Tag Archives: Interns

COASST Seeks Interns

The Coastal Observation and Seabird Survey Team (COASST), a citizen science program based at the University of Washington’s School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences, is recruiting undergraduate interns for the upcoming academic quarter.

COASST interns work as a team directly with staff and gain valuable, hands-on experience with citizen science programs and the complexities of volunteer-collected data.

Internship tasks may include:

  • Recruiting, tracking, and communicating with citizen science participants
  • Managing incoming data and photos from beach surveys
  • Entering beached bird, marine debris, and social science data
  • Preparing materials for beached bird and marine debris trainings
  • Representing COASST at outreach events

Interested students should send an email to: Jackie Lindsey, Volunteer Coordinator at coasst@uw.edu

Lucky Duck #245

Over spring break, marine debris student intern, Abby, spent the day hunting for petroglyphs and marine debris on the three-mile stretch of beach from Cape Alava to Sand Point.

By far the most interesting find was a weathered blue plastic duck, found among some seaweed in the wrack, with a large sharpie-marked “#245” on the bottom of it. Abby guessed it might have been a part of some project, so she brought it back to the COASST office to investigate. 

Blue Duck Profile

Maybe #245 is its race number and this little guy made it a lot farther than the finish line.

Was #245 its race number and this guy made it a lot farther than the finish line?

Curtis Ebbesmeyer, a local oceanographer whose work revolves around modeling ocean currents, popularized the use of marine debris as a type of tracking movement of water on the ocean surface. He got his start after a large shipment of 29,000 plastic “Friendly Floatees” bath toys were dumped into the Pacific Ocean in 1992 and for the next 15 years or so people were finding toys from this specific spill washing up on beaches all over the world.

Photo credit A. Larson. Another example of a beached duck. You won't find this guy in the COASST field guide.

Photo credit A. Larson. Another example of a beached duck, but you won’t find this guy in the COASST field guide!

Picking up on this idea, schools, cities, and various non-profit organizations have taken to releasing batches of rubber ducks into streams and oceans, and relying on helpful beachcombers to report where and when they’re found. While COASST won’t be releasing any ducks or wood blocks (the slightly more eco-friendly version), future marine debris participants will collect information on where and when an object was found, material size, markings and identity to provide insight into source and movement patterns for all debris.

As to the little blue duck? After some CSI sleuthing on Google we found a “vintage” duck of the same style for sale on Etsy. Heidi did mention the Annual Great Olympic Peninsula Duck Derby, a good and local contender, but recent releases feature classic, yellow ducks. Finally, a potential match – could it be from the San Clemente (CA) Ocean Festival, about 1,740 kilometers south of the spot Abby found it on the North Coast of Washington?



New Footprints – Sophie Pierszalowski

Sophie Alaska

What opportunities await COASST Interns after graduation? This week, we had the opportunity to catch up with Sophie Pierszalowski (COASST Intern, 2008).

Since graduating with a B.S. in Biology and Aquatic and Fisheries Science (2010), Sophie pursued work a marine mammal genetics lab at NOAA’s Alaska Fisheries Science Center and conducted research on humpback and fin whales with the Gulf of Alaska Apex Predator-Prey Project through the University of Alaska, Fairbanks.

After those two big breaks, she had another: digging into a recently uncovered whaling catch logbook from Port Hobron, Alaska (SE side of Kodiak Island), starting in the 1920s. In addition to that, what occupies all her time? “Analysis and writing to finish my MSc,” says Sophie, now with Oregon State University’s Marine Mammal Institute, Department of Fisheries and Wildlife.

Sophie’s research involves looking at Humback Whale genetics (who is related to who? is there lots of mixing? or are they all from the same “small town”?) population structure (old ones? young ones? some middle-aged?) and feeding ecology (what do they eat? where do they eat?) in Southeast Alaska, especially whales in Glacier Bay National Park).

After she knocks off all that, we had a a feeding ecology question or our own: where will Sophie be next? Chowing on fresh-caught seafood in Kodiak Alaska? Unwrapping an energy bar at a trailhead in the Cascades?  Wherever she forages, we hope she stops by to nibble off the  COASST office brownie plate soon!

Adventures in Marine Debris

This winter, COASST marine debris student interns embarked on several field trips across Washington to develop and refine a preliminary protocol for the new marine debris program. Interns this quarter included a photo team, Abby and Jessica, and a field team, Angeline and Kaili.

Reports from the field:

A total of 14 beaches so far, from Deception Pass to Ocean Shores! Discovery Park was our first stop, to trial the small debris survey methods – lots of beach glass at both this site and Alki Beach.

 Interns Kaili and Abby survey for small marine debris at Discovery Park

Kaili (left) and Abby (right) use a 1 meter quadrat (i.e. square) to define the search area for small marine debris at Discovery Park (Seattle).

