marine science and the coast

OSU Press publishes book on salmon by acclaimed biologist

CORVALLIS, Ore. – For more than 40 years, Jim Lichatowich worked with Pacific salmon as a researcher, resource manager and scientific adviser, and he has seen first-hand the decline of Northwest salmon populations during that time.

In a new book published by the Oregon State University Press, Lichatowich outlines a plan for salmon recovery based on the lessons he has learned during his long career.

His book, “Salmon, People, and Place: A Biologist’s Search for Salmon Recovery,” points out many misconceptions about salmon that have hampered management and limited recovery programs. These programs will continue to fail, he argues, as long as they look at salmon as “products” and ignore their essential relationship with the environment.

Among his suggestions for reforming salmon management and recovery:

  • Holding salmon managers and administrators accountable;
  • Requiring agencies to do more “institutional learning”;
  • Not relying on shifting baselines of data;
  • Undertaking hatchery reform;
  • Returning to place-based salmon management.

John Larison, author of “The Complete Steelheader,” praised the OSU Press book written by Lichatowich. “Part science, part anthropology, part philosophy, this is a revelatory book and essential reading for anyone hoping to understand salmon in the Northwest,” Larison said.

Lichatowich served for years on the Independent Scientific Advisory board for the Columbia River restoration program, as well as on Oregon’s Independent Multidisciplinary Science Team and other science groups in British Columbia and California. He is author of the award-winning book, “Salmon without Rivers: A History of the Pacific Salmon Crisis.”

In his newest book, Lichatowich writes: “We enthusiastically accepted the gift of salmon, but failed to treat it with the respect it deserves. We failed to meet our obligation to return the gift in the way that only humans can. We failed to return the gift of salmon with the gift of stewardship.”

Lichatowich is a graduate of OSU’s Department of Fisheries and Wildlife. He will return to his alma mater in January to present a seminar on his work.

“Salmon, People, and Place” is available in bookstores, online at http://osupress.oregonstate.edu, or can be ordered by calling 1-800-621-2736.

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Micki Reaman, 541-737-4620; Micki.reaman@oregonstate.edu

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OSU Press book on salmon

OSU faculty members key contributors to IPCC report

CORVALLIS, Ore. – The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a United Nations-sponsored group of scientists, issued its latest report on the state of scientific understanding on climate change. Two Oregon State University faculty members played key roles in the landmark report.

Peter Clark, a professor in OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences, was one of two coordinating lead authors on a chapter outlining sea level change. He and fellow coordinating lead author John Church of Australia oversaw the efforts of 12 lead authors and several dozen contributing scientists on the science of sea level change.

Philip Mote, director of the Oregon Climate Change Research Institute at OSU, was one of 12 lead authors on a chapter looking at the cryosphere, which is comprised of snow, river and lake ice, sea ice, glaciers, ice sheets, and frozen ground. The cryosphere plays a key role in the physical, biological and social environment on much of the Earth’s surface.

“Since the last IPCC report, there has been increased scientific understanding of the physical processes leading to sea level change, and that has helped improve our understanding of what will happen in the future,” Clark said.

“One of the things our group concluded with virtual certainty is that the rate of global mean sea level rise has accelerated over the past two centuries – primarily through the thermal expansion of the oceans and melting of glaciers,” Clark added. “Sea level rise will continue to accelerate through the 21st century, and global sea levels could rise by 0.5 meters to at least one meter by the year 2100.”

The rate of that rise will depend on future greenhouse gas emissions.

Among other findings, the sea level chapter also concluded that it is virtually certain that global mean sea level will continue to rise beyond the year 2100, and that substantially higher sea level rise could take place with the collapse of the Antarctic ice sheet.

Mote, who also is a professor in the College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences, said analyzing the cryosphere is complex and nuanced, though overall the amount of snow and ice on Earth is declining.

