Holy cow we’re already in the back half of the internship! And things are only getting more intense, there is so much work to do! This week is focused on field work, field work, and more field work.
This past weekend, a handful of the interns and I went to Bandon! We checked out the local sites and tastes. Washed Ashore, an organization devoted to cleaning up the oceans, had an exhibit in Bandon we visited. Washed Ashore takes garbage from Oregon beaches and turns it into amazing artwork, bringing awareness to the masses of just how much garbage people put into the oceans. The artwork brings about one of those sad-happy feelings. The art is beautiful, but at the same time, it only exists because of how damaged our oceans are with plastics.
We spent the rest of the day running around the beach in Bandon, enjoying the incredible natural beauty Oregon has to offer. I’m so thankful to be here this summer, in such a beautiful place with beautiful people. To learn more about their mission: http://washedashore.org/
On Sunday, my parents came from Albany for a visit. I haven’t seen them since the internship started five weeks ago, so it was wonderful to see them and show them my research. They helped me retrieve my dried algae samples and helped me weigh them. Although my family has lived in Oregon for years, they have never been in the Charleston area before, and I was very happy to show them all the sites, from the labs all the way to Cape Arago.
Monday started out in a bad way. I had gotten my tide information wrong from the internet (don’t trust everything you read on the internet, folks) and I ended up not being able to travel to a sample site 1:45 away due to bad timing. I was feeling pretty down, but Jacob invited me to join him, Richard, Christina, and Leela at Lighthouse Beach to look for snail egg capsules. We ended up not finding any eggs, but I still just love exploring the intertidal. Saw some amazing plants and got a mini invertebrate zoology lesson from Richard. There is so much to learn from everyone here!
Tuesday and Wednesday I drove 1 hour 45 minutes each way to a few sample sites up north. The drive is long, but the Oregon coast is so beautiful that it didn’t even matter to me. The sites where I was sampling were so gorgeous and ethereal, I enjoyed every minute that I was scraping algae. The worst part of sampling happened after I returned to the lab with my samples: picking out the invertebrates that got brought back with me. It took so long to pick out the isopods, amphipods, polycheates, and friends, and most of them died as I took them out. However, Leela helped me, and she rescued dozens of isopods for her project! Overall, I’m really enjoying field work. It is also humbling as half of the time I feel like I have no idea what I’m doing, but I’m really trying to be the best scientist I can.
At this point, I don’t know how my project is going to turn out. Six weeks ago, I would have been devastated to be told that my project wouldn’t yield significant results. I still don’t know if my project will, but I’ve accepted that failure is an important part of being a scientist. From failure comes more questions, and I think I’m learning that failure is okay, and failure is a part of the process.
One of the best parts about this program is the accessibility to amazing places to visit, not just for research, but for fun. Thursday night, for example, Kaitlyn, Christina, Nicole and I drove an hour south to Port Orford, which has a beautiful beach with rocky monoliths. During the past six weeks, I have been to at least 9 beaches along the coast, and every single one is absolutely beautiful. Exploring the Oregon coast is beautiful, and having access to the ocean is incredible. Nothing makes me feel so alive as being on the beach!
This past weekend, some of the REU students and I went on a few fun Oregon outings! On Saturday, we went to Hall Lake. The lake is situated at the base of a beautiful big sand dune, and is much much warmer than the ocean. Upon arriving, we promptly ran to the top of the dune. The Oregon dunes look out of this world, like we landed on Tatooine. Just rolling piles of sand everywhere. We spent the day swimming in the lake and playing volleyball. It’s so nice to have a few days off work to play in all of the natural wonderland of Oregon. On Sunday, Nicole, Leela, and I did some yoga after lunch then went on a nice fresh hike to Shore Acres, admiring the intense coastal landscape. We finished off the weekend with a sunset bonfire on the OIMB beach, with Zade supplying live music.
The first tide I could go sample was on Saturday 22 July, so in the meantime, I’ve been doing a lot of planning, finding people to sample with me, taking into account driving times and differing tides in order to be as efficient as possible with my sampling. There is so much that goes into sampling, as far as preparation! I’m really excited to get out of the lab for a few days and into the intertidal.
The first sample on Saturday went really well. Jacob is an early riser so he assisted me with sampling and processing early in the morning. We got to Cape Arago at 6:00 am, right at the low tide. The sun was rising and the sky was cotton candy. Everything went without a hitch, and I have five more days of sampling to go!
Mutualism: I helped Jacob collect hermit crabs for his project and he helped me sample and dry algae
On Monday, we got to hear a PhD defense by Keats Conley, from Kelly Sutherland’s lab, based in Eugene. Her defense was extremely thought provoking for me. Most of her work was on the feeding mechanisms and selectivity in tunicates. Her research was especially cool because most of her data was done by observation, explaining physical processes by understanding what she was observing. Being able to hear about just how varied these graduate students research makes me excited for my future in science.
We presented our research proposals on Wednesday to the other interns, as well as the REU coordinators Richard and Maya. There is a huge difference between knowing your project and sharing it. All the questions from my peers made me realize how important it is to be able to explain your ideas in an efficient way. Some people might not like being grilled about their research, but I think I learned a lot of useful informations about my own research from the questions of others.
This past weekend, I drove three hours home to Albany to visit my sisters and cousins. Although the drive was long, it was beautiful, and it’s always good to be home and back with my fellow interns.
Early Sunday morning, I departed Oregon to go to Washington, D.C. in order to attend an orientation for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Hollings Scholars programs. After a quick visit with my boyfriend, who lives in DC, I headed to the NOAA headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland, for a grueling two day orientation. The hours of meetings was much less exciting than meeting all of the other amazing Hollings Scholars. The Hollings Scholarship is for students pursuing degrees in fields related to NOAA’s interests, chiefly marine sciences and meteorology. Whenever I am surrounded by such dedicated and passionate scientists, like I am at OIMB, I am so inspired and humbled. Experiences like this drive me to be a better person and a driven scientist.
