Building the Blue/Green Workforce

Building the Blue/Green Workforce

Digging into field work at Oregon’s South Slough Reserve.

An unprecedented number of young people want to work in the environmental sciences, and to do that, they need on the ground experience. Reserves around the country are helping our next generation of scientists get their boots wet—and muddy—through NOAA’s Hollings Scholarship Program.

This program supports summer internships for undergraduates at a NOAA facility. Many students end up at Reserves, where they can get practical experience in coastal, oceanic, and atmospheric science, technology, policy, and management, all while addressing some of the most critical issues facing our coasts today.

“I am very passionate about climate resilience,” says Everett Craddock, Hollings Scholar at Alaska’s Kachemak Bay Reserve. “This project could have a direct impact on the area’s ability to develop adaptation strategies that prevent local fisheries from being negatively impacted by climate change.”

“I aim to answer questions about the effects of industrial contamination and climate change on Indian Country,” says Jessica Lambert, another Hollings Scholar at Kachemak Bay and enrolled citizen of the Choctaw Nation. “I have seen the destructive impact on my own Tribe firsthand. I am excited about the possibilities for remediation and to bring to light such a crucial issue that is too often overlooked.”

Working side-by-side with their Reserve mentors and their partners gives the scholars an opportunity to network and develop the skills they need to work in science in the future.

“My time at Padilla Bay allowed me to work with and learn from incredible researchers,” says Anna Poston, Hollings Scholar at the Padilla Bay Reserve in Washington. “Working with the researchers at the Reserve solidified my desire to attend graduate school and helped me develop the critical thinking and coding skills necessary to succeed in research.”

A moment of zen amid the field work at the Padilla Bay Reserve.

Dozens of scholars have trained at Reserves over the past ten years and many of them do. Some even go onto graduate work.

“I am working on improving our understanding of the biogeochemistry of Great Bay,” says Anna Lowien, a Margaret A. Davidson (MAD) Fellow at the New Hampshire’s Great Bay Reserve and former Hollings Scholar. “I did my internship at Kachemak Bay and loved it! I knew then I wanted to be part of the Reserve System.”

The Hollings Scholarship Program sponsored Anna Lowein’s internship at Alaska’s Kachemak Bay Reserve, where she used her knowledge of hydrology to develop computer models, now used by Reserve partners to predict peak salmon months more effectively and plan management decisions accordingly.

Reserve participation in the Hollings Scholar Program is coordinated by Nina Garfield, Dani Boudreau, and Chris Kinkade at NOAA’s Office for Coastal Management and made possible by generous support from Reserve mentors every year.

Anna Posten’s work explored seagrass habitat resilience and restoration in the face of environmental change at Washington’s Padilla Bay Reserve. (Mentor: Sylvia Yang)

Everett Craddock’s work focused on groundwater recharge-discharge in the Anchor River watershed at the Kachemak Bay Reserve in Alaska. (Mentor: Mark Rains)

Jessica Lambert’s work analyzed different ways of knowing groundwater in Alaska’s Kachemak Bay region. (Mentors: Coowe Walker and Syverine Bentz)

Petra Zuniga researched the links between vegetation, hydrology, and soils in undisturbed and restored wetlands at the South Slough Reserve in Oregon. (Mentor: Jenni Schmitt)

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Talk NERRdy: Suzanne Shull

Talk NERRdy: Suzanne Shull

Talk NERRdy to Me is a monthly column about leaders and luminaries from across our 29—soon to be 30—Reserves. This month, NERRA’s correspondent-at-large Nik Charov interviewed Suzanne Shull, GIS specialist at Washington’s Padilla Bay Reserve. They talked about spaces, places, and ground truthing everything from eelgrass to David Bowie’s nudibranch-forward fashion sense.

Nik: Suzanne Shull, you’ve been at Padilla Bay since 1997, which is longer than most of the Davidson Fellows have been alive. What do you do there, and why do you do it?

Suzanne: I’m a Geospatial Information System (GIS) specialist. I get to work in the sciences, do a lot of different kinds of hands-on work while also bringing GIS technical skills. It’s allowed me to help scientists understand the value of GIS and implement it. GIS is technically all about what’s where; everything we do has a spatial component to it. Every spreadsheet you’ve ever used could be translated into a GIS beta layer. 

