Lorenzo Ciannelli crosses the deck of the R/V Elakha with a fist closed tightly over his prize. “This is what we’re after,” he says, spreading his palm to reveal a half dozen flat fish pulled from the trawl net, each slightly larger than his thumbnail.

Skimming across Yaquina Bay in the research boat, Ciannelli, an Oregon State University associate professor in the College of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences, is searching the seafloor for this slippery treasure. The tiny English sole are semitransparent and pour out of the trawl net in dozens, along with droves of scrabbling juvenile Dungeness crabs no wider than a half-dollar.

The fish Ciannelli collects are analyzed in multiple ways to help him build new understanding about the effects of hypoxia, the reduction of dissolved oxygen in aquatic environments that often occurs as a result of pollution, in bay and ocean settings. And to get that information, he has to do more than just catch them. In addition to processing the samples in his lab, Ciannelli reviews video of the English soles’ activity on the seafloor as they are snapped up by — or dart away from — the trawl.

“In general one thing that we know very little about is this coastal soft sediment environment,” Ciannelli says. “We are learning more about reef environments but for this soft sediment habitat we know very little, and I think that’s because it’s often overlooked — you look and you think there’s nothing there, but you turn it over, and they’re all there under the surface.”

To expand scientific understanding of that environment, Ciannelli is combining visual observation with chemical analysis to quantify the health and energy stores of the fish. The lower oxygen levels of hypoxic conditions, often caused by pollution, can sap marine life, leaving them with depleted lipid (fat) stores and resulting in lower growth rates. With this research, Ciannelli hopes to learn more about how hypoxia is affecting fish and to help determine whether conditions in the bay or open ocean are more favorable for growth.

“We want to find out which of these environments, the bay or the ocean, functions better, and it may very well be that it’s the bay one year and the ocean the next,” Ciannelli says.

While adding clarity to scientists’ understanding of the effects of hypoxia in bay and ocean habitats is part of Ciannelli’s immediate goal, he says his work isn’t just about answering one question, but expanding the field of knowledge as much as possible.

“This is just a little piece of a mountain of knowledge that many people before us have built and many people after us certainly will add to,” Ciannelli says. “It’s really trying to add another level of information.”

Building a bigger research network

To explore his questions about marine habitats, Ciannelli has constructed a network that stretches from his office on Oregon State University’s main campus in Corvallis, to its Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport and out across the water to his research on the R/V Elakha.

At Hatfield Marine Science Center, Mo Bancroft, a graduate student studying marine resource management, is furthering Ciannelli’s investigation with an arrangement of 18 round tanks. The tanks are connected to a pipe system that pumps a specific amount of liquid nitrogen into each, and in every tank are 10 juvenile crabs and 10 English soles.

Bancroft is examining the effects of different water temperatures and oxygen levels on the growth of the fish and crabs. Tanks vary in temperature from 7, to 10, to 13 degrees Celsius. Controlled amounts of liquid nitrogen work together with bioballs — white plastic spheres covered in spikes — to scrub oxygen from the water, creating hypoxic conditions in some tanks, while others have higher oxygen content.

“I’m looking at both conditions you may see in the bay, with higher temperatures, and in the ocean, at 7 degrees Celsius,” Bancroft says. “It will give us a pretty good glimpse of what’s happening. If the fish cannot withstand lower levels of oxygen for a month, that tells us something.”

What it will tell them, Ciannelli says, is how these different environments affect growth in specimens under regulated conditions. Bancroft has marked all the fish with uniquely colored and located tags, and the crabs are in individually tagged containers within the water, allowing him to make direct comparisons for changes in each one.

Undergraduate involvement

While Bancroft observes live specimens, University of Miami student Kathryn Doering is analyzing the freeze-dried sole Ciannelli brings back from his trips on the water. Doering, a junior studying marine science and biology, earned a place on Ciannelli’s team for the summer through the NSF-funded Research Experiences for Undergraduates program.

“I applied here because Oregon is really far away from Florida, and I was interested in seeing how they were ecologically different,” Doering says.

Doering has spent time on the ocean sorting fish alongside Ciannelli, as well as in the lab on campus using chemical processes to analyze the English sole samples and quantify the results. Information such as the amount of lipids in the fish — indicating whether they have fatty stores to draw on — are suggestive of how healthy the fish are in their environment.

