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. 🙂
Over the past decade, the Rocky Intertidal Zone at Cabrillo National Monument has been overrun by an invasive brown seaweed known as Sargassum muticum. This marine plant, native to Japan, is believed to have made it’s way to San Diego over 30 years ago through the ballast waters of ships. Invasive species, such as Sargassum, are hypothesized to lower the biodiversity of an area by outcompeting the native biota and overtaking all other available space. Therefore, Cabrillo Biologist and our lovely volunteers have been working on slowly removing this species from certain plots to better answer our question about the effects of invasive species on biodiversity. Our hope is that in the next 5 years we can revisit these sites to see if the brown wire weed does or does not influence biodiversity.
During the summer in San Diego, the tides shift and it is difficult to experience a low tide during appropriate work hours. Cabrillo Biologists and I went out on the morning of July 12, 2017 at 6am to begin another phase of Sargassum removal. The process of removal is tedious and difficult to witness change overtime with the continuous growth of this perennial brown alga.
However, the benefit to this process is by far the creatures you inevitably get to see when you look a little closer into the intertidal zone. A fan favorite this week was this vibrant nudibranch (sea slug), Chromodoris macfarlandi. Remember to always keep exploring, even when working!
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.
For our last few days with these young scientists, we embarked on a journey to review what we have learned from one another thus far, connect the students with the resources to further their aspirations in the science realm and communicate the knowledge the students have learned to the public.
On Thursday, the young ladies were hard at work reviewing the various topics and splitting into groups in order to present at exhibition. Each group was given a different day, event or topic and were asked to make a poster presentation followed with an interactive component to engage the visitor. During this processes, we had some visitors from Channel 10 News visit the innovation lab and do a piece on what this program means to the San Diego community.
On Friday, we hopped on the bus for one last time to explore what it really means to be a woman in science. During the course of the day, students were able to meet over 20 different women from the San Diego county who have careers in a science related field, including Superintendent Compton who was our keynote speaker. From biochemist, to engineer, to marine ecologist, our young scientists really connected with these inspirational women and gained a passion for their future that cannot be taught.
To finish off the program, we held an open forum exhibition at Cabrillo National Monument on Saturday, July 8th. These young scientists were able to display their poster presentations while engaging park visitors about what the EcoLogik Project is and what they learned about the fusion of ecology and technology.
It was hard to say goodbye to this incredible group of young women, but if they so desire, this will not be the end of their relationship with science, technology or the National Park Service.
To switch things up this week, I thought I would interview someone working for the National Park Service I think is a great person for who they are and what they do for Yosemite National Park. Though I do not directly report to her, she is someone I feel like I can easily talk to about anything regarding my internship or work at the park this summer! Rachel is considered the black bear expert of the park, though I could argue she’s the expert for the entire state!
Dr. Rachel Mazur, Branch Chief of Wildlife, Visitor Use, and Social Science
B.S. (Penn State), M.S. (SUNY College of Forestry), M.P.A. (Syracuse University), Ph.D. (U.C. Davis)
How long have you been working for the National Park Service?
I started with the National Park Service as an SCA intern in 1989.
What brought you to the Park Service and Yosemite in particular?
The former division chief of Resources Management and Science recruited to come to Yosemite for a detail. I enjoyed it and ended up applying for the job.
What is the coolest part about your work/research?
The coolest part of my work is getting to dabble in a broad range of wildlife restoration and research projects since the Yosemite wildlife program is very large and diverse.
Share a defining moment in your career.
A defining moment in my career came when I sat in a giant sequoia grove and watched two bear cubs nurse. It was absolutely stunning and reminded me to slow down and observe.
If you could begin a research project on any species, problem, or topic, what would it be?
I actually am working on a pet project outside of work. My friend Olotumi Laizer, a Maasai warrior from Tanzania, now lives and works at Yosemite. How and why did he move and what can we learn from each culture? That is the subject of a book we are writing.
Growing up, did you see yourself becoming a scientist?
When I was a kid, I wanted to work at the local five-and-dime variety store. Later, I wanted to be a landscape architect. Then I wanted to be a wildlife biologist. When my kids were little, I wanted to be a stay-at-home-mom. Now, I want to be a writer.
What do you like to do on your off time?
On my off time, I play with my kids. They are the center of my universe. Often, that means camping, swimming, or taking them to participate in wildlife projects.
(Mosaics in Science is an internship program that provides youth that are under-represented in the natural resource science career fields with science work experience with the National Park Service. 2014 data revealed that the National Park Service workforce is 18% racially diverse (African Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans, Asians, Pacific Islanders, others). In STEM fields, this number drops down to 3%, compared to the national average of 6%). Why is it important to have programs like Mosaics in Science that promote inclusion, diversity, and equity in the science field?
Mosaics in Science is designed to let people know about jobs with the National Park Service. Bringing in a diversity of people is critical to our success because with a diversity of people comes a diversity of ideas, experiences, skills, and ways of doing things that continually improve the way we achieve our mission. I love interns, partly because I spent my first two years as an intern.
“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.
