Behind Hakai: Angeleen Olson
A blog series highlighting the people who play an integral role behind the scenes to ensure the data keeps flowing and the Hakai Institute keeps running.
Nearshore marine ecology has been a staple of the Hakai Institute’s research since its early days, and the program has only continued to grow over the years. With a wide variety of research projects, collaborators, and long-term monitoring work in different habitats, there’s a lot to keep track of day-to-day—but Angeleen Olson is more than up to the task. Skilled at stats, highly organized, and an ever-humble team player, Angeleen keeps the nearshore program running behind the scenes. She also has deep roots within the organization, having worked with Hakai since 2013 as both an undergraduate and graduate researcher and as a contractor.
Started at Hakai
Quadra Island, BC
What do you do at the Hakai Institute?
I’m the lead technician for the nearshore marine ecology program. I manage a group of roughly 10 field technicians, and we monitor nearshore habitats like kelp forests, seagrass meadows, and rocky intertidal habitats. We do that on Calvert Island, and now starting a bit on Quadra Island. We work with a lot of university affiliates and NGOs like the Smithsonian’s MarineGEO network, collaborating on different projects in each of those habitats.
My day to day is very variable: managing our surveys and our team, as well as doing the data analysis—so a lot of statistics and modeling—and writing scientific research papers and scientific reports. So many things on the go at once!
What’s your favorite project you’ve worked on?
This is a hard question—we work on so many interesting projects! Maybe this eelgrass wasting disease project we’re working on right now. We’re working across a latitudinal gradient with other scientists, from Alaska to California, so not only are we doing our seagrass work on Calvert looking for wasting disease, we get to compare our results with all these other scientists looking at the exact same thing, at the exact same time, in the same way. That has been intellectually so stimulating and so fun. We’ve met amazing collaborators that way, and it’s sparking off new projects. We’re working with collaborators we’ve known for a while, too, so it’s just a great group of people.
Do you have a favorite system or species to study?
My favorite system is a tie between seagrass meadows and kelp forests. My favorite topic or research theme is biogeochemical connections—I use stable isotopes a lot in my research to understand food web connectivity and nutrient cycling.
No matter what system I’ve studied, it’s come back to rockfish. Because they’re so long-lived—some species can live to 100 years old—and they’re reproductive for so long, they’re just an incredible organism. They’re fascinating, and a major fishery on the BC coast, so very important to study and manage properly.
What’s one aspect of the job you could do without?
The early low tides or really late low tides are a struggle, but it’s totally worth it when you finally get out in the field. I could do without difficult days of coding [for statistics], but once you figure out your code it’s very rewarding. But I’d say on the day to day the most fun project, one that I’d volunteer for at any time, is beach seining.
Angeleen Olson has worked on a wide variety of nearshore projects during her years with Hakai as an employee, contractor, and student. First photo: conducting sea otter surveys from shore. Photo by Erin Foster. Second photo: dive tending during subtidal biodiversity surveys. Photo by Angeleen Olson
What’s a unique challenge that people outside your role might not think of?
Learning new statistical methods. Every new science question or hypothesis you have could mean a different way to analyze that data. Coming out of school you have a unique set of skills and you have a network of people who are really good at certain statistics or certain models. But sometimes you encounter something that you’ve never worked on before and have no idea where to start, so you have to learn that new skill, and find someone who can teach you and be your mentor and make sure you’re doing it right. It’s daunting, and it requires patience to learn something new. The science community is pretty amazing for that—everyone’s willing to share what they know, to help you and collaborate. It’s a challenge, but worth it.
What are you excited about in the next few months?
I’m excited for the summer season. Our monitoring work really ramps up in the summer, so I’ll be out in the field a lot more than in the winter.
I’m also excited for Hakai to start working on the UN Decade of Ocean Science. And there’s talk about more bioblitzes in the Salish Sea and work around Quadra focused on that. That is super exciting, to do more localized stuff here on Quadra. It seems like a fun change—new species, new collaborators!
*This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.