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!

Summer Roles and Summer Goals at the South Slough: The Sequel!

I had a blast as an Oregon Sea Grant Summer Scholar last summer and was sad to see my time as an OSG intern end… If only I had known that I would get the opportunity again, I could have saved all my feelings of disappointment from last summer and waited to feel emotion until the end of this summer!

Collecting and recording data on invasive European green crabs last summer (2020) in Charleston, OR

Just a couple of weeks ago, I found out that extenuating circumstances left the South Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve (SSNERR) without an OSG intern for the summer and was offered the opportunity to repeat as an OSG intern this summer. Though I currently live in Corvallis and am conducting research here, I could not turn down the opportunity! I planned on driving down to Charleston a few times this summer to volunteer at the South Slough anyway, but now my role has been expanded.

As a Summer Scholar this summer, like last summer, one of my primary work duties will be to help organize, prepare for, and lead in-person summer science camps at the reserve. In addition to helping with the science camps, my big project this summer will be assisting in the creation of a new exhibit at the South Slough Interpretive Center, which will help to educate visitors about water quality throughout the slough and associated watersheds. This exhibit will allow visitors to have a greater appreciation and understanding for the important role that water quality has on the entire local ecosystem. Other tasks I will be taking on include assisting the science team in conducting fieldwork when they need extra hands, creating additional educational materials (like guides similar to the plant guide I created last summer or species-specific conservation posters), and assisting in the delivery of educational workshops or tours for the general public.

Ultimately, by assisting in the duties discussed above, I will be helping the education team at the South Slough to achieve its goal to improve public understanding of how estuarine systems work and why they are so important. I will also help advance SSNERR’s mission, which is to serve as a model for how to properly manage coastal communities on regional, national, and global levels. Management of national estuarine research reserves (NERRs) involves public outreach and education workshops, so through these avenues, I will be serving South Slough’s mission. As I discussed last summer too, these project goals will help advance Oregon Sea Grant’s mission for coastal communities to flourish. By educating citizens of coastal communities about how to best utilize and care for their natural environments, the number of people who value health of Oregon’s coastal ecosystems should see growth (even if that means one person at a time). Moreover, increasing the excitement and knowledge base in regards to coastal ecosystems amongst youth will hopefully encourage some members of our future generations to pursue careers in biology, ecology, conservation, and wilderness management.

Great blue heron in Coos Bay, OR

Though, I’m still in Corvallis and will be doing much of my OSG work virtually this summer, I am excited to be on the coast again soon working at the South Slough and enjoying wildlife – like the great blue heron seen above… (also the mascot for SSNERR!)

I am looking forward to working with Oregon Sea Grant and the South Slough Reserve again this summer. Thanks!

Science Policy and the Organization of the South Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve

Before I get to the real substance of this blog post, try saying “South Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve” five times fast… It takes some practice, so good luck!

Once you have mastered saying “South Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve,” you can move on to the remainder of this post.

Okay, games aside… For this week’s blog, I have answered questions related to science policy that can be seen below in bold.

Now that you’ve been on the job for several weeks, how has your view of science policy changed (if at all)?

My views on science policy haven’t really changed, though working for a state-run organization has given me a better understanding of the resources available to organizations like the South Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve (SSNERR). I’ve also heard more about what it takes to get additional funds through grants for various projects (and it doesn’t seem easy).

Do you have a better understanding of how policy organizations work?

One of my goals for this summer is to have an in-depth understanding of how the SSNERR is run. As of now, I have not had time to learn more about how it works on a macro-level, but I have definitely developed a better understanding of how the SSNERR team works on a micro/local level. I have had the opportunity to work with both the science and education teams this summer; as a result, I feel I have a solid understanding of how similar programs may be organized. I also have a better understanding of what positions are necessary to run a state-guided science organization.

Have you had a chance to attend any agency-level meetings?