“It actually has a larger chemistry component than I was expecting,” Doering says. “I think it’s just giving me a better idea of what science is and how research is conducted on a daily basis.”

Fruits of research: discovery and friendship

Whatever the results of his study, Ciannelli is sure to continue probing the seafloor for knowledge. As the project continues to develop, he hopes to use collected data to begin making predictions about the animals’ growth rates. That information, he says, could impact how the sole and crab are fished — or protected.

“Crab and sole are commercial species, so where we find the best growth habitats could have practical application, and if we want to preserve them, it can tell us which habitats we should protect,” he says.

Ciannelli’s passion for marine biology keeps him coming back to these questions, but he says one of the most enjoyable aspects of conducting research is working with great people.

“We think of research as science, but it’s really about doing research and interacting with people whose company you enjoy; the friendship and the bond that you form,” he says. “So at the end of the day, for me it’s about doing research with people you like to hang out with.”

Falkner Glacier
OSU's Kelly Falkner, who is soon heading to NSF, had a glacier named after her.

Oregon State University oceanographer Kelly Falkner’s work has taken her all the way to the North Pole and back, and her work has been so impactful that she even has a glacier named after her. But now Falkner is taking on a new challenge as she leaves the university to take a leadership position with the National Science Foundation, where she will be the new deputy head of the Office of Polar Programs.

A professor in OSU’s College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences, Falkner will begin her new role with NSF on Jan. 3, and joins a long list of other OSU faculty members who have been elevated to important government leadership positions. “It wasn’t an easy decision, because I’ve had a great career at OSU and I’ll miss my excellent colleagues, the students, and the supportive staff here,” Falkner said. “But I couldn’t pass up this opportunity to take my polar interests into broader community service.”

Kelly Falkner
Kelly Falkner, at the South Pole.

In 2007, she took a two-year leave from OSU to serve as the agency’s first program director for integrated Antarctic research. Her stint was so successful, her NSF colleagues named a glacier after her. “Falkner Glacier” is an east-flowing valley glacier stretching four miles long through the Mountaineer Range in Victoria Land. In her new role, Falkner will join the NSF Office of Polar Programs, which manages and initiates the agency’s funding for basic research and operational support in the Arctic and Antarctic regions. The office supports individual investigators, as well as research teams and United States participation in multi-national projects.

Falkner isn’t the only OSU professor who has earned a leadership position with a federal agency. Zoologist Jane Lubchenco was named administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration last year. Among other OSU professors in leadership positions are:

  • Michael Freilich, a COAS professor, is director of the Earth Sciences Division at NASA;
  • Timothy J. Cowles, COAS professor, is program director for the Ocean Observatories Initiative, the National Science Foundation’s signature research project on climate change;
  • Jim McManus, COAS professor, recently served as associate program director of the chemical oceanography program at the National Science Foundation;
  • Mark Hixon, a professor of marine biology, chaired the federal advisory committee that helped produce the framework for the national system of marine protected areas;
  • Geosciences professor Peter Clark and Philip Mote, who directs the Oregon Climate Change Research Institute at OSU, have been named lead authors for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fifth Assessment Report. It will be the much-anticipated follow-up to the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report, which garnered a share of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007;
  • Dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine Cyril Clarke is a member of the USDA’s National Agricultural Research, Extension, Education, and Economics Advisory Board.
  • COAS professor Adam Schultz spent some time on loan to the NSF, where he served as program director for Marine Geology and Geophysics, overseeing the Ridge 2000 program, which explored deep-ocean ridges.

The stellar work our faculty does goes a long way to attracting high-achieving students to Oregon State. University Honors College sophomore Sam Kelly-Quattrochi doesn’t know what his major will be, but was initially impressed by the quality of OSU’s marine biology program, and the research opportunities available to undergraduate students at OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center.

Honors College sophomore Emily Pickering became the first freshman at OSU to accompany Mark Hixon and his crew to Lee Stocking Island, where she helped survey lionfish and created her ownproject on lionfish prey preference and digestion. Pickering also blogged about her experiences there.

Master’s student Cody Beedlow, following in the footsteps of his adviser, Peter Clark, is providing key data on glacial retreat in Oregon. Every month in the spring and summer, Beedlow treks to Collier with 65 pounds of equipment in tow and the intention to measure Collier’s glacial melt over time. Over the past year, he’s found that the glacier has decreased by more than 20 percent from its size in the late 1980s. He hopes that when he graduates, someone else takes on the work he’s doing to measure Collier.