Nik: “A lot” of scientists [Editor’s Note: n=29, CV>=1] read this monthly newsletter. What sells them on GIS? What are some things that they might want that GIS provides?

Suzanne: Well, habitat maps, for example. That’s not something you just hand off to somebody outside of the Reserves and say, “Make me a map.” You’ve got to know the habitats and what it is you’re after.

Nik: This is a relatively new specialty, right? I mean, we’ve been making maps since forever. Aerial photography originally by planes and guys out on the wing with a flash and a hood, right?

Suzanne: And hot air balloons! Yeah, it’s been around for a long time, but it’s become more accessible. Doug Bulthuis was the Research Coordinator at Padilla Bay until he handed the reins off to Jude [Apple]. In 1989 he mapped from aerial photography onto a topographic sheet, just using a zoom transfer scope, and then that was translated to a GIS much later. And that’s really how I got started.

I went to graduate school here in Western Washington University and worked on hyperspectral imagery from our state Department of Natural Resources to map nearshore vegetation. They handed that imagery off to me and said, “We’d like you to make a map of Padilla Bay so that we can compare our results,” and the rest is history! When I finished that master’s program, I got hired at Padilla Bay to set up the GIS and here I am. We still have aerial photography flown every yearwe don’t always map from it, but we have this record where just by looking at the imagery you can see whether or not that subtidal edge is stable, for instance.

Nik: I’m going to cut to the chase and ask: has Padilla Bay changed?

Suzanne: I’d say we have more distribution of the eelgrass than we did. But one of the problems for remote sensing is getting at the species differentiation. We’ve got two species (at least) an introduced species and a native species, and they grow intermixed so you can’t do it without ground truthing.

Nik: I know our GIS specialist and UAV pilot here in Wellsthe incomparable Sue Bickfordstill loves her some ground truthing. Do you feel the same way about getting out there, getting the old waders on?

Suzanne: I do! Next week we’re headed out to do our annual biomonitoring acquisition of vegetation characteristics and hopefully our aerial photography will be flown simultaneously.

Nik: As an expert in spaces, what does it mean to you when places change over time?

Suzanne: Well, it’s fascinating. One of the first projects I worked on at Padilla Bay was to try and get a handle on the land use changes in the surrounding watershed. It was really hard to find a way to either use remote sensing or even census data to figure out what those changes were and how we could assess them, but I found it fascinating. 

The distribution of eelgrass is interesting too. The shellfish growers are not keen about the introduced species because it will grow where they are harvesting shellfish. It used to be that eelgrass in Washington State was protected, and it was irrelevant what species it was. Now they differentiate the two, and each county can decide whether or not they want to apply herbicides on the introduced species.

Nik: What drew you into this world?

Suzanne: I studied urban planning as an undergraduate, with a background in engineering, so I’d done a lot of the sciences and math. When I graduated, I was hired as a research technician for a physical oceanographer and we would study currents and coastal seas all over the world. We were starting to use satellite imagery to look at sea surface temperatures, SSTs, and we would deploy drones to do sea surface temperature measurements. That just fascinated me, that you could do that kind of science remotely. So that’s how I chose the graduate program that I went into.

Nik: …Wait, how’d you get from urban planning to SST?

Suzanne: Well, I grew up in San Diego near the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. I had done some volunteer work and a few projects in my undergraduate program studying the marshes north of San Diego. Oh, and my dad was an oceanographerhe was actually a professor at San Diego State.

Nik: Ah. The family business. And then you got to the mapping of places…Or is it mapping spaces? We had a Wabanaki tribal representative at the Wells Reserve recently, talking about Indigenous peoples’ sense of place. He mentioned that the geographer and philosopher Yi-Fu Tuan came up with a formula that, “A place equals space plus culture.” In the GIS world, how does the mapping of human and cultural resources, possibly also known as human dynamics, get pulled in?

