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Oregon Sea Grant: Coastal science serving Oregon
Updated: 2 days 10 hours ago

Oyster die-offs – a new culprit?

Tue, 11/18/2014 - 10:13am

Oysters at Whiskey Creek hatchery

For years, research into West Coast oyster hatchery die-offs has pointed the finger at Vibrio tubiashii. Now Oregon State University researchers believe a different, but related, bacterium – V. coralliilyticus – may be the real culprit.

The findings were published in Applied and Environmental Microbiology, by researchers from OSU’s College of Veterinary Medicine, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and Rutgers University. The research was supported by the USDA.

“These bacteria are very similar, they’re close cousins,” said Claudia Häse, an OSU associate professor and expert in microbial pathogenesis. “V. coralliilyticus was believed to primarily infect warm water corals and contributes to coral bleaching around the world. It shares some gene sequences with V. tubiashii, but when we finally were able to compare the entire genomes, it became apparent that most of what we’re dealing with in the Pacific Northwest is V. coralliilyticus.”

Scientists now say that V. coralliilyticus is not only far more widespread than previously believed, but that it can infect a variety of fish, shellfish and oysters, including rainbow trout and larval brine shrimp. And it appears to be the primary offender in bacterial attacks on Pacific Northwest oyster larvae.

Häse’s previous work with Chris Langdon of OSU’s Molluscan Broodstock Lab has been supported in part by Oregon Sea Grant, which has also worked with Northwest shellfish growers to help them rebound from oyster die-offs. By learning to counter the effects of increasingly acidic seawater, which prevents larval oysters from forming the shells they need to survive, many hatcheries have seen production return.

But while hatchery stocks are recovering, the scientists say bacterial infections remain a real problem for oysters – and other organisms – in the wild.

“Although we’ve largely addressed the problems the hatcheries face, these bacteria continue to pose threats to wild oysters,” Häse said. “And corals are still declining in many places, the Great Barrier Reef in Australia is dying at an alarming rate. Better diagnostics might help in all of these situations.”

Learn more

 

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New app will help coastal Oregon prepare for tsunami

Mon, 11/17/2014 - 7:00am

Hatfield Marine Science Center employees practice their tsunami evacuation route (photo courtesy of Maryann Bozza, HMSC)

Tsunami preparedness will soon be coming to a smartphone near you. A team of researchers at Oregon State University is developing an app for coastal residents to plan – and test – evacuation routes to use during an earthquake and tsunami.

Participants will use the app to conduct actual evacuation drills and compare their response time to the speed of an incoming wave.

“People will be able to download the app, plug in their start points and end points, and be able to track that like a GPS,” explained Lori Cramer, a sociologist and principal investigator on the project, which is funded by Oregon Sea Grant. “They will be able to do it themselves to see how quickly they can get to wherever they are going and try alternate routes.”

Social media was underutilized during the Fukushima disaster in Japan, but Cramer hopes that with proper planning this app will help save lives when a disaster does hit Oregon. Studies of seismic risk in the Pacific Northwest have estimated that the Oregon coast has a more than one-in-three chance of experiencing a major, arthquake, capable of generating a dangerous tsunami, within the next 50 years.

Along with the app, the team plans workshops on the coast to discuss evacuation routes and preparedness. After residents practice an evacuation using the app, they will complete an anonymous survey to help the researchers compare trends and disaster preparedness between coastal cities.

“The app can be used to relay evacuation route and time data to a central archive,” explained Haizhong Wang, a civil engineer and collaborator on the project. “These data are used by city managers and the research team to guide future development of evacuation simulation models with thousands of people.”

To use the app, participants create a profile including age, gender and zip code—to distinguish residents from tourists—and head out for high ground. Hitting the “start” button signals an earthquake, and all of their decisions afterwards are of interest to the researchers.

“One thing that we are interested in is ‘milling time,’ or how long it takes a person to decide to evacuate after feeling the earthquake,” Cramer said.

Throughout the dry run, participants will actually be able to monitor how close the imaginary wave is to their current location.