I meet frequently with the education team, but have not yet attended an all-staff meeting or meeting of higher status. I will be attending the next all-staff meeting in order to learn about how the meetings and agenda-setting work, though my role at the South Slough (given my limited time) has not made it imperative for me to attend such meetings. I believe I will get to attend a National Estuarine Research Reserve (NERR) meeting this summer as well, which will help me understand the larger system as a whole. 

Does your agency have ties to other states, and/or to national-level organizations?  

The South Slough was the first location designated as a National Estuarine Research Reserve (NERR) and is affiliated with the National Estuarine Research Reserve System (NERRS). This system functions under NOAA. As seen on NOAA’s website, “The National Estuarine Research Reserve System is a network of 29 coastal sites designated to protect and study estuarine systems. Established through the Coastal Zone Management Act, the reserves represent a partnership program between NOAA and the coastal states. NOAA provides funding and national guidance, and each site is managed on a daily basis by a lead state agency or university with input from local partners.”

Logo for South Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve
Our logo at the South Slough!

Summer at the Oregon DEQ: Learning, Planning, and Spreading the Word

My name is Chris Schmokel, and I am an environmental chemistry major at Oregon State University and also an Oregon Sea Grant Summer Scholar Fellow. My fellowship placement is with the Oregon DEQ, and this summer I’m working on two projects: starting up a pilot program to test for copper concentrations in Oregon waters, and creating a short video to share all the good work being done by the Oregon Sea Grant’s Oregon Applied Sustainability Experience internship program.

Some background on the copper testing project:

A boat in dry dock with a hull covered in algae and barnacles.
A sailboat with an extremely fouled hull.

Organic growth on the underside of boats is known as fouling, and it can range from a mild inconvenience to a major problem, depending on how long a boat is in the water and the type of aquatic organisms present at a given location. Many techniques have been developed over the years to deal with this problem, but currently the most prevalent solution is the use of special antifouling paint for the undersides of boats. This paint contains a large percentage of copper, which acts as a biocide, slowly leaching into the water adjacent to a boat and discouraging organisms from attaching to it. Unfortunately, copper ions released in this way can spread beyond a boat’s immediate vicinity, and can cause unintended ecological harm. A great deal of research has shown that excessive copper concentrations are toxic to many types of aquatic organisms, including freshwater mussels and salmonids, among others. Both California and Washington have passed regulations to control the use of copper based boat paint, but Oregon has yet to do so. My project for the summer will focus on developing a pilot water testing program to help the DEQ get a better picture of the concentrations of copper at various sites around Oregon. This sort of testing may be the first step towards Oregon enacting copper regulations similar to its neighboring states.

My second project this summer is creating a short video to highlight the work of the Oregon Sea Grant’s Oregon Applied Sustainability Experience internship program. This program partners college students with local businesses to find ways to improves efficiency and prevent waste and pollution. Tomorrow morning at 4:30 AM (!!!) I’ll be hopping in my car and heading down to Port Orford to get some shots of the halibut boats coming in to offload their catch. I’ll also be sitting down with intern Connor Nolan to talk about the work he’s doing with Port Orford Sustainable Seafood to reduce processing waste and maybe even convert it into a marketable product in the form of fish paste for cooking.

I’m very excited about these projects, and I hope next time I post I’ll have some fun photos from Port Orford, as well as some new information on a copper testing pilot program.

Video equipment laid out on a bed.
All my video gear laid out for tomorrow.

Supporting Collaboration and Data Accessibility on the West Coast of the U.S.

Less than one month ago, I began my Oregon Sea Grant Fellowship supporting the West Coast Ocean Alliance (WCOA) and West Coast Ocean Data Portal (WCODP). Since beginning, I have spent a considerable amount of time familiarizing myself with the history and composition of these unique entities.

 

 

 

The West Coast Ocean Alliance is a regional partnership that focuses on “enhanced management and coordination for the ocean along the West Coast of the U.S” (WCOA). It is made up of state, tribal, and federal representatives, and currently has four objectives: compatible and sustainable ocean uses, effective and transparent decision making, comprehensive ocean and coastal data, and increased understanding of and respect for tribal rights, traditional knowledge, resources and practices.