The report notes: “Over the last two decades, the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets have been losing mass, glaciers have continued to shrink almost worldwide, and Arctic sea ice and Northern Hemisphere spring snow cover have continued to decrease in extent.” Other cryosphere changes include:

  • Greenland and Antarctica are not only losing ice, but the rate of decline is accelerating;
  • The amount of sea ice in September has reached new lows;
  • The June snow cover also has reached new lows and has decreased by an average of 11.7 percent per decade – or 53 percent overall – from 1967 to 2012;
  • The reduction in snow cover can formally be attributed to human influence – work done by Mote and David Rupp of OSU.

 Rick Spinrad, OSU’s vice president for research, praised the efforts of the two OSU faculty members for their contributions to the report.

 "OSU is a global leader in environmental research as reflected by the leadership roles of Dr. Clark and Dr. Mote in this seminal assessment,” Spinrad said. “The impact of the IPCC report will be felt by scientists and policy makers for many years to come."

The IPCC report is comprised of 14 chapters, supported by a mass of supplementary material. A total of 209 lead authors and 50 review editors from 39 countries helped lead the effort, and an additional 600 contributing authors from 32 countries participated in the report. Authors responded to more than 54,000 review comments.

The report is available online at the IPCC site: http://www.ipcc.ch/

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Melting glacier
A shrinking glacier

Coastal waves
Rising sea levels

Researchers going public on quest to identify plankton species

NEWPORT, Ore. – Researchers using an innovative underwater imaging system have taken millions of photos of plankton ranging from tiny zooplankton to small jellyfish – and now they are seeking help from the public to identify the species.

The “Plankton Portal” project is a partnership between the University of Miami, Oregon State University and Zooniverse.org to engage volunteers in an online citizen science effort.

“One of the goals of the project is discovery,” said Robert Cowen, new director of OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport, Ore., who led the project to capture the images while at Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences. “Computers can take pictures and even analyze images, but it takes humans to identify relationships to other organisms and recognize their behavior.

“Computers don’t really care about context – whether something is up or down in the water column and what else might be in the neighborhood,” he added. “People can do that. And we hope to have thousands of them look at the images.”

Interested persons may sign up for the project at www.planktonportal.org, which goes online this week (the official launch is Sept. 17).

Zooniverse.org is a popular citizen science website that engages millions of participants to study everything from far-away stars, to whale sounds, to cancer cells – and aid scientists with their observations. It works by training volunteers and validating their credibility by how often their observations are accurate.

“It is an increasingly popular pursuit for people interested in science and nature – from high school students to senior citizens,” said Jessica Luo, a University of Miami doctoral student working with Cowen.

“Each image is looked at by multiple users and identification is done by a weighting system,” said Luo, who is now working at OSU’s Hatfield center. “The system not only looks for consensus, but rapidity of conclusion. It works amazingly well and the data from this project will help us better begin to explore the thousands of species in the planktonic world.”

With funding from the National Science Foundation’s Directorate for Geosciences and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Cowen developed the “In Situ Ichthyoplankton Imaging System,” or ISIIS, while at Miami – along with Cedric Guigand of UM and Charles Cousin of Bellamare, LLC.

ISIIS combines shadowgraph imaging with a high-resolution line-scan camera to record plankton at 17 images per second. Cowen and his colleagues have used the system to study larval fish, crustaceans and jellyfish in diverse marine systems, including the Gulf of Mexico, the mid-Atlantic Ocean, the California coast, and the Mediterranean Sea.

At the same time ISIIS is capturing images, he says, other instruments are recording oceanographic conditions, including temperature, salinity, dissolved oxygen and other measurements. These data, coupled with the images, are available to the public via Zooniverse.org.

“In three days, we can collect data that would take us more than three years to analyze,” Cowen said, “which is why we need the help of the public. With the volume ISIIS generates, it is impossible for a handful of scientists to classify every image by hand, which is why we are exploring different options for image analysis – from automatic image recognition software to crowd-sourcing to citizen scientists.”

Luo said the researchers hope to secure future funding to study plankton – which includes a variety of crustaceans and jellyfish in the water column – off the Pacific Northwest coast.

“Most images of plankton are taken in a laboratory, or collected from nets on a ship,” said Cowen, who is a professor in OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences. “ISIIS gives us the rare ability to see them in their natural environment, which is a unique perspective that will enable us to learn more about them and the critical role they play in the marine food web.”

