All by myself…

Just ten weeks ago Lisette, Phoenix, and I were headed to Otter Rock for our first practice run surveying visitors to Oregon’s marine reserves. Fast forward to today; Lisette headed back to Chicago last week and Phoenix left the week before. It has been a quite week finishing up data entry and checking from home so I have had more time to think about this blog post compared to previous ones.

Throughout these ten weeks I saw how human dimensions research is carried out from survey design to report writing. I sat in on meetings with the team designing and drafting a survey that would be sent out to thousands of recreational fishers, created a codebook for data entry, conducted hundreds of surveys of visitors and businesses, and now I’m starting the report writing phase.

This behind the scenes look has made me feel more confident in my career goals going forward. I have always said that I wanted to work for ODFW or similar agency because I felt that their mission aligned with my personal values. This experience has solidified that for me and, through our mentor Tommy, I have gained some insight into what it takes to get a permanent position at ODFW.

It looks more and more like graduate school is in my future. I have started doing some surface level research into where I could apply and what that process looks like. This is where I feel like I faltered at the end of my previous bachelor’s degree so this all makes me a little nervous. In the next few weeks I will develop more of a plan and set up some meetings with my advisor and others to make sure I’m on the right track.

In the short term I will be staying on with ODFW as a temporary biological science aid. This will allow me to continue helping write the reports for the data we collected this Summer. I’m excited to stick with the project a little longer and to have a job for the rest of the Summer!

Thistle is adjusting to the work from home life.

What Summer?

This Summer has gone by incredibly quick. I have had to dust off my “nice voice” that I haven’t used since I was taking orders at Texas Roadhouse, and honestly, I will be glad to put it away again. I have learned that most people are incredibly nice and a shocking number are willing to take time out of their day to take a survey. There are other people who are not as accommodating. I forgot how bad it feels for people to avoid eye contact and try to make you go away by ignoring you. Hopefully interacting with this much of the public will not be in my future.

On a more positive note, I have gotten to gain experience with R studio and see some of the innerworkings of what happens to all this data we are collecting. I won’t say I have a great understanding of data analyses but more than I did last week. Early on we sat in on some meetings where a survey was being developed and sample design was being decided. This Summer has given me a more complete picture of the planning, execution, and analyses process that is human dimensions research.

Knowing what I know now I would have tried to get an earlier start on some of the R studio work and tried to be a little more productive with my days off. Time has gone by so fast and there never seems to be enough to get everything done. The next few days will be filled with surveying in Cape Falcon and putting our final presentation together, hopefully the wifi in Garibaldi is working.

I will never turn down another survey.

Prior to this experience I did not understand how much work goes into writing and distributing a survey. We have had the opportunity to sit in on several meetings where the content and format of a survey (not the ones we are doing) is being ironed out and it has been eye-opening. So much thought goes into how each question is worded, what order they are presented in, if there is too much jargon or is it too dumbed down.

While the questions and wording are getting dialed in, a whole other conversation is being had. Who gets the surveys? How many need to be sent out? How many need to come back? How much does all this cost? It takes months to get all these ducks in a row before the final product reaches a person and even then, there can still be major issues.

Because so much goes into planning a survey-based study it can make it difficult to get needed information quickly. The survey we are giving out to visitors this Summer is gathering data for a report due next year. After we get everything put in the database, the statistical analyses will begin. I can only imagine the work that goes into deciding what types of statistical operations that will be carried out.

I think this internship has opened my eyes to what actually happens at the agency level of research. While I don’t think I hear social science research calling my name, I definitely want to learn more about the process that takes place on the marine biology side of the operation. 

A map of Cape Perpetua Marine Reserve near Florence OR. This orange pins are the locations of our sample sites: From North to South they are Devil’s Churn, Cape Perpetua Visitor Center, Washburn State Park, and Heceta Head Lighthouse.

Getting in the Groove

Hello All!

In the last couple of weeks, we have really started to get into the groove of surveying visitors to Oregon’s marine reserves. We are nearly done with surveying businesses in nearby towns and will start focusing more time on data entry and analysis. Our day to day schedule varies quite a bit. We usually start with a bit of driving followed by four hours of surveying visitors at different access points to Oregon’s marine reserves. We work in pairs, so whoever is not doing visitor surveys is either surveying businesses or in the office inputting the survey data into an excel spreadsheet.

The one exception from this routine was our trip to Cape Falcon near Tillamook. That particular location is too far to travel to in one day, so Phoenix and I drove up and stayed two nights in Garibaldi. Our one survey location was Oswald West State Park, one of the most popular parks on the Oregon Coast. We were able to complete almost as many surveys in three days as the previous week and a half combined!

We interact with the public quite a bit. Most people are very friendly and happy to take the survey, especially if we mention that we are interns. People really love the coast and beautiful scenery and many are passionate about preserving it. We have gotten a little off track at times chit-chatting with visitors about marine reserves and the goals of the survey.

COVID-19 hasn’t impacted us too much especially in the last couple weeks. We spend most of our time outdoors and since we are on the coast it is usually windy. Many businesses have dropped mask requirements for fully vaccinated people and so we have been able to about surveying like its 2019 for the most part.

We didn’t get much of a chance to explore while we were at Cape Falcon but hope to on our next trip in a couple weeks. Lisette and I did make it to Drift Creek Falls near Lincoln City on one of our days off, we even made it down to where the waterfall goes into the creek. We brought my dog Thistle along and found out that waterfalls are not her favorite and neither are suspension bridges.

It has been a great few weeks and I am looking forward to the rest of the Summer!

Lisette and I on the suspension bridge at Drift Creek Falls.
Thistle before the suspension bridge and waterfall fall.

Getting Started


My name is Jessica and I am majoring in marine biology at Oregon State University. This summer I will be working with the Human Dimensions Project within the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. I will travel to Oregon’s marine reserves to survey visitors about their awareness and opinions of Oregon’s marine reserve system. I will also be going to tourist-oriented businesses in nearby towns to ask about their awareness of marine reserves as well as how they think the reserves have impacted their businesses. Later in the Summer I will enter the data collected into a database so that it can be analyzed and used in a report due to Oregon’s legislature in 2023.

When the marine reserve system started in Oregon, the legislation required a report be submitted ten years after implementation describing the affect marine reserves have had on coastal communities and ecosystems. Baseline data was collected for two years before any restrictions were put in place so that the state of the ecosystem and the opinions of local communities before the reserves were fully up and running would be known. The data collected this Summer will be compared to the baseline data, allowing the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife to determine the impact of marine reserves on local communities.  

One of the main goals of the Human Dimensions Project is to ensure conservation efforts are not negatively impacting coastal communities. Without community support ODFW would not be able to carry out its mission of, “protecting and enhancing Oregon’s fish and wildlife and their habitats for use and enjoyment by present and future generations.” The coastal community focus of the project also helps to further Oregon Sea Grant’s mission by supporting a management approach to marine resources that prioritizes thriving coastal communities as well as a healthy ecosystem.

The first day of surveying visitors to the Otter Rock Marine Reserve in Newport, Oregon.
Joe the sea Lion was not bad company between visitors to Cascade Head Marine Reserve.