Ocean Acidification Science-Policy Translation

Hello again! Hard for me to believe, but I recently passed the six month-mark in my Ocean Acidification and Hypoxia fellowship with Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). As I talked about in my last post, I’ve been working with the water quality assessment team at DEQ, and assisting in the development of procedures to assess biological impacts of Ocean Acidification (OA) and Hypoxia in Oregon’s near shore waters for the purposes of Clean Water Act 303(d) assessment. DEQ has convened a technical workgroup of scientists, researchers, and partner agency staff to help answer critical technical questions as we develop assessment procedures to understand impacts of these stressors. So far, my main task in this fellowship has been to help coordinate this workgroup towards this end. Since my last post we’ve been continuing to work with a subgroup of workgroup members versed in both scientific and policy perspectives to draft OA assessment procedures and an accompanying set of technical questions to bring to the full workgroup for refinement. We’ve had three meetings with the subgroup and are making progress on the set of questions and draft procedures. As we proceed with this workgroup made up of individuals with such a wide array of expertise and specialization across this topic area I thought I would share a couple of underlying elements of this process we’ve been considering and discussing as we formulate the set of questions for the technical group.

One challenging aspect of this process comes down to the inherent differences between scientists and policymakers in terms of approaches and methods of communicating knowledge and information. Translation between scientific research and information needs for policy development hinges on considering both styles of communication and making sure a shared understanding exists around terminology. The same terms can mean very different things depending on usage and context, so defining some key terms has been critical in this process.

Another key element of this translation involves the synthesis of information and ensuring the appropriate type and level of detail is included in conversations and questions, it’s easy to get “in the weeds” when talking about a complex topic such as OAH. One way we are currently addressing this is to divide our questions into a sequence of information needs, which has helped organize the dizzying amount of technical information we will be gathering into a structured framework. Finding the right level of detail to include along this sequence, especially in terms of how each question fits into DEQ’s overall assessment picture, has been an interesting iterative process, and I’m sure it will continue to be.

Overall, I’ve found that working in the subgroup has created opportunities for excellent discussions around these and other process-based factors that underly this work, and I’m looking forward to continuing to incorporate these elements into the remainder of my fellowship.

Oregon Seaweed Learning Tour

It has officially been two months since I started my position as a Restorative Aquaculture Fellow with Oregon Sea Grant and The Nature Conservancy! So far, the fellowship has been a great experience and I’m grateful for this amazing opportunity to network within the restorative aquaculture space and learn more about seaweed farming.

My project involves working with TNC’s Global Aquaculture Strategy Lead, Global Aquaculture Manager, and TNC staff from Oregon, Washington, British Columbia, and Alaska to explore the potential to invest in and create restorative seaweed aquaculture farms in the Pacific Northwest. A major deliverable of my fellowship will be a situation analysis to better understand challenges and opportunities for Oregon’s seaweed aquaculture industry. Much of my work to date has involved meeting with folks from academia, private industry, NGOs, and state agencies to map out current research, projects, and seaweed farming. I’ve also gotten to do some wild seaweed harvesting in my spare time!

Recently we completed an Oregon learning tour with potential partners to build a shared understanding of farming methods, environmental conditions, and the community context of seaweed aquaculture in the state. We started in Newport, OR with some in-person and virtual presentations focused on a general background for mariculture in Oregon and the restoration of wild kelp. The next day we learned about urchin ranching efforts on the south coast, toured two innovation labs in Newport and headed north to visit Oregon Seaweed’s land-based farm in Garibaldi. We also got lunch at Local Ocean Seafood – my favorite restaurant in Newport.

In the past two months I’ve already gained a deeper understanding of this industry thanks to the help of all the folks I’ve had the opportunity to meet with. I’m very much looking forward to the learning tours we’re planning for Washington and British Columbia in the fall.

We’re gonna need a bigger boat…and a better understanding!

It’s June and we’re in the depths of field season! 

Myself and a WDFW colleague tagging a younger sevengill shark in Washington

My project focuses on incorporating broadnose sevengill sharks into ecosystem modeling in the northern California current ecosystem, which encompasses the coasts from San Francisco up to British Colombia. Historically, predators, in general, have not been included in our understanding of the Pacific Northwest coastal ecosystems (the few studies done have focused on orcas or pinnepeds such as sea lions). So, very little is known about sharks in this region. The broadnose sevengill is a large (up to 10 ft/3 meters and 230+ lbs/107 kgs), apex predator in other locations around the world. I suspect they play a similar role here in Oregon and Washington…especially when it comes to our very important local fisheries, like salmon, halibut, and crab! To find out, I am tagging sevengills with acoustic tags (to track movement) and taking tissue samples (to determine what they’re eating over different periods of time, using stable isotope and stomach content analysis). 

