Differences of opinion and Oregon’s marine reserves

It’s 6 am. We’ve just arrived at Cascade Head, which is one hour north of Newport. This is when the intertidal of this ODFW marine reserve is exposed to the marine mist. With sleep deprived eyes I witness one of the reasons why the reserves are in place–to preserve and study the rich biodiversity of the Oregon coast.

I have so many memories I would like to share with you. I feel lucky. It’s only been three weeks since I arrived at the Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport, OR, but they have been filled with rich moments. Most of these I have shared with my fellow scholars in Newport (Taylor, Dani, Abby, and for just last week Alexa) immersed in the natural beauty of the Pacific Northwest. But I have also spent a significant portion of my time digging deeper into the psyche of those that call the Oregon coast home.

As described in my last blog post, I am working in the Human Dimensions Project of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) Marine Reserves Program. This means that I am learning how to conduct research and think like a social scientist about environmental policies. For the past two weeks I have been hard at work coding nearly 800 open-ended responses to a comprehensive subjective well-being study conducted in part by my mentor Tommy Swearingen. This systemic survey captures how people think, their moral frameworks, their sense of place, personal and community resilience, and what people believe contributes most to their well-being, among other things. The robust data set also reveals how coastal residents respond to hypothetical changes to the community–such as an expansion or contraction of the marine reserves. The possibility of change prompted many respondents to voice their opinions.

The result was hundreds of insightful explanations into what constitutes a good quality of life overall. I had the privilege of looking at the world through the lens of people with disparate opinions than my own, and was surprised on more than one occasion by the complexity of their worldviews. For the most part, people get that balancing economic needs with the environment is a difficult trade-off to maneuver. Many of the towns up and down the coast rely on the commercial industries of fishing and logging to survive. People think on the scale of the individual to the community; often, when faced with these changes, they worry about their neighbors who work in these industries and might lose their jobs because of regulations. They fear the loss of their culture, their way of life. Some responded to the survey in all caps, telling the government to back off. History has disappointed them, and they prefer autonomy over future mistakes. People on the other side of the coin also fear. They are worried that we will further degrade our public lands, that their grandchildren won’t have access to a high quality environment. Most everyone is concerned about personal or community financial security. In this inflammatory age of politics, we often categorize people by the political party they stand behind, of which there are only a handful. What I realized when coding this response is that what is more important than ideology are the values that motivate it.  If we seek to understand each other on this level, we might start to feel for one another again.

I’m in the process of developing a technical backbone for social science coding though this work. But inadvertently, the empathy I hold for my fellow human beings is expanding the more I listen.

Firefighter training high above the rocky intertidal of the Cape Falcon marine reserve.

This is not the only work that I am poised to do during my summer scholar experience. In fact, it is secondary to my role as an interviewer of local fishers. However, as many projects go, our timeline did not proceed according to plan. Because this type of work has ethical considerations for human subjects, such as confidentiality, every detail of my involvement had to be cleared with OSU’s Institutional Review Board (IRB) within the Office of Research Integrity. I was left hanging, feeling like the firefighter to the right for a short period of time before knowing what might impact my involvement in this work. At the present moment, most worries have been smoothed over, and we are proceeding onward with the project. So fingers crossed that next time you read my post in a couple of weeks I will be speaking of an entirely new and exciting adventure!

Since my work revolves around the marine reserves, I have also made an attempt to see what they are about with my own eyes. Even if this required waking up at extreme hours to see the intertidal. My fellow summer scholar in the ODFW annex, Taylor Ely, has already woken up around 4 am to complete her work in the field, and will likely have many more mornings like this. But as far as I have seen, the reserves are worth it.

My first encounter with one of the reserves was Otter Rock. It is the smallest reserve and is situated just outside of Newport. Once the sun broke over the cliffs, rays of light were punctuated by fantastic rock formations. At low tide anemones dripped from the rocks reaching toward the water, and we could walk right into Devil’s punchbowl–which is a churning mass of water when the tide rushes in.