Together with service learning students Christie and Yi, we visited Whidbey Island beaches Ala spit, Penn Cove, Joseph Whidbey State Park, Fort Casey, and Useless Bay. The physical differences between these five sites was quite surprising (substrate, wood, wrack, bluff, dunes, exposure) given they’re all within a few kilometers of each other. Special thanks to COASSTers David and Candace, who oriented us to their beaches and shared some (much needed) chocolate!

Service learning student Christie paces the width of the beach.

Christie paces the width of the beach on a medium debris transect at Penn Cove (Whidey Island).

From the Puget Sound, we ventured to Ocean Shores to check out North Jetty and South Taurus beaches. Super wide, sandy beaches made the marine debris surveys much slower than those in Puget Sound.

The following week we returned to Ocean Shores to survey Damon Point and North Jetty to see if debris had shifted/accumulated/changed. We also visited the annual Beachcombers’ Fun Fair where we saw Heidi (COASST staff), and other marine debris enthusiasts, Curtis Ebbesmeyer and Alan Rammer. The collections and displays at the festival (that’s right, 44 exhibit categories, including “assembled unadorned pieces of driftwood”) helped us identify many objects we’ve been seeing in COASSTer photos and on our beach surveys!

Out at Damon Point, we almost lost our small debris surveyors (and equipment!) to a rogue wave. For the rest of the trip, we trekked all the way around the perimeter of Damon Point looking for particularly complex/interesting items to add to our marine debris teaching collection. Where did we find the most stuff? At the very tip! (fingers/points/spits tend to snag debris and birds – just ask the folks at Ediz Hook or Dungeness Spit).

During spring and summer quarters, we’ll continue to test and refine the marine debris monitoring protocol, getting it ready for Prime Time!

Angeline, Abby and Kaili enjoy the view at South Jetty after a long day of marine debris monitoring.

Angeline, Abby and Kaili (left to right) celebrate on the northern edge of Gray Harbor (Ocean Shores) after a long winter’s day of marine debris monitoring (shoes not required).

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!

New Footprints – Rosalind Huang


Rosalind shows off an Dolly Varden (Salvelinus alpinus – sometimes referred to as Char, Arctic Char or Bull Trout) from Alaska.

Ever wonder what paths past COASST interns take after their time with COASST? This week, we asked Rosalind, a University of Washington graduate, what adventures she has taken on since interning for COASST.

As Rosalind’s COASST internship came to an end, Rosalind decided to mix things up and accepted an internship with Washington Sea Grant. Rosalind found her internship with Washington Sea Grant to be “a totally different type of internship” compared to COASST. During this internship, Rosalind was responsible for organizing publications and conducting library searches. When asked how this experience influenced her career in the environmental field, Rosalind told COASST, “the experience helped tremendously later on for [her] own research.”

While talking with Rosalind, she emphasized the importance of having connections and the courage to speak with different people about various open opportunities that one could apply for. She gave an example of a time when she once asked our very own Seabird Program Coordinator, Jane Dolliver, if she knew anyone in Taiwan who was involved with Seabird Research. Rosalind, originally from Taiwan, was planning a trip back home and thought it would be interesting to go meet someone while she was there. After being referred to a professor at the National Taiwan Ocean University, Rosalind ended up helping Congratulafins, a non-governmental organization whose mission is to stop shark fining, with their social media and different campaigns.

Now, Rosalind is settled in California where she is working full time at a smart watch company and volunteering for Congratulafins part time. When asked what her next big move will be, Rosalind said she plans “to go back to school in a few years for more fish-related studies.”

COASST Internships Still Available!


The Coastal Observation and Seabird Survey Team (COASST) is looking for 2-5 undergraduate students to assist with program’s marine debris and beached bird data collection projects.

Students working with COASST gain valuable, hands-on experience with citizen science programs, scientific protocol development and testing and learn the complexities of adapting data collection to a broad and diverse crew of participants. Students will work directly with the program’s research staff to 1) manage linked image, beach, volunteer and bird databases 2) field-test the marine debris protocol 3) create and update field toolkits 4) perform literature searches and prepare materials for talks, trainings and socials 5) network with principal investigators, researchers, and partners

Once quarterly, students will present their work at lab meetings, and attend the COASST field trip (January 10-12, for the 2014 UW winter quarter).

Interested students should send an email to: Jane Dolliver, Program Coordinator, coasst at uw dot edu


New Footprints – Sean Rohan


Sean took this photo of a beached Snow Goose on Nunivak Island during a NOAA groundfish survey of the Eastern Bering Sea Shelf in June 2011. Once a COASSTer, always a COASSTer!

