This spring, The Watershed Project had the pleasure of hosting three interns as part of the Wild Oysters Education Program. Over the last five months, Alex Hartnett, Tyler Glaser and Kunal Mehta have supported the Wild Oysters program by attending classroom lessons, instructing students on oyster data collection at Point Pinole, and researching material for Wild Oysters lessons. At the start of their internship, they participated in two training sessions to begin their introduction to native Olympia oysters. Wild Shorelines program manager Helen Fitanides walked the interns through oyster anatomy and function, as well as the history of oysters in the Bay. She also led a training session out at Point Pinole, complete with waders and data collection sheets, teaching the interns how she does oyster monitoring with volunteers out at the oyster reef.
Through their work with the Wild Oysters program, the interns had a unique experience in the spring, collecting data from a dramatically different oyster population at Point Pinole than was there in the Fall when Helen and her volunteers did their official oyster assessment. While Californians danced in the rain to celebrate the end of the drought, the interns discovered that the oysters were not as happy with the return of the rain.
When Alex, Kunal and Tyler took on the role of citizen scientists during field trips and their own oyster training at the Point Pinole oyster reef, they found that there were hardly any oysters alive this spring. Approximately 82% of the oysters monitored during November and December were alive, but as of late April only 3% are still alive. The San Francisco Bay drains about 40% of the California watersheds, so one possible explanation for this oyster die-off could be that the huge influx of freshwater into the Bay via the Sacramento River decreased the salinity levels of the bay and kept it low for several months. Olympia oysters typically like salinity levels between 15-25 parts per thousand (ppt), but this winter the salinity measurements taken by both the interns and student groups out at Point Pinole were as low as 5 ppt until the end of April when the levels started rising again. The data the interns and students have collected over the course of the last few months have led to interesting questions about natural cycles and what we might expect to happen with the oyster reef, both later this year and into the future.
Our internship gave flexibility to the interns to try out different experiences through their work, from teaching in the classroom to taking on the role of a scientist. Kunal shared some highlights from his experience as an intern:
“I have a great passion for the outdoors, so being outside and working by the ocean will probably be my most enjoyable moments about the internship. Our work together has given me some invaluable knowledge and skills that will help me in the future and I am truly grateful for being a Wild Oysters Intern!
As a Wild Oysters Intern I supported the team with gathering data from the oysters in the Bay Area watershed, created oyster videos, and helped educate high school students in the area about biology, the ecological importance of oysters, and possible careers in the STEM fields.
Learning about oysters being a major keystone species and speaking to professionals and students about oysters and their importance to the watershed made this a meaningful experience, because the internship has given me the much needed confidence in myself and my future endeavors. The traits and skills I have learned here will help me pursue a future career in becoming a Wildlife Documentarian.”
Alex discussed what he learned during this experience, and what questions it raised:
“Working with The Watershed Project this spring, I had the chance to learn about and connect with the ecosystems in the bay, and to share that with the students who came out to Point Pinole. Initially I got connected with the program at a service day along the Richmond Greenway a few blocks from my apartment. When I first started the internship we filled out a survey; one of the questions was “What do you know about Olympia oysters?” I had to admit I had no idea about the oysters, why they were important, what their story was. This spring I had the opportunity to learn that story and share it with students from around the East Bay and San Francisco.
During the course of the internship I found myself asking a lot of the same questions we posed to the students. How am I a part of the bay’s ecosystem? What can we learn from the oysters and their story?”
Alex and Kunal will be presenting about their experience and what they discovered through their internship at the Bay Area Green Careers Conference in Berkeley on May 16.
We are incredibly grateful to Alex, Kunal and Tyler for the time and effort they put into supporting our Wild Oysters program. We could not have done it all without them!