The current Alliance is part of a broader legacy of regional ocean coordination on the West Coast. In 2007, the governors of California, Oregon, and Washington created the West Coast Governors Agreement on Ocean Health. Focusing on topics like marine debris and coastal resilience, the West Coast Governors Agreement also prioritized data coordination and the creation of the West Coast Ocean Data Portal. In 2010, with Executive Order 13547, President Obama created our country’s first National Ocean Policy. This policy introduced a mechanism for creating Regional Planning Bodies (RPBs) that formalized federal engagement in regional ocean planning processes. The West Coast states and tribal governments began discussing the creation of an RPB in 2013, and in 2016 signed their formal charter. Concurrently, the West Coast Governors Agreement on Ocean Health evolved into the West Coast Governors Alliance on Ocean Health, a Regional West Coast Ocean Partnership that could work with the RPB. Finally, in June 2018, President Trump’s Executive Order 13840 replaced Obama’s National Ocean Policy, and terminated the active RPBs in the U.S. Official regional coordination could, however, continue through Regional Ocean Partnerships, and so the participants of the West Coast RPB and the West Coast Ocean Partnership elected to continue their coordination as the West Coast Ocean Alliance in late 2018.

This all sounds pretty complicated—so why bother with regional ocean coordination? Ecosystem functions and species, as well as ocean issues like pollution, do not respect jurisdictional boundaries. Therefore, state, tribal and federal decision-makers frequently need to work together on problem-solving and management decisions. Habitat loss in one state’s waters might inform management of a migratory species in another’s. Energy development in federal waters could affect multiple state and tribal fishing industries. So realistically, if we want to be effective coastal and ocean managers, we can’t afford not to coordinate on a regional scale—especially as the marine environment faces unprecedented changes and development pressure.

Check out all the different activities that can take place near one small part of the coast! (Image: NACo)

A huge part of that coordination is information sharing. It is important to ensure that regional discussions and decision-making are based on sound science and the most current data, which is where the West Coast Ocean Data Portal comes in. The WCODP is meant to be a one-stop-shop for state and tribal coastal and ocean managers, who are seeking to inform their decisions with relevant data and visualizations. Part of my Fellowship will be engaging with WCODP and WCOA members over the next year to determine the types of data that will be truly useful to different entities, the format in which they would like to see that data, and how we can set up long-term relationships to keep that data up-to-date. Below, see an example from the Data Portal that displays offshore wind resource potential on the West Coast.

The WCODP can help decision-makers who are siting Marine Renewable Energy (MRE) projects like floating wind turbines on the West Coast by summarizing and presenting relevant data in one location, and connecting managers, regulators, scientists and stakeholders.  (Image: WCODP)

I have already experienced my first WCOA member call, which included over 50 representatives speaking on behalf of different governing bodies with distinct interests and priorities. It is clear that high levels of organization and coordination are required to keep a group like this focused on a unified vision and specific objectives, and helping move the Alliance toward longer-term goals will be another important task of mine in the coming months.

It may be a challenging time for our oceans, but it is also an exciting one, as decision-makers explore innovative solutions and cooperate on regional scales to build a unified vision for our coastlines. I am grateful for the opportunity to be a part of this conversation on the West Coast, with so many motivated partners. Stay tuned for an update on how my position is going this December!

Fire and Drought and El Niño, Oh My!

Oregon Sea Grant Sponsored Study Looks at Improving Communication About Environmental Conditions Between Scientific Experts and Oregon’s Natural Resource Managers

It was the beginning of 2016. Unusually warm seawater named “The Blob” collected in the North-East Pacific Ocean. A massive harmful algal bloom formed in Oregon’s coastal waters. High amounts of a marine biotoxin called domoic acid resulted in closures of the recreational razor clam fishery. Almost 5,000 people along the North Coast (where the majority of recreational razor clamming occurs) stayed home because of this closure. “…You can imagine the lost economic opportunities,” said the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife Shellfish Program Manager. “People don’t come out and rent vacation homes or they don’t go camping, they’re not eating in the restaurants, state parks are not filled; all those kinds of things occur because we’ve made this decision to not allow harvest.”