Other researchers on the project include graduate student Adam Greer, and undergraduate students Dorothy Tang, Ben Grassian and Jenna Binstein – all at the University of Miami.

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Jessica Luo, 650-387-5700; Jessica.luo@rsmas@miami.edu;


Bob Cowen, 541-867-0211; Robert.Cowen@oregonstate.edu

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Plankton Portlal


Plankton Portal

Viruses associated with coral epidemic of “white plague”

CORVALLIS, Ore. – They call it the “white plague,” and like its black counterpart from the Middle Ages, it conjures up visions of catastrophic death, with a cause that was at first uncertain even as it led to widespread destruction – on marine corals in the Caribbean Sea.

Now one of the possible causes of this growing disease epidemic has been identified – a group of viruses that are known as small, circular, single-strand DNA (or SCSD) viruses. Researchers in the College of Science at Oregon State University say these SCSD viruses are associated with a dramatic increase in the white plague that has erupted in recent decades.

Prior to this, it had been believed that the white plague was caused primarily by bacterial pathogens. Researchers are anxious to learn more about this disease and possible ways to prevent it, because its impact on coral reef health has exploded.

“Twenty years ago you had to look pretty hard to find any occurrences of this disease, and now it’s everywhere,” said Nitzan Soffer, a doctoral student in the Department of Microbiology at OSU and lead author on a new study just published in the International Society for Microbial Ecology. “It moves fast and can wipe out a small coral colony in a few days.

“In recent years the white plague has killed 70-80 percent of some coral reefs,” Soffer said. “There are 20 or more unknown pathogens that affect corals and in the past we’ve too-often overlooked the role of viruses, which sometimes can spread very fast.”

This is one of the first studies to show viral association with a severe disease epidemic, scientists said. It was supported by the National Science Foundation.

Marine wildlife diseases are increasing in prevalence, the researchers pointed out. Reports of non-bleaching coral disease have increased more than 50 times since 1965, and are contributing to declines in coral abundance and cover.

White plague is one of the worst. It causes rapid tissue loss, affects many species of coral, and can cause partial or total colony mortality. Some, but not all types are associated with bacteria. Now it appears that viruses also play a role. Corals with white plague disease have higher viral diversity than their healthy counterparts, the study concluded.

Increasing temperatures that stress corals and make them more vulnerable may be part of the equation, because the disease often appears to be at its worst by the end of summer. Overfishing that allows more algae to grow on corals may help spread pathogens, researchers said, as can pollution caused by sewage outflows in some marine habitats.

Viral infection, by itself, does not necessarily cause major problems, the researchers noted. Many healthy corals are infected with herpes-like viruses that are persistent but not fatal, as in many other vertebrate hosts, including humans.

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Coral disease

Coral with white plague

Marine research

Taking samples

‘State of the Coast’ conference set for Oct. 29

GLENEDEN BEACH, Ore. – Registration has opened for Oregon Sea Grant’s annual State of the Coast conference, which will be held Oct. 29 at the Salishan Spa and Golf Resort.

The event is designed to bring together the public, scientists, business and community leaders, fishermen, resource managers, teachers, students and conservationists so they can learn about current marine research and issues facing the coast. There are fees for attendance.

The keynote speaker will be Emmy-winning Michael Bendixen, a videographer and editor with Oregon Public Broadcasting’s Oregon Field Guide. Bendixen, who has worked with Oregon Sea Grant, has spent his career focusing on communicating science through art. He’ll talk about how he learns the science, crafts a story and produces a video.

Presentations will include the following topics:

  • an update on coastal legislation
  • what’s happening with wave energy
  • how and why the changing oceans are being monitored
  • the 50th anniversary of Oregon’s beach bill
  • innovations in coastal planning
  • harmful algal blooms
  • innovative approaches to engage youth in marine science, industry and issues in their communities
  • the effect of ocean oddities on fish ecology, such as “The Blob,” a huge patch of unusually warm water in the Pacific Ocean

Additionally, students from various universities in Oregon, including Oregon State University, will talk about their coastal research. Also, cooking demonstrations will teach participants how to prepare various types of seafood.