OSU alums also go on to make a difference in government. Marine resource management alum Laura Anderson owns and operates the popular Local Ocean, a fish market and restaurant in Newport, Ore. It’s the kind of place where people frequently leave feeling like they’ve had the best seafood in their lives. But Anderson also keeps a keen eye on issues revolving around healthy fisheries. She volunteers as an advocate for the fishing industry in Oregon and beyond, making trips to Washington, D.C. to testify before Congress.

Alum Gail Kimbell, who holds a master degree in forest engineering from the OSU College of Forestry, was named the first woman to lead the U.S. Forest Service. After graduating from OSU with an M.F. in forest engineering in 1982, Kimbell began her career in the federal government as a forester with the Bureau of Land Management in Medford, Ore.  Kimbell held the position until last year. 

Ever since Oregon State University’s earliest days, we have been dedicated to providing an excellent education for our students. Being Oregon’s land grant university means keeping a tradition of service – and our faculty and students embody that tradition. Our faculty make themselves accessible to our students, and our students are dedicated to making the world a better place.

“Recently I attended a national student success conference on the East Coast. Another attendee from a large research university approached me and said, ‘You’re so fortunate to be at OSU. We’ve been admiring from afar what a strong student-centered campus you have,'” says Susie Brubaker-Cole, associate provost for academic success and engagement and director of advising at Oregon State. “I told her, ‘I know, I feel very fortunate to work with faculty who are so committed to their students.”

OSU undergraduates can involve themselves in research with top-ranking faculty and utilize facilities that few universities in the world can offer, including the university’s own research forests, an ocean-going ship, the nation’s most sophisticated tsunami wave basin, a marine science laboratory at the coast, a nuclear reactor, test fields for experimental crops, a wine institute and beer brewing facility, and the Linus Pauling Institute for the study of nutrition and health.

Here are just a few ways our diverse students are taking advantage of opportunities they can take into the world beyond Oregon State.

A Personal Connection

Christine Kelly and Kelsey Childress
Chemical engineering professor Christine Kelly and student Kelsey Childres
  • Chemical engineering professor Christine Kelly is more than just a mentor in the lab, where she likes to make sure that her undergraduates are contributing real data to research. For Kelly, it’s important to be a support system for her students. “”It’s great to be able to come and hang out on Christine’s couch after a tough day,” says Kelsey Childress, a University Honors College student whose experience in Kelly’s lab has made her think about going to graduate school.
  • California sophomore Sam Kelly-Quattrocchi was hooked on Oregon State after his campus visit. Not only was the campus beautiful, the University Honors College student got ample attention from an Oregon State adviser. “People here took a genuine interest in me,” he says. “It was something that other schools didn’t do.” Kelly also recognized the great marine biology program at Oregon State, as well as the Hatfield Marine Science Center, which provides research and internship opportunities for undergraduates.

Opportunities for real impact

  • Oregon State is one of 12 universities around the country selected by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute to create an undergraduate genomics lab for freshmen and sophomore students that specifically researches and catalogues phage DNA. This three-year genome research project provides undergraduates with the opportunity to do research that is published and could be used by other researchers to develop treatments for tuberculosis.  “This is one of the first national projects to change the way undergraduates experience biology labs,” says co-instructor Barbara Taylor, a zoology professor.
    Water restoration on the Metolius
    Students enrolled in a restoration field course collect stream macro-invertebrates with Matt Shinderman, top, and Instructor Karen Allen, lower right
  • Students in natural resources instructor Matt Shinderman’s classes have contributed directly to restoration work on a tributary of Central Oregon’s Metolius River. Shinderman and co-instructors Matt Orr and Karen Allen and their students surveyed aquatic insects, or macro-invertebrates, to determine how the ecosystem was responding to the tributary’s being restored – via backhoe and dump truck – to its original shape. The group collected insects and took them back to the lab to get a sense of how the insects were faring. The results of their study provided a model that agencies can use for restoration work throughout the region.
  • 2009 civil engineering graduate Erika McQuillen felt prepared to enter the workforce from her Oregon State coursework alone. But what really gave her an edge was getting out of the classroom. “OSU encouraged us to get internships and real work experience,” she says. And McQuillen did. She had internships with Hoffman Construction in Portland, Ore., a company dedicated to sustainable building techniques. Now, McQuillen works for Hoffman full-time.
  • Imagine a dry, ancient place that is known mostly for its modern-day political strife and bloodshed. Imagine several sources of water — all precious and needed — that ignore political boundaries. Then imagine going there to learn how people manage these issues in their day-to-day lives. That’s what a group of 19 Oregon State University students did last year. They traveled through Israel and Palestine under the guidance of renowned water conflict expert and Oregon State professor Aaron Wolf. They studied the geography and geology of the Middle East’s water supply and sources, as well as how those factors affect cities, agriculture and, ultimately, politics. “It felt natural to take the students there to look at these separate issues, and then look at them together,” says Wolf.
Congressman David Wu and OSU President Ed Ray discuss the
U.S. Rep. David Wu and OSU President Ed Ray at OSU's Hatfield Marine Science Center

