesday-Friday for field work. We sampled mud shrimp and ghost shrimp in both Tillamook Bay and Willapa Bay. In Washington, we got the opportunity to go out in an air boat and work with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. At the beginning of the summer, I couldn’t pull up a single core but by the end of last week, I was pulling several in a row! We also had the chance to go to Cape Disappointment and, no, it did not disappoint. It was beautiful!

Tillamook, OR & Long Beach, WA
Biggest oysters I’ve ever seen from Tillamook Bay, OR. “World’s Longest Beach” in Long Beach, WA.

Because my internship has been more of a scientific research project, I haven’t been exposed to much science policy and outreach with the public. Therefore, my view of science policy has not really changed that much. I always knew it was a complicated balance of different group’s needs and wants, but never quite realized just how complicated that process can be. I presume other science policy organizations in Oregon, like me at OSU and USDA-ARS, must find that balance of ecology vs economy. The overarching question in our meetings is always “how can we keep these shrimp that are important to the ecosystem but also manage them for good oyster growing conditions?” That being said, I must be pretty inspired because I am going to start my Marine Resource Management master’s program in the fall where I will learn more about science policy and continue this line of work in my future endeavors.

WDFW airboat & Cape Disappointment
Joshua and I with the WDFW airboat. Inside a giant hollowed out tree at Cape Disappointment.

So much shrimp, I might as well be Forrest Gump

Hey y’all! It’s me, Grace, your resident shrimp scientist! I’m working with the USDA and OSU Fisheries and Wildlife to determine cryptoniscan lifespan and settlement and ground truthing the age/size relationship between Orthione and Upogebia.

I’ve been up to my elbows in shrimp the last two weeks! A lot of my time gets spent in the lab. I usually analyze the shrimp and input their data while my lab partner, Joshua, does the cryptoniscan experiments. Since June 25, I’ve analyzed over 200 mud shrimp! Only about 124 more shrimp from the May sample to go. We plan to go back out in late July to get another big sample. But hopefully not as big as the May sample…We usually work for a couple hours in the morning, have lunch together outside (weather permitting), and work for another couple hours in the afternoon. We have pretty similar tastes in music so we usually put on a fun playlist and sing to each other while we work or listen to cool ecology podcasts.

Large female Upogebia
A large female mud shrimp in my palm for size reference

On Wednesday night, we biked out to the fishing pier with Sarah Henkel and her grad and REU students to do plankton tows. We didn’t get back to the lab until about 1:15am! Thankfully we waited to comb through the samples for cryptoniscans until the next day. We’re planning to go out onto the mudflat behind HMSC on Friday morning around 5am with Brett Dumbauld and his crew to see how they do their annual sampling for USDA. We are also gearing up to go out with them next week to a couple different sites in Washington to look for remaining Upogebia populations. It’s going to be a great but hard working week next week!

Plankton tows on the fishing pier
Joshua and I doing plankton tows on the fishing pier next to Rogue (July 7, 2021)

We usually send our data to our supervisors/research team at the end of each work day and have meetings at least once a week. COVID-19 hasn’t affected us much. In the beginning we wore our masks in the lab, but with the most up-to-date info from OSU we are back to just about normal operating conditions. My favorite activity so far is field work! It feels good to be able to put in some physical activity while doing science. Being in the lab is fun too, mostly because of my great working relationship with Joshua, but it can drive you a little crazy looking at shrimp all day, every day. But it’s all definitely worth it to try and protect our ecosystems and estuaries.

SOS: Save Our (mud) Shrimps

Moving out of your parent’s house for the first time is not an easy thing to do. Especially if you move all the way across the country! But two weeks into my OSG Summer Scholars internship and I know I’m doing the right thing for myself. I’m excited to work live and in person with the animals and people that I’ve been working with for over a year. This summer I’m working on another piece of the 10+ year project trying to understand the relationship between a native burrowing mud shrimp, Upogebia pugettensis, and it’s invasive parasitic isopod, Orthione griffenis. Upogebia pugettensis populations up and down the west coast have drastically declined, with some local extinctions in California. Collapses in mud shrimp populations have been associated with infestations of Orthione and former pesticide use from oyster farmers.

Looking for juvenile mud shrimp in the lab (May 2021)

After taking a week to drive from North Georgia to the Oregon coast, I jumped right into my work duties. My lab partner, Joshua (an Oregon State REU intern), and I get the privilege of doing field and lab work this summer. Some of our field work includes trudging out onto the mudflats behind Hatfield Marine Science Center at low tides. On the mudflat, we take cores and sieve them down to collect the mud shrimp. We also get to bike out onto the fishing pier next to the Yaquina Bay Bridge after dark during high tides. On the pier, we are doing plankton tows, which are conical fine-mesh nets with a cod end that traps critters that are riding the incoming tides into the bay. Back in the lab, we sort and analyze the mud shrimp and the plankton tows. The mud shrimp are analyzed based on aspects like species, sex, carapace length, infested with Orthione, size of Orthione, and other important factors. The plankton tows get analyzed for juvenile mud shrimp (both Upogebia and Neotrypea) and Orthione cryptoniscans (one of the larval stages of Orthione).

Field sampling on the mudflat at low tide for Upogebia pugettensis (May 2021)

Through this project we are hoping to determine the life span and the settlement schedule of the cryptoniscans and to get large enough samples of mud shrimp to overcome sampling bias to ground truth the age/size relationship. Ultimately, accomplishing this project is putting another piece of the puzzle down into saving this mud shrimp from extinction. To do that, we need to know the relationship between the shrimp and the parasite better. That’s where my team and I come into play. With our work we can try and answer questions like: When do the shrimp become infested? Do the cryptoniscans settle on the shrimp or on other Orthione? Do cryptoniscans wait for a certain time to settle? What are they waiting for? Some kind of signal from the shrimp? Learning these answers will be one step closer to answering the big picture question “how can we turn this around or CAN we turn this around?”

Mud shrimp are native ecosystem engineers. They build permanent y-shaped burrows in the sediment that influence the estuarine benthic community by providing habitat and enhancing nutrient cycling. By saving these shrimp we are helping to advance OSG’s vision and mission to have thriving coastal communities & ecosystems. This research would also help to balance the forces of ecology and economy to inform oyster growers how to safely manage the burrowing mud shrimp populations without depleting them.