Since April, I’ve been going out once a month to look for sevengill sharks in Willapa Bay, WA. Sevengills – which live in temperate waters – show up seasonally in certain bays around the world. Willapa Bay, the second largest BAY on the west coast of the United States, is one of those specific bays. We’re not sure why sevengills show up there, but we do know that Willapa is also an important estuary for many species, including salmon, Dungeness crab, harbor seals, as well as Endangered Species Act-listed green sturgeon. Originally we thought that the sevengills showed up in June or July. But after doing some reading of some previous studies, I suspected that they might be showing up as early as April. And if they were, I wanted to sample them.
So out we went in April. Three days on the water and…..nothing! I was confused. I thought they’d be here! Maybe I’m just wrong? After talking with some local fishermen, though, we discovered…the local Chinook salmon run was running late. Maybe related? Unknown. We went home empty-handed.

In May, we returned. Before we got on the water, a local fisherman revealed…the salmon are here! Okay, but where are the sharks? Unknown. We got out on the water and spent most of the day fishing for sharks. Waiting waiting waiting. Right as I was about to give up — tug tug tug. “Did I catch a stick?” I pulled up my line and…..SHARK! It’s a sevengill! They’re here! I almost cried (a moment captured perfectly on camera by my advisor). How exciting!!! We caught two more sharks that day. AND we detected previously tagged sharks…from 2021! They are here! Which begs the question. What are they doing though? Unknown!

The exact moment that I saw the first sevengill shark in April, confirming they had officially arrived! I almost cried. (Shoutout to my advisor for snapping this picture).

Is it related to the salmon, or is it something else? Still unknown. But that’s what I’m trying to find out. Stay tuned (links below to keep up with me and my lab on social media)!

A broadnose sevengill shark, ready to be released after tagging!

Abalone Fishery Management Challenges and Intersectional Location Benefits

It is the end of the second quarter of my Natural Resource Policy Fellowship working with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife to learn more about applying biological information to an imperiled shellfish fishery and it has been a challenging task so far. The recreational red abalone fishery in Oregon is unique due to its small size of users, limited information about the population level biology of the target species coupled with the intense enthusiasm of users. I have been working on using other fishery management plan frameworks as a guide for forming the hybrid conservation and fishery management plan for red abalone here in Oregon and it has illuminated some major differences between those established management plans and my work-in-progress plan. Mostly, I have found that we have limited quantitative data to work with when attempting to establish Harvest Control Rules, including biological reference points, total allowable catch and spawning potential ratios. This is a challenge I knew was on the horizon, but it does make it difficult to determine an effective strategy for management while still considering the conservation needs of this species. Currently, I am utilizing other frameworks in conjunction with unique fishery management techniques in other similar fisheries with limited data. In its completion, this would look like a limited fishery with established regions that will be managed separately based on index survey efforts and utilizing data from nearby fisheries that have a similar population structure but more established biological understanding and increased funding for monitoring. I am looking forward to creating a completed first draft in the coming months and continuing to further develop this unique management framework.

I am also enjoying the immersive and intersectional experience of working on a campus that connects the academic side of marine biology to the management side due to the close proximity of the University of Oregon Marine Biology campus with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife field station in Charleston. It is unique and helpful to have both entities as well as the fishing industry at the fishing plant Pacific all within one location!

Found a red abalone (Haliotis rufescens) – (look under the rock!) while in the field working with the Oregon Institute of Marine Biology Invertebrates course! Awesome to see the animal I am studying and drafting a management framework for in the field.

Seasickness and Science-at-sea

Hey there! My name is Becky Smoak and I am a 2021-22 Malouf scholar, finishing up my Master’s thesis this fall. I have been participating in at sea research since my undergraduate studies. So far I have gone on 7 at-sea voyages, with each ranging from 5-13 days.

Before I ever went to sea for science, I spent weekends as a kid on a 30-foot fishing vessel in the Pacific ocean with my family. I knew from this experience I was one of “those”, you know, the type of person that gets seasick. The hard truth is that everyone gets seasick, whether it’s from 30-foot seas with a cross swell or just simply being on a boat. What will set you apart from the rest, is your ability to manage your motion sickness. Managing motion sickness is challenging and can be mentally exhausting – actually, IS mentally exhausting. The first step towards management is a plan: for instance, over the counter and prescribed medications can be a lifesaver. Heck, there’s even slang associated with this issue: you may hear “sailors cocktail” thrown around on a research vessel (referencing a mix of Dramamine and pseudoephedrine). My personal favorite option is “the patch”; the patch is a topical circular patch the size of a nickel that is placed either behind your ear, or even under your arm.