The long-awaited celebration of NOAA’s Pacific Marine Operations Center move to Newport went from a dream to reality on Thursday, June 3, when the Port of Newport held a groundbreaking ceremony for the new facility, scheduled to open in 2011.

OSU President Ed Ray joined an all-star cast of speakers at the event, praising the community of Newport for submitting the winning bid – and more importantly, for having the vision to create an enclave of marine science research and education that will draw international attention.

Joining Ray as invited speakers were U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski, U.S. Reps. Kurt Schrader and David Wu, and many other state and local elected officials.

Speaker after speaker praised the Port of Newport, its commissioners, the state Legislature’s Coastal Caucus and Oregon’s federal delegation for their belief, perseverance and collaboration. Ray said the power of teamwork, demonstrated in the NOAA-to-Newport proposal, is a lesson that should prompt the entire state to sit up and take notice.

“Oregon should take heart from this example,” Ray said. “It demonstrates to all Oregonians that we can compete with anyone, anywhere, and that we can not only do things well, but do things that are world class. Newport provides us with the blueprint showing just how effective collaboration can be.”

Oregon State University also was recognized for its research and education excellence at the Hatfield Marine Science Center, where OSU and NOAA scientists have worked together for decades.

Several hundred spectators from the community and around the state were joined by numerous news media outlets at the groundbreaking, held at the new NOAA homeport site just west of OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center. As the speakers lauded the NOAA decision, heavy earth-moving equipment rumbled outside as workers busily began preparing the site for construction.

NOAA will lease the facility from the Port of Newport for 20 years beginning in May of 2011. The annual impact for the community is estimated at $20 million annually, Port officials say.

In the news:

Freshman Emily Pickering will be researching lionfish in the Bahamas this summer — and blogging about it.

Emily Pickering
Emily Pickering

To read about Emily Pickering’s research and day-to-day experiences in the Bahamas, read her blog, A Chronicle of the Invasion.

When you consider Emily Pickering’s lifelong passion for marine biology —childhood trips to Newport to see Keiko the whale; convincing her family, year after year, to see Orcas in the wild off Vancouver Island; becoming SCUBA-certified at age 11 and having 95 dives under her belt by age 19 — it’s unsurprising that she’ll soon count an upcoming research trip to the Bahamas with coral-reef fish expert Mark Hixon among her experiences.

Pickering, a University Honors College student and biology major, is the first freshman ever to accompany Hixon and his group to tiny Lee Stocking Island, where they will spend much of their summer underwater surveying the invasive lionfish — a Pacific species that was introduced into the Atlantic, where it is undergoing a population explosion and rapidly consuming native fishes on coral reefs.

“As a long-time SCUBA diver, Emily is extremely enthusiastic to apply her underwater skills to studying coral reefs,” says Hixon.

Pickering will be title to the Bahamas with grant money from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI), which funds undergraduate research. “I was ecstatic when I got the grant,” Pickering says. “Writing it was an amazing experience. I felt so proud of the work I’d done.”

The first time Pickering heard about Hixon’s research at a lecture for incoming Honors students, she thought, “Wow, that could be me.” The fact that she heard about it from another undergraduate, Megan Cook, who had accompanied Hixon to Lee Stocking Island the year before, made working for a world-class researcher seem like a possibility.

From there, it was all about the legwork.