Today marks the completion of my first week as a Biological Technician with Lassen Volcanic National Park (LAVO), and I can say with certainty that it exceeded all expectations I had. LAVO, which was established as a national park by Congress in 1916, encompasses approximately 200 square miles of magnificent, jaw-dropping scenery. It lies on the southern end of the Cascade Range, and represents four distinct types of volcanoes within its boundaries: dome, shield, cinder, and composite. The park also homes countless unique flora including the Whitebark Pine, which will be my focus as I delve into the field season.
Reflecting on my first week, I am extremely grateful for all the experiences I have had thus far. My first day consisted of a hike to Ridge Lakes where the snowpack was deep, an exciting experience for someone used to the beach. We trekked to the top (~8,700’) and I was immediately overcome by how breathtaking the view was. Nestled in the saddle of two peaks, I looked around and saw an expanse of snow-covered trees, a thawing lake, and Mt. Shasta in the distance.
The next day was filled to the brim with learning native flora. I was able to see countless unique wildflowers happily blooming after a snowy winter. Wednesday and Thursday were field days. I aided a crew in removing invasive species affecting the park. This was a really fun experience for me because we were able to go to areas of the park that were hardly trafficked by humans. I find myself stopping every once in a while to take a deep breath, and take in how lucky I am to be here.
Aside from the beauty of the park, the people who work here are also a huge part of what’s made my first week so enjoyable. Everyone is very friendly and welcoming here. On Tuesday’s they play softball which was a great way to get to know everyone and have some fun after a long work day. As I wrap up my first week, I know I will have my work cut out for me here, but the reward of being able to live in such a beautiful region is more than worth it. I am eager to see what the rest of my time here will consist of.
EcoLogik has begun! Ecologik is a 2.5 week full immersion program that fuses nature and technology. This program seeks to connect young women to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematic) opportunities. We invited 25 students, ages 9 to 15, to join us this summer to learn how to collect data, make biomodels, 3D print, computer program and much more.
In one week’s time, these young scientists became acquainted with the National Park Service and developed their own opinion of what it truly means to be a “scientist.” Through the power of science communication, these students teamed up to create 13 different 1-3 minute videos on the rocky intertidal using the video editing software, iMovie. After getting familiar with the term ocean acidification as a byproduct of climate change, these young scientists realized the importance of long-term monitoring through hands-on data collection. These young scientists then brought the rocky intertidal indoors by creating 3D printed octopus biomodels. To finish off the week, these students got up close and personal with the natural world at Cabrillo National Monument. They learned personally from a nature photographer that with each beautiful form in nature comes an evolutionary function. It is hard to believe how much they have absorbed in only a week. Now let’s see what we can accomplish in two weeks!
There’s something about the National Park Service emblem and logo that just immediately allows people to trust whoever is wearing it. That’s what I think I’ve gathered most so far during this internship.
The Division of Resource Management and Science provides the expertise and sustainable management of Yosemite’s natural resources using science-based decision-making. Working as an intern for the Wildlife Management branch under this division, I get to act as eyes and ears for the park’s wildlife. Because of this, we rarely encounter or plan to interact with the public. However, that does not mean we don’t come across people while tracking turtles in the Valley of Yosemite, or pass people while hiking to a site.
I am fortunate and glad I have not experienced an emergency situation with a park visitor, as most of my interactions have been highly positive and educational! Every day has been different and my past front-country tour proved it! Here are some stories of experiences with the public (and actual animals) from my most recent tour and previous tours.
- An Aquatics crew employee and I were on private residence near Sierra National Forest land, placing traps in a pond to assist a phD study on Western pond turtles. As we were leaving the site, four hunting dogs came walking up to us, each wearing a GPS collar. They all looked thin and tired, though were very nice with us. Their owner was nowhere in site, as we waited for some sign of someone being out in the area. After calling the numbers on the dogs’ collars and receiving no answers, we decided to call the local sheriff’s office to have a deputy come take the dogs to animal control so their owner could be notified that their dogs were found. When speaking with the deputy, he thanked us for taking responsibility of the dogs and helping out.
- During off time, we took a break at the local fairgrounds where we would be camping for the duration of a tour. As we parked the park vehicle at our site, people immediately non-stop approached us to ask questions about the park, the fairgrounds, service, closest gas station, anything! At one point, someone wanted us to help them with the transmission of their RV! Even though we could not answer many of the questions as we were in an area we were not acquainted with, we helped out as much as we could.
- While walking through Yosemite Valley wearing headphones, carrying a receiver and antenna, people often come up and ask what we’re tracking. Once we’ve assured them that we are tracking turtles and not bears, their muscles relax and are at ease again knowing that a bear is not in the vicinity. On multiple occasions, people actually know about the reintroduction of the Western pond turtle to the park, which is exciting!
When people think about the National Park Service, they think of park rangers with the wide-brimmed hat in full uniform. I originally thought that too! Now, I think of all the important people and groups that work to create great experiences with our National Parks. This includes the park rangers, biologists, operators, retailers, bus drivers, scientists, interpreters, custodial, managers, receptionists, trail keepers, everyone! Though we all don’t have the park ranger uniform, we still all carry that same arrowhead emblem. We’re doing just as much work for people as we are for the actual job descriptions. I never would have thought that I would be helping return lost dogs, teaching people about the history of the herpetofauna in Yosemite, or showing someone on a map the closest gas station. Every day is different and that’s what makes this internship and working with the National Park Service so amazing. People really love the Park Service.