Registration in advance is recommended as space is limited. Cost is $35 for the public and $25 for students and includes lunch and a reception. Doors open at 8 a.m. and the conference starts at 9 a.m. For more information and to register, visit www.stateofthecoast.com. Salishan is at Gleneden Beach, about five miles south of Lincoln City.


Flaxen Conway, 541-737-1339, fconway@coas.oregonstate.edu; Jamie Doyle, 541-572-5263, Jamie.Doyle@oregonstate.edu

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Sara Shaw Roberts, a former master’s student at Oregon State University, talks about her research at the 2015 State of the Coast Conference in Coos Bay. (Photo by Anne Farrell-Matthews)
2015 State of the Coast

Marie Kowalski, a former master’s student at Oregon State University, talks about her research on mitigating microplastics at the 2015 State of the Coast Conference in Coos Bay. (Photo by Anne Farrell-Matthews)

2015 State of the Coast

Tours available on OSU research vessel to dock in Portland at end of STEM cruise

NEWPORT, Ore. – For three days this week, Oregon high school students and teachers are joining scientists at Oregon State University aboard the research vessel Oceanus to gain at-sea research experience off the Oregon coast as part of a project to enhance their STEM, or science, technology, engineering and math skills.

This Friday, the young scientists and their professional partners will journey up the Columbia River aboard the R/V Oceanus and dock at Riverplace Marina in Portland, where they will spend the weekend doing a series of activities, including tours for K-12 students and the public.

The public tours will be held from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 17. Space is limited and advance registration is required. For more information or to register for a tour, visit: http://bit.ly/2bTKyQ0.

The project is a collaborative effort from Oregon Sea Grant and the Oregon Coast STEM Hub, which serves educators, students and communities along the Oregon coast and is located at OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport. The students and high school teachers participating in the cruise are from Bandon, North Bend, Waldport, Newport and Warrenton.

“This is an opportunity for Oregon high school students and teachers to work with marine researchers and really dig into investigative scientific methods,” said Tracy Crews, marine education manager for Oregon Sea Grant. “It also provides an opportunity for graduate students to work as mentors with these young students alongside top scientists addressing some very real issues facing our oceans.”

Leigh Torres, a principal investigator with OSU’s Marine Mammal Institute, will serve as chief scientist on the cruise, which will include line transect surveys for marine mammals and seabirds off the Oregon coast.

“We will record where and when we observe different species assemblages of marine mammals and seabirds off the Oregon coast, and link this data with habitat and prey data collected during the cruise,” Torres said. “This will demonstrate the patchiness of ocean resources and how species are distributed differently relative to their particular needs.”

“We’re really hoping that this hands-on experience will trigger interest in STEM and enthusiasm for working on environmental challenges,” added Stacia Fletcher, director for the Oregon Coast STEM Hub.

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Tracy Crews, 541-867-0329, tracy.crews@oregonstate.edu

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Research vessel Oceanus; photos by Pat Kight

R/V Oceanus


Oregon State to issue proposal request for project to build research vessels

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Oregon State University will issue a request for proposals, or RFP on Monday, Aug. 15, for a project to construct up to three advanced regional class research vessels to help replenish the aging United States academic fleet.

OSU will implement a two-stage “best value procurement process” for selecting a single shipyard in the United States to construct the vessels, which allows the university to evaluate proposals on qualitative factors in addition to cost factors. The deadline for submitting the first stage of proposals is Sept. 29 of this year.

In January 2013, the National Science Foundation selected OSU as the lead institution to finalize the design and coordinate the construction of a vessel – and possibly up to two more – a project considered crucial to modernizing the country’s marine science research capabilities.

These “regional class research vessels” are designed for studying coastal waters out to beyond the continental rise as part of the U.S. academic fleet that is available to all ocean scientists conducting federal- and state-funded research and educational programs.

The entire RFP will be available online beginning Aug. 15.