Sun breaking over the cliff at Otter Rock

Otter Rock in the distance behind a wall of dripping anemones.

Cascade Head was equally as impressive. Biodiversity filled each and every cranny, and at one point while helping the ecological team survey starfishes, we found over 170 sea stars (predominantly Pisaster ochraceus, but also the six-legged sea star Leptasterias) in a single transect! That was within an area no larger than a typical living room.

Me at center within the rocky intertidal of Cascade Head. At points we were down on our stomachs face first in invertebrates such as starfishes, anemones, and the occasional nudibranch.

The rocks at Cascade Head. Though we were conducting survey work with ODFW, we were not the only people exploring the rocks at daybreak. Recreation is an important past-time for people living on or visiting the coast–both for enjoyment and as a key part of the modern economy.

The little Leptasterias starfish that I found. It was the first and only one of the day!

Though I still have Redfish Rocks and Cape Falcon on my bucket list to visit, I have most recently explored Cape Perpetua–and from an entirely different view. Instead of viewing nature through a macro lens, up close and personal, I took a step back. Within the easily accessible old growth forest there are a multitude of trails. We took one that led to a 550 year old Sitka spruce, and another that gave us a sweeping view of the shoreline. It was worth the effort of climbing 800 feet above sea level to see the land (and even a resident gray whale). Cape Perpetua is also where you can watch the spouting horn and Thor’s well, which in action convinces the viewer that the ocean is breathing. With each ocean swell the divot in the volcanic rocks fills with water only to expel it in a massive exhale. Breathing in, the water recedes from Thor’s well, exposing thousands of mussels which cling to the water’s edge. And this repeats, indefinitely.

The land and the ocean are violently alive. And the people–they are right here to endure it all.

700 feet above sea level and counting. Cape Perputua down below.

Thor’s well on a mild day.

There Are Trees and Rivers Here!!!

Hello Everyone!!! My name is Fatima Molina and I am from the beautiful city of Flagstaff, Arizona. I am beyond excited to be a part of the 2018 Oregon Sea Grant Summer Scholars cohort this summer and for all of the experiences that are bound to happen! I have never been to the state of Oregon before, but as soon as I step off the airplane in Portland I fell in love. I was used to having the San Francisco Peaks and ponderosa pine trees in my backyard growing up in Flagstaff, but during my time at the University of Arizona in Tucson I was surrounded by the hot desert filled with spiky cacti and poisonous animals (although Tucson did have some stellar sunsets).

This summer I am stationed on the Oregon State University (OSU) campus, where I am helping OSU faculty develop a Native American College Readiness Program for students from the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians, as well as, for other Native American tribes around the country. Part of my role is to investigate similar programs established at other post-secondary institutions and to build a correspondence between their administrators and OSU faculty. I will also be working with OSU faculty to develop an IRB-approved survey and protocol for interviewing focus groups to identity barriers to high school graduation and college enrollment. I am super excited to be helping OSU develop this important program to reach out to Native American communities around the country and to further increase diversity and inclusion on the OSU campus. As a Native American myself, it is always fantastic to witness higher education institutions take the initiative to recognize, form communication bridges, and help Native American students receive their Bachelor, Master, and Ph.D. degrees. I am also excited to learn more about the Confederated Tribes of Siletz Indians in the Pacific Northwest and the history of their tribes. There is a Pow Wow in early August that I would love to attend and if anyone is interested in joining me that would be great! Just let me know!

In the meantime, I will definitely be taking advantage of the local opportunities here on campus, in Corvallis, and throughout Oregon. This past weekend I visited a superb bookstore in downtown Corvallis and walked along a chill bridge across the river. I am not exactly tech savvy so I failed at uploading photos with this blog, but I will try to figure it all out by the next one! Thanks for taking the time to read about me and my project! :D

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

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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.

 

 

Starting out as Malouf Scholar, ODFW Marine Team, and deep-sea research on the Okeanos

Every day I get to go out on the Ocean I feel like the luckiest person in the world!

