The tales we tell…

Stories are a near universal aspect of human existence. They define who we are as a people, illustrate the values we hold as individuals, and provide a common medium by which to communicate the shared human experience. The more that I delve into my work and examine myself, the more I realize how integral storytelling is. On any given day, any single aspect of my work can ultimately be related back to some form of narrative, whether that is looking for a shared narrative or spinning some of my own novel yarns.

One way that we use stories is to connect the public, or some subset of it, to the places, resources, and activities that the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) manages on their behalf. By invoking imagery, cultural values, and common experiences associated with the resources that we manage, we are able to better communicate the results of our stewardship and inform the public.

A great example of this is the outreach and education materials that the Marine Reserves Program produces.You can check out some of their work on their website. Some of this material describes the structure of the program or the status of recent monitoring trips while others communicate issues of concern, like Ocean Acidification (OA). They have produced a wonderful the wonderful video below where you can learn about what causes it and how it relates to the Oregon coast and see many of the great people that I work with.


Sometimes the stories we tell are not to convey new information but demonstrate involvement and commitment to an issue. This last week, Cat Dayger and I have been editing press releases describing the work of the Ocean Acidification Alliance (alliance). The alliance is the nonprofit we helped launch to elevate OA on the international stage. The press releases are intended to highlight the West Coast regional efforts to address OA in light of the alliance attending the Ocean Conference hosted by the United Nations in New York this upcoming week.

The alliance, as well as California, Oregon, and Washington, are all making voluntary commitments towards Sustainable Development Goal 14.3 to continue their work on global ocean change and OA. The narrative here was not to tell a new story about OA but to keep the spotlight on the issue and communicate that work is underway to understand and address it. Sometimes the issues or status of a topic can be more effectively told not with words or other traditional media but through other means…

Everyone has heard the adage that “a picture is worth a thousand words.” Most people, however, don’t usually bring charts, tables, or maps to mind when they hear this phrase, let alone matrices or databases. But data is essentially the building block, or base-unit, that scientists work with. Every dataset has a story that it can tell and part of what scientists do is to use visual, mathematical, and statistical tools to piece together the plot points of a dataset’s story, identify its main characters, and expose the details hidden beneath the surface.

During my time with ODFW, I have been hard at work creating an interactive toolset to illustrate the story behind  the Ocean Acidification and Hypoxia (OAH) Monitoring Inventory which is one of the main projects I work on. The OAH Monitoring Inventory is a catalog of monitoring assets (buoys, moorings, sensors, etc.) and research projects related to OAH that helps determine where OAH is already being monitored and where it needs to be monitored more. This is very similar to the inventory a restaurant manager takes at the end of a week before ordering more supplies. However, before we can decide where to place new instruments, we must understand the “lay of the land,” as it were, by identifying where assets are located, what they are collecting, and how long have they been there. These are are just a handful of the 70+ odd bits of descriptive information that were recorded. To communicate the complexities of this in a typical narrative would be almost certainly lose some of the finer details of the inventory’s story. Unfortunately, this interactive web app still needs some refining but I hope to be able to share it soon.

Storytelling is an innate practice permeating nearly every facet of our lives. When we are at home playing a game, reading a book, or watching netflix we are ‘listening’ to the tales presented before us. Moving out into the real world to telling stories with friends around a bonfire, tall tales on social media, or drafting a press release we move from consuming to weaving our own tapestries. Framing and polishing a narrative to reflect either how we want to be perceived or best fits the situational context. Medium is yet another facet that can change the experience. Some elements of a story will be more apparent in one format and lost via another. When watching a movie of a popular book your favorite character can take on an entirely new light due to how they are portrayed. With technical information this is no less true. The takeaways one has looking at a table of values will be far different than those represented on a map or plotted in a chart. All of these differences demonstrate how deeply saturated we are in stories and how they color our perceptions and, in turn, our own personal narratives.

I look forward to the opportunity to continue to ‘tell my tales’ here to you and to the audience of my professional work.