This is just one example of how changing ocean conditions are affecting Oregon’s coastal communities. Now, researchers at Oregon State University are evaluating a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) webinar called NOAA West Watch. Specifically, they are seeing if the webinar can be changed to communicate these extreme environmental conditions to Oregon’s natural resource managers. Currently, NOAA West Watch communicates information about abnormal environmental conditions to NOAA scientists.

Specifically, the research team is including Oregon’s natural resource managers in this webinar to improve regional coordination and communication. This could lead to a more ecosystem-based view for problem solving. To do this, the researchers are inviting a variety of Oregon resource managers, local scientists, and non-governmental organizations to watch the webinars and provide feedback on how to improve the webinar for a more manager-friendly audience.

Why do we need a more “ecosystem-based” view and manager-friendly audience, you may ask? Historically, much of our natural resource science and management occurred on a sector-basis. For example, scientists who studied fisheries often didn’t talk to scientists who studied estuaries. The same often occurred with management, as agencies have specific jobs and management roles in the environment. Managers had to find information across many subjects and determine what was important for their decision-making. Over the past couple of decades, management has shifted to an ecosystem-based management (EBM) framework that considers all ecological and human connections within and to the environment. Despite this mentality shift, natural resource science and management is still highly disjointed.

Strengthening connections between natural resource science and management is increasingly important as our coastal ocean changes. Accordingly, both scientists and managers will have to anticipate and plan for changes to our environment and resources. Evaluating NOAA West Watch can determine if this communication tool can support EBM by including a variety of scientists and managers in a setting that is responsive and adaptive to environmental changes on the West Coast.

Taking A Deep (Ocean) Dive into EBM

To determine if NOAA West Watch is a useful tool for supporting EBM, researchers are evaluating the following:

  1. the most useful spatial scale for information;
  2. if it can connect human and natural systems;
  3. if it can serve as a way for discussing competing environmental values and uses; and
  4. if it can be flexible to changes in the natural and human environments.

On a cold, windy day along the Oregon Coast, it can be easy to want to head indoors and forget about the rest of the world. But as a larger ecosystem, Oregon’s coast is connected not only to the surrounding ocean environment, but also to land. Additionally, the coast serves as a place where humans make connections, including providing opportunities for managers and scientists to work together. Scientists and managers are tasked with effectively studying and managing this diverse, changing ecosystem. To do so, they need to understand ecological and human connections that are occurring in the coastal region. “Sometimes we get so focused on what is happening here that we might fail to look at connections that are happening in other places,” said one Oregon resource manager who participated in the study.

The Oregon State researchers think NOAA West Watch may be able to explore these connections. In particular, the evaluation seeks to determine the most useful spatial scale for the webinar’s information. By considering the West Coast as an ecosystem, scientists can communicate changes in large-scale environmental conditions. Managers would then respond to those changes that can impact local environments and communities. An estuary manager who participated in the study shared, “Thinking about those kinds of bigger-picture issues is always helpful. It takes the blinders off so you’re not just looking at your little estuary; there’s these bigger conditions and factors that are influencing what you’re seeing.”

Additionally, the researchers are seeing if NOAA West Watch can help with the reporting of Oregon’s local marine environmental impacts. As community representatives, Oregon’s managers would speak for a local perspective in global environmental changes. Managers can share community environmental observations with NOAA employees during NOAA West Watch. NOAA can then include these observations in future science and policy. Initial results indicate that NOAA West Watch can help communicate human connections in the larger western regional ecosystem.