“We have pre-computed tsunami inundation for several areas, and we are working on Newport now,” said Dan Cox, an engineer and professor with OSU’s School of Civil and Construction Engineering who is creating the wave models for the project. “You can use this pre-computed inundation to get an idea of where the water will be at any given time.”

While the app is being developed, the team continues to conduct evacuation drills with various “at-risk” groups—including the elderly, disabled and the poor— along the coast. Cramer says that these trainings can provide hope to people who might not evacuate otherwise.

“There was one elderly lady who hadn’t planned on leaving,” Cramer said. “But she did the drill and she found out that she could make it to the evacuation point in the time period, and that changed her whole outlook on life.”

Once the app is released, the research team plans to create an interactive display at OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport for visitors to learn about the technology and provide feedback. Ultimately, the researchers hope to use social media and education to help make coastal communities more resilient and better prepared for future disasters.

Learn more

… about Oregon Sea Grant’s work on tsunami preparedness on the Oregon coast

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OSG Scholars Day draws students from all backgrounds

Fri, 11/14/2014 - 11:58am

Scholars discussed effective communication methods during the morning session. (Photo by Dylan McDowell)

CORVALLIS—A little training, a little fellowship and a chance to show off what they’ve learned: That’s what a gathering of graduate and undergraduate university students got Thursday when they gathered at Oregon State University for the second Oregon Sea Grant Scholars Day.

“This is really an opportunity for students we support to come and tell us about their work, and also get a little bit of training,” said Oregon Sea Grant Director Shelby Walker.

The Sea Grant Scholars program combines Oregon Sea Grant’s fellowship, internship and scholarship offerings under an umbrella that not only gives students opportunities to learn and conduct research and public outreach projects, but also provides them with opportunities to grow as professionals. Scholars Day – which is anticipated to take place every other year – is one such opportunity.

This year, 19 participants spent the morning focusing on understanding the changing roles of  science communicators and strategies for more effectively reaching target audiences. Scholars also spent time framing their “mental models,” or preconceived notions that communicators – and others – hold about specific subjects or groups of people.

“Communication is not so much about you talking to someone, but really about two mental models meeting,” explained Shawn Rowe, director of OSG’s Free Choice Learning program and a specialist in communication theory.

Mental models can become barriers in effective communication. Rowe emphasized the need to understand the mindset of audiences and their viewpoints before trying to communicate. Scholars were given a case study on tsunami debris to practice developing an effective outreach plan that considered the mental model of a specific stakeholder.

After lunch with the Oregon Sea Grant Advisory council and program leaders, scholars were joined by an audience of about 30 who came to hear about their research projects. Presentations covered the economic effect of jellyfish blooms, the influence of climate change in coastal communities, creating age models for burrowing shrimp and more.

Two students also presented on their legislative policy fellowships: Zach Penney, a current Sea Grant  Knauss Fellow, talked about his experiences in Washington, D.C., including his work on legislation about Northern California land exchange that has passed the U.S. House of Representatives. Rose Rimler, a Sea Grant Natural Resources Policy Fellow, discussed her work updating environmental action plans for the Tillamook Estuaries Partnership.

The day culminated in a poster session and reception where the scholars had a chance to discuss their research with peers and audience members.

“It’s a nice way for me to ease back into what science is like after completing law school,” said Emi Kondo, a current Knauss Fellowship finalist through Oregon Sea Grant, following the presentations. “I can really appreciate how people explain the science in way that everyone understands. I’m going into policy and it’s great to learn these skills.”

The year’s event drew current and recent Sea Grant Scholars from OSU, the University of Oregon, Lewis and Clark College, Oregon Health Science University and the University of Idaho.

Learn more:

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Waldport High students help NOAA track ocean currents

Thu, 11/13/2014 - 1:04pm

R/V Oceanus crew launches Waldport High’s drifter (photo by Jeff Crews)

WALDPORT – Students at Waldport High School are excited about today’s successful launch of their unmanned sailboat, Phyxius, near the Equator by OSU’s R/V Oceanus, as part of a long-term national  project to better understand ocean currents and transport patterns.

