First off, Happy Latino Conservation Week (July 15-23)!
I absolutely love the fact that I have been exposed to so many new and exciting marine ecology field techniques, data synthesis methods and being a part of the park’s social media team. Some weeks I work on a single project while others I work on a Hodge podge of different research. This is exactly what I hoped to experience from my Mosaics In Science internship, just a whole lot of different awesomeness.
(Photo credit: Michael Spaeth)
Coding in R was my main focus of the week. With much help from my supervisor, Ben, and several R books, I have written some sweet codes that actually produces graphs! This was an exciting breakthrough. As mentioned before, we are trying to produce graphs that show Harbor seal population variation over time by seal colony, of which there are eight. Hopefully, I will also have the time to analyze Harbor seal population variations with sea surface temperature changes and during El Nino years.
Why do we care about seals?! The presence of seals is a good indicator of food quality, ocean health, and the effectiveness of Marine Protected Areas. They are also apex predators, which means they feed towards the top of the food chain. Essentially, the local marine trophic structure would be completely imbalanced if Elephant and Harbor seals were not at their current, healthy population levels.
Unrelated to the seal project, my role on the social media team had me captioning several of our videos on Facebook and YouTube. They were mostly interviews of different people that have been working for the park for years and are an integral part of the thread that holds this magnificent park together. If y’all have a few minutes to spare, you should definitely check out these interviews on the Point Reyes National Seashore Facebook page!
And finally, I rejoined my fellow Cavalier friend, Pam, on her PhD work in the salt marsh of Bolinas Lagoon! One of her lab members, Ben, also joined us for the wild ride through the marsh. We collected pore water samples from the enclosures, measure crab length, and counted the number of burrows within the enclosures. It was an especially soupy day out there. This time, I only stepped out of my boot and into the marsh once. A true success. My goal for next time is to not step out of my boots at all. 🙂
I want to start off this post by celebrating my dear friends that I have made at the intern housing. These art folks that are participating in different projects at Point Reyes, including archeology, fisheries, range management, exotic plant and wildlife monitoring, and habitat restoration. We learn from each other and discuss the many facets of research and natural resource management that go into maintaining a successful national park. This past fourth of July weekend, we roadtripped to Mono Lake and made a stop in Yosemite for some outdoor rock climbing. This was my first visit to these parks. I remain speechless by their beauty and am so thankful for the wonderful company I had with me.
After a long weekend, I went back to work (still can’t believe that what I do is considered work). I had the incredible opportunity to help a masters student, Tracy, from San Diego State University on her crab diversity research. She is comparing the crab species in two estuaries, Elkhorn Slough and Drake’s Estero. Drake’s Estero is a beautiful estuary in Point Reyes that has just undergone an extensive eelgrass restoration project, which is great habitat for crabs! The photo to the right is my supervisor, Ben, who was driving the National Park’s boat for us.
On Wednesday, we set out six sets of two different sized traps. The larger trap targeted crabs while the smaller trap targeted fish, specifically the Pacific staghorn sculpin. The next day, we went back out on the boat to see what we had caught. Over the course of the week, we came across three different species of crab, Below is a photo of a female Metacarcinus gracilis, or slender crab. I loved these crabs because of their beautiful, purple color.
We pulled the crabs out of the cage and measured their carapace (the upper shell) at its widest point, determined the sex, identified the species, and then released them. For the fish, we only measured their length before releasing them. Tracy said the crabs caught in Drake’s Estero were massive compared to those in Elkhorn Slough.
This was such a cool week. While out in the estuary, we saw leopard sharks, bat rays, harbor seals, and river otters. It’s difficult to describe how incredibly lucky I feel.
“Throw a stone into the stream and the ripples that propagate themselves are the beautiful type of all influence” -Ralph Waldo Emerson
I had these words in mind as we were wrapping up the Point Reyes Science Adventure on Tuesday. We ended our time together with a concept map exercise. The students were able to chew on their experiences and draw or write about their favorite activities. I noticed a beautiful theme among their work; interconnectivity. They seemed to truly grasp this concept as one that would allow for a sustainable future. Whether or not they first learned this from the Science Adventure, I was overjoyed to hear that this was a major take-away from the week. I hope that the students continue this ripple-effect by passing along the message of interconnectivity outside of our time together.
