Monday, October 24, 2022

Microbial ecology, aquaponics and more with Lee Bebout

Volunteer Spotlight

As a child growing up in Arkansas and Oklahoma, Leslie (Lee) Bebout’s family loved to go fishing. “What you did as a family on your weekends, or whenever you got together, you would go fishing,” she recounted.

Lee wasn’t that enamored with fishing. “My favorite thing was to sit by the side of the river or creek and watch the little fish or tadpoles. Sometimes I would build little dams to see what they were eating. There was something about the light and the breeze and the sun, I found it very fascinating and mesmerizing.”

This childhood activity of quiet contemplation and observation no doubt influenced Lee’s career as a microbial ecologist, which is the study of the interactions of microorganisms with their environment, each other, and plant and animal species. She holds a Master’s degree in geology from the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill, and a Ph.D. in microbial ecology from the University of Aarhus, Denmark.

Lee met her biogeochemist husband Brad Bebout at Chapel Hill when they were studying for their Master’s degrees. They have been able to work at four different places together, most recently at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif.

“It has been amazing, how we have done this [career in academia] and managed to survive. What we do is similar, but different enough that I always ended up finding a position too,” she said.

The Bebouts made the move to Port Townsend from Bonny Doon, Calif., in December 2020. The pandemic and eventual shutdown of their research lab gave them a lot of dark hours to fill that winter, so they took a variety of Washington State University extension classes, including the Beach Naturalist, Stream Stewards and Cultivating Success courses, the latter of which taught them how to run a farming business.

Lee doesn’t currently have a plan to start a farming business but she and Brad continue to be fascinated with aquaponic farming. This system uses the ammonia and nitrates in the fish waste water and converts them into nitrates to fertilize the vegetables, while using less water than traditional agriculture.

They were active aquaponic farmers at their home in California, cycling through tilapia, koi and catfish along the way. Ultimately, however, Lee said they found the catfish “too cute” to eat. She is unclear as to which fish they might use for their Port Townsend efforts.

The couple hope to ultimately grow enough vegetables for their own use, for their friends and neighbors and to donate to the local food bank.

Lee began volunteering for the PTMSC in earnest this past spring. She has staffed a regular greeter shift on Sundays in the aquarium, a role she enjoys.

“I like greeting people, it's kind of fun! I really try to make it a positive experience for folks,” Lee said.

She’s gained a lot of knowledge about pinto abalone and giant Pacific octopuses but feels she has more to learn to be a docent.

Lee and Brad also commit time as volunteers for PTMSC’s SoundToxins program, pulling plankton samples from Discovery Bay. They are also involved in a mussel sampling program with the Washington State Department of Health.

Lee is interested in studying aquaculture for shellfish farming and hopes to learn more about zooplankton. She is becoming more familiar with the local phytoplankton thanks to her time behind the microscope in PTMSC’s ‘labacita’ and enjoys the diversity of specimens in the cold water of her new environment.

She credits her adult daughter, who attended college in Tacoma, with enticing her to the area. Her daughter is now an EMT and emergency room technician who also teaches kayaking and stand up paddleboard classes.

“We enjoyed visiting the Olympic Peninsula over the years and wanted to get away from the crowds, earthquakes and drought of California,” Lee said.

She and Brad both have plans to get more involved in PTMSC’s education programming. They have experience with valuable teacher education models used in California, including the STEP and Star programs, both of which focus on real-world applications for both students and teachers.

#volunteers, #marinescience, #marineeducation, #citizenscience

No comments:

Post a Comment

Want to leave us a comment? Just type in your message below; we'd love to hear from you!