Report from Oregon Ocean Science Trust Science Summit

For two days in Newport in May, over 40 natural and social scientists and agency natural resource managers met to discuss research and monitoring priorities in Oregon’s nearshore. Convened by the Oregon Ocean Science Trust with funding support from The Nature Conservancy, Oregon Sea Grant, and the Packard Foundation, the goal of the workshop was to identify and prioritize research and monitoring funding needs, scalable to budget resources available, to provide baseline and trend data and inform key research questions. These research questions could relate specifically to changing ocean conditions such as ocean acidification and hypoxia, marine habitat, fish and wildlife, and the vulnerability and resilience of coastal communities to changing ocean conditions and the effects on marine resources.

The Oregon Ocean Science Trust is intended to serve as a funding mechanism for research and monitoring in Oregon, and by convening an interdisciplinary Science Summit to prioritize funding needs, the Trust will better be able to direct available funds to the most relevant and urgent areas. The attendees at the Summit were a Who’s Who of oceanography, fisheries science, marine ecology, geochemistry, economics, sociology, and anthropology. It would have been enough to be a fly on the wall for this event, but I was fortunate to be one of the breakout session facilitators. The breakouts were organized to spread representatives of different disciplines out among all the groups, making the groups as academically diverse as possible. Each group was then tasked with generating research and monitoring plans at three different budget levels that would address key nearshore questions. There were great back-and-forth discussions, and it was fascinating when all the groups came back together, to see how each group had approached the tasks. As a facilitator, I used a much lighter touch than I otherwise might have because it seemed like a good idea to let the conversation and exchange between group members really develop, and then bring everybody back to the template we were given. The end result will be a report with key research themes, questions, and monitoring approaches identified, as well as a plan for a comprehensive research and monitoring program for Oregon’s nearshore with three budget levels identified. The event, which was conceived of in late January, came together quickly and nearly everyone invited was able to attend, and produced substantial results which can be used to guide funding for important efforts in the nearshore as we face changing ocean conditions and the related impacts on communities. Definitely one of the coolest gatherings I’ve gotten to attend in my time with OSG!

Ocean Acidification and Hypoxia: a Regional approach with the Pacific Coast Collaborative

Coastal Oregon and the west coast are particularly vulnerable to ocean acidification (OA) and hypoxia. Increasing levels of CO2 in the atmosphere are absorbed into our oceans and change the ocean’s chemistry by decreasing the pH, causing increased acidity. Naturally occurring seasonal upwelling of waters from deep in the ocean bring CO2 rich waters to the surface and exacerbates this acidification phenomenon. In these highly acidic environments there is less carbonate, a component of seawater, for many sea animals to use in their formation. Some examples of impacted sea animals include oysters, clams, mussels, corals and some plankton. OA is already negatively impacting Oregon’s economy due to failed shellfish larval production, namely at Whiskey Creek Shellfish Hatchery. With significant impacts already occurring to larval shellfish and plankton species, scientists are also concerned about amplified impacts to species higher in the food web that prey on these organisms. While wild fishery population impacts have not yet been linked to OA, as OA and hypoxic zones increase in frequency and intensity, experts anticipate that linkages will emerge.

It is with this knowledge and understanding that managers and scientists from Oregon joined their counterparts from Washington, California, and British Columbia in Seattle in mid-April. The meeting, convened by the Pacific Coast Collaborative, was intended to build lines of communication and collaboration among ocean decision makers in state, federal, and tribal governments and scientists on the West Coast Ocean Acidification and Hypoxia Science Panel. Meeting attendees worked together to identify the state of the science from across the region, and to join forces to address OA. The meeting included science presentations and management brainstorming about OA impacts and adaptation strategies. Between June and October 2015 the West Coast OA and Hypoxia Science Panel will be releasing their findings for OA and hypoxia on the west coast. Moving forward, meeting attendees have agreed to translate these findings into actionable management decisions to build a more robust and effective state, federal, and tribal effort to understand, adapt, and build resiliency to OA and hypoxia and to determine additional needs for research and monitoring at a regional scale.

I was able to not only attend this meeting, but assist in the planning, conducting, and post-meeting follow-up actions. It was clear at the meeting that all attendees have a deep concern for the causes of OA and its impacts. Changing ocean chemistry will undoubtedly continue to be a focus for ocean resource managers and scientists in the coming years as CO2 concentrations increase in the atmosphere and the ocean, and pH continues to drop.