Tag Archives: Volunteer

Using marine debris photos

Karen (left), Abby (middle), and COASST Data Verifier Charlie (far right), assess marine debris objects during a survey refinement session where we asked the question: do Karen, Abby and Charlie agree on the characteristics of each object?

Students Karen (left), Abby (middle), and COASST staff member Charlie (right), assess marine debris objects during a survey refinement session where we asked the question: do Karen, Abby and Charlie agree on the characteristics of each object?

Thanks to a recent award from the National Science Foundation Advancing Informal STEM Learning (AISL), COASST is expanding to monitor marine debris. Since December, we’ve assembled a team of student interns and staff dedicated to developing this new program lead by Marine Debris Program Coordinator Hillary Burgess. What have they been up to? Creating a scientific protocol for monitoring debris that collects information useful to the resource management community AND is do-able by COASSTers.

Like the beached bird program, marine debris COASSTers will document basic beach and human use data (wood, wrack, humans, dogs and vehicles) and for this program, the quantity and characteristics of debris objects. These data link to how harmful debris are to wildlife and wildlife habitat, where debris comes from (some obvious, some we haven’t thought much about), and the path debris take to get to the beach.

Thanks to the dedicated effort of hundreds COASSTers, the marine debris team hit the ground running and began analyzing a database of over 6,000 marine debris photos from about 200 beach sites in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska. Photo team interns Jessica and Abby are independently assigning characteristics to debris objects – so far, they’ve reviewed nearly 900 photos! Pausing along the way to compare results, analyze sources of disagreement, and make adjustments accordingly, these photos have been extremely valuable in the creation of the new survey.

Beyond photos, we’ve also launched an expert panel to help determine which types of characteristics should be included: bite marks? color? weathered? Although it may sound fairly straightforward, marine debris comes in a seemingly infinite array of shapes, hues, materials, and sizes – dealing with the challenging variability has led to many hours of debate and discussion.

And lengthy discussion does sometimes lead to more lighthearted moments and philosophical consideration of debris. For instance, is the object a loop? Some objects have very small holes; other objects are rope/line tangled into a massive ball of loops. And why do we care? Loops can be super dangerous to marine organisms, causing entanglement and strangling, a threat especially well documented in Northern Fur Seal pups. All this talk prompted Hillary to look up the actual definition of a loop online. We pondered: if the end is connected to the beginning, what is the beginning or the end?

Stay tuned for more updates from Hillary and marine debris program students – we’re rapidly making progress toward the 2015 launch of marine debris surveys!

Julia Shares her Waldron Island COASST Walk

One of our San Juan Islands COASSTers, Julia, graciously offered to share her pictures from a December COASST walk along her beach on Waldron Island. It’s a wonderful opportunity to walk in the shoes of an islander and see the great diversity of marine birds that surround us in the Salish Sea.

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“The first is from the cliff above the bay. You can see the heavy sea lettuce (Genus – Ulva) wrack on the beach, and my dog romping along. Out of focus, near the Madrona tree and below the island to the center right, is a blur which is a flock of birds.” – Julia

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A mixed flock of wintering birds, mostly Bufflehead, also including Common Goldeneye, Red-breasted Merganser and Horned Grebe.  In the COASST guide, Bufflehead can be found on WF15-16.  And the Horned Grebe is in GR6-7.

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Close up of a Red-Breasted Merganser. Mergansers are larger diving ducks that have long, thin bills with serrated edges to aid in capturing fish prey. If you have the Alaska guide, check out pages WF36 and WF38.

 

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Two Common Goldeneye accompany the Red-Breasted Merganser. It is not uncommon to see various waterfowl species occupy the same foraging location at the same time.

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A flock of Canada Geese landed near Pt. Disney, the SE corner of Cowlitz Bay.

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The same flock flying over the Nature Conservancy swamp.

COASST welcomes new Alaskan volunteers!

Recently, Charlie Wright, COASST data verifier, headed to Alaska to conduct field work for the summer season (more on this in a future post). Before he boarded the research vessel, he spent a few days in Unalaska, AK out on the Aleutian Islands to lead a training for new COASST volunteers.

COASSTers try their hand at beached bird identification

COASSTers try their hand at beached bird identification

Six individuals (and one four-legged companion) attended the training. All were excited to learn about the program and beached bird identification. There was even time to complete a survey; no birds found. It was a great group and we are thrilled to be filling a few vacant beaches in the area as well as staring a new survey beach!

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New volunteers take to the beach to practice their skills

 

 

 

Squid Eggs

Helen and Peter's BIG find! A cluster of squid eggs on Haskin Park beach.

Helen and Peter’s BIG find! A cluster of squid eggs on Haskin Park beach (near Pacific Beach, WA).