The two-stage process will begin with technical proposals due Sept. 29, which will include but not be limited to descriptions of facilities, construction history, business history, financial capabilities, management practices, engineering and component subcontracting (including naming single-source vendors), and a schedule to construct the vessel, according to Demian Bailey, Oregon State’s former marine superintendent and a co-leader on the project.

The university will identify the shipyards best qualified for the project in the first stage and invite them to participate in the second stage of the RFP. Shipyards selected for this second stage will then submit an in-depth cost proposal due in early February. Final selection of a shipyard is anticipated to take place in April 2017. Delivery of the first ship, which will be operated by Oregon State University, is expected in fall of 2020.

Additional ships would likely be designated for the U.S. East Coast and the Gulf of Mexico, if funded by NSF with congressional appropriations and approval by the president. NSF would competitively select operators for those vessels, possibly in 2018.

Although similar in size, the new ships will differ greatly from R/V Oceanus, built in 1975 and operated by OSU, and its sister ships, R/V Endeavor, operated by the University of Rhode Island, and R/V Wecoma (retired), said Clare Reimers, a professor in the College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences and project co-leader.

“This class of ships will enable researchers to work much more safely and efficiently at sea because of better handling and stability, more capacity for instrumentation and less noise,” Reimers said. “The design also has numerous ‘green’ features, including an optimized hull form, waste heat recovery, LED lighting, and variable speed power generation.”

The design of the ships was done by The Glosten Associates, a naval architecture firm based in Seattle.The research vessels will be 193 feet in length, with a range greater than 5,000 nautical miles. Cruising speed is 11 knots with a maximum speed of 12.5 knots, and there are 16 berths for scientists and 13 for crew members.

More information about the project is available at: http://ceoas.oregonstate.edu/ships/rcrv/


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Demian Bailey, 541-737-0460


Comprehensive report of world’s transboundary water basins finds hotspots of risk

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Environmental stresses including climate change and population growth will have an enormous impact on the world’s waterways that cross international borders, a new report concludes, but economic development may have consequences just as far-reaching.

The United Nations Environmental Group has just completed the most comprehensive assessment of the world’s 286 transboundary river basins yet attempted and identified “hotspots” where geopolitical risks are projected to increase in the next 15 to 30 years.

“The proliferation of dams and diversion of water from countries that are upstream from other nations that are dependent on that water is of growing concern,” said Aaron Wolf, an internationally recognized water treaty expert from Oregon State University, who was involved in creating the report. “There simply isn’t enough water to go around.”

These transboundary river basins and other waterways span 151 countries and include more than 40 percent of the world’s population and land area. The analysis, “Transboundary Waters Assessment Programme,” was a collaborative effort between eight international organizations and research institutes and Oregon State University.

Among the areas considered hotspots, the report concludes, are the Middle East, Central Asia, and the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna basin.

The Tigris-Euphrates river basins are the focus of much of the stress in the Middle East, Wolf pointed out. Turkey is building dams upstream, which could reduce water previously used by Iraq and Syria. Political destabilization and the control of some dams by ISIS further complicates the issue.

“It is a blueprint for trouble,” Wolf said, “when a country upstream wants to build a dam and has no agreement with the country or countries downstream.”

Central Asia became a hotspot after the breakup of the Soviet Union, which once controlled the water in the region. In recent years, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan have developed plans to construct dams that would reduce water now being used for irrigation downstream in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. Increasing use of water from Central Asian river has resulted in the lowering of the Aral Sea, and increased dangers from toxic waste deposits.

The Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna basin has a similar issue, which is repeating itself through the Chinese Himalayas, said Wolf, who is a professor in OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences.

“China has massive energy requirements and has been very active in building dams as they try to wean themselves off coal,” Wolf said. “Water is being impacted on many of the rivers in the Himalayas in one form or another and 1.5 billion people downstream rely on it. In some of the delta, as the rivers drop, salt water intrudes and further destabilizes the environment.”

The Nile basin faces similar issues, Wolf noted.