 

 Large waves hit Haystack Rock in Pacific City, Oregon Crab pots sit on a fishing dock in Oregon.
Examples of unusual environmental conditions and their impacts to Oregon that were presented in NOAA West Watch. Left, large offshore storms created record high waves along the Oregon coast in January of 2018 that left one dead. Right, delays to commercial Dungeness crabbing along the West Coast resulted in $400 million of direct impacts in January of 2017.

 

Furthermore, evaluators are determining if NOAA West Watch can bring together a wide range of science and management fields to build communication among competing coastal users. Given the ocean’s limited space, stakeholders need to discuss which ocean uses they prefer. However, it can be difficult to explore costs and benefits of certain uses if information is distributed across natural resource subjects. This research seeks to represent a variety of Oregon’s coastal science and management interest in NOAA West Watch webinars. Broad representation may help promote individual connections to build into institutional partnerships.

Compared to land environments, the ocean is generally not as well understood. Therefore, Oregon resource managers have to be flexible to changes in scientific progress. NOAA West Watch may help improve understanding by quickly combining and communicating environmental condition information; Oregon’s managers could then use that information for decision-making. Frequent webinars may help managers monitor changing physical conditions used to anticipate biological events. For example, managers can keep an eye on conditions that may lead to harmful algal blooms and shellfish fishery closures.

January 2017 clorophyll off in Oregon's coastal ocean. March 2017 chlorophyll off Oregon's coast.
NOAA West Watch webinars present environmental condition information to follow changes in the coastal ocean, such as these maps of chlorophyll concentration which can indicate harmful algal blooms. On the left, January 2017 conditions show a low number of phytoplankton, our marine plants. However, two months later (right), chlorophyll concentrations increase, indicating that a harmful algal bloom may be developing.

 

Keeping Pace with Oregon’s Changing Environment

With a changing climate, Oregon is expected to have increased droughts, changes in fish distribution, and increased wildfires. Natural resource scientists and managers have to predict and plan for these types of changes. Oregonians have recreational, economic, cultural, or personal interests in ensuring our resources are managed sustainably for long-term public use.

Ecosystem-based management is a framework that managers work under, and scientists can inform. Better communication can help managers understand our changing environment. Results from this NOAA West Watch evaluation suggest that this communication tool can be changed to fit the needs of an EBM management system. It can connect scientists and Oregon’s natural resource managers to promote collaboration and co-management.

As our coastal environment changes, what marine resources are you concerned about managing? [Comment below!]

  

 

A Summer in Paradise

As I stepped onto that American Airlines flight in Phoenix, gladly escaping the imminent desert heat of 110+ degrees, I did not know what to expect but I knew that I had to make the most of my journey. I always thought of Oregon as “that random box-shaped state with a bunch of hippy, tree loving people” with nothing much else to offer. Well…let’s just say that I was happy to be proven wrong and that Oregon has been in fact one of the greatest states I have ever had the pleasure of visiting. If you have read any of my previous posts, then you know a little bit about the amazing adventures I have been on and my appreciation for Oregon State University.

My project was challenging at times, but it gave me an insight on what it is like to work in a collaborative manner with faculty members from different departments and organizations. One of the main aspects of the project that I personally enjoyed was being able to work on an initiative specifically for the cause of Native American students. It was fantastic to know that OSU wants to address the need to increase high school graduation and college entrance rates among Native American tribes in Oregon and throughout the country. As a summer scholar, I was able to help the program gather information pertaining to American Indian and Alaska Native student populations in the nation and developed two surveys for distribution at a later stage in the project. I hope the program will continue to succeed and achieve the goals that it has set out to. It was quite wonderful to learn about the history of Native American tribes in this part of the country and I was beyond excited to have had the opportunity to attend a Pow Wow on the Siletz reservation.

Another aspect about the OSG program that I enjoyed was having the opportunity to learn more about the Pacific Northwest region and about how climate change is affecting the agriculture and farming industries here in Oregon. Coming from Arizona, we rarely hear information pertaining to coastal regions, unless you specifically seek out this information or know someone within the scientific and environmental fields researching these issues. This summer was the first time that I learned about “The Blob” and about the declining and migratory populations of marine species that is occurring as a direct result of climate change. It was an eye opening summer of learning to say the least!