I was in Portland OR, attending the Ecological Society of America (ESA) meeting, when I first heard the good news that I had gotten the Malouf Marine Studies Scholarship! I could not believe it, and was so exited. I ran all over the Oregon Convention Center, trying to find my adviser to tell him the good news! I finally had the funding to start doing field work and begin my PhD research.

During September I had my first chance to go out with Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) Marine Reserves Team, and learn how their Hook and Line survey methods works. A method I plan to use as part of my research.  I learned so much those few days I was out there with ODFW’s David Wagman (also known as Wolfe, bottom left). He is a really good mentor and gave me great suggestions on how to improve my proposed research.

Photos: Alex Avila, Participating in ODFW’s Hook and Line Surveys

Photo: Alex Avila. Wolfe measuring fish

Unfortunately that was the last outing of the season. I need to finish writing all my permit application in the winter in order to be ready to hit the ground running next year.

NOAA scholarships have given me the opportunities I would have never even dream possible. Just like Oregon Sea Grant is part of NOAA Sea Grant College program , so is another scholarship that has greatly impacted my life, the Dr. Nancy Foster Scholarship, from NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries. I’m currently serving aboard the NOAA ship Okeanos in the Gulf of Mexico, as part of a program collaboration opportunity that was given to me as a Dr. Nancy Foster scholar. I’m here to serve as in data logging and samples processing. At the end of the expedition I will be writing a report that will help prioritize data for researchers, ensuring that the data can be efficiently used.

Photo courtesy of NOAA Office of Exploration and Research (OER)

Photo courtesy of NOAA Office of Exploration and Research (OER)

The  NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer expedition is running from November 29 through December 21 2017, and is investigating deep-sea habitats and the associated marine communities in the Gulf of Mexico basin. Through the Okeanos expedition,  other researchers and I, are exploring and discovering vulnerable marine habitats and investigating areas relevant to resource managers, submerged cultural heritage sites,  and marine protected areas. Okeanos is equipped with telepresence, meaning people on shore – whether scientists or the general public – and anyone can watch the remotely operated vehicle (ROVs) dives live in real time (click here to stream video).  In fact, next week, we will be conducting a Facebook Live event from the NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer in the Gulf of Mexico this Tuesday, December 12th 2017 at 11:00 am PST  (2:00 pm EST). Science Co-lead Dr. Diva Amon, Expedition Coordinator Brian Kennedy, and I will be there to answer everyone questions! Check out Diva’s, NOAA’s OER and my twitter profiles for daily updates from the Okeanos!

Left to right: Diva Amon, Brian Kennedy, Alex Avila. Photo courtesy of NOAA Office of Exploration and Research (OER)

 

 

Giving Thanks

I couldn’t think of a better last day than having it be the last Shop at the Dock. I spent Thursday making some baked goods to thank all of the fishermen who participated in the program (and tolerated our presence on the docks). Through all of the events, the best part was getting to see how grateful participants and fishermen were and I’m lucky to have been a part of it.

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I am unbelievably proud of this.

With the program over, I’ll look forward to spending some time with my family, getting in some traveling, and finding a job. I’ve always been interested in science and education. Helping with Shop at the Dock and being a part of Sea Grant has solidified my interest in pursuing both. It was really great seeing what a powerful tool education can be and I’d like to find a career where I can incorporate education and outreach with science.

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So long Sea Grant

I wanted to finish off by thanking the village of people who worked so hard to make this summer happen. So thanks Haley, Mary, Sarah and every other Sea Grant employee who made the Summer Scholars Program possible. I am eternally grateful to my mentors, Kaety Jacobson and Kelsey Miller, for the wealth of information, the never-ending guidance and support, and for being a constant source of inspiration. Also huge thanks to the rest of the Shop at the Dock crew- Jess Porquez, Amanda Gladics, and Mark Farley- for teaching me about Newport, fisheries, different career paths, and how to be understanding and gracious towards others with conflicting opinions.