However, no cure is a miracle cure. Often these remedies come with consequences including (but not limited to) headaches, blurred vision, drowsiness, dry mouth, etc. The list goes on and on. This problem plaguing scientists may sound scary, but I promise, it can be managed. I came from a background in terrestrial wildlife ecology and one voyage at sea changed my perspective forever. On most vessels, there is an overwhelming amount of support from your colleagues when it comes to seasickness. The key idea onboard is to help when you can and more often than not, if you’re not feeling well, taking a rest in your stateroom may be just what you need.

Conducting research at sea is a unique opportunity and can set you apart from others when applying to school, internships, and/or jobs. If getting seasick is holding you back, don’t let it! Because in the end, no one is impervious to motion sickness. Being prepared and compassionate for others will go a long way in this field.

Collecting seawater for filtration on the NOAA R/V Bell M. Shimada during a “covid” cruise.

Razor Clams and Graduate School

Hello All!

I am a Malouf Scholar coming to the end of this season, known as graduate school. I have been working very hard to complete my data analysis in the past months. In addition, I have begun to wrap up my study on the impacts of the razor clam fishery on Oregon coastal communities. I am so close to completing my study and will be defending my master’s this summer! (I know everyone says this, but honestly, where does the time go?)

I have learned so much; for instance, I found that razor clams are an important resource to Northern Oregon, with many examples of multi-generational harvesters. Also, the razor clam fishery helps keep coastal businesses alive during the winter months when there are not many other fisheries open. These are just two examples of the outcomes of my research, and there is so much more that I wish I could share with you!

From the beginning of this project, I wanted to produce elements that razor clam managers could use and harvesters. Through interviews with coastal communities, many research participants commented that they wanted to know more about biotoxin closures (a biotoxin is a poisonous substance produced by a living organism). Many also commented that they wanted to learn more about domoic acid (in the past decade, it has shorted the razor clam harvest season 6 years in a row, from 2015 to 2020). With this in mind, I started drafting an infographic about domoic acid, where it comes from, and why it happens. While that’s not quite finished yet, I am excited to be able to share it with the communities when it is completed.

I also have been working on other small deliverables, such as a small poster showing the life cycle of a razor clam. The life cycle is below, there’s still some fine-tuning left, but I would love any input you might have!

Chasing Carbon on the Oregon Coast

Hi all! My name is Joanna and I’m excited to join the community of Oregon Sea Grant Scholars for the 2021-2022 Natural Resource Policy Fellowship. I matched with The Nature Conservancy as my host organization to explore Blue Carbon in Oregon. Blue Carbon refers to any carbon stored within soils or biomass in coastal and marine ecosystems: think salt marshes, eelgrass, and kelp forests, for example. There has been recent focus on protecting and restoring these habitats, in part because they are so good at absorbing and sequestering atmospheric carbon and can be part of the solution to mitigate the effects of climate change. (Although, of course, the greatest reduction effects would be seen from drastically reducing fossil fuel consumption.) Natural Climate Solutions—including Blue Carbon—provide this essential service in addition to myriad co-benefits that support coastal biological and human communities.

Much of Blue Carbon science has been conducted in the tropics and typically framed in terms those tropical ecosystems. Salt marshes and seagrasses are common to both the tropics and the Pacific Northwest, but mangrove forests—understood to be the most effective carbon storage ecosystem—do not occur in the PNW. We do, however, have Sitka spruce swamps which tolerate the salinity of tidally influenced wetlands and store incredible amounts of carbon in soils and woody biomass. Additionally, many of the oceanic sources of Blue Carbon are not well incorporated into our understanding of carbon pathways in Oregon. My project seeks to understand the potential role of Blue Carbon to reach Oregon’s carbon reduction targets and to finance restoration through carbon credits.

The first few months of this fellowship have been a whirlwind of learning about Blue Carbon science, meeting many of the amazing people who work and are interested in this space, and changing the way I think about science and the ways it’s applied in the world. My background in marine science led me to approach problems using a fairly rigid framework—formulating research questions, deriving hypotheses, constructing methodologies—but working in applied science and policy has certainly challenged the way I think about approaching projects. Scientific rigor is, of course, still needed as the foundation for effective climate policy, but I’ve learned to put more emphasis on human elements—relationships between people and the lands and waters on which they depend, and connections between partners and stakeholders to implement change. I’m excited to continue exploring established and frontier Blue Carbon pathways, and connecting with partners and policymakers during the course of my fellowship.

