Monday, January 8, 2024

Engaging with the Community to Promote Equity and Environmental Justice in Fisheries

Mya Brown
Mya Brown, a master's student at the University of Texas
Rio Grande Valley, recently completed her NERTO internship
at the 
Pacific Island Fisheries Science Center (PIFSC)
in Honolulu, Hawaii
Hello, my name is Mya Brown, and I am a NOAA CCME-II EPP/MSI Cohort 1 graduate scholar from the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) pursuing my master’s degree in Ocean, Coastal, and Earth Sciences (OCES). I am an ocean scientist engaged in social science research, as I am interested in understanding the effects of natural resource management on communities. Currently, my thesis research focuses on understanding stakeholder interactions and the impacts of these relationships on coastal habitat restoration projects occurring in Bahia Grande, Texas. 

One of my research goals is to better understand if and how natural resource managers collaborate with the local communities they serve (e.g., hosting meetings and educational outreach events) and identify any conditions that help or hinder collaboration with community members to help improve current management strategies. This work involves local communities and looks to better address their concerns regarding coastal resource usage and economic development. Furthermore, my research stresses the necessity for collaborative networks between stakeholders and the environment. It also relates to an area of professional and personal interest to me -Equity and Environmental Justice or EEJ as it relates to environmental issues and my research is defined as having equitable input concerning the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies. Environmental justice is a by-product of the civil rights movement and is linked to the unequal impacts and environmental decisions subjected to underserved, marginalized, and adversely affected communities in the United States. With this, NOAA Fisheries produced a National Equity and Environmental Justice Strategy to implement EEJ throughout the agency. For instance, the Pacific Island Region (PIR) has been working on implementing EEJ by establishing an EEJ working group with an interdisciplinary staff dedicated to incorporating it into their work. This integration will help guide NOAA staff to serve communities that are culturally and economically dependent on these coastal and oceanic resources. 

Mya Brown posing with Protected Places and Species bulletin.
Accordingly, I was excited to have been provided an opportunity to complete a NOAA Experiential Research and Training Opportunity (NERTO) in the Fall of 2023 at the Pacific Island Fisheries Science Center (PIFSC) in Honolulu, Hawaii, where I served as a social science intern. I am incredibly grateful for this opportunity as it allowed me to experience engaging in social science research. My NERTO project involved working with the Pacific Island Region (PIR) Equity and Environmental Justice (EEJ) working group where I helped establish and facilitate intra-organizational workshops, record and code data collected during these events, and develop a comprehensive report summarizing the main topics and feedback workshop participants provided. The greater goal of generating these workshop reports was to help draft the PIR EEJ Implementation Plan, which I assisted in writing. Lastly, I aided in developing guiding documents and thematic codes that will be used across regions for other EEJ working groups. 

Mya Brown presented her NERTO
research to NOAA scientists.

My NERTO experience was very fulfilling as I had the opportunity to develop important intra-organizational reports, analyze PIR community feedback, and present my methods across the NMFS divisions. The data and other information I coded was incorporated into the PIR EEJ Implementation Plan Draft and highlights an essential step that NOAA is taking toward a more equitable future. Participating in this internship enabled me to improve my coding, analysis, reporting, and presenting skills regarding qualitative data. Additionally, the experience I had working with NOAA social scientists was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Throughout my NERTO, I was supported by an amazing team of like-minded individuals who value understanding the greater impacts of NOAA work on communities. This work that I assisted with further cemented my passion for servicing underrepresented communities through science. This experience validated the importance of my thesis research in how it emphasized the importance of community-stakeholder dynamics and the effects that this has on resources. 

Mya Brown in front of the PIRO NOAA Globe

Mya Brown in front of the Pacific Island
Regional Office (PIRO) NOAA Globe.

My internship was made possible because of the fantastic leadership and support from the staff who guided me throughout my NERTO. I am grateful to the wonderful people I met at the PIFSC and the Pacific Island Regional Office (PIRO) who were actively involved in my work and offered guidance and opportunities for me to grow as a scientist. This experience has not only increased my love of science and serving the community it also served as a valuable learning experience on my journey to becoming a well-rounded scientist. 

NOTE: Mya’s NERTO internship was made possible by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Office of Education, Educational Partnership Program with Minority-Serving Institutions award #NA21SEC4810004 (NOAA Center for Coastal and Marine Ecosystems-II). The contents of this post are solely the responsibility of the award recipient and do not necessarily represent the official views of the U.S. Department of Commerce, NOAA.

Tuesday, November 7, 2023

Thalassophile: Taking My Passion for Healthy Oceans to an Invaluable Internship Experience

Geaceli G. Orive holding a common jellyfish (Aurelia aurita) while abroad an ichthyoplankton  survey.