Above: Groups of students presenting their concept maps.
To back up a bit, the final few days of the Point Reyes Science Adventure were full of just that, adventure! We continued working in Lagunitas Creek to record its bathymetry by monitoring the water depth and variations of the creek bottom. In the days to follow, we surveyed the intertidal zone of the Tomales Bay and went fossil hunting! For the fossil hunting portion of our week, we met with Point Reyes’s former paleontology intern who is now working at the University of California Paleontology Museum at Berkeley. She guided us on a fossil hunt on Drake’s Beach. Drake’s Beach is lined with giant cliffs with exposed rock that are full of the fossils of incredible prehistoric animals. I guess I had eaten plenty of carrots that day because I spotted a fossilized shark’s tooth that had yet to be found.
Left: The rock on Drake’s Beach. Right: The fossilized shark’s tooth.
I have had the absolute pleasure of spending my week with a group of 13 curious young scientists, their awesome counselors, and the creative Point Reyes Science Adventure program manager. The Point Reyes National Seashore Association, a non-profit associated with the park, annually hosts around 13 high school aged students at the park for the week-long Point Reyes Science Adventure!
We began our adventures with a plant assessment of the Giacomini Wetlands by using 1×1 m quadrats. The Giacomini Wetlands is a special place because it is the site of a successful restoration project that began in 2007. We were out there to help the park collect annual data that will then be processed to analyze the change in the plant species distribution over the course of the past year.
The next day we took the young scientists out into the field to seine fish. Seining is the process of catch and release fishing by using a wide net that is vertically placed into and then stretched across a body of water. We were helping the park’s fish biologist assess the success of the Giacomini Wetland restoration by looking for indicator species, such as the Yellowfin Goby. We sampled three different sites where the students were taught to identify and handle the fish. The third site was a ways into the muddy and breathtaking Giacomini Wetland. For most of the students, this was their first time trudging through this type of ecosystem. If y’all recall from my last week’s post, wetlands and marshes tend to want to swallow boots whole and can make some feel defeated by its tricks. It requires a lot of teamwork, communication, and patience. Given this challenge, the students were in high spirits and were impressed with their own abilities to persevere in the name of science and adventure. It was incredible to watch!
On Friday, the students participated in a state-wide monitoring program called LiMPETS. LiMPETS, Long-term Monitoring Program and Experiential Training for Students, is a program that engages young people in citizen science to monitor the health of the California coasts. A good indicator species for ocean and beach health is the mole crab, also called the sand crab. These are cute little invertebrates that burrow into the sand along the swash zone of the beach. The students set up their stations and cored for mole crabs at 1 m intervals along a 10 m transect.
Once the sand was sieved through, a bunch of mole crabs would appear! The students recorded the gender and carapace length of the mole crab. All of this data was then inputted into the online LiMPET database that is then used to assess California coastal health. This was an incredibly rewarding experience because, by inputting the data online and creating graphs, the students were able to instantly see the impact they were having on such an important health assessment.
Fortunately, my week with these folks is not over, and tomorrow I will be going back out with them into Lagunitas Creek to record its bathymetry!
The feeling of slowly being swallowed by the many mouths of a salt marsh is quite a humbling experience. It is humbling because it’s something that no one has any control over. It is in these moments that you truly recognize, “Yeah, humans are definitely not the only ones calling the shots on this planet.” A marsh does not mind if you struggle through its goop and it will ignore you if you ask it to stop swallowing your boots whole. You just have to accept that the marsh can get hungry sometimes and then learn to be one with it.
I was able to reunite with a fellow University of Virginia alum, Janet Walker, while helping her in the field. And you guessed it. Her experiment was in a salt marsh in Bolinas, CA called Bolinas Lagoon. She is a PhD candidate at UC, Davis and is researching the impact of burrowing crabs on the native salt marsh plant communities at three different sites throughout California.