Suzanne: That’s an excellent question. I’ve been focused on the natural resources side of it, but I do like that we’re growing our relationship with Esri, which is the company that makes the software we use. They have this thing called the Living Atlas, which has authoritative datasets that include census data, economics—whatever tribal data is available publicly… It’s a quick and easy way to bring in all those things. I would like to see more of that incorporated into our GIS products as we move forward in the NERRS, because I think it’s a ready resource that’s underutilized. 

The other important thing is: how can we bring those different data layers together to tell a story? I’ll put a plug in for the Landscape Scale Marsh Assessment as a beautiful example. We have sea level rise data, land use, land cover, soil dataand we combine those to look at where our marshes are more vulnerable to SLR and where they are most adaptable. The key is in the creativity of how you get at combining those layers. The beauty of what Great Bay’s Rachel Stevens and Cory Riley did was to turn that into management actions, so you not only have this data that really supports an assessment of vulnerability, but also what you can do with that information. 

Nik: There is a prescriptive aspect of it, isn’t there, where GIS specialists across the System are going, like, “Here’s what you can do,” right?

Suzanne: Yeah, but I would broaden that. What I’d like to see is that all of the sectors value the use of that GIS data to be prescriptive, so that it gets incorporated into every project that we do. GIS can seem like a scary word. People are like, “That’s a technical thing and that goes over here in the corner,” but we should start thinking of giving these projects a spatial component. You can take all the data in the world, but to know what to do with it is going to take the minds of all these different types of thinkers and scientists and outreach specialists and educators.

Nik: Not to put you on the spot, but how might you bring your work to a summer camp for kids? I’m looking out my office window at some campers right now. How would we take your big scary GIS to first and second graders that have a couple of weeks with us in the summer can we do it?

Suzanne: Oh yeah, they’d eat it up! You could take them to the beach, do surveys for forage fish eggs, and then look at the sand those eggs are sitting in. Back in the lab, you can look at your online mapping application and it will show you where the feeder bluffs are located, where the eggs they found are located, and where that is relative to, say, the kelp and eelgrass beds. You put that whole story together, and they just love it, right? Because kids are super good at the digital side of it. They can add the layers and build the maps more easily than many adults.

Nik: …You just did that off the top of your head? That was amazing. ECs, take note. What’s your favorite animal at the Reserve?

Suzanne: The sea slug [laughs]. You heard of the Bowiebranchia, that website that compares David Bowie’s outfits to sea slugs’ color patterns? Oh, it’s fabulous. He nailed it in so many ways and they’re just such amazing animals.

Nik: No way! Also, thank you for not saying sea otters. As a space and place person, what’s your favorite spot in Padilla Bay? 

Suzanne: I have done a lot of ground truthing out there and I’ve been to a lot of places nobody else has been. There are some channels out there where, on a low tide, water drains off of the eelgrass meadow and creates a waterfall effect down into the channel, and it’s absolutely full of fish.

What I’d like to do is take all those groundtruthing data points I’ve collected with photographs and build a story map that archives all of that. I’m probably going to retire in the next ten years, so I think about all this data I’ve got that nobody else knows even exists. I love story maps for that; it’s not dry data, it’s a story you can really use.

Nik: Right. And it would be your story. Your footsteps. From 24 years in the same place. I mean, in your head you have a generation of knowledge. 

Suzanne: True, yeah. [laughs]

Nik: With all respect! 

Suzanne: No, yes, thank you. It’s an honor to be able to age. It really is.

Nik: Safely and healthily. I’ve heard rumors that Padilla Bay will someday soon be hosting the annual meeting, should we go back to annual meetings in person. In Wells, there’s no hotel big enough. 

Suzanne: Yeah. I just visited Steve Baird up at Kachemak Bay. Oh my goodness, talk about heaven on earth. It would be virtually impossible to do an annual meeting there but, man, I think it would be really good for all of us to witness what it is that they’re doing up there.

Nik: We could charter a cruise ship. It could be the NERRds Cruise. 

Suzanne: They’re probably pretty cheap right now.

Nik: Solved another one!

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Welcome, Amy!

Welcome, Amy!

Amy Wilcox is the new administrative officer for the Padilla Bay Foundation.