Thanks Helen and Peter for passing along a photo of their Haskin Park find: Squid eggs. A first for COASST! Helen did a little research of her own on this non-bird find, “we learned that these little opalescent packages are squid eggs and found an amazing video of a squid laying eggs in the sand and transporting them back to a hanging cluster to attach.”

At COASST, we’ve had squid on the brain ever since we were introduced to Scarlett Arbuckle, who earned her PhD at Texas A & M looking at Ommastrephid squid, Dosidicus gigas. Now, Scarlett is a new member of Selina Heppell’s lab at the University of Oregon, home to a wealth of projects, among them the northward invasion of Humboldt Squid in the Pacific Ocean (check back soon, for our upcoming blog on Selina).

When you’re a squid expert like Scarlett you’re always on the look out. Scarlett says “most people first disregard squid eggs as tunicates. Helen and Peter’s photo shows a cluster of squid egg sacs, probably from loliginidae squid family. The sacs were knocked loose from their anchoring and washed up. Depending on the available substrate and species, female squid will anchor the sacs in clusters in the sand, on rocks, or, like shown in the video, to ropes and man made structures.”

While it’s difficult to tell the species without a specimen in hand (COASSTers know all about that!) Scarlett ventures these are likely “California Market squid egg sacs, since they range from Southern California all the way to Alaska.”

More to come? Yes, definitely. We’re hoping to work with Scarlett to figure out what kinds of data COASSTers can collect on beached squid to inform researchers. Stay tuned!

Helpful hints: data notes and photographs

COASST data depend on two things: detailed notes and high-quality photographs. So we (Scott, Jessica and An, students with COASST) went digging! Thanks to some great examples sent in by COASSTers, we’ve compiled some helpful tips.

What are “Good” Notes?
Good notes are legible and complete. If a space in the data sheet asks for information pertaining to something not present or not applicable to the situation, put a slash (/) in the box, a “N/A” for not applicable, or a “U” for unknown (can’t be determined). “N” means no, “0” means none. When a survey sheet is returned with all the boxes filled, we know it’s complete. 

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Data example 1: Paul’s data sheet. Note how paul has filled in all the appropriate boxes legibly.

Data example 2: Chet’s data sheet. Note Chet’s comment at the bottom of the survey – this way we can be doubly sure someone didn’t just forget to fill out the backside.

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Data example 3: Michelle’s data sheet. Again, everything filled out clearly, comments include notes on an unusual number of invertebrates found (sea stars in this example, but could include crab, clam, krill, etc)

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Data example 4: Bird data from Cindy on Mad River Park North (Humboldt region). Note how all boxes are complete, a dash fills the second to last box noting that there is no distinguishable difference between Brown Pelican males and females.

What are “Good” Photographs?
Good photographs include three simple things 1) Specimen/bird/bird part(s): make sure the whole specimen fills the frame 2) Scale: black and yellow photo ruler placed near the bird for scale! (for most, included on the top of the chalkboard) 3) Chalkboard/slate: record the beach name, date of survey, cable tie number (Tag ID#) on the chalkboard (if possible, the species ID and bird number as well)

2) and 3) above are found in each COASST volunteer toolbox, 1) you’ll have to find on your own!

Photographers also pay attention to 1) Light (enough light, flash used in low-light conditions, no photographer shadows (check out “Here Comes the Sun” blog), bird stands out against background 2) Camera/camera settings/photographer movement (photos taken on high resolution setting, “beach scene” setting is chosen on bright days, photographer is stationary, camera is positioned over bird, camera lens is dry)

COMU Found by Jerry Chadwick & Carol Sanders (Bastendorff ) 2011-12-12

Photo example 1: Jerry & Carol’s murre on Bastendorff (Oregon South region). Slate/chalkboard is complete, bird is in the sun, shadows are minimal, bird takes up almost entire frame, camera is positioned over bird (not at sand-level or weirdly angled, for instance).

WEGU Photographed by Mariann & Doug Croucher (Oregon Mile 101) 2011-12-02

Photo example 2: Mariann & Doug’s gull photographed on Oregon Mile 101 (Oregon South region). Photo has scale, chalkboard is neatly filled out, light  is good, shadows minimized, wings are spread and take up most of the frame.

What Keeps Us Going?

 

The winners: #1 Beach(es), #2 Bird(s), #3 Data.

The winners: #1 Beach(es), #2 Bird(s), #3 Data.

As a group, COASSTers spend thousands of hours a year completing their COASST surveys and thousands more traveling to their COASST beach(es). We just had to ask: what keeps them going? Why continue month after month?