The project, organized by Oregon Sea Grant and the Oregon Coast STEM Hub, is part of  NOAA’s Educational Passages program, which enlists science, technology, engineering and math classes to build the miniature vessels and set them loose in ocean and coastal waters – and follow them via a NOAA tracking site to see where they go. More than 40 of the drifters have been launched since the program began in 2008.

The unmanned mini-sailboats are self-steering and equipped with GPS tracking devices to study ocean and wind patterns and much more. The five-foot vessels sail directly downwind month after month. As these boats travel the oceans, students can track them via http://www.nefsc.noaa.gov/drifter/ and learn and improve their skills in map reading, geography, earth science, oceanography and more.

Waldport’s is just the third drifter to be launched in the Pacific. Most of the others have been launched into the Atlantic, Caribbean or Gulf of Mexico. Drifters have landed in Europe, the Caribbean, Cuba, Bahamas, Panama, Newfoundland, and Nova Scotia as well as many other places. Some have left Portugal and closely duplicated Columbus’s route to the new world, and another spent time on display in an Irish pub.

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Estuary flooding may be more extreme than previously thought

Thu, 11/13/2014 - 11:44am

OSU engineer is studying estuary flooding in the Coos Bay estuary (pictured here) and the Tillamook Bay estuary.

New research suggests that intense storms could increase the impact of flooding in coastal estuaries. As more water is forced into the estuary, site-specific geographic features will cause more inundation in some parts of the estuary than others, contrary to the uniform rise that was previously expected.

Estuaries are mixing pots between rivers and the ocean – and also tend to be hotspots for human development. Tumultuous offshore waves that break during winter storms force water up into the estuary, causing it to inundate surrounding areas.

David Hill, a coastal engineer at Oregon State University, is studying how to more effectively measure the effects of flooding in estuaries along the Oregon coast.

“In Oregon, estuaries really represent a concentration of a great number of things,” Hill explained. “A concentration of infrastructure and a concentration of commerce. If you look where the population is, it’s all near estuaries.”

Historically, coastal managers have simply drawn a uniform circle around an estuary on a map to estimate flooding, and raised or lowered the line depending on predicted changes in water level. This method, although easy, neglects the complicated physics that take place in such environments.

Hill used historical storm data and future climate predictions to simulate the effect of storms on the Tillamook Bay estuary. His detailed models discovered that not all parts of an estuary are created equal.

“One thing that we found is that inside a large body of water like Tillamook Bay, there can be noticeable differences from one location to another. So the water levels in the whole bay are not the same. The northern part of the bay is more susceptible to higher water levels than the southern part.”

This new information is causing state flood maps to be updated and flood zones reevaluated. Hill says he is looking forward to working directly with coastal communities to find out what information is most useful in their planning.

Waves breaking offshore force water up into the estuary and cause flooding.

“A big part of this project is wanting to actually connect with organizations within our study sites. They’re the ones that have the best idea of what kind of information is valuable to them and that they need to do short term and long term planning.”

The project is only six months into a two-year cycle funding and already two papers are close to being published; one paper is in press with the Journal of Coastal Research, and the second is in re-review with another journal.

While Hill is focused on the impact to coastal infrastructure, OSU ecologist Sally Hacker is researching what effect inundation will have on eelgrass habitat in the estuaries.

“Eelgrass is a critical habitat for commercially important fish and crabs,” Hacker explained. “We will be using models to project the extent of eelgrass under future sea level elevations.”

Hacker will incorporate Hill’s data into her models to better predict ecosystem changes along the coast.

Scientists say it is likely that storm events will become more frequent and more powerful in the future. Understanding the economic and ecological impacts of flooding will help coastal communities adapt in an ever-changing climate.

Learn more:

 

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Join us for Sea Grant Scholars Day, Nov. 13

Tue, 11/11/2014 - 1:37pm

Join us for the 2014 Oregon Sea Grant Scholars Day Symposium on Thursday, November 13, 2014 from 1:30 pm to 5 pm in the Joyce Powell Leadership Center Journey Room in the OSU Memorial Union!