Please join NERRA in welcoming Amy Wilcox, the new administrative officer for Washington’s Padilla Bay Foundation. To her role, Amy brings more than twenty years of experience in nonprofit and governmental agencies, where she has worked to promote resource conservation, social justice, and access to education and the arts. 

“I’m excited to use my communications and fundraising skills to build on the great work at the Foundation and the Padilla Bay Reserve,” says Amy. “I’m from this area. The Reserve is a local gem that could use more attention. For me, this work is about legacy. I want to make sure the Reserve is here for a long, long time, keeping the estuary healthy and the people around it thriving.”

A previous role with the North Cascades Institute, a conservation education organization, used to bring Amy to the Reserve once a month for meetings. “It was always my favorite day of the month! I thought it was such a lovely place to get to work,” she says. “Now I’m here, and it’s kind of my dream job!”

When not working on causes she believes in, Amy enjoys paddling in the Salish Sea and running on trails. “I like to do whatever I can do outside,” she says.  

We hope you’ll take a moment to say hello. Amy, we’re so excited to have you join the community of Reserve Friends and Foundations—you’ll find they are as passionate about their Reserves as you are about Padilla Bay.

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Volunteers Protect Kelp in Puget Sound

Volunteers Protect Kelp in Puget Sound

Photos courtesy Island County Marine Resources Committee, Ron Beier.

The kelp beds of Puget Sound provide critical habitat and food for the foodweb that supports Endangered Southern Resident Orcas, and Washington depends on these whales to bring an estimated $65 million each year to the state’s tourism industry. The kelp beds, in turn, rely on responsible land and water management. And the land and water managers? They depend on data collected by a crack team of kayak-based citizen scientists!

“The reciprocal nature of our research and monitoring done through community science partnerships provides a powerful means of expanding our data collection capacity and communicating the story it tells,” says Padilla Bay Reserve GIS lead Suzanne Shull.

In 2020, the Padilla Bay Reserve and the Northwest Straits Commission (NWSC) helped more than 40 volunteers survey bull kelp canopy via kayak in the Northwest Straits region. These paddles contributed to a long-term data set that is painting a picture of how local bull kelp distribution in the Sound varies from year to year. Together, they surveyed 22 different bull kelp beds, documenting 416 acres of bull kelp forest.

The Washington Department of Natural Resources and county planners use this data to better understand bull kelp’s abundance and stressors. It is also helping them design strategies to preserve thriving kelp beds long into the future, as envisioned by the Puget Sound Kelp Conservation and Recovery Plan.

Through the NWSC partnership, Shull was able to process and share the volunteers’ kelp data with decision makers and the public. “Suzanne’s expertise is something we do not have the capacity to support, if we were not able to borrow a fraction of her time from the Reserve,” says Dana Oster, NWSC’s marine program manager. “She spearheaded our web-based mapping tool over ten years ago as a way to share and archive the data collected by our volunteers alongside other state marine datasets.”

“The beauty of programs like these is that not only are they cost effective ways to collect much-needed data, but they also connect members of the local community to their marine environment,” says Oster. “Not to mention the benefits of connection to nature and the exercise they get from all that paddling!”

Within the NWSC, there are seven Marine Resources Committees (MRCs) made up of community members who advise county commissioners on marine resources matters. The Reserve and the Skagit County MRC partner to provide coordination and curricula for the Salish Sea Stewards and Kids on the Beach, programs that started with a community need to improve place-based, marine science education for adults and middle schoolers.

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Happy 40th Birthday, Padilla Bay!

Happy 40th Birthday, Padilla Bay!

Washington’s Padilla Bay Reserve is celebrating four decades of conservation, outreach, and education in the heart of the Salish Sea. For 40 years, the Reserve has collaborated to protect and preserve Padilla Bay and the communities who depend on it. Reserve programs bring students and teachers to the bay for hands-on education, engage stakeholders in protecting against oil spills and supporting kelp forest recovery, and study and steward the vital ecosystems in the bay. 

The Reserve protects more than 8,000 acres of land and water, including a highly productive eelgrass meadow used as a nursery by juvenile salmon, crab, and herring. Eelgrass also provides critical habitat for waterfowl and marine birds and is central to the state’s Shoreline Master Plans and Puget Sound restoration efforts.