Looking over the wetlands at Bandon Marsh National Wildlife Refuge

Finding the Conservation-Management Balance

Hello everyone!

My name is Kendall and I am a new Sea Grant scholar, a 2021-2022 Natural Resource Policy Fellow, stationed in Charleston on the south coast. I was matched with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife at the south coast field office to work with management to develop a conservation and fishery management plan for a currently closed recreational fishery.

It has been a hectic and rewarding start to my fellowship so far! I have been researching conservation and fishery management plans and working with my fellowship host to build the framework for the imperiled red abalone (Haliotis rufescens) fishery. I already had a background in fisheries and particularly with the history of the red abalone fishery in Oregon, due to my position at ODFW as a shellfish biological aide prior to graduate school. What I did not have was a familiarity with the difficulties in creating a new type of management plan that considers multiple objectives and viewpoints that might counteract one another.

The most interesting revelation I have had so far during this process is that writing a conservation and fishery management plan is not common for fisheries, and is quite different from a typical fisheries management plan. The most imperative way it differs has to do with the concept that this management plan does not mean that there will be a fishery. Instead, there are two simultaneous objectives that could naturally be seen as opposites. The first objective is to protect and conserve the species in question, and the other objective is to develop a fishery for that same species. Working through this process so far has been a unique exercise in recognizing, appreciating and applying different stakeholder perspectives. Often it seems that agencies, organizations and individuals view these objectives as contrary to one another, and further, that one objective and perspective nullifies the other. My main task is to take each perspective and goal and find ways to merge the two together to benefit the red abalone population in Oregon, as well as honor the cultural, social and economic importance of the resource. I look forward to learning more about each perspective and working towards a common goal to create a sustainable, socially and biologically conscious fishery while continuing to explore the specifics of conserving an elusive and fascinating invertebrate species.

Consulting on Consultation

Hello everyone!  I am excited to share my first post at the end of nearly three months in my position as the Tribal Federal Consistency Policy and Processes Fellow with the Oregon Coastal Management Program (OCMP) within the Department of Land Conservation and Development (DLCD).  To start, that title is a mouthful, so I’ll pull it apart to explain what exactly I am doing! 

Federal consistency is an authority granted to federally approved Coastal Management Programs (CMPs) pursuant to the Coastal Zone Management Act (CZMA) of 1972. This authority provides CMPs – such as Oregon’s – the ability to review proposed federal activities for consistency with state and local enforceable policies.  These activities include those which will be carried out by a federal agency and those for which a federal agency issues a permit.  During the review, OCMP staff work with the applicant and the network of state (10 agencies) and local government partner agencies (40 jurisdictions) in the coastal zone to determine if the proposed activity is consistent with statewide land use planning goals, state laws, and local land use regulations.  Based on the results of the coordinated review, OCMP staff can concur, concur with conditions, or object to the proposed activity.  Without a concurrence from the OCMP, federal activities cannot move forward. 

My project has the primary goal of creating the policy and processes by which Oregon’s nine federally recognized tribes can meaningfully participate during federal consistency reviews.  Oregon is fairly unique (as compared to most states) in that state agencies are required by executive order and statute to adopt a policy for consultation and communication with the tribes.  DLCD’s existing policy establishes the over-arching goals and commitments that the department and the OCMP must meet.  It is the aim of this project to refine this policy and develop specific – but flexible! – processes and procedures to make the over-arching policy work: to lay out the foundation for a holistic and sustainable Tribal Relations program for the OCMP.   

One of the first steps we took was to formally offer the tribes the opportunity to request consultation on the development of this policy – asking if they want to “consult” on our consultation policy. We have continued to communicate and refine our messaging after that initial offer.  We are lucky to learn a lot about best practices through these exchanges – crossed lines are just a part of life when you’re trying to develop policy and procedures that essentially document a working relationship!  My perspective is that this project (and perhaps myself – I’m not complaining) are serving as the test subject so we can develop robust – and proven – best practices for the eventual Tribal Relations program.  To learn more about tribal interests and engagement, I have been able to correspond with and observe the proceedings of the Legislative Commission on Indian Services, including attending the annual Tribal-State Summit.  I am also able to participate in the state-tribal Cultural Resource Cluster, a forum where agencies and tribes can interact regarding issues that impact cultural resource protection.  We are also fortunate to have an advisor from the Coquille Indian Tribe providing guidance and insight along the way. 

