Second year student Leif Wefferling was recently awarded a first place prize in the graduate student poster category at the Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference in Seattle. Read about his research and his experience at the conference below. – Jana Fischback, MES Communications Assistant
By Leif Wefferling, MES 2nd year student. 

collaborating with the Coastal Watershed Institute in Port Angeles and studying how forage fish spawning activity is changing in response to the Elwha dam removal project. The two species of forage fish that I am interested in, surf smelt and sand lance, require intertidal beaches with an abundance of fine-grained substrate in which to spawn; however, the supply of sediment to the beaches of the Elwha nearshore was dramatically reduced over the past hundred years due to the construction of two dams on the Elwha River and miles of shoreline armoring that prevented the natural erosion of coastal feeder bluffs. At present, with both dams almost completely removed, millions of cubic meters of sediment is being transported downstream and released into the nearshore environment, potentially changing the character of its beach substrate and the spawning habitat of forage fish. To date, I have not found a significant difference in spawning activity since the dam removal process began, but the conditions in nearshore beaches are still very much in flux so it is still early the game. Interestingly, there is evidence of new spawning activity in one area of a beach site that was previously unsuitable spawning habitat so perhaps this is a sign of more changes to come. Another important finding is that overall spawning activity in the Elwha area is significantly lower than adjacent areas of the coast that have intact nearshore sediment processes. For example, the most robust spawning activity was found in sites along the Dungeness Bluffs–an area that is free of shoreline armoring and where feeder bluff erosion contributes a steady supply of fresh sediment to the nearshore beaches. This finding suggests important implications for the long-term restoration of forage fish spawning habitat in the Elwha nearshore because the armoring in the Elwha area is projected to remain in place indefinitely and will continue to prevent the feeder bluff sediment inputs long after the initial pulse of river sediment has ended.

Attending the Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference was an exciting experience. It was encouraging to see the breadth of research being conducted throughout the Salish Sea and on both sides of the Canadian/American border. I learned of new and emerging areas of research that I had never heard of before, and it was equally valuable to catch up with the latest findings in those areas that I’ve been following closely and learning so much about as I write my thesis. I have to admit being a little star-struck listening to the presentations given by researchers whose work I’ve read, and re-read, during these past few months!
The poster gala was in the evening of the second day and was so well-attended that people had to speak loudly to be heard above the din. For two hours I chatted with passers-by about my research. I didn’t feel like there was any special attention paid to my poster, but I had been surprised to find that all my handouts- I had printed 30 of them and hung them in an envelope next to the poster on the first day- were gone by midday, even before the gala event had begun!

Salish Sea Poster_2

Leif’s award-winning poster that he presented at the Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference

This conference was the first time I’ve ever presented a poster, and this poster was the first I’ve ever made. With my time at Evergreen now coming to a close, I feel like I’m off to a good start towards other first experiences that lie ahead.