Geaceli G. Orive holding a common jellyfish (Aurelia
aurita) 
while abroad an ichthyoplankton
survey.


Hello everyone, allow me to introduce myself! My name is Geaceli G. Orive (also known as “G”), and I am a NOAA EPP/MSI CCME-II Scholar. I am currently a graduate student pursuing my masters . in Ocean, Coastal, and Earth Sciences at the University of Texas at Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV). My thesis focuses on genetic connectivity of Gray Triggerfish (Balistes capriscus) in the Mexican Caribbean, the southern and northwestern Gulf of Mexico (GOM). I received my B.S. in Marine Biology with a minor in photography in Spring 2022 at UTRGV. I am interested in place-based conservation, which is an often-overlooked topic that enhances the scientific understanding of human interactions with the coastal environment. 

During Fall of 2023, I had the incredible opportunity to a be NOAA Experiential Research and Training Opportunities (NERTO) Intern at the Southeast Fisheries Science Center (SFSC) in Pascagoula, Mississippi. This center is a branch of NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). My project involved analyzing the changes in Sargassum habitat community structure from offshore to inshore areas in the northern Gulf of Mexico (east to west). I assisted with two ichthyoplankton surveys aboard a NOAA vessel (Gordon Gunter) which involved collecting and processing various samples (e.g. invertebrates) in order to identify and quantify early life stages of these Sargassum habitat associated organisms. I gained experience on two research cruises which also supported my professional development. For example, I learned about the fishing techniques in collaboration with the existing fisheries independent survey (Southeast Area Monitoring and Assessment Program (SEAMAP)) and how to perform ichthyoplankton surveys. It was absolutely amazing to be out at sea, gain a hands-on experience and witness the breathtaking views (fantastic marine organisms, endless sea, a plethora of stars, and glorious sunrises and sunsets). 

Geaceli G. Orive (front) and NOAA Scientist Pamela Brown (back)
washing down bongo nets after collecting specimens. 
Since my surveys collected a limited sample of Sargassum, historical data (2003 – 2019) was incorporated into my project, which) involved the community structure of fishes and invertebrates’ larvae associated with Sargassum habitat. For this approach, a comparison of community structure (i.e., species richness, abundances, diversity, evenness, and similarities/dissimilarities) between fishes and invertebrates among years and between the East vs. West GOM was performed. Noteworthy, ichthyoplankton surveys take place during Spring and Fall nearly year. However, SFSC focuses on different sampling areas (nearshore vs. offshore), hence this study did not compare community structure attributes between seasons. 

Ultimately, I expanded my skills in collecting, processing, and analyzing fishery-independent data in studies on habitat and community structure. This research is a relevant component of Ecosystem Based Fisheries Management (EBFM) and understanding how results from fish and invertebrate samples can be incorporated into the management of Sargassum in the northern GOM. I assisted in the development of research dissemination products to show the relevance of these results for fisheries management. Through this opportunity, I also gained an understanding of the responsibilities of a NOAA research laboratory and collaborated with like-minded peers who are passionate about healthy oceans. Moreover, I increased my skillset that are useful in a variety of academic, agency and NGO settings. 

Geaceli G. Orive in front of the NOAA research vessel, Gordon Gunter

Rain or shine, sampling was always
underway (Pictured: Geaceli G. Orive).


This NERTO contributed to the activities and priorities of SFSC which aligns with the broader NOAA mission. Further, this NERTO aligns with the CCME-II goals to provide training and tools that comprehend and respond to challenges that face coastal and marine communities.

I am extremely grateful to be a part of this program and broaden my knowledge of the science that supports healthy oceans. This experience allowed me to increase my confidence in this field, nourish my love for the sea and contribute to the exploration of our marvelous yet mysterious oceans. This NERTO elevated my growth as scholar, overall person and is in invaluable steppingstone to endless career opportunities. 

My support for this internship is through the NOAA CCME-II (support from the NOAA Educational Partnership Program with Minority-Serving Institutions, Cooperative Agreement Award #NA21SEC4810004).

A tranquil sunset picture captured at sea on the Gulf of Mexico


Monday, August 28, 2023

My Summer in the Bayou

Alyssa Outhwaite (left) and Becky Allee (right) in front of the  Point-au-Chien Indian Tribe Building
Alyssa Outhwaite (left) and Becky Allee (right) in front of the 
Point-au-Chien Indian Tribe Building

Hi! My name is Alyssa Outhwaite, I am a NOAA EPP/MSI CCME-II Scholar and a PhD candidate in Marine Biology at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi. But what I’m really here to talk about is the amazing summer I spent as a NOAA EPP/MSI Experiential Research and Training Opportunity (NERTO) intern with the Gulf Region’s Office for Coastal Management.