I consider myself lucky to be able sit with – and dedicate my time to – the questions of how and where procedural interventions can be implemented to improve tribal relations practices.  This requires taking a systems-level view of the OCMP and its federal consistency authority.  So, in my first few months I have spent a significant amount of time reading and absorbing information about how the OCMP “works,” what a federal consistency review looks like, how and when network partner agency activities (e.g., permitting, rulemaking, planning, etc.) intersect with OCMP activities, and how and when network partner agencies are engaging with tribes.  This is to better understand how and where tribes are currently being engaged and look for opportunities to improve and/ or better coordinate engagement in the future.  I am excited about the work ahead and looking forward to one day meeting the great people at OCMP in person! 

Erosion control guidebook: fellowship outcomes and final thoughts

As 2021 winds down, my fellowship is also coming to a close. It has been a wonderful and challenging experience. I wasn’t lucky enough to make it back into the office to meet coworkers in person this year, but I got to work with and learn from lots of awesome people virtually. My mentor, Meg Reed, is fantastic and was absolutely crucial in helping me succeed in this fellowship.

My main project for my fellowship was the creation of an erosion control guidebook. I spent the majority of the year reading, researching, and writing about erosion control and its regulation in Oregon. The main topics of the guidebook included:

  • Physical setting of the Oregon coast: My goal was for the guidebook to introduce anyone unfamiliar with the Oregon coast to the basics, including wave climate, sea level rise, and the impacts of El Nino and La Nina events on the coast
  • Coastal Policies: The guidebook covers the 1967 Beach Bill, which designated Oregon’s beaches as belonging to the public in perpetuity, and the coastal land use planning goals (Goal 16, 17, and 18). Goal 18 contains the most detail because its requirements are the most related to coastal erosion and beachfront protection.
  • Beachfront Protective Structures: The guidebook discusses the impact of beachfront protective structures on the Oregon coast. It also discusses why a specific definition for a beachfront protective structure is needed, and provides the definition.
  • Permitting: The guidebook lists the agencies typically involved in permitting erosion control projects, and discusses their jurisdictions. The entire permitting process is explained, including typical permitting timelines, permit requirements, and approval criteria.
  • Types of erosion control: The guidebook divides erosion control mechanisms that are viable on the Oregon coast into two categories: nonstructural and structural. Nonstructural mechanisms include vegetative stabilization, dynamic revetments, beach scraping, and beach nourishment. Structural mechanisms include seawalls, riprap revetments, sandbags, and gabion structures. For each erosion control mechanism, the guidebook provides a literature review of the erosion control mechanism, its applicability to and use on the Oregon coast, and its usefulness in responding to sea level rise impacts.

I had the chance to do a series of 5 presentations in October and November to let people know that the guidebook existed; the most exciting and formal of these was to the Land Conservation and Development Commission. I also spent time learning Adobe InDesign so that I could present the guidebook information in a more visually appealing way.

I’m really proud of the work that I’ve done for this fellowship and of the final guidebook. However, this year has been tough. I’ve been fighting burnout and struggling with working from home. At the outset of my fellowship, I imagined myself finishing this fellowship as a super-productive master writer and communicator that had tackled several side projects in addition to my main fellowship project. I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that that vision was both partially unrealistic and partially not possible due to the challenges of working through a pandemic. But I’ve learned other things from a challenging year of work. Stephanie and Sarah reminded me at the halfway point of my fellowship that part of the skillset I spent this year learning was resilience and the ability to advocate for myself in challenging situations.

Here are a few other non work-related things I’ve learned this year:

  • Regular check-ins helped mitigate the dread Imposter Syndrome. At the halfway point of my fellowship, I was beginning to feel like I wasn’t meeting expectations and that my inadequacy would be found out at any second. However, after a halfway point check-in with my mentor, I found out that she had a good understanding of my progress and was happy with it. This shifted my perspective and allowed me to approach the second half of my fellowship from a place of confidence rather than fear.
  • I learned how to plan and execute a longer-term project. For this project, I created a work plan, reevaluated it on a regular basis, and included review deadlines for outside parties to keep myself on track.
  • I learned strategies to help myself push through periods of low motivation, including changing my workspace, using the Pomodoro technique to break work down into smaller chunks, and figuring out what activities allowed my brain to rest and recharge.

I’m excited to take what I’ve learned this year and bring it into my next job: a PhD in coastal engineering at OSU beginning in March 2022. I’ll be studying dynamic revetments, which are one of the erosion control practices I wrote about in the guidebook. I’ll get to do fieldwork on the Oregon coast and outreach with the practitioners who work there. I’m excited to continue exploring the issue of erosion control from the academic perspective and to continue working with the awesome people I’ve met over the course of this fellowship.