Drifting in the South Pacific: An Opportunity for Students in American Samoa to Envision Their Future in Stormwater Monitoring

Date / Time:
Tuesday, Sep 15 11:00am to 11:30am
Track / Session:
Track: Outreach and Education / Session 1

As professional stormwater scientists, one of our duties is to educate and cultivate future generations to ensure competent and inspired stormwater scientists will be able to carry on the work of environmental monitoring and remediation. Outreach and education can take many forms and it can be most effective to use your personal strengths and experiences to connect with your audience. The presentation provides an overview of a week-long workshop and one-year research project in American Samoa funded by a NOAA grant. The objectives were to teach students at American Samoa Community College and local agency professionals about environmental monitoring and the impact of stormwater on nearshore coral reef health. The workshop we developed provides a model for other CASQA members for engaging with students in higher education to inspire them to pursue environmental science and stormwater careers.

The workshop focused on using GPS-enabled ocean drifters to track the fate of land-based sources of pollution on the coral reefs downstream of impacted watersheds. Frequent tropical rains mobilize sediment and nutrients from agriculture, industry, and mining, and the prevailing ocean currents control where those impact the corals. Using the drifters to understand nearshore currents helps local agencies prioritize where watershed management can improve coral reef health, and direct scarce agency resources to highest priority watersheds. The ocean drifters workshop provided a way to connect stormwater pollution, an issue most local students are not familiar with, to coral reef health and nearshore water quality, which many students are passionate about. We started with an area they and their families depend on for food and recreation, and we traced back up the watershed to pollution sources and what remediation they could use to reduce that pollution. The workshop provided the students several benefits including increased knowledge through classroom lectures, hands-on fieldwork skills, professional networking, and learning GIS software. Building the drifters with materials found on-island showed them they can be resourceful in conducting sound environmental science on their remote island. Three days of the workshop were spent in the field deploying the drifters using kayaks, providing a great opportunity to get outside and learn basic safety and field skills like tying knots, communication, and GPS navigation. The final day was spent using ArcGIS software to process the GPS data from the drifter deployments and learn basics of presenting geospatial data. During the final day, we partnered with the AS Dept. of Commerce GIS group and the students got the opportunity to network and learn about local environmental jobs they may pursue after graduation. For one year following the workshop, the students conducted monthly drifter deployments at Vatia Village, where NOAA and the EPA are researching nutrient impacts. Their drifter data provided material for research papers in their classes and for NOAA scientists to understand current dynamics in the bay. One student continued on to get a scholarship to the University of Hawaii to get her Bachelor’s degree in marine science, committing to work on fisheries management when she finishes.

The conference theme this year is “Envision the Future”, and for students, it can be difficult to envision the future of their career and deciding on stormwater or environmental work. This workshop provided them an opportunity to experience a week in the life of being an environmental scientist. Together we established a research goal, assembled the proper equipment, collaborated with partners across different agencies, collected and analyzed geospatial and timeseries data, answered our research question, and had lots of fun outside!

For this presentation we’ll present videos, photos, and a description of the workshop and outcomes.

Primary Speaker:
Alex Messina, Wood Environment & Infrastructure Solutions
Dr. Alex Messina received his PhD from SDSU/UCSB Geography, writing his dissertation on sediment dynamics in a linked watershed/coral reef system in American Samoa. He works at Wood in San Diego as a senior scientist and technical consultant in stormwater monitoring, as well as an adjunct professor at SDSU Geography supporting student research in environmental monitoring.
Supporting Speaker 1:
Jameson Newtson, Wood
Jameson Newtson has 10 years of professional experience in watershed science, marine science, and stormwater monitoring. Mr. Newtson earned his Masters of Science degree at San Diego State University where he studied the impacts of land cover change on streamflow. Mr. Newtson has worked as the Marine Science Coordinator at the American Samoa Community College and currently works at Wood as a stormwater scientist and technical consultant.