What paths do interns take once their time at COASST comes to an end? As part of our “New Footprints” series, we caught up with one of our past interns, Sean Rohan, and asked him what he’s been up to.

“After finishing my internship at COASST and graduating from UW, I had a short stint at Wild Fish Conservancy. I conducted snorkel surveys in support of a project monitoring anadromous fish passage above the Leavenworth, WA hatchery on Icicle Creek,” Sean mentions.

In October of 2010, he was hired to be a stomach analyst in the Food Habits Lab at Alaska Fisheries Science Center in Seattle for NOAA-Fisheries.

Sean spends 10 months out of the year “nose to the lab bench” identifying the stomach contents of numerous Alaskan groundfish species (Walleye Pollock, Pacific Cod, Atka Makerel, Sabelfish, Halibut, Lingcod). He’s given the task of creating new taxonomic identification protocols for the stomach contents, similar to how COASSTers use Beached Birds to identify finds that aren’t in the best shape. As you might expect, intact prey items are a rare find, halfway digested in the stomach of a cod!

When summer arrives, he spends 2 months at sea participating in annual/biennial groundfish surveys. He’s been to the Bering Sea twice and the Gulf of Alaska once throughout his time with NOAA so far. He says the biggest perk of going out to sea every summer is the ability to see live seabirds for a change!

Visitors to the Food Habits Lab often ask, “what’s the strangest thing you’ve found in the stomach of a fish?” Sean replies, “the strangest thing I’ve ever found was a murre foot in a Pacific Cod stomach, which I stumbled across during my first month on the job.”  He recognized it immediately thanks to his years at COASST. “For better or for worse, it seems dead birds just won’t leave me alone!” It is the only one found in the 30-year history of the program’s data set (from 150,000+ stomachs). “Fortunately, that at least suggests that Pacific Cod aren’t regularly feeding on murres.”

And the best part of his new job? “I have an opportunity to see the cogs of the ecosystem turning in front of me everyday,” says Sean, “pretty cool.”

Score for the Teaching Collection


We may be the only people in the fisheries building to see this and think, "yes!"

We may be the only people in the fisheries building to see this and think, “yes!”

Late afternoon, in the fisheries building parking lot and Jane comes across this find. Seven years bad luck? Should she call it quits and leave work early?

Nah – bag and freeze and tell Matt (Senior Intern) there’s another bird waiting to be added to the COASST teaching collection. Thanks Peregrine Falcon, for leaving your lunch for us.

Based on its size, some people mistake this bird (in wings-only form) for a Common Murre. It’s not! Upperwing is not uniformly dark, feet are pink and not webbed. It’s a Rock Dove (aka Rock Pigeon or just pigeon).

New Footprints – Lindsey Nelson

Meet graduated COASST intern Lindsey Nelson, who spent nearly 600 hours in the COASST office from 2010-2012 as a Student Intern and later, Senior Intern.  After leaving COASST, she went north, WAY north, to work as a Fishery Observer in Alaska.

Lindsey, on the bow  of a fishing boat covered in ice in Alaska

Lindsey, on the bow of a boat covered in ice. You go, girl!

What does that entail? After completion of the three week training program (and passing a pretty grueling fish identification test), Lindsey’s job is all about “collecting data on catch estimates, species composition, prohibited species, bycatch (non-target catch), locations and dates and times, which is then assessed by NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service.”  Lindsey’s work helps NOAA establish regulations and optimum yields for Alaska groundfish (Pacific Cod, Sabelfish, Lingcod, Walleye Pollock, Atka Mackerel, to name a few) .

The day-to-day varies a little, as fishing only occurs two to four days a week.  The other days are spent either travelling or offloading.  During a fishing haul, she’s responsible for collecting samples of the catch and identifying, counting, and weighing all species, as well as special procedures for dealing with birds, mammals, sharks, prohibited species, and tagged animals.  She also monitors levels of bycatch and notes the delivery weights during offloading.

Lindsey collects samples in these baskets and performs her data collecting at this station.

Ah, the scenic data collection station: fish collection baskets, waterproof notesheets.

What the...!  Lindsey found this lumpsucker in one of her samples!

“One of the ugliest cute things I’ve seen,” says Lindsey, holding a Smooth Lumpsucker (and she would know!).

So is it all work and no play? Lindsey says “the crew was friendly and helpful whenever I need their assistance, and we’ve become good friends, even back home in Seattle.”  And the seasonal nature of her job allows her to travel, and check a few things off the list, “moose, glaciers, salmon, native performances, snow-covered peaks right next to the shore. You know… all the essentials.”

Alaska may be cold, but it's darn beautiful.  These are fishing boats like the ones Lindsey works on in Dutch Harbor, AK.

Cold and beautiful. Fishing boats in Dutch Harbor, AK.