Thank you to my fellow Summer Scholars, who made this summer unforgettable. I’m so grateful to have been surrounded by such incredible, kind, and caring people and I will miss you all dearly. Cheers to the many outdoor adventures, the endless sass and sarcasm, the great meals and conversations, and everything in between.

And finally, thanks very much for reading and (hopefully) listening along with me. I’ll finish this post with my final song of the summer from Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros called Home. Partly because I’m happy to be headed home for a bit, but mostly because I’m so grateful to have found a little piece of home along the Oregon Coast. Newport, you will be missed.

Talk to Strangers

Communication is easy these days… but it also is not.

With the plethora of electronic devices and media sharing platforms right at our fingertips, we are bombarded with information about so many different things that it can be tough to retain the full message.

Something that struck me about my research this summer was that of the 600+ individuals who responded to my ocean awareness survey, a good majority of them indicated the Internet or social media was their preferred method of receiving information about ocean issues. This got me thinking…

Social media can be an enjoyable way to get a quick glimpse into an issue or topic relating to science and I’ll admit I’ve learned a thing or two scrolling through Facebook. But I’m not convinced something like Facebook is the best platform for the kind of communication the public needs. It’s a quick click and that’s it, since many of us don’t take the time to fully read through an article. But you can’t blame social media, because that’s what it’s there for: a convenient offering of information that we would not take the time to look up otherwise.

As sort of a theme of this summer, science communication is a crucial step toward any effort in conservation. When it boils down to it, really the objective of my summer was talking to strangers to gather useful information relating to science communication. And I found that you learn a lot just by talking to people. One thing I learned is that people generally seemed to care and be interested in the subject of ocean threats, and that was encouraging. But when they were asked on my survey whether it is easy to obtain information about the topic of ocean issues, I frequently heard individuals say something like, “I’m sure it is, but I haven’t taken the time to look!

In a way, I think I kind of stood in as the social media here. While my role wasn’t to directly educate the public, I was offering a glimpse into several ocean issues that some people had not heard about before. More often than not, those who filled out my survey told me they were going to go home and do some research on these issues because they are eager to learn more. And that was really cool to see the impact of my work.

So my simple solution is this: talk to strangers. There is such an abundance of information presented in many different ways out there on the Internet, but if we get some real conversation flowing, I think progress can be made. At the end of the day, you’re going to remember the interactions you had with people much more than those with your computer. So why not pose a question to a stranger about an environmental issue? The responses are not always going to be positive, but I am hopeful that it’s a start to getting people thinking in ways they hadn’t before.

 

Final Survey Count: 629 completed

Whale Count: 29 sightings

Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

I’ve been writing about buying seafood directly from local fishermen for weeks now. While I’d had fresh and local seafood, I had yet to purchase anything off the docks myself. With the summer almost over, I decided it was time to put my money where my mouth was and seize the oppor-tuna-ty to buy something at Shop at the Dock (writing posts for the Fisheries Extension Facebook page has brought out the best of my fish puns).

At the end of Shop at the Dock, I stopped at F/V (fishing vessel) Triggerfish to complete my survey and placed an order for a tuna. Triggerfish is owned by brothers, Ernie and Joe. Like many other boats, they often fish at the beginning of the week and come back Thursday night or Friday morning to sell off the docks over the weekend. Alternatively, there are boats like H/F/V (historic fishing vessel) Chelsea Rose that are essentially floating fish markets. Their seafood comes from other boats they own and other fishermen, so they are able to stay docked everyday.

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Joe showing off a beautiful 50 lb. tuna

Tunas average 10-20 lbs, but some can get MUCH larger. It is priced per pound for the whole fish and there is an additional fillet charge. I asked for a 14 lb fish, so Ernie weighed several fish until he got one about that size. The recovery rate (the amount of meat recovered after filleting) is roughly 50-60% for tuna, so I was to expect about 7-9 lbs of meat.