Several of our student fellows and other scholars will be making presentations or presenting posters about their Sea Grant-related work. This gives students the opportunity to gain valuable experience presenting their research and experiences to a public audience and receive feedback on their work and presentation skills.

See the draft agenda here.

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Bivalves on drugs: What goes in the water winds up in shellfish

Fri, 11/07/2014 - 5:05pm

Bivalves such as oysters assimilate environmental toxins into their body when filtering water.

What happens to an oyster on antidepressants? What about on caffeine? Or, what if you combine these contradictory drugs and then consume the oyster?

As odd as it sounds, this scenario is playing out along the Oregon coast where oysters and other bivalves—a staple food source for both humans and animals— are assimilating low levels of environmental contaminants into their body.  Portland State University researcher Elise Granek and colleagues are studying which chemicals are present, where, and what the effects may be up the food chain.

“The work in our lab is looking at how land based contaminants are affecting marine and coastal animals.” Granek said. “In the long term, what are the effects on humans?”

Bivalves—two-shelled animals such as clams, mussels and oysters—are integral to coastlines for food and structure. Not only do they serve as prime dining for many animals, but their colonies also provide shelter for small fish and invertebrates to hide. Bivalves filter water to feed, and thereby ingest a variety of chemicals from the water.

Granek and her team sampled native oysters at two sites along the Oregon coast to get an idea of what chemicals were present in their tissues. The results were stunning: ibuprofen, anti-inflammatory drugs, antihistamine and more. While each of these drugs was present in levels not considered harmful to humans, Granek is concerned about what the combined impact might be.

“These organisms don’t just have one compound. They have 2, 3, 4 types in them,” she explained. “So what happens when you have multiple of these compounds in one organism? How does that affect that organism or how does it affect predators that eat them, including us? We just don’t know.”

These contaminants likely seep into the water from outdated septic tanks or sewer overflows during storms and other high-water events.

Back in the lab, the team is conducting 90-day controlled experiments on each drug to get a better idea of the physiological effects on the bivalves. After they create a baseline for individual drugs—as early as spring—the lab will start combining different drugs to assess the effects.

“Most people who use pharmaceuticals or personal care products may not have any knowledge that what goes down the drain could harm aquatic and marine life,” said Joey Peters, a graduate student conducting the lab experiments. “I hope the results of this project elucidate one small piece of a growing problem.”

The next step is going back into the field to monitor which chemicals are present in other bivalves. From there, Granek wants to begin evaluating human impacts of eating these contaminated species. That information, she says, will help inform policy.

“My perspective has changed since I had a kid, and I think about all of the contaminants that she is exposed to in our world. Some things are harder to control and some things are easier to control. Food ought to be something that is easier to convince policy makers and managers to protect.”

Learn more:

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Sea star wasting expands, new recommendations emerge

Fri, 10/31/2014 - 2:25pm

 

Purple starfish afflicted with sea star wasting near Newport, OR Photo courtesy of Sheanna Steingass, oregonbeachcomber.com

Sea stars continue to waste and die along the US West Coast, and while researchers aren’t yet certain what’s causing the outbreak to spread, they’re beginning to suspect a combination of increased water temperatures that weaken the animals and leave them vulnerable to infection from opportunistic bacteria and parasites.

Dubbed Sea Star Wasting Syndrome (SSWS) the condition emerged in patches nearly a year ago, and by June had become serious enough that scientists convened in Newport to discuss what they were seeing, what was known and what remained to be learned.  Since that meeting, the disease has spread both north into Alaska and south to Baja California.

“The expansion up into Alaska is really problematic because the California current comes across the northern part of Vancouver Island and then down, and this has jumped into a whole other current system,” explained Steve Rumrill, a biologist with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Rumrill and his colleague Dr. Tim Miller-Morgan, an aquatic veterinarian with Oregon Sea Grant, have been busy drafting documents that synthesize what is known about the outbreak. They summarized those documents at the recent State of the Coast conference in Florence. The papers underline key issues and research recommendations for continued monitoring, studies about pathology, investigation of ecological impacts, handling of captive animals and outreach programs. Recommendations include creating uniform signage and information displays for the public, and establishing a database for scientists to post observations about the disease in their areas.