To conclude my travels, I will be taking one last road trip with my mother to visit the Tillamook cheese factory where I am planning to gorge on as many dairy products as I can and then continue on to Cannon Beach. It is saddening that I have to leave this amazing state in less than a week, but Oregon will always have a special place in my heart! A million thank you’s to the Oregon Sea Grant organization for allowing me to have had this once in a lifetime opportunity, I will never forget it! As for my fellow scholars, I will miss you all greatly and wish everyone the best in their junior/senior years and beyond. You are all phenomenal individuals that are going to do some great things in the world and I’m happy to have had the pleasure of meeting you all!!!

All of the amazing Oregon Sea Grant Summer Scholars!

Until next time Oregon…I will be back for Marionberry shakes at Burgerville!!!!

P.S. I FINALLY figured out how to add pictures!

Wishing That This Summer Never Ends

It is quite shocking that there are only two weeks left in the program until the cohort comes together one last time to present our research projects in Newport. My experiences this summer have forever created a place in my heart for Oregon, my Oregon Sea Grant family and my Oregon State University family. It has been quite a journey filled with new faces, exciting conversations, and unique outdoor adventures. Over the past several weeks, I have had the pleasure of expanding my OSU and academia network by continuing to seek out college readiness programs in the region. This expansion included a meet and greet encounter with Mr. Ed Young, a writer for The Atlantic, whose keynote speech about symbiosis and scientist’s life stories was beyond captivating. Plus, it was a bonus to have a signed copy of his new best-selling book…winning!!! I also had the pleasure of speaking to a group of Albany high school students participating in the OSU Upward Bound program about college opportunities and experiences. It was a little difficult to anticipate how interactive this audience would be, but to my delight they were very inquisitive and had quite a list of questions concerning topics related to financial aid, scholarships, tuition, and so on.

Even though my project has had some bumps in the road, I am thankful for being able to be a part of this project and to help OSU further carry out their mission of providing higher education opportunities to communities in need through diversity and inclusion initiatives. After several meetings and a lot of hard work, I have been able to design two new surveys for our project that will be administered to students and parents as part of the program objectives. Even though I will be leaving before the surveys and focus groups can be administered, I am glad that I was able to help contribute to this portion of the project in some way. Hopefully, I will still have the opportunity to visit the Siletz reservation before my departure and to attend their annual Pow Wow next weekend.

In the meantime, I have continued my exploration of Oregon with a stellar trip to Crater Lake where I watched the sunset and the sunrise with a couple of hours of sleep in the back of a Subaru. Two weeks ago, I went on the camping with the other OSG summer scholars and despite a little mishap we managed to have a great trip that involved hiking through an old growth forest, marionberry picking on a farm, and swimming in the Willamette river. Last weekend I managed to make my way to the Silver Falls state park where you can walk pass 10 different waterfalls along an 8 mile-loop trail that is simply spectacular! Afterwards, I went to Portland for a day to remember what it is like to be in a big city (I believe there has only been two weekends where I have not slept in a tent) and to eat some delicious ramen and read some books at Powell’s. If you do not know what Powell’s is…well you should know (if you are a true book lover)! To capture some zen before the hectic schedule that is about to ensue these last couple of weeks, I will be camping at Mt. Hood and taking in as much as Oregon has to offer while I can.

Have a great weekend everyone and go exploring!

