by Teresa Shipley, ’05
Celeste Arista didn’t know anything about endangered Coho salmon. But that didn’t stop the 24 year-old Texas native from packing her bags and heading to northern California for one of SCA’s two first-ever National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) internships.
NOAA is pursuing several recruiting programs with SCA to help offset a predicted shortage of marine scientists. In a recent report, the federal departments of Commerce and Education forecast a serious shortage of scientists trained to do the high-quality research required to rebuild fish stocks and restore marine species in the next decade.
Arista’s three-month internship consists of developing education information and outreach programs about the species for the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), an organization under NOAA’s umbrella. The materials she develops will be used to educate the public and create partnerships within the NMFS’s 300 miles of coastal domain, 200 watersheds and the San Francisco Bay estuary region.
“I guess it’s a mixture of actually creating the brochures, putting together the designs and graphics, and it’s a lot of research, and then it’s a lot of writing things up that make sense and that flow and that appeal to a general audience,” Arista said of her job.
Her supervisor Maura Moody, a fisheries biologist with NMFS, feels that Arista’s internship is vitally important to supporting the resurgence of a species that’s been decimated by urbanization, logging and ocean nutrient decline. She and Arista are part of a recovery team whose job is to create a recovery plan for the salmon as well as three other threatened fish species.
“The recovery plan...is not regulatory. It’s really about building partnerships and working with land stewards and stakeholder groups to implement these recovery actions,” Moody explained. “We’re really hoping that the education and outreach that Celeste is developing is going to provide that end for us.”
Moody also mentioned that she’s grateful for Arista’s teaching experience.
“I’m a biologist -- I’m not an education and outreach specialist,” she stated. “So to have somebody to come in with that background has been really helpful for us. Celeste has been creative and energetic...and has really hit the ground running.”
Arista came by her education experience in a roundabout way. A biology major at the University of Texas at Austin, she took a job teaching primary school science at a nearby institution. Once she started, she said, she was hooked.
“I had a great time learning with the kids and watching them become engaged and seeing the process of their becoming older,” she said. That experience inspired her to search for education-related internships with SCA after college, rather than the backpacking or trail-related opportunities that she previously experienced as a two-time SCA high school crew member.
While Arista is engaged in working with the public, SCA’s second NOAA intern, Courtney Altaras-Grenier, is busy studying scientific data reports on the Puget Sound ecosystem.
The 24 year-old Washington State native said she’s always been concerned about the area. It inspired her to get a degree in environmental science at Western Washington University with a focus in marine ecology, which she says helped prepare her for this six-month internship.
“My job is to research and do literature reviews for conservation strategies and landscape ecology principles, and write a report that can be used by the team of scientists that is trying to analyze this data and determine and prioritize which restoration areas are to be restored,” Altaras-Grenier explained.
Altaras-Grenier works with the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Puget Sound Nearshore Partnership (PSNSP), a conglomerate organization made up of federal, state, local, tribal and industry agencies and organizations trying to restore Puget Sound. Altaras-Grenier is analyzing PSNSP’s data on historic changes in the shoreline.
Her supervisor, PSNSP Project Manager Curtis Tanner, said that the internship represents a win-win situation. “[Courtney] gets to see the inner workings of a restoration program, come in contact with area experts and scientists and do a lot of reading and literature research,” he commented. “It provides her an opportunity to make some connections, become familiar with the literature, to understand what a career in conservation really looks like. From our perspective, it delivers us a product that we need to support our work.”
Tanner said he was happy to take advantage of SCA’s new partnership with NOAA. “It was a unique opportunity for us to fill a need in our program for a short term literature review and synthesis and summary project, and a good way to access a talent pool, and basically capitalize on the relationship between NOAA and SCA,” he said.
The Puget Sound ecosystem is made up of about 2500 miles of shoreline. Tanner noted that data shows about a 70 percent loss of coastal estuaries, and about one-third of the shoreline has been modified due to beach stabilization methods. He’s hoping that the report Altaras-Grenier is working on will serve as a comprehensive conservation management plan for the area.
“We hope to distill a series of principles that we can apply in developing our restoration plans for Puget Sound,” he said. “If the literature tells us that it’s important to connect patches of intact habitat with corridors, then that is a principle that we can reference when we suggest a need to protect or conserve a specific piece of shoreline.”
Photos, from top: Celeste Arista; Celeste and her supervisor, Maura Moody; Courtney Altaras-Grenier; Puget Sound area, courtesy of Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife