Western Society of Naturalists

This year, WSN was held in Ensenada, Mexico. On the beach. Needless to say, it was a wonderful “work” trip. I earned Best Student Presentation for Community/Ecosystem Ecology!!

Presenting on how microplastics can impact the benthic-pelagic coupling role of mussels

I took advantage of the wonderful and warm location to travel down there early to get some beach and ocean time in. On Halloween, a group of us (6, never met before, all there for WSN) went SCUBA diving at two boat-access sites. It. Was. Phenomenal. Diving this trip, I was able to experience a lot of “firsts” — I dove in a kelp forest, saw mussels [pooping] underwater, and a sea hare! I even got to swim with my study system!

Me, SCUBA diving in Ensenada with my study system– pictured here as a plastic water bottle

Volcan Mountain presentation

I presented my work on at Second Chance Brewery on quantifying microplastic contamination in the San Diego watersheds. Over the past few months I have been digesting, sorting, and analyzing microplastics from my trip to the San Diego region in May. Broadly, I found microplastic contamination differed between site both in quantity as well as type. Volcan Mountain Foundation, San Dieguito River Valley Conservency, and San Diego River Park Foundation did a phenomenal job attracting participants. Below is the abstract from my talk.

Title: Mciroplastic contamination across an urban gradient in the San Diego and San Dieguito watersheds

The Volcan Mountain Range Watershed is a key water source for San Diego and its water flows directly to the Pacific Ocean. It is vital to understand how the presence of microplastic in mountain watersheds can alter the dependent downstream communities. Over a long weekend in May (2019) Lyda travelled to Julien, CA to test microplastic contamination in the San Diego and San Dieguito watersheds. Over the course of her stay in Julien she drove 600 miles along twisting roads to access different points along the rivers. While there, Lyda met several volunteers that helped me sample water in eight different sites across the two watersheds, including the headwaters (in the mountains) and mouths (Pacific ocean) of both rivers. Through citizen science and outreach, participants received hands on experience with biology and pollution science. There were meaningful discussions with both local populations and urban communities about working collectively to find sustainable solutions to anthropogenic pollutants. In addition to watershed samples, tap water was also sampled to get an idea of human ingestion levels in the area. Back in Seattle, Lyda fully processed the samples, identified plastics under a microscope, and characterized types of debris. Facilitating discussions with local community members creates more environmentally aware populations and future generations, which in turn will create policies and behaviors that foster better stewardship of our resources.

Pacific Coast Shellfish Growers Association

I presented my research at PCSGA in Portland, Oregon in September on analyzing microplastic contamination in the Salish Sea across an urban gradient. My research spans public, private, and tribal lands across Western Washington. It was wonderful to meet other members of the community, especially rad women working on shellfish!

Friday Harbor Labs

Me, Harsimran, Jackson, and Nell

In September we spent one week at Friday Harbor Labs collecting data on mussel poop and microplastics. I was lucky enough to bring three undergrads from University of Washington with me and share my love of marine biology and experiments.

Our week in numbers: In total, we worked over 300 hours, completed 132 trials (with 4 parts each), played 18 holes of disc golf, and learned 1 or 2 things about mussels and microplastics.

Memorable quotes:

“Wait, I’m making my last poop measurement. Then we can go disc golfing”

“You’re such a good pooper!”

“Can I just leave my poops lying around while we are gone?”

**Undergrad airdrops picture of mussel poop at 11pm because it is beautiful**

Tatoosh

In May (2019) I headed out to Tatoosh Island to collect mussels for five more sites. More importantly, I headed out to help one of my my old undergrad advisors, Dr. Tim Wootton, with some miscellaneous things on the island, mainly be a 3rd person to carry everything up the stairs. Lucky for me, it is a beautiful place and rich in ecological history.

Me, sitting in Strawberry Draw on Tatoosh Island harvesting mussels to test for microplastics.

Tatoosh Island is a historical place for marine ecology. The island is located in the Makah Nation off the coast of NW Washington state. It is <0.5 square miles, and home to animals like otters, mussels, sea stars and researchers during summer months! Tatoosh is the birthplace of “Keystone Species” (coined by Dr. Robert Paine) and has some of the longest lasting data series in the world. It was a joy to revisit a place a called home for a summer and get back in the field.

I collected mussels from five historic sites on Tatoosh to quantify microplastic contamination on a fine scale. I am currently analyzing the mussels and microplastics now!

Tatoosh is in a unique location where currents converge and is a refuge to animals. Similarly, it also acts as a refuge to floating trash! While out there I noticed a large amount of trash accumulated on the beaches– I spent my free time cleaning it up. I now have several bags of “Tatoosh Trash” in the lab that are waiting to be quantified!

Undergraduate Research Symposium

This year I mentored undergraduates for the first time, each doing a unique research project. While they are all doing microplastics work, they were able to take the research in a new direction, asking questions unique to them. I had the pleasure of mentoring them through conducting research, gathering data, analyzing, and presenting a poster in front of an audience.

Anthony Abruzzini researched and presented his work exploring if marine microplastic research had a similar growth trajectory as news sources and twitter posts. He found that marine microplastic research is doubling faster than news articles and even research on climate science! (That explains why it feels like I can’t keep up with new studies!) Further, he identified that research and news about marine microplastics focus on different species- research tends to focus on small, model organisms while news focuses on larger megafauna and economically important species.

Louise Sutters researched the distribution of microplastics in the Salish Sea through analyzing contamination in marine mussels. Over the 10 sites she looked at, she found that microplastics were least abundant in Neah Bay. Further, she found no relationship between urban population size, marina size, or basin residency time and the quantity of microplastics found. Sites differed in contamination, but also type and color of microplastic– fibers were most prevalent across all sites and clear was the most abundant color.

Volcan Mountain Experience

Over a long weekend in May (2019) I travelled to Julien, CA to test microplastic contamination in the San Diego and San Dieguito watersheds. While there, I met several volunteers that helped me sample water in eight different sites across the two watersheds, including the headwaters (in the mountains) and mouths (Pacific ocean) of both rivers.

Watersheds in Southern California. I focused on the San Diego and San Dieguito watersheds that both have headwaters in Volcan Mountain area, serve the greater San Diego area, and exit to the Pacific ocean.

Over the course of my stay in Julien I drove 600 miles along twisting roads to access different points along the rivers. It certainly made me thankful I normally work along coast lines and easy to access ocean!

Volcan Mountain Residency

I was awarded a residency funded by the Marjorie and Joseph Rubenson Endowment for Art and Science on Volcan Mountain, CA! WooHoo!

I will study microplastics at Volcan Mountain in the Spring of 2019. I hope to give residents of Southern California a stronger connection to their environment through teaching them about anthropogenic pollution in their backyard. To do so, I will conduct a short citizen science experiment, collecting water and dirt samples from the watershed to quantify the amount of microplastic found in different habitats around Volcan Mountain.

I am very excited about this opportunity and look forward to expanding my microplastic research into terrestrial and freshwater environments.