P.S. I am FINALLY a proud tent owner and lifetime member of REI!!! ☺

OSG Summer 2.0: Interviewing Fishers along the Oregon Coast

On Thursday, July 12th, my mentor Dr. Beth Marino and I joined a virtual meeting. I had high hopes; for four weeks I had been waiting to hear if I had approval to conduct my primary research project, which was to interview fishermen up and down the Oregon coast. The work I had been doing up until this point was constructive for my own understanding of coastal attitudes and was applicable to the broader goals of the Human Dimensions Project of the ODFW Marine Reserves Program, but it didn’t feel like something I could own. Granted, the results of this well-being survey, which no doubt I will outline in my final blog post in a couple of weeks, fascinate me because they get to the root of how people think. They reveal the lenses by which people view the world, and the thought processes they engage in when confronted with change. I invested the time in making sense of these responses, but I was not involved in the initial process of helping those responses emerge.

This distinction is important to me because other than being a scientist, I am also an artist, a dancer. Creating and leaving my own mark on the world is a part of my character. This is why I was itching to get started on what I was brought to Oregon to do in the first place: to help stories be heard.

On Thursday, July 12th, we were virtually meeting with a member of Oregon State University’s Institutional Review Board who would decide if the revisions associated with my involvement in Beth’s project could adequately protect the confidentiality of the interviewees. Already a week delayed, we thought this would be the day. But not quite.

I had an interview lined up for the next day that I had to reschedule (which, in retrospect, was for the better–I wasn’t prepared for a daylong road-trip, despite my eagerness).

So I waited until Monday while Beth meticulously worked at getting the project revision approved. Noon ticked by, and I still hadn’t heard. One fisherman was ready to meet 45 minutes away, and I was just waiting to have the go ahead.

I got the text message at 4 pm. And the rest of my summer began.

Me with my trusty state-owned Ford Fusion, which has helped me travel approximately 200 miles up and down the coast to conduct interviews.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Without hesitation I gathered my recording equipment, hopped into the state car, and was on my way to Depoe Bay. My first interview exceeded all expectations: the fisherman I spoke with was very open about his responses, could see the world from multiple perspectives, and had a rich understanding of both his community and the biological world that his work depends upon. We had conversations about the marine reserves, management practices, conservation, and his life as a fisher…all of which lasted for 1 hour and 40 minutes (for perspective, we anticipate good interviews to last anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours). I drove back home beaming, for I felt like this was the type of work I was meant to do.

The next interview was two days later and 80 miles north of Newport in a beautiful place called Garibaldi. To hear my first impression and thoughts right after rolling up to the coffee shop, watch this video.  Garibaldi is situated in a beautiful slice of the Oregon coast right where the ocean pours into a freshwater valley. The neighboring town is Tillamook, famous for their dairy products, and while driving back I got the chance to briefly check out what the town is so famous for.

The Great Northern Railway stationed in Garibaldi, right outside of the coffee shop where I conducted my interview, with a smokestack in the background.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My second interview was entirely different from the first; this fisherman was a fourth generation fisher, and his sons and grandchildren are continuing the culture. His operation runs from Alaska to California and they catch everything from salmon to Dungeness crab. This hour and 20 minute long conversation, which touched on the same themes as before, went in entirely different directions–especially with respect to conservation and management. Being involved in multiple states, he noted that he felt a difference in how management and policy-making decisions were handled in Alaska versus Oregon. Though the “Oregon Way,” or the culture of public inclusion in government decision-making, is perceived as prevalent in Oregon, this fisher suggested that based on the model of Alaska there is room for improvement. He wished managers had more of an open door to those involved in commercial resource industries.

These interviews are intended to measure the impacts of the marine reserves on people in the commercial and charter fishing community, but this point illustrates how these conversations can be applied to issues beyond the marine reserves. They aim to represent a voice not typically heard, and so long as they are representative of the fishing community as a whole, these words can be used to inform management practices and policy. Local knowledge from fishers about the ocean itself can help scientists design more effective studies.  These conversations can open the door to more constructive dialogues about how we as humans relate to our environment.

Some fantastic rock formations in Tillamook Bay, captured while standing next to the railroad tracks along the waterfront.

So far, these fishers have expressed that they want responsible management. They advocate for science that supports their livelihoods. They want more research. They don’t all see eye to eye on every issue, but as far as I have heard, science is not the enemy.

