THE COAST

In the Pacific Northwest, you don’t hang out at the beach. You don’t tarry along the shore or amble down the seaside.

You go to the coast.

The coast is a sandblasted landscape of sea stacks, sea lions and sea spray. Misty rainforests crowd the edges of rugged cliffs. Tides recede to reveal a horizon of mud flats rich with oysters and clams. Rain falls sideways, and storm watching is a hobby.

The coast is populated with hardy residents and visitors who appreciate its rich vistas, feast on its bounty and brave its fickle weather for glimpses of paradise. Curiosity drives us out of the harbor to pass the bar and ply the tall seas in the name of science, innovation or a day’s catch.

And though while the Oregon coast is open to all, it’s not for the faint of heart or those short on imagination. The coast is where nature and people come together. Appreciating its harsh beauty and fragility requires wonder and responsibility, and wherever you find this combination, the voices of Beaver Nation are never far away.

"Innovation is a fisherman's middle name."
-Sara Skamser

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Innovation, Handcrafted

“There’s no bigger innovators than the fishermen,” says Sara Skamser as she tells the story of two fishermen who lost power on their boat in the days before the Coast Guard and ship radios. They made it back to port by fashioning sails out of their bed sheets.

Sara and her husband John have owned Foulweather Trawl in Newport for nearly 30 years, and innovation is what drives their business making custom fishing nets. When new regulations required more sustainable fishing practices, Foulweather Trawl developed nets that exclude bycatch — nontarget and overfished species — and still allow fishermen to catch the fish they want.

Sara says her business is a natural partner with fisheries scientists from Oregon State University’s Hatfield Marine Science Center (HMSC), the Oregon Department of Fisheries and Wildlife (ODFW) Oregon State fisheries scientists and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Scott Heppell from OSU and Bob Hannah from ODFW are both based at HMSC and have worked with Foulweather Trawl to quantify bycatch and so they can design nets that can exclude these species by size or swimming behavior.

But for all their innovation, one thing hasn’t changed: every net is painstakingly handmade. And she’s proud of the fact that fishermen can depend on their gear.

“Every time those boats go out, a piece of us goes with them,” she says.

"It's a surreal experience every time you go down the hill."
-Matt Walton

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Sand and Adrenaline

Matt Walton looks around the vast system of dunes in Florence, Oregon. It’s beautiful, peaceful even. Then he straps on a board and goes flying off into the sand.

Matt is a world-champion sandboarder — think snowboarding on the beach. He grew up with these dunes practically in his backyard. Since 2007, he’s been an instructor at Sand Master Park in Florence, the world’s first sandboard park. And he’s traveled to exotic destinations like Siwa, Egypt for sandboarding competitions, winning a wall full of trophies along the way.

Matt’s also won awards as station manager at KBVR-FM, the student-run radio station at Oregon State University. In 2014, KBVR was named the best college radio station at a university with more than 10,000 students, Matt won for best promotions director, and he shared an award for best play-by-play football broadcast. He’s pursuing a degree in history and new media communications and hopes to connect his media savvy with the sport he loves.

But no matter what he ends up doing, these dunes — with some of the finest sand in the world — will always be home.

"This bay is known as the cleanest estuary in the United States. And it's important to keep it that way."
-Dobby Wiegardt

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Tidal Flats Legacy

Dobby Wiegardt and his nephew Ken represent the fourth and fifth generations of a family of Pacific Northwest oystermen. Though he’s now retired from the family business, Dobby hauls a thousand pounds of gravel out to his clam beds every day the weather allows. And he continues to raise shellfish in the legendarily pure waters of Willapa Bay in the southwest corner of Washington.

Ken has taken over operations of the family oyster business from his uncle, and he hopes to pass it on to the next generation of Wiegardt oystermen.

The family’s legacy depends on the vast bounty of the Northwest coast and the careful stewardship of those who make their lives — and their livelihoods — in these waters.

The Problem at Whiskey Creek

The trouble began in 2007. Oyster larvae were dying by the millions.

“We had three or four months when we had zero production. We’d never seen anything like it,” says Mark Wiegardt, owner of the Whiskey Creek Shellfish Hatchery on Oregon’s Netarts Bay. It’s one of the nation’s largest producers of Pacific oyster larvae.

The cause for the massive die-off at the hatchery turned out to be ocean acidification. As atmospheric carbon dioxide is dissolved in seawater, it forms carbonic acid, making the water more acidic — and less hospitable to sea life.

When Pacific oyster larvae are fertilized, they don’t yet have the shells they need to survive. They make their shells from calcium carbonate in an energy-intensive chemical process, but the increasingly acidic seawater pumped into the hatchery’s tanks made it much harder to form shells before the larvae ran out of energy and died. With help from Oregon State University chemical oceanographer Burke Hales, Whiskey Creek implemented a monitoring and treatment system to stabilize the pH level in the hatchery’s tanks. Whiskey Creek is once again producing larvae for West Coast oyster farms.

University researchers are continuing to investigate the challenges caused by ocean acidification and develop better seawater monitoring techniques. And they’re connecting with stakeholders to turn scientific research into useful diagnostic tools for hatcheries and growers like Mark Wiegardt.