Not all of the troubled areas are because of political issues, the OSU researcher pointed out. The southwestern United States and northern Mexico rely almost solely on the Colorado River and the Rio Grande for water.

“We have great agreements with Mexico,” Wolf said. “But there’s just not a lot of water there. And climate change may make it worse.”

Many of these hotspots have been known about for some time, but the baseline data in the assessment combined with the first comprehensive look at the impact of multiple stressors may allow policy-makers to get ahead of the curve before disaster strikes, Wolf said.

“From a geopolitical standpoint, if you can identify places where things have the potential to blow up before people realize it, you can jump-start the conversation and begin what we call “preventive diplomacy,’” Wolf noted. “Imagine if we could have had such a conversation about the Klamath River basin in Oregon before the drought of 2001.”

One area of potential trouble, Wolf said, is in the Salween basin, where water from China may be dammed before it can get to Myanmar and Thailand. “All three countries have development plans for the region,” he said, “and none of them are compatible.”

The Helmand and Harirud basins, shared by Afghanistan and Iran, also have the potential for flare-up, Wolf said.

“The U.S. wants Afghanistan to develop its economy and become more independent, but Iran downstream also wants that water and has tenuous relations with us. We hope that the information in this report will provide early warning so appropriate actions can be taken to prevent escalating tensions.”

The report is available online at http://twap-rivers.org/

Partners in the assessment include the Center for Environmental Systems Research, Germany; Center for International Earth Science Information Network, Columbia University; City University of New York, Delta Alliance; International Union for the Conservation of Nature; International Geosphere-Biosphere Program; Oregon State University; Stockholm International Water Institute; and the United Nations Environment Program-DHI Partnership.

Story By: 

Aaron Wolf, 541-737-2722, wolfa@geo.oregonstate.edu

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Fish traps at the site of a proposed dam on the Mekong River at the border between Laos and Cambodia. This photo is available at: https://flic.kr/p/FMkr5H 

A micro-hydro facillty on the Salween River in Yunnan Province, China, along a stretch of river slated for large dam development.


OSU’s Hatfield Center to host Marine Science Day on April 9

NEWPORT, Ore. – Oregon State University’s Hatfield Marine Science Center will open its doors to the public on Saturday, April 9, for its annual Marine Science Day, when visitors will have an opportunity to visit laboratories behind-the-scenes, connect with scientists, and learn more about emerging oceanographic technologies and current marine research.

The free event also features hands-on exhibits and opportunities to talk to scientists from OSU and several federal and state agencies that have operations at the Newport center. It runs from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the center, located southeast of the Highway 101 bridge over Yaquina Bay. 

The science to be shared with the public includes talks, exhibits or information on:

  • The Ocean Observatories Initiative, which includes high-tech underwater sensors, platforms and robots, recently deployed in the Endurance Array off the coast of Newport;
  • Aquaculture including oysters and a newly-developed variety of dulse, a seaweed that when cooked tastes like bacon;
  • Whale and seal research by the internationally-known Marine Mammal Institute; and
  • A behind-the-scenes look at the Visitor Center’s animal husbandry program and a chance to meet the aquarists, hosted by Oregon Sea Grant and Oregon Coast Community College

A lecture at 2:30 p.m. by oceanographers Bill Peterson of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Jack Barth of OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences will look at the past, present and future technologies of ocean observing. The talk will be in the Hennings Auditorium. 

“Marine Science Day will highlight the rich history and emerging technologies around ocean observing,” Barth said. “With a long-standing legacy of off-shore research, OSU is ushering in a new era of oceanography centered around the Endurance Array now in operation off the coast of Oregon. Visitors will have a unique opportunity to learn about the diverse ways scientists observe the ocean.”

Visitors may also learn about the progress of OSU’s Marine Studies Initiative, which seeks to host 500 students-in-residence in Newport by 2025. Fundraising is well under way for the new teaching and research facility in Newport. 

“Marine Science Day offers a great opportunity to understand why we are so excited about bringing the Marine Studies Initiative here,” said Hatfield Center Director Bob Cowen. “The hands-on experiences for students are remarkable.” 