This is just the beginning for me, and I am sure that I will interview people with more divergent opinions than my own. And it will be a challenge for me to steer the conversation in the right direction, but I am confident that I will be able to do it. Divergent opinions, as long as they don’t harm other people, I believe are healthy for society. I love listening to how other people see the world, with a grain of salt. And sometimes, beautiful narratives emerge.

When I was first being trained by Beth, she was telling me and my other mentor, Dr. Tommy Swearingen, about an interview she had just completed that had brought her to tears. She told me that there is something about the openness of the interview environment that allows people (both the interviewee and the interviewer) to divulge stories that in typical settings wouldn’t be discussed. On my fourth interview in Newport, I experienced a genuine, moving moment like this. I asked him if his life as a fisherman was fulfilling, and as he spoke I could tell he loved his line of work. He said every morning he got up at 4:30 am, made his black coffee, made plans for the day, and couldn’t wait to venture out on the boat. I wish you could have heard him say this, for I could feel his joy and it made my eyes blur. He loves this life.

I get paid to be moved by the stories of others. I cannot be more grateful that this is how I am spending my summer.

The Newport bridge, which I cross on my journeys. I wonder where I will go next?

Organic Oregon

WOW! I feel as if I have left the country and that I am living in an entirely different world. I have never seen so many Subaru cars in my life or beards! All in all, I am having a fantastic time here in Corvallis and I am loving my project. Since my last blog post, I have had the pleasure of attending the 3rd Tribal Environmental Health Summit held here in Corvallis, OR and have had the opportunity to speak with high school students from various summer programs about my experience as a college student and Oregon Sea Grant scholar. My project is quite challenging as I attempt to navigate my time meeting with administrators and program directors affiliated with various organizations and universities across Oregon and the country. Despite some difficulties, everyone that I have met thus far has been very welcoming and helpful with the project. I have not had the opportunity to visit the Confederated States of Siletz Indians reservation yet, but hopefully I will be able to make a visit there soon.
As far as my own Oregon adventures outside of my work environment, I have been able to visit quite a few places since my arrival. To begin, I went river rafting for the first time in my life from Corvallis to Albany which was quite the adventure of me trying not to freak out about drowning. :) I have also managed to make quite a few friends from the REU and other summer programs here on campus. Our groups have had the chance to visit some of the local hiking spots around the city and we go to the Farmer’s Market from time to time. One weekend we went on a coastal road trip to see the Sea Lion caves, visit Newport, and to hike up a random trail alongside the highway with spectacular views. We spent the Fourth of July watching fireworks from the riverfront downtown and have gone to the movies a couple of times, as well as, discovering some awesome dinner spots along the way. (Although, I do have to say that one of the only things I miss about AZ is the food. For example, I have had a pulled pork sandwich without any barbecue sauce because the owner does not “believe” in barbecue sauce and I just had a Huevos Rancheros dish made with Spaghetti Sauce!!! That is unacceptable!!!) Sorry, but I LOVE my Southwestern and Mexican food with a passion! Finally, last weekend we hiked the South Sister summit which was one of the most challenging hikes I have EVER completed in my life! At 10,380 I thought I was going to die from exhaustion, but in reality I survived with just sunburns. It was a breathtaking sight that I will never forget and one of the most beautiful views I have ever seen on this planet, simply time stopping. Afterwards, we drove to Bend to be tourists and explored a nearby cave where we had to crawl on our bellies to reach the end of that underground trail! We then ended our trip by stopping at the Dee Wright Observatory in the Willamette National Forest to check out some volcanic rocks and to see some more mountains in the distance.
I am thankful for all of the academic and non-academic activities I have had the pleasure of experiencing over the last few weeks. I am beyond thankful to be an Oregon Sea Grant scholar this summer and to have the opportunity to share my aid to the OSG-OSU project. Now I must hurry to pack my bags once again as I head to Crater Lake for the weekend! Until the next blog everyone and thank you for reading!!! :)