The time I’ve spent identifying phytoplankton on the microscope makes me feel a bit more like a professional on finding them now, especially Pseudo-Nitzschia. It always astounds me to visualize how many different types of phytoplankton are found in a small water sample. I cannot even comprehend the amount that is in our entire ocean when I find such large quantities in one mere liter! It’s fascinating as well that they have such large impacts on us. Pseudo-Nitzschia has been known to shut down various shellfish industries for causing Amnesic Shellfish Poisoning. It really brings to light how important these creatures serve in our daily lives. Although it has made such an impact on multiple shellfish industries, Pseudo-Nitzschia has never affected the oyster industry as much despite the oysters’ abundant existence in Coos Bay. It is a possibility that this is because Pseudo-Nitzschia never reach the area where oysters typically are, around Haynes’ Inlet. As a reminder, my project aims to find how far into the Coos Bay estuary Pseudo-Nitzschia get and so will answer this question. I am excited to solve this mystery!
As the weeks go by quickly, I'm feeling more pressed for time than ever as there is now officially less than a month to go! I am currently just trying to collect as much data as I can, yet still have some time to analyze and make conclusions before our poster presentations. The deadline keeps coming closer and closer and I find myself always wanting more time for my research. The seminar we had this week on applying to graduate school made me feel better, however, as it seems you really do typically need a larger amount of time to solve research questions. I am excited to (hopefully) make it into grad school eventually so that whatever project I find myself in I can immerse myself without being too pressed for time. This experience is also giving me many ideas on what I’m looking for in the sort of lab environment I would want getting my Master’s degree. There’s still many things I’m finding out about myself and what I’m looking for specifically, but I definitely know it will be around marine coastal waters.
This week consisted of a lot of microscopy to calculate the abundance of Pseudo-Nitzschia in my water samples from last week. Luckily, they were initially preserved by Lugol’s solution so that there are no changes in the time that it takes me to get to them. I’m realizing how time intensive certain aspects of projects can be compared to others. I get worried that I am not going to be able to achieve everything I want to, but as of now I am just doing all that I can and acknowledging that 9 weeks is not much time in the research world.
Another fun event outside the lab was taking a visit with Tiffany and Natalie to Bandon for farmer’s market goodies that I am a sucker(fish) for. Awesome finds included unique dark chocolate corn puffs that were delicious and fruit, which is a must buy for me whenever farmer’s markets are involved. The biggest highlight of Bandon was surprisingly not the fruit, but the “Art to Save the Sea” exhibit that we came across. It’s an art exhibit that displays amazing pieces of art that are made completely of pollution collected off of the Oregon coast. It really opens your eyes to how big of an issue pollution is on the ocean. I am hopeful that movements like this make people more conscious of their decisions.
I also got a chance to write a proposal and present my work during seminar with my fellow REUs. This experience really got me thinking about the content of my project and I was able to make further improvements to my methods. Despite how nervous I get during public speaking, I found myself extremely happy with my presentation. I find the more experience I get with presenting scientific work to make it enjoyable, the more I want to continue to do so. Although I did have a favorable bias for an audience because everyone enjoys learning about marine life just as much as I do, I am looking forward to pursuing work where I can reach broader audiences. I want to get them excited about the ocean that is so embedded in our daily lives even if many might not realize it.
This past weekend consisted of another camping venture, but this time back in my home state California! Ana, Kostantina, Wyatt, Chris, and I headed 3 hours south of OIMB towards the Jedidiah Smith Redwoods State Park where I got a sweet hat as a souvenir (pictured in following awkward family photo). We hiked through an old-growth forest that consisted of incredibly tall trees. I always feel humbled with these kinds of experiences because they allow me to truly appreciate the large range of biodiversity that our world contains.
The most exciting day, however, involved the collecting of the first water samples for my project! I went from dock to dock along the Coos Bay estuary collecting water while measuring salinity and temperature. It was a little bit of a rocky start as I took longer in some sites than I planned and had to improvise certain plans to accommodate setbacks I didn’t account for. An example of this was the restricted gate access to my last site in Coos Bay. It was a great run though and I’m having a lot of fun using my newly honed phytoplankton identifying skills to see what I found in my water samples. The variety of creatures we have in the ocean even microscopically is astounding to see. I’m also realizing that trial-and-error really is just a part of science and that that shouldn’t be discouraging at all. The perfect experiment with no errors or issues must be extremely rare. I feel like these mistakes are helping me improve overall as a marine scientist and am ready for any future ones.
