What's it like to be a Communications Intern at CCSE?

intern communications

The word “intern” probably conjures up a sad, almost comical image in most people’s minds. The intern is stereotypically the frenzied office assistant, a poor college student desperate for work experience who schedules appointments and makes coffee runs for an iron-fisted and tyrannical boss, à la Anne Hathaway’s character in "The Devil Wears Prada." Needless to say, my intern experience at CCSE was far from that.

For the last seven months, I’ve been CCSE’s communications intern. All those Facebook posts and tweets you saw, emails you received, blogs you read - yep, that was me. Not only did I learn about Steelhead trout and the world of environmental nonprofits during my internship, but I also gained valuable experience and connections that will help boost my resume and portfolio.

communications intern Cecilia

Working with our director, Chris Lim, definitely made my job an enjoyable and educational experience. We would meet a few times a week to brainstorm ideas for social media strategy, blog posts, and email content, and he was always open and receptive to my thoughts. I was also granted a lot of creative freedom in my writing and graphic designs; for the most part, whatever I came up with was a go, save for a few edits Chris would add. The job’s flexibility gave me lots of room to grow and try new things.

Speaking of which, I did try lots of new things - I had never managed a professional Facebook or Twitter account before, and learning social media strategizing was a huge bonus, seeing as most of the jobs I’m applying to now are looking for someone with that experience. I also gained experience in writing appeals for donations, which is a really important skill for anyone who’s thinking of working for a nonprofit. Throughout all this, Chris, Steph, Aleks, Shane and the rest of the staff were extremely helpful and supportive.

While I’m sad to leave CCSE, I’m excited to see what the next communications intern will do with this position. Like I said, there’s a lot of creative freedom, and I suggest taking full advantage of that! Best of luck to you, whoever you are.

Interested in applying to be our next Communications Intern? Click here for more info. 

Collecting data and exploring one's watershed at the same time

monitoring native olympia oysters

There's a plethora of organisms that inhabit Morro Bay. The intertidal animals reside in every nook and cranny. The organism that we focused on monitoring today is the Olympia oyster (Ostrea lurida). These magnificent creatures are bivalve mollusks (an organism with compressed body between two shells) that filter feed. They are related to other organisms like clams and mussels. Olympia oysters are the only oyster native to the west coast of North America and play an important role in the ecosystem. Their population has been declining so it is essential to monitor populations to observe if they are recovering or not.

The method that was used for collecting data on the oysters was the line intercept transect method. Through this method we measured out a length of shoreline then used a quarter meter quadrat made of PVC pipe to measure specific areas along the line. The data we collected included number of live oysters found and their lengths. The oysters live on hard surfaces like larger rocks and cobble. Whenever an oyster was found, we used a caliper to measure the longest part of the oyster. The collection of this data will hopefully help us better understand the factors affecting these oysters so one day efforts can be made to increase their populations.    

When I am able to do field work like oyster monitoring it brings a joy out of me that is sometimes hard to describe. There were countless things going through my mind as we moved the quadrat and we flipped over rocks in search of the oysters. To my surprise we found many different types of organisms huddled together in the smallest of crevasse. This brings me back to my childhood when I used to play in the mud in search of anything alive. Observing where the oysters were attached (usually underneath rocks) and where other animals lived was extremely fascinating. Most of these animals you would expect to see submerged underwater but it is a whole other ball game in the intertidal zone. Being able to work in areas like this brings the best out of me and I can’t wait to have an experience like that again.

If you can't measure it, you can't improve it

Monitoring steelhead trout in San Luis Obispo creek just got a little easier. San Luis Obispo City Biologist, Freddy Otte, and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) installed a Dual Frequency Identification Sonar (DIDSON) in San Luis Obispo creek to monitor the fish, which are currently a threatened species in our area.

DIDSON cameras use high or low frequency sound waves to create an image, allowing the viewer to see what passes in front of the lens. 

Getting the camera and gaining permission to use it in the creek has taken quite a long time for Freddy and CDFW. As members of the Watershed Stewards Program, my site partner and I shadowed Freddy, and got some insight into parts of the process for deciding on the placement of the camera. This involves contacting several landowners next to the creek. Some landowners are very helpful and positive while others may refuse to have this activity on their property. When land owners say “yes,” we also have to make sure there are the proper electrical hookups present to run the camera. The approving land owner is compensated for any electricity used by the DIDSON. The next step was finding a spot in the creek which was deep enough and uniform all the way across so the entire width of the creek is visible through the lens.

After some searching, we found the perfect spot for the camera. I am waiting for when there will be enough footage for us to start watching it and recording the data. Hopefully we will now be able to get a more accurate count of how many steelhead trout we have in our creek.

Being new to this field, I’m surprised to learn that you cannot just place a camera in the water. In addition to getting cooperation from land owners, you have to get permits and permissions. I was only there for about a month or two of the process, it is overwhelming to see the amount of time it takes to get a project up and running. By getting a chance to work on the DIDSON camera as well as other projects, I’m learning that you have to be patient and really push for what you want.  At the same time, you have to be mentally prepared for failure. If something goes wrong, you may have to scrap you project. 

Trout in the Classroom brings students outdoors

river restoration

The best part of Trout in the Classroom is what happens outside of the classroom - field trips!

Last month, I took a group of students from Vista de las Cruces School to Lopez Lake, along with Watershed Education Coordinators Tosha Punches and Ellen Morris. There, we released the trout they had raised in class and participated in hands-on, outdoor activities.