Multimedia exhibits will include a new film on the challenges of ocean acidification; undersea exploration of fisheries, volcanoes and marine mammals using video and acoustics; and fascinating images of microscopic plankton by the Plankton Portal program. 

A public feeding of the octopus Montgomery will take place at 1 p.m. in the Visitor Center and special activities for children and families can be found throughout the event.

More information on the event is available at: http://hmsc.oregonstate.edu/marinescienceday/

Story By: 

Maryann Bozza, 541-867-0234, maryann.bozza@oregonstate.edu

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Visitors gather at the octopus tank during a previous Marine Science Day


Ocean-observing equipment and technology

ocean observing

Injuries among Dungeness crab fishermen examined

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Commercial Dungeness crab fishing on the West Coast is one of the highest risk occupations in the United States, based on fatality rates. But non-fatal injuries in the fishery appear to go largely unreported, a new study from Oregon State University shows.

While the fatality rates in the Dungeness crab fleet have been reported in the past, the incidence of non-fatal injuries have not been previously studied, said Laurel Kincl, an assistant professor of environmental and occupational health and safety in the OSU College of Public Health and Human Sciences.

“The commercial Dungeness fishing fleet, which operates along the coast of Oregon, Washington and Northern California, is a vital economic commodity,” she said. “Injuries can be life-threatening and life-altering, leading to disability, decreased quality of life and lost wages.”

Understanding the type and nature of fatalities and injuries, including describing and categorizing the types of injuries, is the first step in identifying safety issues and pinpointing areas for prevention, she said.

Kincl and a team of researchers examined 12 years of death and injury data, and found that 28 people died while commercially fishing for Dungeness crab from 2002-2014. In that same period, 45 injuries were reported to the U.S. Coast Guard.

The fatality rate among Dungeness crab fishermen is several times higher than the national rate for commercial fishing. But the injury rate among Dungeness fishermen is much lower than injury rates in other commercial fishing fleets that have been studied.

“Fatal injuries are tracked in a national system, but non-fatal injuries are not,” Kincl said. “We knew there was likely underreporting, but we had no idea how low the injury numbers were until now.”

The findings, published in the latest issue of the journal International Maritime Health, are the first step to better understanding fishing injuries among Dungeness crab fishermen. The research is part of an OSU-led research project to identify and reduce the risks of injuries in the industry, Kincl said.

The Fishermen Led Injury Prevention Program, or FLIPP, is designed to take a new approach to fishing industry injury prevention by working with commercial Dungeness crab fishermen to identify and reduce injury risks. The project is supported by a three-year, $825,000 grant from the National Institutes for Occupational Safety and Health. Kincl is the principal investigator.

The lead author of the paper, Samantha Case, is a researcher in the NIOSH office in Alaska. Other co-authors are OSU Associate Professor Viktor Bovbjerg; OSU doctoral student Laura Syron and Devin Lucas, who earned his doctorate at OSU and works at NIOSH.

The researchers found that the majority of the fatalities, about 71 percent, occurred during vessel disasters, such as boats capsizing or sinking. The other deaths were the result of a fisherman drowning or falling overboard. Fractures were the most commonly reported injury, at 40 percent, followed by hypothermia, lacerations and digit amputations.

Working with Oregon Sea Grant and community researchers in local fishing communities, Kincl and her colleagues are meeting with focus groups of fishermen and surveying fishing crews along the Pacific coast to learn more about safety and injuries in the industry.

“No one has ever gone up and down the coast and learned from the fishermen,” Kincl said. “What are they doing to stay safe? Are there things that can be improved? How can we share that information among the various crews?”

By the end of the project, researchers plan to come up with and test several interventions that could help reduce injuries among crab fishermen.

“We want to identify some things that might work, but we don’t want to tell them what to do,” Kincl said. “We want to let them decide what would be most helpful.”

Story By: 

Laurel Kincl, 541-737-1445, Laurel.kincl@oregonstate.edu

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Crab pots on the Oregon Coast


Public Health and Sea Grant

Researcher Laurel Kincl

Laurel Kincl Lab