The outbreak’s cause remains elusive. While some institutions are documenting what appears to be an infectious trend among stars, pathologists have been unable to find evidence of a specific infectious agent.

“Many of the pathologists are saying that there is no evidence of an infectious agent,” Miller-Morgan said. “That doesn’t mean there isn’t one. But when they are looking at slides, they aren’t seeing any evidence that would traditionally be associated with an infectious process.”

They have found a variety of bacteria and parasites associated with infected stars, however. This supports the leading theory that some initial cause—whether pathogenic or environmental—deteriorates the stars outer layer, exposing them to secondary invaders. Increases in water temperature appear to be a significant factor in the syndrome, but the exact role that plays has yet to be determined.

“We have identified new areas and directions that need more research, and we have added more questions to the pile,” said Miller-Morgan. “The other thing is that there really is an impetus now to get together more regularly.”

On the bright side, field biologists have recently observed relatively large numbers of juvenile sea stars in a wide variety of tidal zones along the west coast.

“It is encouraging that the juvenile sea stars are beginning to emerge,” said Rumrill.  “Juveniles have become a prominent component of the remaining populations at several sites, and the mixed groups of tiny and middle-sized stars may be an indicator of multiple recruitment events.  However, it is not clear what role these new juveniles will pay in the overall recovery of sea star communities.”

The outbreak is gaining national attention since reports of a similar outbreak on the East Coast.  Marine animal health experts from both coasts will meet at an upcoming Fish Health Conference in South Carolina to discuss parallels in the syndrome. Rumrill and Miller-Morgan also plan another West Coast symposium to share what researchers and aquarists are learning about the syndrome and what might be done in response.

For more information, or to assist with a citizen science project, visit the Pacific Rocky Intertidal Monitoring website.

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Contest enlists students, teachers to stop invasives

Tue, 10/28/2014 - 9:23am

Oregon Sea Grant and the Oregon Invasive Species Council are enlisting high school students and teachers across Oregon in a multimedia art contest, “Don’t Let It Loose,” urging classrooms to avoid releasing school pets and lab animals into the wild.

Winning student artists and their teachers will receive prizes of up to $400 in each of two categories: static images, and moving media including videos, animations and motion graphics. In particular, organizers are encouraging entries that can be translated into mobile apps and other new technology.

Entries will be judged on how well they convey the “Don’t Let It Loose” message, their visual effectiveness (is the message memorable? Does it compel action?), universal appeal (is the message clear to everyone, regardless of age, language or education level?) and originality.

The contest ties in with an ongoing educational campaign created by Sea Grant’s Watershed and Invasive Species Education (WISE) program, which works to bring invasive species education into the classroom via teacher training, lesson plans and classroom activity guides. The program focuses in part on the perils of turning non-native classroom animals loose in the environment, where they can out-compete native species and become major pests. The program got a boost last year from Oregon cartoonist Jan Eliot, whose popular syndicated cartoon “Stone Soup” featured a storyline about the issue, and who permitted Sea Grant to use her cartoon image in its education campaigns.

For details about the contest, which has a March 15, 2015 deadline, visit the OISC Website.

 

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Students debate wave energy at coastal conference

Mon, 10/27/2014 - 1:42pm

FLORENCE – Oregon State University Fisheries and Wildlife students exchanged arguments about whether wave energy should be supported in Oregon at last weekend’s State of the Coast conference – and  every statement had to to be backed by a scientific source.

“We are trying to emphasize critical thinking skills,” said professor Scott Heppell,  who taught the debate class. “This is not about memorizing facts, but to learn how to objectively evaluate the evidence available for any given natural resource issue and come to a rational conclusion.”

Fisheries and Wildlife students debate wave energy in Oregon at the State of the Coast Conference.

