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April 5, 2004

UCSC grad student working on national report on marine resources

By Tim Stephens

A prestigious Knauss Fellowship in marine policy has given graduate student Kristan Blackhart the opportunity to spend a year working at National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) offices outside Washington, D.C.

Graduate student Kristan Blackhart, right, with Vice Admiral Conrad C. Lautenbacher, who is head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Adminstration
Photo: NOAA

Profiles of other outstanding UCSC students are available online.

One of Blackhart's tasks during the fellowship is coediting the sixth edition of "Our Living Oceans," a status report on the nation's living marine resources.

The National Sea Grant College Program administers the Knauss Fellowships, which provide each fellow with a one-year stipend to work with "hosts" in executive and legislative offices involved in marine science and policy. The program awarded a total of 33 fellowships for 2004, including three to students from California.

For Blackhart, a master's student studying rockfish populations, the fellowship is an opportunity to gain experience on the policy side of marine science and fisheries. She began working at the NOAA Fisheries Office of Science and Technology in Silver Spring, Md., in February.

"So far, my experience has been really great," she said. "The office I'm working in is very supportive, and I'm getting to do a little bit of everything."

Blackhart's thesis adviser, associate professor of ecology and evolutionary biology Mark Carr, said the NOAA report she is working on is very important.

"When that report comes out, everybody looks to it for assessments of the state of the country's fisheries," Carr said.

In addition to assessing the species targeted by fishers, the report also focuses on species protected under federal laws, such as marine mammals and sea turtles, Blackhart said.

Each of NOAA's regional fisheries science centers around the country sends in reports on the marine species in its region, and Blackhart is currently coordinating that process. As the regional reports come in, she will be editing them, and she will also be helping to write the national overview that is an important part of the final document.

The previous edition of "Our Living Oceans" was published in 1999. Blackhart said the agency aims to have a draft of the new edition by the end of the year and issue the final version in 2005.

At UCSC, Blackhart has been working toward an M.A. in ecology and evolutionary biology, studying the settlement patterns of larval and juvenile rockfish. Together with Carr and Margaret McManus, assistant professor of ocean sciences, she is investigating the role of currents and other physical oceanographic processes in determining how and where the young of different rockfish species settle and grow to adulthood.

"We want to see if these physical processes may be acting as delivery mechanisms for larval and juvenile fishes," Blackhart said.

She has completed all of the fieldwork and most of the analyses of her data, and hopes to complete her thesis within the next year or so. Although she hopes to end up back on the West Coast eventually, Blackhart said she would be glad to stay on at the NOAA Fisheries Office beyond the one-year fellowship.

"For a lot of people, the fellowship opens doors within NOAA, and if that works out for me it would be great," she said.

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