My Current Research: Detecting River Herring Using the Water they Swim through

Research Focus (ABT):

River herring are an important migratory species that travel in and out of coastal bays and their associated rivers at different stages in their life cycle. These fish were once so abundant they would migrate inland up and down the coast of North America in billions. This massive migration was an important resource to humans tracing back thousands of years, additionally, these fish also provide numerous ecosystem services to riparian, estuarine, and ocean environments.

However, overfishing, habitat loss, and declining water quality have caused severe reductions in their populations to the point where they are no longer able to support large-scale fishing efforts. As an anadromous species, population monitoring is recommended on a per river basis but continuous monitoring of every river where these fish occur is unrealistic for management agencies with limited resources.

Therefore we employ a quicker, cheaper, and less labor-intensive methodology based on the premise that fish shed DNA in the form of scales, feces, and mucus into their environment, and that we can measure this environmental DNA (eDNA) in the water using highly sensitive molecular tools. Using a local population of river herring, we measured the amount of river herring eDNA present in water samples on a daily basis throughout the 2021 river herring spawning run. We compared our eDNA results to fish count data taken during the same season to evaluate the effectiveness of eDNA monitoring tools on river herring populations.

 

A Crabby Hero Born: The USM COVID-19 PSA Competition

In January of 2020 I received an email from my University, The University System of Maryland, presenting a Public Service Announcement Competition. The competition sought to gather a slough of creative messages for fighting pandemic fatigue and encourage people to get vaccinated.

I developed a comic strip story about a little heroic blue swimmer crab who learned of a strange human virus that sent people hiding indoors. Distraught that his beloved Marylanders would be trapped inside for the summer once again, the Vaccination Crustacean was called to action!

I submitted my comic and much to my delight it was selected as one of the six winners of the competition.

There are eight crabby puns in the comic, and better yet, there are ten suggestions for slowing the spread of COVID-19! Can you spot them all?? Click on each image below to get a closer look:

As we begin to enter into a potential new phase of masks and quarantines, the messages the vaccination crustacean has to share are vital to slowing the spread of this virus.

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I received a nice tweet of appreciation from the President of my University, Peter Goodwin at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science.

THE Close of Service Trip

The long awaited, the PCV daydream, the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, the close of service (COS) trip.

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PCVs spend the tougher days of service dreaming about the day PCV turns to RPCV and they finally get a little bit of cash to discover the region they’ve lived in for +2 years. So, upon finishing a scavenger hunt of paperwork to close out my volunteer contract with a few of my batchmates, the daydream was slowly becoming a reality.  We got ready to ring the COS bell, a Peace Corps Philippines tradition, but for some reason the excitement of the future was somewhat dulled by the realization that we were all now finding ourselves unemployed and without health insurance….  After the final checks were made, and we all turned into RPCVs we sat in Peace Corps office, wondering what we were supposed to do next.

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And after being coxed to leave the IRC by the air con turning off at 5, we wandered back to our hostel and in each other’s company, we pretended we were not freshly unemployed and played volunteer for a while.

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But now, almost two weeks since ringing the bell, the dust has settled and I’ve realized that COS trip is a amalgamation of backpacking, job hunting, sightseeing, and attempting to have it all on a shoestring budget (and by have it all, I mean a COS trip, student loan payments, and life starting money for the states).  Going from dollars to pesos was exciting! The return is a little nerve-wracking.  However, for now I’ve got a few more conversions before I finally find U.S. Dollars in my wallet.  My first step, the Indonesian Rupiah.

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We had a quick trip in Indonesia, but as with any new place there’s so much to talk about!  So, I’ve divided my time in Indonesia into 3 different stories. Island Hopping in Komodo, Diving in Penida, and Temples in Bali, all of which I’ll post through-out the week.  Next week I’ll get to this weeks adventures in Malaysia, including diving in Sipadan, renowned as the best dive spot in the world!

10 Things All Peace Corps Philippines Volunteers Know to be True

There are certain experiences we’ve all had as Peace Corps Volunteers serving in the Philippines.

As I celebrate with my batch mates the closing of our two years of service, I wonder what sort of things we will forget about as we move on to the next chapter of our lives. What are those little things we’ve gotten so used to these past two years? What habits will we find hard to leave behind as we return home?

So here it is, my best approximation of what experiences we’ve all had through-out our time in the Philippines.  This isn’t a static list so comment below and tell me what’s one thing you think all volunteers have experienced!

Happy early COS Batch Family!

10. You know FAR too much about your fellow batchmates’ bodily functions.

I don’t think this one qualifies as ‘something you didn’t notice you did here’ because it’s very obvious that we know way too much about each other’s medical history.  At home you don’t really know about someone’s medical ailments unless it’s a cold or a flu you’re worried about catching.  No one makes casual water cooler talk about the tapeworm they just passed, or the dengue fever they just got over.  But here, sitting around a table at Pension, talking about the last time you pooped your pants or passed a parasite is pretty basic conversation, it practically comes right after asking how site is.