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Ernie picking out a tuna

There are a couple of things to do to ensure the freshness and quality of your fish:

  1. Ask when the trip started- fishing trips can last multiple days, so that’s the earliest it could have been caught
  2. Ask how the fish was cooled down- tuna are very warm fish and quality can decrease if it is cooled slowly
  3. Inspect the fish to ensure its quality (clear eyes, scales and gills still in tact)

I already knew that I wanted to split a fish with my mentor, so once I was satisfied with the fish, I asked for it filleted and split in half. It’s regulation that boats sell whole fish to avoid contamination, but most boats are willing to split the fish for you so you can purchase with other people. I made sure to bring a hot-cold bag and cash to pay for the fish (because most don’t take cards).

filleting

Brothers who fillet together…

I kept the tuna on ice and when dinner came around I marinated it in brown sugar, soy sauce and garlic. I ended up having it raw, seared and barbecued and it all tasted fantastic. There is something really thrilling about knowing where your food is coming from. I love that I was able to see a whole tuna fresh from the ocean in the morning and eat it for dinner a couple hours later. It was quite the experience and I know I’ll definitely miss Newport’s seafood at the end of this summer.

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Mmmm

That’s all for now. Thanks as always for reading!

Whale Said

Whales are neat. Well, that’s my opinion at least and I hope you feel the same way by the end of these short paragraphs. Recently, I’ve become so attuned to searching for whales while conducting visitor surveys on the Oregon coast that the visitors at Depot Bay ask me questions about the whales as I stand there in my ODFW hat. I graciously answer to the best of my ability, making it clear that I am far from an expert on the topic and then let them know that I am actually studying humans (but maybe we’re more or less one in the same).

Whale-watching zodiac.

I’ve been envious of the visitors who share stories about their whale watching tour in Depot Bay. It just so happens that the REU students who live next door were going whale watching this weekend and they invited the Sea Grant scholars to tag along for a discount price. I had heard a couple of months back about a whale researcher in Depot Bay, named Carrie. As it turns out, Carrie Newell was the one who generously offered the Hatfield interns a discount on a private whale-watching excursion early Sunday morning.

Carrie and the Hatfield interns spotting whales.

As if Carrie’s energy and passion for her work wasn’t encouraging enough, something that her coworker Captain Dan said out on the water really struck a cord with me. As we approached a female whale in our zodiac, she flashed her fluke and dove down, leaving everyone in a moment of silent awe. Captain Dan then started explaining to us how this whale (Ginger was her name) seems to always fluke and each of the resident whales in Oregon has their own identifiable characteristic. He said he even has suspicion that at least one of the whales intentionally tries to sneak up and startle everyone in the boat. It was then that Captain Dan said, “You know, I’ve learned a lot from Carrie and from the textbooks, but no one can teach you about the personality of these animals until you’re out here with them every day.”

Carrie Newell and her first mate Kida.

I think what Captain Dan said resonated with me for a couple of reasons. First, whales are intelligent and social animals, just like humans. Humans tend to feel a strong connection to what they can relate to. Second, I am perpetually fascinated by how little we know about our expansive ocean and find it humbling to think about. Reflecting a little more deeply on the second thought, I realized individuality defines a lot more than a biology textbook could explain. If whales really are trying to playfully spook people in a boat as Captain Dan suspects, then perhaps they really are a lot more like us than we think.

Captain Dan.

Over the years, humans and whales have had a relationship that some might call “complicated.” I think now, more than ever, through the powerful influence of media and the efforts of Greenpeace, people want to save whales and dolphins rather than exploit them as a natural resource. If we could all take the time to connect a little more closely with the environment around us, I think we might learn a lot from those who share this planet with us.

Fluke of Ginger the gray whale.

The Big Blue

As a child, my mother instilled in me her love of birds. I used to sit with her field guides and identify species as they landed on the feeders just outside our windows. My mom further encouraged my fascination by allowing me to incubate quail eggs and raise both ducks and chickens. Her only objections came when I set live traps with seed near her feeders. Nonetheless, I was destined to be a birder. Of all the bird species I have encountered, my favorite remains the long-legged bird I grew up watching hunt at the lake by my house: The Great Blue Heron.

