The Human Dimension of Marine Reserves

Mission:  To inherit the knowledge of every place and people I call home. 


There’s a first for everything. First job, first road trip, first time meeting the people you now cherish. Being a Summer Scholar promises to be full of firsts: this will be the longest that I have been away from home (Seattle, WA), is my first time doing human dimensions research, is my initiation into the world of working for the government and policy-related work, and is my first internship. I am incredibly grateful that the Oregon Sea Grant in association with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife trusted me to do this work and brought me to where I am today.

Also, thank you mom, dad, loved ones, and my extended family at the University of Washington for all you have poured into me.

Me on Nye Beach at sunset

Image result for marine reserves odfw

For the next ten weeks I will be working with the ODFW’s Marine Reserves Program on the Human Dimensions Research Project. This type of work is fascinating, but ultimately I selected this project because of who would become my mentors.  Tommy Swearingen is the project leader and is a one man show of expertise, initiative, and charisma. He oversees at least 15 different studies that assess the socioeconomic impacts of marine reserve implementation. He has had a Summer Scholar under his wing every year since he was brought onto the team. Being a mentor to him means more than just supplying interns with work–he wants to understand where they come from, and how he can best help them become fully immersed in the work and contribute to their future goals. He is a researcher, but also a teacher. In only the first week under his tutelage, I have gained a comprehensive understanding of the history of Oregon’s coastal communities and of the scope of the Human Dimensions Research Project.

Fishing vessel at dusk approaching the Yaquina Bay Bridge

To ensure the marine reserves are not adversely affecting coastal residents, Tommy and his associates have collected socioeconomic data on the scale of communities to individuals. Seeing as the reserves only make up 3% of Oregon’s coastal area, these effects are difficult to disentangle from larger trends. This is where studies on the individual level–specifically of well-being, world view, and feelings–become crucial. For this, you need an anthropologist.

Specifically, you need Elizabeth Marino. Beth is an Assistant Professor of Anthropology at OSU-Cascades, and every now and then she will be driving down from Bend, OR to conduct interviews on fishers and to mentor me. I am inspired by her outlook, knowledge, empathy, and dedication to her work. Just to give you an idea of her background, Beth is the author of Fierce Climate, Sacred Ground: An Ethnography of Climate Change in Shishmaref, Alaska. This documents her decade-long research on some of the first climate refugees, the Iñupiaq people, who are running out of time while their home is engulfed by the sea. Needless to say, her work has real-world consequences.

I am humbled to be working under these incredible researchers and people. By the week’s end, I now know where I fit into the Human Dimensions Research Project:

  • First and foremost, I will be conducting interviews of fishers on their knowledge of the local ocean–which can span back five generations–and on how marine reserves might be affecting their livelihoods. Giving them a voice just might reveal effects that quantitative data fails to do alone.
  • Secondly, I am already in the process of coding (aka categorizing) open-ended responses of a well-being survey of coastal residents. This converts qualitative responses to quantitative data, which could reveal how geography, community culture, and economic well-being all correspond to people’s feelings. It also speaks to what people value and how much they are willing to give up for these values.
  • Lastly, I will be trained on how to maintain an ongoing database of the economic status of coastal communities.

I am beyond excited to see where this work takes me.

Other snapshots from my first week in Newport, OR, my home for this summer:

(Almost) every OSG Summer Scholar working at the Hatfield Marine Science Center. From left to right: Me, Abby Ernest-Beck (EPA), Dani Hanelin (ODFW), and Taylor Ely (ODFW-Marine Reserves). Not pictured + photocreds: Anna Bolm (USDA).

The expanse of Nye Beach, the first beach I visited upon arriving in Newport, looking at Yaquina Head.

A lush beach-side cliff of salal. Coming from a background in both terrestrial and marine science, I am seeing from daily excursions how the ecology of coastal Oregon is not very different from that of western Washington. It feels like home–except with massive beaches of soft sand.

Some of my new friends on the Sea Lion Docks in South Beach.

Yaquina Head Lighthouse, which we visited the very next day.

Silhouette at sunset. Each day is full here.



The Summer of Sea Grant Begins!

I have just concluded my first week at Newport’s Hatfield Marine Science Center (HMSC) as an Oregon Sea Grant summer scholar. I have been looking forward to this experience and am so grateful to call Newport and Hatfield home for the next nine weeks! I feel fortunate to have already been introduced to multiple research projects, though know I am only skimming the surface. There is such an array of research happening, I hope to learn as much as I can to help narrow my interests for graduate school.

My first day on campus, my mentor, Dr. Brett Dumbauld, took me out on the nearby Idaho Flats with Dr. John Chapman, a professor at Oregon State University. John and Brett have collaborated on burrowing shrimp and were taking a group of REU students out to pull sediment cores to look at the mud shrimp burrows (Upogebia pugettensis).

A sediment core pulled from Idaho flats, showing the burrows from mud shrimp.

A cross section of a mud shrimp burrow. Dr. John Chapman from OSU is investigating whether or not the burrows are used by the mud shrimp to grow and harvest food.

Brett is an aquaculture ecologist with the United States Department of Agriculture-Agricultural Research Service (USDA-ARS), focused on the West coast shellfish culture industry. This summer we’ll be investigating habitat selection of Dungeness crab in response to threat from predation by Pacific staghorn sculpin. The habitats we will be testing are structured: oyster aquaculture and native eelgrass, and unstructured: open mudflat/sand. We spent time brainstorming until constructing the mesocosms we’ll use.

Cutting out holes for side windows and the camera setup.

A nearly finished mesocosm.


This week was also the graduate student poster session and Ignite Talks, five minute presentations showcasing selected work. From investigating native oysters as a viable market to understanding how anthropogenic sounds affect whale communication, I learned a lot about the diversity of research happening at Hatfield.

Other highlights of the week included: exploring the south jetty with my roommates, checking out the local brewery, camping in Drift Creek Wilderness, a NOAA wetting down party, new running trails, and walks on the estuary nature trail- just outside my door. I’m looking forward to what the rest of the summer brings!

Agate Beach from Yaquina Head in Newport, OR.