Pickering contacted Cook and asked for her advice. She spoke with biochemistry professor and HHMI director Kevin Ahern, who mentored her throughout the grant process and gave her confidence that she had something to offer Hixon — despite her lack of lab experience and freshman status. And most importantly, Pickering contacted Hixon on her own.

“It was a little intimidating to approach Mark Hixon and say, ‘Hey, I want to work for you,’ but he quickly responded to my calls, and before I knew it, I was in his office talking about his work and being a part of his research team,” says Pickering. Hixon sent Pickering to graduate zoology student Mark Albins, who helped her with the HHMI grant proposal.

“I wrote my version of the proposal and sent it to Mark (Albins). It came back smothered in red ink. But it didn’t matter — I learned so much from the process and from the people I talked to that actually getting the grant almost seemed like an added bonus. It felt good to produce something I had put everything into and that I knew was my best work,”

During her three months on Lee Stocking Island, Pickering will be spending her days helping Albins survey lionfish and with his research on population dynamics. In the free time she has, Pickering will run her own experiments — she’ll be studying lionfish prey preference and digestion.

She will also be blogging about her experiences in the Bahamas, so that readers and students get an idea of what day-to-day life at a research station is like.

National Geographic documentary on Bruce Mate’s blue whale research receives record ratings.

Bruce Mate
Bruce Mate

A blue whale’s heart is the size of a Mini Cooper; its body longer than a basketball court. They are the largest creatures ever to live on our planet, and the sounds they make are equivalent to those of a jet engine. But despite their immensity, blue whales are so rare they remain mysterious. However, Oregon State University’s Bruce Mate and his colleague John Calambokidis of Cascadia Research Cooperative are looking to reveal more about these elusive giants.

People are eager to know more, which is why the National Geographic film, “Kingdom of the Blue Whale,” which aired on the National Geographic Channel on March 8, became its highest-rated nature documentary ever. “Kingdom” follows Mate and Calambokidis on their trek off the coast of California, where they tagged 15 blue whales, to their wintering grounds at the Costa Rica Dome.

bruce-mate-sidebar“It was quite an adventure,” Mate says. “But the more we learn about these great animals the better chance we have to protect them.”

On their trip, Mate and Calambokidis discovered that the Costa Rica dome is a key location for blue whales’ calving, breeding and feeding. They also learned that not all of the whales there came from California. “That suggests that some migrate there from elsewhere and we would like to know where that is,” says Mate. “These are incredibly important finds about blue whales, which we know so little about.”

For more on Mate, see National Geographic’s micro-site on his work and the article on his research in the March issue.

Terri Irwin partners with OSU for humpback whale research.

Terri Irwin and Bruce Mate
Terri Irwin and Bruce Mate

Terri Irwin’s relationship with OSU’s Marine Mammal Institute, which led to a recent agreement to fund two humpback whale research projects, began by happenstance. The Institute’s director, Bruce Mate, had written to Irwin to express his condolences over the death of her husband, the Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin, and she picked Mate’s letter from the piles of correspondence before her.

But Mate had another purpose. He was also writing to express his thanks for the Irwins’ support of his research.

Before his death in September 2006, Steve Irwin had planned a research trip to Antarctica. After he passed away, his family learned that the arrangements could not be canceled. The Irwins had their ship captain offer the trip to another scientist at minimum cost.

The captain reached out to Bruce Mate and his MMI team.

In his letter, Mate told Irwin about going to Antarctica and tagging whales to learn more about their migration routes. He told Terri Irwin that they named one of the whales “Steve.”

Irwin wrote back, telling Mate about her interest in whale conservation and research. She invited Mate and his wife to Australia to discuss the possibility of working together and to visit the Australia Zoo, which the Irwins own.

The agreement with MMI is Irwin’s first of this kind with an American university and a way to honor Steve’s memory. “After we lost Steve, I made a decision that I would tackle everything that Steve had planned for the next 10 years,” she said. Whale conservation, which Steve Irwin was passionate about, was on the list.

Irwin Family

Compared to culling or harvesting whales, the non-lethal methods used by OSU’s Marine Mammal Institute to study humpback and other whale species, she says, can provide much of the same information.

“Learning about whales is part of a bigger picture. Our oceans are in jeopardy and the more research we gather about whales, the more knowledge we have to help us save, protect and preserve our delicate oceans,” she said.