It was an absolutely beautiful day out in Bolinas Lagoon. With the help of a volunteer who recorded data, my task was to survey the vegetation in the 25 open-air cages that Jan has put in place throughout the site. This involved maneuvering around the marsh, which was a wonderful adventure. Jan mentioned that after some practice one develops “marsh legs”, which she and her intern have certainly acquired. Jan and her intern were able to gracefully glide through the marsh as though they were deer prancing through a field of their favorite greens. I, on the other hand, plopped over a couple of times and even stepped out of both of my boots allowing my socked feet to have an intimate encounter with the marsh’s goop. It was truly awesome, and I’ll be joining Jan in the field again later in July!
Above is the lovely marsh crew with me and Jan, my fellow Wahoo, in the middle. I highly recommend venturing out to a salt marsh with someone who has already acquired “marsh legs”! They are beautiful ecosystems that provide a plethora of vital ecosystem services and are home to incredible plants, critters, birds, and more. Hooray for salt marshes!
I have now completed my first week and a half of the internship (I started in the middle of last week), and I’ve got to say I’m pretty hooked on this place. The Pacific Ocean, the wildlife and the people here have welcomed me with open arms.
For the month of June, I will be working on several different projects. To name a few, I will be in the field conducting intertidal zone surveying to assess biodiversity, Elephant and Harbor seal surveys, invertebrate diversity monitoring in Drake’s Estero, Eelgrass mapping, and a marine science education program. (More details on each of these projects, to come)
So far, I have participated in an array of really awesome projects. This week, I have started my training in the statistical program “R”. In July, I will be analyzing an extensive dataset on Harbor seal population variations and will be using R to do so. The park is interested in understanding the variation in their population size across six different sites over the past several decades. Please enjoy this lovely photo of our field station housing’s resident Harbor seal to get a better idea on how absolutely adorable these guys and gals are (if you’ve never seen one before). Typically, Harbor seals are very skittish, but this guy just plops himself on the dock on a daily basis and doesn’t mind us kayaking by or birds joining him for his sunbath. (Disclaimer: Marine mammals are federally protected and can be dangerous when agitated, so keep your distance!)
(Photo credit: Till Groth)
I am also on the Social Media team here at Point Reyes. For World Oceans Day, which was on June 8, I created a post to celebrate the Earth’s oceans. I had the help of a couple of my lovely housemates. The picture I took is below. You see interns Till (Lupine Restoration Intern) and Michelle (Archeology Intern) showing their love and appreciation for the world’s oceans. Their love is so strong they couldn’t help but form a heart with their bodies as soon as they stepped onto the sand. 🙂
My name is Bella Reyes and I am so excited to have started my first week as the Marine Ecology Intern at the Point Reyes National Seashore! As I drove up to my new summer home, I was greeted by the sound of the waves splashing against the beach. The night was pitch black but I knew the view was going to be stunning in the morning. I was right. Intern housing is right on the Tomales Bay. It is quite a sight.
We jumped right into the field within the first few minutes of my first day! An adult female Blue whale washed up to shore last week after being hit by a cargo ship strikes. Very unfortunately, whales that feed near the Point Reyes coast will sometimes get hit by ships and die. The yearly rate has been increasing all along the California coast. Scientists believe this may simply be due to an increase in the whale population.
Along with the California Academy of Sciences, we went out to the field to assess the damage. She had 17 broken vertebrae and 11 broken ribs. It was a nasty hit. Point Reyes and several other groups are brainstorming ways to mitigate these ship strikes.
Later in the week, we read the tags off of Elephant seals to better understand where they are coming from. Elephant seals are incredible and mysterious creatures. Some of these animals had traveled hundreds of miles to snooze on Drake’s Beach in Point Reyes while they molt their fur and skin! They pile on top of each other because the molting phase is very itchy and the feel of one another soothes the itch.