After an hour and a half long bus ride, the children rushed out, full of excitement for their fun day outdoors. The activities included the trout release, a ‘found art’ station, a scavenger hunt, and a hike with the Discovering the Environment through Education and Restoration (DEER) program.

Can you make out the fish?

I was in charge of the ‘found art’ station, where the students found sticks, leaves, rocks, or anything else they thought looked interesting. With those materials, we created fish sculptures to commemorate the trout they had just released. Whenever we found trash on the ground, I used it as a good learning lesson to remind the students that littering is harmful to the environment and the animals that live in it, such as their trout!  

The scavenger hunt we did was another great activity. The younger kids, pre-k through 4th grade, were given a list of things to find in nature, such as a bug, flower, evidence of humans, or evidence of animals. The older grades, 5th through 8th, were tasked with looking for things they could use to build a habitat for an animal. There was a lot of ‘evidence of humans’ (aka trash) on the beach, so the scavenger hunt also became a beach clean up. It was important for the kids to see how many people make poor environmental choices, and our program helps them learn to not make those same choices.

Overall, the activities went very well for all age groups. It was great to see all the students excited about learning more about the environment and the impact they have on it.

CCSE’s Education Programs Inspire Action in Kids

The best way to conserve the environment is to educate the people that live in it. 

An even better way is to educate our children about how their actions impact their surroundings. That’s why we opened our Watershed Education Center in September, and why we teach science-based curricula in elementary schools around the county.

Tosha Punches and Ellen Morris lead our outreach efforts by teaching in classrooms and hosting workshops for kids on-site here at CCSE. 

We want students to grow up hearing about solutions to environmental problems and sustainability.
— Ellen Morris

At our Watershed Education Center opening in September, we partnered with lots of local organizations, like One Cool Earth and STEAM Trunk, among others, to set up exhibits and experiments for kids to take part in. And with our Trout in the Classroom program, kids are able to raise rainbow trout and release them as part of a field trip to a local lake. Through this program, we’ve instilled watershed awareness and conservation ethics within hundreds of students, all the way from Santa Barbara County through northern San Luis Obispo County. 

“We want students to grow up hearing about solutions to environmental problems and sustainability,” said Ellen. “We want to teach them that a ‘greener’ future is possible, and that their actions have the ability to influence it.”

By keeping our educational programs running, we can reach hundreds more students each year, and inspire them to consider the impact their actions have on their environment. And when we raise a generation of mindful, eco-centric citizens, we ultimately make the world a better place. 

The Watershed Stewards Program: A Win-Win for our Community

At Central Coast Salmon Enhancement, we have a constantly growing to-do list. However, as a small nonprofit, we have limited staff and limited time. That’s why we’re incredibly thankful for the Watershed Stewards Program (WSP), an organization that assists communities with habitat restoration for salmonids. We have two WSP members working with us for the next 10 and a half months, and we’re thrilled that they’ve joined us to help restore our watershed creek and steelhead trout habitat.

WSP is an AmeriCorps service program for young people that’s a part of the California Conservation Corps. Every year, the program places about 50 members at different natural resource organizations, where they help with a variety of projects.

Central Coast Watershed Stewards Program

Lauren Malinis and Khaalid Abdullah joined our team in October. They’ll be conducting service projects, leading environmental educational curricula at local schools, and collecting data in the field -- work that will greatly help our research and outreach efforts. It’s a win-win situation: the members receive valuable work and community outreach experience while the surrounding community and habitats benefit from their efforts.

Lauren is excited about gaining work experience. She said she’s trying to get into grad school, studying either marine science or fisheries, and that the WSP program will help her pay for that. 

Khaalid said he gets satisfaction out of knowing he’s benefitting California’s natural resources. “It’s an opportunity to be active in the world and give people knowledge about water conditions in our state. Physically getting the job done satisfies me, knowing I’m doing whatever I can to help the state of California,” he said. 

Working with the Watershed Stewards Program in Arroyo Grande

Are you ready to help keep the Watershed Stewards Program alive at CCSE? So far we have raised $4,000 of our goal of $8,000.

Click here to give - no amount is too small. We are genuinely thankful for your generous support. 


The Power of Citizen Science

Collecting data at a local watershed on the Central Coast

Scientists need good data to work with.

Without it, we can’t continue our projects to ensure the health of our watershed and steelhead trout habitats. And while our staff members at CCSE work hard to collect as much data in the field as possible, we can’t all be in different places at once. That’s why next year, we’re harnessing the power of citizen science using crowd hydrology.

Crowd hydrology empowers locals to act like true scientists -- to read water depth and collect data as they’re walking by streams and estuaries. CCSE members will set up staff plates (signs that measure water depth) in different sites around the county, along with instructions for passerby: text us the site ID, date, time, and water depth reading of the creek. The data sent in the texts is automatically added to an online database that is available to researchers, students, and resource managers for free. It’s that easy.

Crowd hydrology and CCSE

Crowd hydrology engages and informs the public while allowing for important conservation work to continue. Any contribution, no matter how small, will make all the difference.

Your donation of $1,000 will pay for staff installation and maintenance of a sign; $200 alone covers the cost of the sign and installation materials. Recently, CCSE received a $500 donation. If we can double that amount with your help, we’ll have enough funds to start our first crowd hydrology site. No amount is too small.

The staff members of CCSE and your local watershed ecosystem thank you for your support!