In September, Mate, his research team and Australia Zoo will collaborate on a project to tag up to 25 humpback whales near Unimak Pass at the eastern end of the Aleutian Island chain. During that time, huge concentrations of krill develop in the region, drawing millions of seabirds and hundreds of whales of many species, including the threatened humpback.

The goal of the project is to tag the humpbacks, to determine how much they intermingle in the feeding area and to track the timing, route and rate of speed for their migrations back to their respective breeding areas.

In October, the team will also travel to the tropical South Pacific where the scientists will tag humpback whales at American Samoa near the end of the animals’ reproductive season. Satellites will track the spring migration to Antarctic feeding grounds.

The research will shed light on the whales’ movements, possibly around the other islands of Oceania and where they go in Antarctica to feed, Mate said.

“Thanks to Terri’s generosity and enthusiastic interest in protecting threatened wildlife around the world, we’ll be able to significantly expand the research capacities of the OSU Marine Mammal Institute,” said Mate. “We hope to show that it’s quite possible to gather the rich breadth of critical information we need to help protect whales without killing or injuring them.”

Voracious “red devil” squid are on the move.

It was like a scene from a grade-B horror film. On a gently rocking vessel in the warm waters of the Sea of Cortez, a young oceanographer earnestly watches her computer screen while colleagues lower a cable into the water.

Kelly Benoit-Bird
Kelly Benoit-Bird

Instruments aboard the ship, the Pacific Storm, ping sound waves toward the cable. The oceanographer’s eyes flicker across the screen to make sure the signal is clear. Tethered to the cable is a 5-pound Humboldt squid, and the sound waves, set at 38 kilohertz, bounce off the squid. An image shows up on the screen.

The oceanographer raises her fist in triumph. It marks the first time scientists had clearly picked up a strong sonar signal for squid, which lack the bones and swim bladders that give away other marine creatures.

Suddenly a second image appears, darting up from below. The acoustic signal tracks it from the depths toward the cable — and the tethered squid. It is another squid, larger than the first, and it attacks the tethered animal. The oceanographer screams.

Fade to black.

Read the rest of the story on Kelly Benoit-Bird and her research on squid in the Summer 2008 issue of Terra.

From coral reefs in the tropics to Oregon’s rocky banks, Mark Hixon investigates coastal marine fishes.

OSU zoology professor Mark Hixon’s research on fish population dynamics has taken him to most of the planet’s oceans, both temperate and tropical. He’s dived in the Pacific, the Atlantic, the Caribbean and the Coral Sea. He’s graduated from the bone-chilling dives in cold-water kelp forests that he made as a doctoral student in the 1970s to using small research submarines in frigid northern waters. Marc Hixon

Hixon’s research is driven by a mystery relevant to both fisheries management and marine conservation — whether and how isolated populations of adult fish are linked. “One of the most important challenges in marine science today is to understand how the decline of a species in one part of the ocean affects the same species elsewhere — how spawning in one region replenishes populations in other areas,” says Hixon.

In two ongoing studies — one in Hawaii, the other in the Bahamas — Hixon and his graduate students are investigating connections among isolated populations of coral-reef fishes. They are studying the demographics of the yellow tang on Hawaii’s Big Island and the bicolor damselfish in Exuma Sound off the Bahamas. They are sampling DNA from adult and juvenile fish at multiple reefs. Their goal is to understand the drift patterns of fertilized eggs and larvae that travel with tides and currents in a process known as “larval dispersal.” And they are testing whether a high level of larval connectivity between two populations is reflected in the population dynamics of adult fish in those populations.

Ultimately, the answers will guide conservation and management, not only of fish, but of the reefs themselves. These complex ecosystems brim with more species than anyplace on the planet, even tropical rainforests. And many are dying. Pollution, global warming and overfishing have degraded about 20 percent of Earth’s coral reefs so far. Another 50 percent are at risk. In Hawaii, the yellow tang, coveted by the aquarium trade for its brilliant color, was depleted until the state created marine reserves along the Kohala-Kona coast of the Big Island to protect them.

Marc Hixon Dive

Preliminary data from Hixon and his colleagues suggest the reserves are working. “Comparisons inside and outside protected areas demonstrate that the reserves produce larger populations of spawning adults, and the aquarium fisheries are thriving as a result,” he says. The yellow tang genetics, still being analyzed in Hixon’s lab, will reveal which of Hawaii’s reefs need replenishment from spawn drifting in from highly productive “source” reefs and where those respective reefs are located.