PCV 1: How’s site?

PCV 2: Good, did you pass that worm yet?

PCV 1: Yeah! Wanna see a picture?!

PCV 2: YES

9. You can identify a fellow PCV based solely on their water bottle.

PCV1: Did the guys from Leyte arrive yet?

PCV2: yeah I saw their water bottles in the lobby.

8. The couch in the Information Resources Center at the Peace Corps Office is the comfiest couch you’ve ever touched.

I don’t know where this couch came from, it’s probably so comfortable thanks to the generations of Peace Corps Volunteers who have napped on it before us.  But it is so very comfortable and you can’t help but fall asleep a little whenever you sink back into it’s soft lumpy cushions.

7. You’re never further than an hour from a jaw-dropping gorgeous once in a lifetime paradise getaway spot…

…but because you’re a Peace Corps Volunteer and you live here, you’ve used the word ‘okay’ to describe this location.

Tourist: The sunsets here are AMAZING!

Jaded PCV: Yeah, tonight’s is okay.

6. You haven’t completely realized how much tagalog has infiltrated your regular speech until you have your first non-PCV visitor.

You: It’s bawal

Them: It’s…what?

5. The amount of acronyms you passively understand is a little disturbing.

CR, PCMO, VICA, CD, PNB, AL, PM, CRM, CYF, EDU, LBC, CP, MST, IST, PST, IO, COS, PNVSCA, CBT, DPT, LPI, PDM, PCT, PCV, USPC, PC, CIC, SM, RIICE, WeUp, IRC, VAC, RM, SM, PA, TCF, LCF, RPCV, PCRV, PCT, HCA, LGU, MRE, VRF, LPA, C2 to name a few…

4. Your proudest Peace Corps accomplishment is your impeccable budots form

Budots is a Filipino dance craze and as a Philippines PCV it is your duty to master the art of budots before you close your service.

3. You’ll never get sick of the double take tryke drivers do when you’re vacationing and you hit them with the local language.

PCV: Magkano ang pamasahe, Kuya?

Them: MAROON ANG (insert local language here)?!

2. The kindness of the Filipino people is some of the most generous kindness you’ve ever experienced.

Whether it’s your host mom sending you with 2 bushels of bananas and 5 avocados for baon, or a stranger offering you their umbrella to shade you from the sun, the generosity here is overflowing and genuine.

And Finally…

1. Whether it’s a tryke, jeepney, or a PCV vacation…

There’s ALWAYS room for one more!

My Little Peace Corps Life: The Sea Wall

This is one of those stories I wrote about a while back but never ended up publishing.  This one is from around early to mid-October 2016, right at the start of my life at site in the Philippines.

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When I lived with my host family, I discovered a spot that still remains my favorite spot in my entire municipality.  The end of the sea wall in my home situ Storom.  The situ is named ‘Storom’ because it started out, quite literally as a storage room when the national highway was being built.  But now, it’s a cute little concrete and dirt pathway snugly tucked between houses of all different sizes, materials, and colors.  My host family lived almost at the very end of this little pathway.

My occasional walk home, when Kuya Bilyo didn’t take me home in his tryke, was down the sharp downhill turn from the highway, around the a few bends waving to my friends posted on their porches, working at the sari-saris, and in the woodworking shop.  I’d walk past a few small rice fields, across the basketball court (even the tiniest of situs has a basketball court!) and down the straight path filled with friendly faces and tiny kids yelling ‘hello! I love you!’.  When I arrived home, I would quickly throw my things down, change out of my work clothes, grab my tsinelas, and walk to the seawall.

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The sea wall bordered the entire situ, keeping the river from putting the whole place underwater during the rainy season.  I’d walk down towards the only house further than my host family’s and climb up the concrete stairs to the sea wall.  The sea wall was flat on top with a raised portion in the middle making it so 3 people could walk side by side.  Usually Bochoy, the family dog, would jump up onto the highest tier and accompany me on my walks.  I’d walk down the meandering sea wall, the river on one side, and a sea of rice fields on the other.  My favorite part of the sea wall was, aside from Bochoy and I, there were barely any people on it.  Just he occasional fisherfolk returning from the sea.  Here, my neurons could take a break.

At the point where the river opened up to the sea, the sea wall ended.  I would sit and hang my legs off the end, and process what was almost always a hectic day.  On the days when the tide was low, I could walk out through the grazing cattle and carabao, to a few mangroves and a sandy tidal flat.  I would wander around that area, try to get some steps in from my mostly sedentary days, and watch the beautiful sunsets.

