Beach life: chronicling the summer field season of a PSU ES&P grad sdtudent

HigginsEvening

I spent this summer soaking up the summer sunshine and inhaling the sweet salty air and up and down the coast from Scarborough, ME to Seabrook, NH.

All in the name of research!

(Tough work, I know.)

For my masters thesis work Dr. Shannon Rogers and I are investigating local ecological knowledge and risk perception in the surfing population of southern Maine and New Hampshire. Our work is part of the New England Sustainability Consortium’s Safe Beaches and Shellfish project.

Within the NEST project our work is focused on the surfing population of southern Maine and New Hampshire.

Why surfers?!

Well, surfers are an ideal population to study when investigating regional water quality. This is because

  1. Surfers are in the water for longer periods of time and become fully emerged (versus wading
  2. Surfers participate in the sport year round (yes, even in the slushy waves of January and February). This is important due to seasonal variation in rainfall as well as changes in WWTP outputs.
  3. Surfers are more likely to ingest water or get cuts or scrapes through which microbial pathogens can enter.
  4. Surfers often surf during or after storms when water quality is the lowest.

 

This storm drain at Long Sands beach in York is one of several along the beach.

This storm drain at Long Sands beach in York is one of several along the beach.

At Fortune's Rock surf spot in Biddeford Pool, ME the lineup occurs at the outflow of a pipe.

At Fortune’s Rock surf spot in Biddeford Pool, ME the lineup occurs at the outflow of a pipe.

Faded lettering warns of potential E. coli contamination

Faded lettering warns of potential E. coli contamination

 

Over the course of the spring, summer, and fall we successfully recruited over 250 surveys respondents! I am forever grateful for the help of Trina Lafata, an awesome summer intern for The Stewardship Network and undergrad studying environmental engineering at UNH. Malin Clyde, Project manager for The Stewardship Network and UNH Cooperative Extension specialist, was kind enough to generously share Trina. She was a great asset to the surfer survey!

Trina and I at the Maine Beaches Conference in July

Trina and I at the Maine Beaches Conference in July

In July we presented some of our preliminary findings at the Maine Beaches Conference in South Portland, ME. We are currently wrapping up our data collection with final surveying and interviews to be completed by the end of this month.

While our work is wrapping up for many of the surfers of Maine and New Hampshire the prime season is just beginning. Fall is notorious for righteous waves and gnarly swells, SO pitted brah.

Chasing waves

Chasing waves at Higgins Beach, Scarborough, ME

 

 

My work on NEST is supported by the National Science Foundation’s EPSCoR programs in Maine and New Hampshire.

Surf’s Up at the Maine Sustainability and Water Conference

photo (6)

 

Yesterday I had the pleasure of attending the Maine Sustainability and Water Conference in Augusta, ME. Hosted by the Senator George J. Mitchell Center for Sustainability Solutions and the United States Geological Survey, the conference had14 different sessions ranging from Citizen Science to Urban Sustainability to Ocean Acidification. The session of interest to me was Safe Beaches and Shellfish. I am working as a graduate research assistant under Dr. Shannon Rogers. Dr. Rogers is the adviser and project manager for “Exploring the Local Ecological Knowledge of Surfers in Maine and New Hampshire”. This work is part of the New England SusTainability Consortium (NEST),  a solutions-driven, outcome-oriented and place-based sustainability project focused on socio-environmental systems in the Gulf of Maine. The project is a transdisciplinary collaboration between eight universities and colleges in Maine and New Hampshire. The overarching goal of the consortium is to bridge the gap between science and decision making with respect to shellfish bed closures and recreational beach advisories in the Gulf of Maine. Success of the consortium in achieving its goals relies on collaboration between biophysical scientists and social scientists as well as integration across different institutions and states. It is an exciting project to be a part of!

Under the NEST umbrella, Dr. Rogers and I have focused on the surfing population of southern Maine and New Hampshire. We chose surfers because they represent a subpopulation of beach goers that are at a higher risk of suffering from the effects of microbial pathogens. This occurs for a number of different reasons. 1), Surfers are in the water for longer periods of time and become fully emerged (versus wading), 2), surfers participate in the sport year round (seasonal variation in rainfall, changes in waste water treatment plant outputs), 3) given the nature of the sport surfers are more apt to ingest water or get cuts or scrapes, and 4), they often surf during or after storm events when water quality is at the lowest.

Dad_Surf

Given the level of pathogen exposure and the corresponding health risk, coupled with a strong sense of environmental sustainability within the local surfing community, Maine and New Hampshire surfers may provide valuable insight and local ecological knowledge into water quality issues. Through this study we hope to gain a better understanding of the local environmental knowledge held within this group and if risk perception plays a role in the decision to surf or not to surf.

surf

It is certainly the ‘gnarliest’ research around and I’m looking forward to the field season. Soon we’ll be commencing the interview process. The plan is to conduct scoping interviews followed up with intercept surveys and additional in depth interviews. This summer you’ll find me on surf beaches of Maine and New Hampshire! Hopefully I’ll get lessons and ride some Gulf of Maine waves!

 SurfBeaches

 

My work on NEST is supported by the National Science Foundation’s EPSCoR programs in Maine and New Hampshire.

Casco Bay Watershed Kids

Last Friday I had the opportunity to talk to two groups of grade six students in Gray, Maine at the Gray-New Gloucester Middle School. Gray is located in the Casco Bay watershed in southern Maine. The Casco Bay watershed comprises only 3% of the state’s landmass but houses 25% of Maine’s population. This is notable since urbanization and population density can have a significant impact on water quality. When speaking with the students I wanted to convey the message that even though the Gray-New Gloucester Middle School is located 23 miles from the coast, local human activities can impact the health of the coastal ecosystem.

Who thought that talking to a room full of sixth graders could cause such trepidation! I’ll admit, the few days leading up to the presentation I was nervous! These stomach butterflies proved to be unwarranted. Not only was I able to actively engage with the kids during my presentation, I had fun doing it! I thoroughly enjoyed working with a young, interesting group of kids. I started by showing the class a Prezi-tation, which was mostly composed of pictures and maps. (You can view my Prezi here.) Instead of showing a slide and explaining to the class what it represented, I asked them to share their interpretation of what they saw. The students were eager to make guesses and used reasoning to infer meaning from the photos and maps I showed.

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