2020 has been a challenging year, but there are many things to celebrate at the Reserve: new virtual education offerings, ongoing research and monitoring, a successfully completed touch tank exhibit, and several new staff members who have joined the family. 

To help us celebrate 40 wonderful years, Reserve staff shared a few photos from the archives. Thanks for the walk down memory lane, Padilla Baywe can’t wait to see what the future holds!

Padilla Bay’s campus was once home to Jersey cows on the Breazeale Farm.

Edna Breazeale with the original sign designating the Breazeale Wildlife Sanctuary, which would become the Padilla Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve.

From the 1982 dedication celebration.

Padilla Bay’s first education coordinator, Judy Friesem, leads children on a Mudflat Safaria popular program that continues today.

New Faces Across the NERRS

New Faces Across the NERRS

Our Reserve family has some new faces, each bringing fresh talents and energy to their respective Reserves. Please join NERRA in welcoming these new NERRds to the family!

Vanessa Dornisch, Coastal Training Program Coordinator at New Jersey’s Jacques Cousteau Reserve

Vanessa grew up spending winters in Florida and summers at the Jersey Shore. All that time in coastal areas made her fall in love with the environment and pursue a career protecting it. After attending Rowan University for her undergraduate degree and University of Florida for graduate school, Vanessa worked in coastal resilience in Florida for several years before joining the staff at the Jacques Cousteau Reserve

“I am so excited to join the Reserve System because I’m a huge advocate of interdisciplinary approaches to research, education, and protecting coastal resources,” says Vanessa. “As CTP Coordinator, I’m looking forward to working with local communities to build resilience to sea level rise and flooding.”

Rachel Best, Office Coordinator at Washington’s Padilla Bay Reserve

When you call the Padilla Bay interpretive center or stop to visit the exhibits and aquariums, you’ll find a new face behind the counter—Rachel Best has joined the Reserve as its new office coordinator and administrative assistant.

Rachel is a native Washingtonian who grew up enjoying the great outdoors. She’s a coastal activist even outside of work, volunteering on the Skagit County Marine Resources Committee and the Skagit Conservation District’s Clean Streams project. She’s also a Salish Sea Steward volunteer, and headed that group’s advisory team.


Sarah Brostrom, Coastal Training Program Coordinator at Washington’s Padilla Bay Reserve

Sarah Brostrom, joined the Padilla Bay team in May. She is coordinating the Salish Sea Stewards volunteer training program (now virtual) and is ramping up to lead the Reserve’s Coastal Training Program (CTP) as it adapts to the COVID-19 world of virtual professional development. 

Sara grew up near the Salish Sea in Lacey, Washington, exploring the shores of Budd Inlet and camping and hiking with her family in the state’s many beautiful ecosystems. For Sara, these formative experiences sparked an early interest in environmental science. After studying at the School of Marine and Environmental Affairs at University of Washington, Sara spent a year in the Washington Sea Grant Hershman Fellowship where she worked on projects related to sea level rise and was lucky enough to participate in the Coastal Training Program.

“I’m excited to bring experience in the field of education and marine policy to my role, and to explore new ways to broaden the reach of Padilla Bay’s CTP,” says Sara. “And I look forward to working with my new co-workers and to exploring the Reserve in-person!”

Sabra Comet, Coastal Training Program Coordinator at Oregon’s South Slough Reserve

Sabra (pronounced “Say-bruh”) comes to Oregon’s South Slough Reserve from NOAA’s Silver Spring office, where she worked in the Integrated Ocean Observing System and Technology, Planning and Integration for Observation programs. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Zoology from Southern Oregon University, a Master’s in Natural Resources Conservation from Portland State University, and is a former Knauss Fellow with Oregon Sea Grant. She brings with her a wealth of professional experience related to coastal and ocean issues. 

“I’m very excited to be part of the Coastal Training Program, as it fits the mix of policy, science, and boots-on-the-ground community interaction that I love,” says Sabra. “Both the staff at the Reserve and at the NOAA level are very welcoming and passionate, and the diverse stakeholder audience will keep the job interesting far into the future.”


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ReservesPadilla Bay, Washington