This summer, I had the opportunity to work with the Pointe-au-Chien Indian Tribe (PACIT) of Terrebonne Parish, LA. I learned about their history and how lands have changed in the face of exploitation. I learned about their devotion to their homes and perseverance to maintain the important culture of their tribe in a changing world. Together we considered how alternative oyster culture (AOC) may be used to enhance social equity and environmental justice among their people. AOC is a potential sustainable way of growing oysters, where oysters are grown and harvested in bottom-placed or floating cages. While traditional oyster culture farming has been the way of the PACIT for generations, the concept of AOC is a relatively new one, and Louisiana in particular is interested in growing this industry.

As a part of this internship, I received hands on experience working with the tribe as well as behind the curtain operations of NOAA’s Office for Coastal Management. I was able to collaborate with the federal government, state agencies, and the local tribe to better understand the condition of Louisiana’s bayous, erosion concerns, and where AOC might fit into that changing landscape. We started by asking a simple question “are there suitable areas in which AOC can take place that will benefit the PACIT?” This led me through a journey of mapping out priority lands for the tribe and oyster leases in adjacent waters.

Alyssa Outhwaite giving a presentation on oyster aquaculture to the NOAA Gulf Region Collaboration Team
Alyssa Outhwaite giving a presentation on oyster aquaculture to the NOAA Gulf Region Collaboration Team

Donald Dardar (back left), Matt Bethel (back right), Earl Melancon (front left), and Alyssa Outhwaite (front right) surveying oyster leases in Terrebonne Parish Louisiana
Donald Dardar (back left), Matt Bethel (back right),
Earl Melancon (front left), and Alyssa Outhwaite (front right)
surveying oyster leases in Terrebonne Parish Louisiana
One of my favorite experiences this summer was cruising out into the bayou with a couple of the tribe’s oystermen to survey oyster leases, where we documented the water’s temperature and salinity using a sonde, which is an instrument that transmits information about its surroundings from an inaccessible location such as underwater.

We made a little competition of tasting the water before checking the salinity to see how close our guesses were to truth. For two experienced oystermen, I wasn’t surprised how spot on their estimates were.

From there we poled the water bottom to document the substrate type. ‘Poling’ an oyster lease is actually quite simple. One must simply possess the ability to balance along the deck of a boat, spearing their rod down into the water to the sediment below, and shout back to person holding pen and paper what sort of bottom lay underneath. ‘Mud’ for the soft and sticky, ‘Firm’ for the more unyielding, and ‘Reef’ for the clumps of oysters easily discerned by the shifting clink of the pole as it taps across shells. And you simply do this repeatedly as the boat captain motors steadily across the water. The end result is a profile of the bottom type, which is important for determining how well an oyster farm might fare.

Alyssa Outhwaite surveying oyster lease bottoms by "poling" in Terrebonne Parish Louisiana
Alyssa Outhwaite surveying oyster lease bottoms by
"poling" in Terrebonne Parish, Louisiana 
Returning to the tribal building to eat pot-fried crabs and listen to stories about the tribe, their legacy of living in the bayou, and how hard they work to keep moving forward was one of the most enriching experiences I’ve had.

This opportunity went far beyond learning more about NOAA and preparing me for a future in that industry. It helped me connect the important science we do to the people it impacts. It helped me better see where management can make a difference and how there is so much work that can be done for the underserved communities right in our own bayous.

______________________________________

Alyssa's NERTO internship was made possible by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Office of Education, Educational Partnership Program with Minority-Serving Institutions award #NA21SEC4810004 (NOAA Center for Coastal and Marine Ecosystems-II). The contents of this post are solely the responsibility of the award recipient and do not necessarily represent the official views of the U.S. Department of Commerce, NOAA. 

Tuesday, August 8, 2023

What are NERTO Internships?

NOAA CCME-II Scholar and Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi biology master's student Jasmine Caillier interned with the NOAA Coastal Ocean Science Hollings Marine Lab's Ecotoxicology Branch

(Source: NOAA Office of Education) 

NOAA Experiential Research and Training Opportunities (NERTO) provide value to both the NOAA host offices and the EPP/MSI Cooperative Science Center-supported students. This is a win-win opportunity for NOAA and its academic partners. NERTOs increase the number of Cooperative Science Center (CSC)-supported students who participate in meaningful NOAA mission-aligned science, technology, engineering, mathematics, policy, natural resource management, and social science research and training at NOAA facilities and earn NOAA mission-aligned postsecondary degrees.

Read more about the NERTO program here:
https://www.noaa.gov/office-education/epp-msi/nerto 



Engaging with the Community to Promote Equity and Environmental Justice in Fisheries

Mya Brown, a master's student at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, recently completed her NERTO internship at the  Pacific Isla...