The eight students were randomly assigned to one side of the issue in class regardless of their personal opinion, and tasked with finding ways to support their arguments. The two teams of four sat at adjacent conference tables on the Florence Events Center theatre stage. Heppell started the session off with an overview of the issue to the audience of about 60 conference attendees.

The debate was part of a new conference format intended to reach a broader audience. Heppell’s wife and fellow professor, Selina, organized the student participation at the conference.

Team Yes hit the ground running with data suggesting that wave energy would significantly reduce Oregon’s reliance on coal and natural gas. Jordan Ellison, one of the undergraduate students on the team, reinforced the science with an economic incentive.

“Wave energy is expected to produce thousands of engineering jobs, as well as business for the coastal communities,” she said.

Following a strong opening by their opponents, Team No retaliated with dollars and cents. Estimates vary, but the cost of one facility would be upwards of $300 million, they said.

Team Yes also made a case for establishing marine reserves  around the devices and asserted that the structure would be beneficial to marine organisms. Team No shot back with concerns about disrupted migration patterns, and an overall lack of knowledge as to how these impacts would actually play out.

“We think the ecological and economic costs of these structures outweighs the benefit,” said Michelle Huppert, a member of Team No, in her closing argument. “Really what we need is more research on the marine environment before we make these costly decisions.”

While there was no clear winner in the debate, Huppert’s view was recently corroborated by Ocean Power Technology’s decision to withdraw its support for wave energy in Oregon, citing the exorbitant cost.

OSU scientists deploy wave energy test device

Research on the environmental and economic impacts are still ongoing at OSU, however, and organizers hoped the debate would help both students and community members understand the issue as renewable resources continue to gain popularity.

“Most of these questions aren’t science question; they are societal questions,” Heppell said following the debate. “Science can answer the question: ‘if we want to have wave energy, what are the expected outcomes?’”

Both teams said the exercise taught them to look at problems objectively. The future of wave energy on the Oregon coast is uncertain, but critical thinking skills will benefit these students as they tackle other marine issues throughout their careers.

 

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State of the Coast Draws 200 Coastal Stakeholders

Mon, 10/27/2014 - 10:26am

FLORENCE – Roughly 200 people from around Oregon came together on Saturday at Oregon Sea Grant’s State of the Coast conference to discuss ocean change and adaption. The conference, at the Florence Events Center, began with a welcome from Oregon Sea Grant’s director, Shelby Walker, and 9th District State Representative, Caddy McKeown. The keynote speaker was author Paul Greenberg, who informed the “fishy crowd” about the inspiration behind his best-selling books, “Four Fish” and “American Catch.” Among the audience were students from Oregon State University and University of Oregon, along with professors, scientists, representatives from NOAA, Oregon Parks and Recreation. the Nature Conservancy, and legislators. This year’s conference was the 10th annual of what used to be called the Heceta Head Coastal Conference. Unlike previous years, multiple break-out sessions characterized State of the Coast, a change that was met with positive feedback from participants. The morning was filled with “stage-setting talks” focused on changes the coast has experienced in the past several decades. A new component of the conference focused on food concerns, a theme reflected in a presentation by Newport’s Local Ocean restaurant owner Laura Anderson as well as in break-out sessions. The event offered students an opportunity to share their marine-related research. Student researchers from the OSU Marine Resource Management and the U of O School of Law programs presented their poster projects to attendees who helped judge the content. The categories were effectiveness in communicating research, accessibility of the information presented, and overall design for reaching a general and diverse audience. The afternoon allowed attendees to choose break-out sessions based on their interests. These included seafood cooking demos, a student debate on wave and wind energy by the OSU Fisheries and Wildlife department, a hands-on educational session on oysters, and a discussion of the sea star wasting syndrome that is sweeping the west coast, among others. State of the Coast was filled with multi-faceted learning, networking, and cooperative exchange between Oregon’s coastal stakeholders. The one-day conference was concluded by 5th District State Senator Arnie Roblan, whose remarks highlighted the importance of addressing coastal change. “We have a major need to better understand the environment we live in,” Roblan said. “This is a place where local people and the entire coast can come to learn about coastal issues.”

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