Well, it happens that we asked this very question on the COASSTer survey in April 2012, “tell us why you continue to be involved with this program” and we let all of you free-write, to explain. Using just the nouns, we ran the words through Wordle, a program that takes a bunch of text and creates these types of word collages, where the font size reflects how often a particular word is used. There’s actually one on the right side of our blog, but it’s based on a few “tags” we set a-priori.

For COASST participants, there’s a clear winner: beach (merged here with the plural: beaches). That’s an association with the where of COASST. And secondarily, bird (includes, again: birds). That’s the what of COASST. You can also see some of the who of COASST, which has many more unique forms, “husband” “COASSTer” and “COASST Staff” among them. “I even like some of the small words, ‘excuse,’ ‘wife,’ ‘stories,’ ‘puzzle,'” writes Julia.

Is it surprising that COASSTers continue because they enjoy the beach? Perhaps not, but “it’s a way to visualize the motivation and values of single COASSTers and (smooshed together) of COASST as a group,” adds Jane, “simply, or complexly, if you look at all the tiny, tiny words.”

Education Research: Meet Katie!

Katie takes a break for a hike along the Oregon Coast, at Cascade Head.

Katie takes a break for a hike along the Oregon Coast at Cascade Head.

Who is Katie?

Katie Woollven is a Marine Resource Management grad student, working with Dr. Shawn Rowe in the Free-choice Learning Lab at Oregon State University. For her Master’s thesis project, Katie gets to chat with select COASST participants about their perspectives on their role in science and resource management.

Where has she been?

After receiving her B.S. in marine biology from Texas A&M, Katie worked as a field biologist collecting mosquitoes for a bird study, as a fisheries observer in Alaska, and as an intertidal lab tech before shifting gears to focus on education research. Working with the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Science Under Sail Program and an NOAA-funded community-based marine debris removal project sparked her current interest in nature of science learning and citizen science.

What is she thinking about and exploring in her research?

“The big, overarching questions for my grad studies are: What kind of learning does or can happen in citizen science programs?  How can we design citizen science programs to benefit science, volunteers, and society?,” says Katie. “COASST is a long-term citizen science program with a diverse group of participants to help us understand how/if citizen science impacts participants and the greater community,” she adds. And the best part, we asked? “I’m excited to hear what COASSTers have to say!”

Education Research On-the-road: Ben Haywood

Select COASSTers have received an email from Ben Haywood, PhD Candidate at the Carolinas Integrated Sciences and AssessmentsDepartment of Geography at the University of South Carolina, about his citizen science research project. On Friday, we had the chance to meet Ben face-to-face!

Trial focus group with Ben, Charlie, Liz and students.

Trial focus group with Ben (front), L-R: Charlie, Liz, Stephanie, Matt, Tom, Chelsea, Jessica.

Ben’s project? “My research investigates volunteer participation in citizen science programs like COASST. Specifically, it aims to explore the nature of relationships between people, places, and the natural environment.”

The clickers! (Sometimes used to test large lectures, but Ben's questions, thankfully, are not about content).

The clickers! (Sometimes used to test large lectures at the UW, “but!” our students say, “Ben’s questions are about what you think, not what you know”).

And the next steps put Ben on-the-road, visiting a bunch of coastal communities from Washington to California. Which beaches will Ben visit? What will he eat? Who will he meet? These, and other stories will be posted on Ben’s blog – take a look.

Oregon Trainings a Huge Success

A beautiful view from Bob and Betsy’s new beach (Nye South), looking north toward Gary’s beach (Nye North) and Renee’s (Yaquina Head).

Things have busy around the COASST office lately. In addition to the normal happenings, Liz and Jane have led four Oregon trainings for new COASST volunteers in the past month. With a car full of bird specimens, survey kits, and field guides these two have traveled to Nehalem, Newport, Florence, and Gold Beach to train a total of 55 volunteers. And what a great group of new volunteers!

Hana’s new beach, Harbor Vista County Park, outside Florence, Oregon.

This new cohort of Oregon volunteers have signed up to survey beaches all over the 340 miles of the Oregon coastline. As of now, we have filled all but one of the existing beaches in the Oregon North region and created numerous new survey sites. A huge thanks to all the Oregonians out there who helped advertise and spread the word for these events. We couldn’t have done it with out you! And a big welcome to our new volunteers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Handy Chalk Holder

Use chalk like a pen/pencil with this nifty holder.

Thanks Janice, who surveys the Damon Point East and West, for introducing us to this neat and helpful addition to the COASST field kit: a chalk holder. Most any office supply store carries these portable plastic holders that turn your chalk into a mechanical pencil. “It’s especially helpful in the rain, and for using up those smaller pieces,” adds Janice.