This week went by extremely quickly! There was a lot going on both inside and outside of the lab. This past weekend the REU’s all got to go camping at Sunset Bay State Park. There were many stories told, s’mores made, and stars gazed upon with an acoustic guitar on a beach, surrounded by majestic trees. All factors were present for a great night that you imagine would be in a movie. The morning after, we all went tide pooling during low tide and were able to spend a good amount of time exploring the dynamic communities in the intertidal zone. I have gone tide pooling before, but never with people who all had so much knowledge on the unique creatures that can be found just by looking under these rocks. Some personal favorites found and pictured: blood stars, purple sea urchins, bioluminescent anemone, and iridescent kelp.
In addition to this, I collected ten mussels off the docks by OIMB. I am using them to determine how long they will be needed to be left out in my actual project to ensure they have enough time to feed off of Pseudo-Nitzschia. After being starved for a couple of days, I’m sure they will be more than ready to start feeding but I want to find the sweet spot for timing. I am excited to finalize methods and to be ready to start collecting data!
The middle of the week also consisted of fun 4th of July activities. I was able to go to the local farmer’s market and purchase delicious fruits, salsa, and seafood. I am going to make sure to come back again for hummus and more fruit. The REU’s and other interns got to participate in the annual egg toss where I made it much farther than I thought I would, specifically past the first three tosses. My partner, Kostantina, and I didn’t win, but we were definitely proud of our progress. The night concluded with a nice bonfire by the beach for fireworks. The highlight for me, however, was the gorgeous sunset that I admit (even with my biased opinion favoring Santa Barbara sunsets) was comparable to the ones I experienced back home. Looking forward to more project progress, sunsets, and ventures with my fellow REU's!
The second week of research brought much progress with the direction of my project. After learning about various marine organisms, I found myself particularly intrigued with the toxic diatom Pseudo-Nitzschia. This coastal phytoplankton releases domoic acid, which contaminates the fish and shellfish that humans eat. The buildup of domoic acid levels coming from these harmful algal blooms (HAB’s) causes humans to experience Amnesic Shellfish Poisoning (ASP). HAB’s have been increasing dramatically over the past several decades and thus also increase the poisoning of humans. This phenomenon has grown so large that major shellfish industries have already been shut down from high domoic acid levels that are unsafe for human consumption. Coming from an environmental science background, my interest gravitates towards environmental issues that need solving. Seeing as how large a societal and economic impact Pseudo-Nitzschia is having on its environment, I feel motivated by the need to help better the situation. By investigating Pseudo-Nitzschia’s behavior and movement, there could be further progress on how to resolve the increasing levels of toxins surrounding the areas they are found in.
Although I now had inspiration, I still found myself a bit overwhelmed with having to find a research question, hypotheses, and the materials/methods I would need to test my hypothesis. Alan emphasized the fact that the research process is a step-by-step method. Rather than overthinking everything, I had to slow down and focus on each part individually. I also had to acknowledge the fact that I must be open-minded to multiple revisions of my project as my original question might need to be continually morphed and adaptive to the resources I have. I might also realize that additional knowledge is needed to complete a particular project and start in a different place than originally intended.
I was inspired by the first tour that Alan gave when I observed how the nearby docks were a brackish ecosystem. The area has a continual flux of ocean water and freshwater input of the river that made me curious on how this affected its surrounding natural processes. My research question eventually morphed into how far Pseudo-Nitzschia get into the Coos Bay estuary. Most HABs originate offshore, indicating that their transportation nearshore is highly impacted by surfzone hydrodynamics. I am excited to be finding out how abundant they are found within the estuary. They are not fit to be there and so I would think that their concentrations reach an endpoint sometime before the mouth of the estuary.
As for labwork, I have been playing with different methodologies to go about answering this question. I am gaining experience in identifying all different kinds of phytoplankton. I already knew they all vary greatly, but it is fascinating to see the extent of this through the compound microscope. I am also currently working on dissecting mussels from the nearby docks as they could potentially be a measure of collecting Pseudo-Nitzschia. It’s been a messy learning process, but I am encouraged by the progress I have been making. I’m making sure to not overthink and to “just do it” as Alan puts it.
My time outside of the lab has been just as fun as playing around with mussels and phytoplankton! I have continually been exploring the area outside of OIMB through runs and hiking. I have also been an obvious tourist taking many pictures because there is always a new, gorgeous sight every few steps. In addition to this, all of the REU students got the opportunity to go on the R/V Pluteus this past weekend. I have been on a boat of similar size before and admittedly got sick after a few hours so I was a bit nervous. Fortunately, this time went much more swell (pun intended) devoid of sickness. This small victory, along with all of my other ones this week, has increased my confidence in being able to succeed in the marine sciences.
My name is Nancy Torres and I am from Carson, a city located in southern California. I am currently pursuing a Bachelor's of Science degree in Environmental Studies from UC Santa Barbara. My ultimate career goal is to find a way to combine my passion for learning about the marine realm with my desire to help spread environmental awareness and inspire action.