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Blue herons are large birds with wingspans reaching up to 6 feet. Adults display greyish blue bodies with long black plumes flowing off the back of their heads and thighs the color of pine bark. When they fly, their long necks coil back much like a snake ready to strike. These birds have specialized feathers on their chest that are continuously growing, similar to hair. Blue herons grip these feathers with their feet and use them like washcloths to remove fish oils and other slime from their feathers. Little known fact: there is a white color variant great blue heron found in southern Florida and Eastern Mexico. (See picture below) #NotAnEgret

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These magnificent creatures are also deeply integrated into the fabric of the food webs they reside in. The blue heron’s predator-prey interactions have shown to be quite complex. For instance, in the Southeastern United States, blue heron nest colonies are commonly found above alligator infested waters. While this might seem unusual, this is a mutualistic relationship. By nesting in the trees above alligator territory, herons make it difficult for other animals to climb up and eat their eggs. Waterbirds typically hatch more offspring than they can feed. Runts are bumped out by larger chicks and become alligator food. Furthermore, the birds’ feces adds nutrients to ground below nests, leading to a higher abundance of fish and reptiles… food for both species.

*Pictured below is a great blue heron making off with a young alligator.*

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In my mind, blue herons are the ecological masters of North America. What about bears and other predatory mammals, you say?  While these types of creatures can overpower all they encounter and have no natural predators, they are not necessarily the best adapted species for the environments of our continent. In winter months, when food is scarce, bears are forced to hibernate and wolves must travel long distances in pursuit of infrequent prey. Blue herons, on the other hand, simply fly to warmer climates where food is abundant. Wings seem to be a necessary adaptation when conquering the environments of an entire continent. Wings allow blue herons to spend their summers from Alaska to Nova Scotia and their winters anywhere from the Galapagos Islands to the West Indies.

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Wings are not the only attribute that makes the great blue heron note worthy. Birds of Prey, such as the bald eagle, also have wings, but these birds’ distribution and territory is limited by foraging strategy and diet. When bald eagles hunt, they perch on branches overlooking bodies of water and wait for a fish to present itself. In contrast, blue herons actively forage for prey in the water and feed on a wider variety of organisms, including: shrimp, crabs, aquatic insects, fish, snakes, lizards, frogs, rodents, and small birds. Their diverse diet is plentiful and evenly distributed, enabling them remain further north later into winter. This allows them to dominate territory with little to no competition.

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I have a tendency to regularly encounter these birds. I have seen them spear sea trout on the flats of gulf coast barrier islands, perch along Appalachian Mountain streams, and pluck Dungeness from Oregon’s estuaries. Every time I see a blue heron, I’m filled with a sense of security and amazement that makes me feel like a child. I like to think of them as a good omen and a reminder that my home is greater than the state I was raised in.

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I’m not exactly sure where my love for these birds comes from, but they seem to be a pretty common theme in my life. It might come as no surprise that the organization I volunteer for back home and the research reserve I was placed at through the Summer Scholars program share a particular mascot…

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An Update from the South Coast

A lot has happened since my last post. This week alone I have worked on an ODFW lamprey assessment by electrofishing Winchester Creek’s headwaters, participated in a Sea Grant funded eel grass monitoring survey, and seined for juvenile fish with visiting scientists from OSU. Most importantly, I have successfully completed all of my crab sampling in the South Slough Research Reserve. After deploying 160 traps, I processed over 2,100 crabs in just 12 days. Of these only 86 were the invasive green crabs I was targeting.

Though I had wished to collected more data on the species, my mentor and her colleagues were pleased with my results. I found green crabs in locations they have never been found before. My data also indicates the highest abundance of these crabs in the Coos estuary in the last 19 years. I am currently collaborating with a professor from OSU to publish a report on the status of the European Green Crab along Oregon’s Coast. Please enjoy the pictures below taken on my last day of sampling.

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