"This is paradise."
-Ruby Moon

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The Freshest Catch

Ruby Moon hails from a fishing family. The daughter of one fisherman and mother of two more, she works for Oregon Sea Grant Extension, building connections between the community and the fishing industry.

As a fishery Extension agent, Ruby Moon leads Shop at the Dock seafood-buying tours from the commercial fishing docks in Newport. These tours help visitors and locals alike learn to buy directly from the source, bringing hundreds of seafood lovers face to face with the fishermen who caught the fish they’re buying. She’s proud to play a role in supporting the sustainable fisheries that are both an economic engine and a way of life on the Oregon coast.

"When you go offshore of Oregon, it's a challenge like you've never seen before."
-Sarah Henkel

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Studying the Deep

Sarah Henkel is fascinated by the little things. She studies tiny creatures buried in the sand on the bottom of the ocean floor. What she’s trying to determine is the potential impact of wave energy systems on ocean habitats. Will anchoring arrays of massive wave energy buoys offshore change the life of the sea floor? Can we harness the power of the ocean to generate electricity without causing unwanted environmental side effects?

Sarah’s research will help ensure that we don’t solve one problem while creating another. She and a team of Oregon State University graduate students brave the open ocean, using a 500-pound device with jaws that grabs a square of sediment from the ocean floor near the anchors for the wave energy devices. Collecting data on the benthic environment near these anchors — which become artificial reefs that attract fish, barnacles and other organisms —provides baseline measurements that can be used in planning for larger-scale deployments of wave energy systems.

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Oceanography Boot Camp

When Alejandra Sanchez, a fourth-year Ph.D. student studying physical oceanography, was given the charge to co-lead a four-day research cruise sponsored by the State of Oregon, she jumped at the chance.

“This is what I want to do with my life,” Alejandra says, her brown eyes wide.

As a student, she’s been lucky to experience several month-long research cruises and a handful of day trips off the Oregon Coast, but this was the first time she was able to take the reins and step up as a leader. She took the responsibility seriously.

“You have to plan every minute of the cruise, and when something changes, you have to make quick decisions,” she explains.

Which is exactly what she did on this particular cruise in April 2014.

While the team of 11 students zeroed in on the Cape Perpetua Marine Reserve and searched for the cause of changes to underwater habitats, the oxygen sensors on the ship’s ocean sampler failed. Other sensors secured to a mooring were lost in heavy seas. To compensate, the students collected extra water samples and relied heavily on measurements taken from two autonomous underwater gliders, which collected data. The gliders also monitored currents as well as upwelling and downwelling events.

In past years, this area has seen abnormally low oxygen conditions — leading to what has been called a hypoxia dead zone. The students looked at the factors that might cause extreme low-oxygen conditions to arise. They also considered how those factors might affect fish, crabs and other sea life. The issue is particularly important now because fishing restrictions in the reserve went into effect in 2013, and scientists want to know whether future ecosystem changes are due to natural variability or to changes in fishing.

In addition to gathering data and learning about a unique ecosystem, the students picked up valuable life lessons as well. Alejandra says she learned that if something doesn’t work out, the best attitude to have is a positive one.

“You just have to keep going,” she explains. And despite the setbacks during this cruise, Alejandra and her team collected valuable data about the reserve.

She feels thankful for the research opportunities she’s had while pursuing her education.

“I think the oceanography program at Oregon State is one of the best in the U.S.,” she says. “And just the fact that Oregon State and the NSF trusted students with piloting a research vessel and that we were all able to go is something that is really unique.”

Hatfield Marine Science Center

Hatfield Marine Science Center to expand academic, research and outreach mission

Oregon State University’s Hatfield Marine Science Center (HMSC) in Newport is internationally respected for collaborative research, education and outreach on ocean and coastal ecosystems, fisheries, marine mammals, geosciences, renewable energy and other marine resources. As it celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2015, HMSC is expanding its role in environmental health and economic prosperity for Oregon and the world.

Oregon State is launching a university-wide Marine Studies Initiative to develop interdisciplinary academic programs, expand research and increase engagement with coastal communities. By 2025, up to 500 students will attend classes and conduct research at HMSC. Academic and research programs will involve each of Oregon State’s 13 colleges, along with community colleges along the coast. The initiative also aims to expand partnerships with federal and state agencies, local governments, businesses and residents to address the challenges facing the ocean and the communities that depend on it.

“The Marine Studies Initiative will give students from across the university many more opportunities to immerse themselves in hands-on learning,” says HMSC Director Bob Cowen. “The initiative will also ensure Oregon State and the Hatfield Marine Science Center continue to lead world-class, interdisciplinary research and innovative outreach programs that make a real difference on our environment and in people’s lives.”

Five facts about Hatfield Marine Science Center

  1. Named for Mark O. Hatfield, former Oregon governor and U.S. senator
  2. Visitor Center welcomes 180,000 people annually, including 40,000 K-12 students
  3. Home to the OSU Marine Mammal Institute, pioneer in using satellite-monitored radio tags to study whales and dolphins
  4. Collaborative research partnerships connect scientists from seven Oregon State University colleges, six state and federal agencies and diverse industries
  5. Economic engine with $45 million annual budget and 300 employees