Hixon’s tropical reef research, part of OSU’s top-ranked efforts in conservation biology, has relevance here in Oregon. “Off Oregon, it’s impossible to gather the enormous amount of data we can extract from warm, clear tropical waters,” Hixon says. “However, once our methods are developed and tested in the tropics, we can bring them home to Oregon.”


One of the world’s leading authorities on coral reefs, Hixon has been cited in scientific journals more often than any other coral-reef ecologist in the Western Hemisphere over the past decade, according to the Thomson Institute for Science Research. He was ranked third worldwide behind two scientists who live adjacent to coral reefs year-round.

In the end, Hixon wants our progeny to inherit a world still relatively intact. He wants tomorrow’s children to have a chance to dive into the pulsating rainbow of biodiversity that is the tropical reef. “You feel as if you’ve fallen into a universe of stars,” he says. “It really, truly is amazing.”

More on Mark Hixon’s research can be found in the Spring 2008 issue of Terra


Mark Hixon’s Web site

Department of Zoology

College of Science

National Science Foundation

National Undersea Research Program

Robbie Lamb’s international work with sustainable fisheries has earned him a Fulbright grant.

Robbie Lamb
Robbie Lamb

Robbie Lamb’s love of marine biology started with his mother’s pre-dawn knocks on his door when he was a child. She woke him so the two could drive from their Portland home to see the Oregon coast’s well-known tide pools. He hated getting up early, but once there, Robbie managed to shake off his drowsiness. The pools inspired him. “I think that’s what really planted the seed for marine biology,” says the senior in the University Honors College.

Robbie’s mom didn’t stop there. She urged her reluctant son to spend his junior year of high school as an exchange student in Ecuador. He loved it. Ecuador had so much a teenager like him wanted — diverse ecosystems, more endemic species than almost any country in the world and a rich, varied culture. “It was one of the most formative experiences I had,” he says.

At OSU, Lamb has strengthened the marriage of those two passions – science and culture. He’s a biology major pursuing an International Degree and marine biology option. He’s spent countless hours in the lab and the field, and he’s written his own grant proposals to get funding for research in the United States, Ecuador and the Bahamas.

But perhaps Lamb’s crowning achievement came in the mail on April 2 — a letter approving a Fulbright grant to continue his studies in Ecuador. In September, Lamb will use the grant to help build a marine reserve in the country’s Esmeraldas region — with fishermen’s input. “I’m very ready to go work with them,” Lamb says. “A big part of developing sustainable fisheries there will be establishing my own relationships with fishermen.”

It won’t be the first time Lamb has melded scientific and cultural work. As a congressional Gilman Scholar, he studied in Ecuador his sophomore year and interned with the Ecuadorian marine conservation group Equilibrio Azul, surveying sea turtle nesting sites and the shark catches fishermen hauled in daily. Counting sharks was a particularly sensitive job in Ecuador at the time. Shark fishing was illegal, and the fishermen were initially suspicious of him.

Gaining their trust was difficult, and where Lamb used to see only a conservationist’s argument, he began to understand the fishermen’s side of the story. “I saw them for the people that they really are. They’re just trying to feed their families,” Lamb says. The experience crystallized his career path. “That experience was very pivotal in directing my interest toward sustainable fisheries,” he says.

Lamb’s travels didn’t end in Ecuador. During his junior year, he took advantage of two of OSU’s undergraduate funding opportunities: the Undergraduate Research, Innovation, Scholarship & Creativity grant and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute program.

The grants took him to the Bahamas, where he worked as a research assistant for zoology professor Mark Hixon and even performed his own study on the effects of Bahamian marine reserves on fish communities. “What’s great about Robbie is that he is so enthusiastic, so willing to work and so dedicated to learning about ocean conservation and management,” says Hixon.

Now, with funding from Oregon Sea Grant, Lamb is working with zoology professor Bruce Menge, studying the same tide pools he visited as a child. He’s looking forward to returning to Ecuador and eventually wants to earn a Ph.D. “I’m definitely interested in teaching. It’s probably the best way to give back to the next generation,” Lamb says.

Terra Web

OSU Recognized for Coral Reef Research

College of Science

International Programs