In between field ventures, I have been looking into quantifying the slope of the shorelines on which I am studying. I’ve been using something called GIS (Geographic Information Systems) software. I’ve worked with GIS before and it’s such a powerful tool to have around. Now I can include more data about the slope of the surf zone into my project! The picture I included is for the slope analysis of Cape Arago. GIS is awesome!
Of course, it's not all work and no play at OIMB!
Thursday night, we went to the house of Jan Hodder, another one of OIMB's amazing people. Her house is just off this place called Fossil Point, and we spent a while walking around and looking down at all the cool ancient creatures. Jan also cooked us some amazing local albacore tuna, which was probably one of the top five meals of 2017 for me.
On Friday, the REU interns drove two hours to the University of Oregon main campus is Eugene. We toured the natural history museum, and I learned even more about my home state’s history. Oregon has a rich history, from the many traditions of the First Nations tribes who made the area their home, to Megalonyx jersonii, the giant ground sloth that used to stomp around the Willamette Valley. We also toured the UO Ecology and Evolution labs. It was really cool to learn more about scientific research that’s not in Marine Science. It is amazing how much time people put into their work, and I can’t wait to be doing something I love at such an intense level.
After these first weeks, OIMB is beginning to feel like home. I have become accustomed to and comfortable with everyone’s alarms in the morning, the 7 am breakfast bell, the smell of fish wafting up from the docks, and living with a group of amazing and inspiring scientists. Although the research we’re all doing is extremely valuable, making these connections with other future scientists is exciting and humbling. Being surrounded by these wonderful people inspires me to be a better scientist myself!
Last Saturday we went on a dredging trip on the R/V Pluteus, which means we were going out to depths of around 200 ft and then scooping up rocks and animals from the bottom to observe. On our first dredge, we pulled up sea cucumbers, huge sea stars, and even a cute little octopus, who promptly inked all over the cooler we put him in. I was feeling a little bit seasick on the way out to the dredging site, but once I began trying to look at the fascinating invertebrates, I got very ill and promptly vomited mid-sentence.
This week, my research went great! I finished the first phase of my project, analyzing images for vegetation and surf zone width. I found a neat correlation between surf zone width and vegetation density that will be the basis for the rest of my project.
Now, I’m moving on to the next phase. I’ve been reading a lot, and with the help of my mentor Alan, formulated the next step for my project. I am planning on going to the sites I analyzed in the past weeks and collecting algae from 25 cm x 25 cm areas and weighing it, then drying it 24 hours in an oven and weighing it again. This method will allow me to get field data for the density of the vegetation.
Friday I did my preliminary sampling at South Cove. Waking up at 5 am for the 6:07 am low tide was difficult, but it was a beautiful, calm morning to do sampling. This first sampling day was to figure out what protocol I’ll have for the rest of my project, i.e. how to sample, how to process the samples, how much time it'll take at each site to get the data I'm wanting. My 10 initial samples were weighed wet and then put in the oven to dry for 24 hours. It’s very exciting to be able to plan and execute my own experiment!
Inspired by OIMB's Aaron Galloway, I created Twitter account for "professional media" where I'll be posting more regular updates on my project and scientific banter. Follow if you're inclined: @conser_elena
Right now, I am starting my analysis by looking at two sets of images: one from Google Earth, as well as another of near-infrared images taken by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife of the Oregon rocky shorelines. From these, I used a vegetation index, which uses the ratio between visual measures of the two images to get a scale of the amount of algae on these differing rocky beaches. From here, I’m hoping to work more with looking at the cover of mussels and barnacles, and maybe look into a few more factors that may be influenced by near-shore hydrodynamics. Although a nine-week period can be somewhat limiting, there is so much I can learn by beginning to explore west-coast shores.
One of the best parts of this experience is being able to meet all the faculty. For example, sitting at lunch a few days ago, I spoke with the professor teaching a course on algae for the UO students. She told me all about her research, and even offered me a few tips for my project! There are so many people at OIMB who are experts or have knowledge, and all of them have been willing to share. It’s a nurturing environment for research and I am growing as a scientist.
Everyone has something they're passionate about: running, video games, dogs, etc. For me, I've always been passionate about learning, and not just in a going to school way. Learning, talking, thinking, sharing, reading. Here at OIMB, I am surrounded by an environment saturated with ways to learn. This summer I'm going to take my passion and apply it to the ocean.
I am entering my third year at the University of Miami (Florida), majoring in Marine Science, Biology, and Applied Math. To be very honest, going into college, I had no idea what it really meant to be a marine biologist, or really why I wanted to study marine biology other than it seemed really cool. I didn’t know what I wanted to study, or even if being a marine biologist was my end goal. I decided to volunteer in a lab specializing in biological oceanography, just because I knew the researcher, and I became hooked. Because of my introduction to biological oceanography in that lab, I am interested in how physical processes in the ocean work alongside biological phenomena, and the interaction between the physical and biological worlds.
This summer, I wanted to do really learn and understand what it's like the actually study marine biology in a professional setting. I began browsing through countless REU and internship programs, trying to find one that aligned with my interests. When I found the OIMB REU, I knew it was the one I wanted to do. My mentor, Alan Shanks, is someone whose work I have known about, and whose interests are quite like my own. As an added cherry-on-top bonus, the REU is in my home state! As much as I love Miami, I want to learn more about the ocean and rocky environments on the west side of the country. I hope that having an opportunity to pursue personal research, formed around my personal interests will allow me to understand the reality of being a research scientist and motivate me to continue on this path.