Part 2: Shine On
This past summer I had the opportunity to mentor eight outstanding undergraduate interns from all over the state of California. We had a lot of fun working on sandy beaches and in tide pools (not bad places to call “office”) while studying the impacts of the recent Refugio Oil Spill at Coal Oil Point Natural Reserve. The interns gave oral presentations of our findings to their peers and families, and they also designed a scientific poster to present at the 50th Anniversary Conference of the University of California Natural Reserve System. In this post, second year Ventura College student Carolina Espinoza gives you her “elevator speech” or our research project: the ‘who, what, where, when, why, and who cares’ in less than two minutes. (For more details, read our poster!) And UCSB freshman Emma Horanic shares why she was compelled to work on this project, and the challenges and rewards she experienced. My quality time with the interns is over, but keeping reading to understand just how bright these rising scientists will shine on in all their future endeavors.
What did we do, and why?
by Carolina Espinoza
Our research team, undergraduates from UCSB and various community colleges in California, observed the populations of a few intertidal organisms. This project was important because a devastating oil spill occurred at Refugio Beach on the 19th of May, 2015. We conducted our research at Coal Oil Point Natural Reserve, 12 miles southeast of Refugio, where other student groups had collected data previous to the oil spill as part of a long-term citizen science monitoring program called LiMPETS. This provided us with baseline data to compare to our post-oil spill data. Our intertidal surveys in July and August were the first citizen science data points collected since the Coal Oil Point intertidal zone had been infested by the crude oil. Our objective was to see if the oil spill had a noticeable effect on the populations of intertidal organisms. One of the organisms we focused on was the owl limpet because it is an indicator species, meaning it is sensitive to changes in its environment and reacts fairly quickly to disturbance. We used two methods to count organisms, vertical transect and 100-meter sweep observations. After comparing the number of organism observed pre- and post-oil spill, we saw a decrease in abundance trend for most organisms. Because we saw indications of changes since the oil spill, our research motivates continued monitoring of the long-term effects of the oil spill, along with consideration of natural oil seepage and shifts in abundance with season, changes in climate, and other factors.
About our research process
by Emma Horanic
Why did you choose to work on this project?
Ever since I was a little girl I have loved the ocean, and not for its aesthetic appeal or recreational enjoyment (although those are definitely added bonuses), but for the amazing creatures that call it home. Marine organisms have always greatly fascinated me and so when I was presented with the opportunity to study the effects of the Refugio Oil Spill on the intertidal ecosystem at Coal Oil Point, I was ecstatic. But not only was I excited to finally get involved in marine research, I was really interested in what the project was focused on. I’ve always considered myself an environmentalist (or tree-hugger as some might say), and so what really sold me on the project was the idea that I would be able to promote awareness of the dangers of oil spills while also studying the subject I love.
What were the biggest challenges and rewards of completing this research?
The biggest challenge in completing this research was definitely the time constraint. Because my group had only two weeks to collect data, determine trends, and create a presentation, it was difficult to get everything accomplished. As a result, we were unable to collect a sufficient amount of data to make any statistically significant conclusions and thus used our limited data points to display trends in population variation.
Do you think this research experience will be helpful for your future endeavors at and/or beyond UCSB?
I definitely think this research experience will be helpful in my future endeavors; in fact, it has already proven its worth! I just received a job as a Lab Assistant in the Melack Lab at the UCSB Marine Science Institute and it’s all because I had this prior research experience. The project was also valuable in educating me on the methods and procedures necessary for collecting and interpreting data, as well as teaching me how to create understandable scientific presentations and posters.
What were the highlights / your most memorable takeaways from your research experience?
The highlights of my experience definitely include all the times spent with my team. Whether it was gathering data in the early morning, creating regression formulas for percent cover, or editing and re-editing our presentation, I will always cherish the memories I made with them. I will never forget that feeling after giving our final presentation, how accomplished and satisfied I felt, knowing that I had in some small way contributed to a better understanding of how the Refugio Oil Spill has effected these intertidal populations. I am eternally grateful for the opportunity I had to conduct this research and it will forever be an influential event in my life.