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One day I was wandering close to the few mangroves that were growing on the riverbed, the ground was sandy so I thought nothing of it.  My feet sank slightly into the sand and I stepped a bit quicker to prevent myself from sinking deeper.  Big mistake.  Instead of landing on firmer ground, I continued on to spots that were sinking faster and faster.  All of sudden one of my legs was sucked up by the earth to above my knee.  I tried to use my other leg to leverage myself out of the mud, but it too was sucked up!

I did a quick survey of the area, the LAST thing I wanted was for some horrified Ate or Kuya to find me stuck in the mud in my favorite wandering spot!  My host family would never let me come back! There was no one, only the carabao who lazily looked at me.  The carabao, if they were thinking about my situation at all, were probably jealous that I found such a good mud hole, not the slightest bit concerned that I was Indiana Jones style stuck in the mud.  I struggled a little and began to sink deeper.  I sat for a moment and laughed at the situation I appeared to be in.  Sucked up in the mud, on an abandoned beach, in the middle of the provincial Philippines, what a sight, what an experience, what a life.

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Composed once again, I surrendered my tsinela and used my arms to pull hard on the left leg, my right one sank deeper, but my left leg began to pull free!  Once at the surface I found a stable spot to pull my right leg out.  With my legs no longer holding the mud apart, it sank into the holes I had created beginning to take my tsinelas with them!  I quickly reached in and pulled them free as well.  I looked around again, legs covered in mud, still no audience, thank goodness.  I quickly darted out of the quicksand area, and to the sea to wash my legs, arms, and hands.  I sat back on the beach and laughed.  I think back to all my past selves.  The one who applied for Peace Corps, the anxious high schooler who packed her bags for university, the little 5th grader who dreamed of being a marine biologist, the kindergartener who wanted to be an astronaut.  I think of them, and I think of what they would think if they saw me now.  Muddy, wet, laughing, by myself, on a beach in the Philippines.  As an avid overthinker I really love the moments I can’t predict, the ones that really surprise me, the ones that I sit back and think about, and say ‘wow, I really didn’t see that coming’.  Probably my favorite part of living in the Philippines is saying those words so very often.

Close of Service Conference and My Little Peace Corps Life REBOOT

I just glanced at my last blog post and it was nearly 5 months ago! I lost my momentum there for a while.  Hopefully my plan for the next two months will make up for leaving you all in the dark for so long! Check it out…

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Nearly two years ago, we were given this neat little piece of paper that enumerated each part of service.  Each one of our conferences was on there with however many months at site sat between them.  But no matter how close it drew, Close of Service Conference always seemed like a distant event.  The last Peace Corps Philippines Conference I would attend in my service.  Even as we pulled up to the same hotel for the last time.   The one we were at for our Work Partners Conference in September 2016 and our Mid-Service Training in October 2017, all I could think was ‘there’s no way it’s almost been two whole years!’

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Of course, it absolutely has.  So, we walked into the same hall for our ‘Welcome Dinner’ and as we looked at the chairs and tables arranged in the center of the room, we noticed how our group had shrunk over the past two years.  We went from a group of +70 individuals at our Staging Event in Los Angeles to now just 35 tough cookies** at our last Peace Corps Philippines Conference.

**We had a few interrupted service cookies who had to end their service early for a variety of reasons but would have made it to COS Conference had Peace Corps allowed them to!

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While we waited for our Training Director to make his opening remarks, we all peeked over at the dinner buffet.  Sir Boni always tries to treat us to some western style food at these gatherings, to give us a little taste of home.  Let me tell you we were NOT disappointed by a pizza pie the size of a small child AND a burrito/taco bar.

The next three days were spent eating cheese, discussing the end of service, talking about what life might be like when we return to America, and of course, celebrating having made it to the final countdown.  On the last day staff surprised us with confetti cannons and balloons.  COS Conference in it’s entirety made me realize this two-year adventure is quickly drawing to a close.

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I’ve spent roughly 700 days in the Philippines up to this point.  THE longest amount of time I’ve spent outside the United States in my entire life.  When I signed up for this trip just about 2 and a half years ago, that was all I knew I was bound to achieve when it was all over.  I had absolutely no idea what to expect, or how to even begin to imagine what I would be like at the end of this experience.

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It’s been a long bumpy road getting here and looking back at the stories I’ve chosen to share here with you all, I’ve realized there are plenty of stories I haven’t told.  Either due to their passing too quickly, or just accepting them as a part of daily life.  So, in my last two months of service, I’d like to retell those stories I’ve omitted.  The stories that have slipped through the cracks but are no less important to the wholeness of my time here in the Philippines.  Some will be short, and some will be lengthier, but I hope to post about one a week up until my COS date in August.

T-minus 55 days…