Humboldt State University

People on the Ground: Student Profiles

Bethany Baibak

From decreased public access to the loss of natural resources, it's well known that rising sea levels negatively affect coastal parks. But is there anything that California policy makers can do about it?

Biology student Bethany Baibak recently received a California Sea Grant Fellowship to help answer that question.

Baibak is working with the Calif. Department of Parks and Recreation in Sacramento to develop strategies and policies that protect coastal parks from sea level rise and other environmental factors.

She was one of 13 fellows around the state—and seven California State University students—to receive the prestigious award. The state-funded program supports marine research and coastal conservation throughout California.

The fellowship will also provide her with the chance to explore a unique aspect of science: policy. "As scientists, we submit our research for publication but we rarely see if it's actually applied or used by the management community," Baibak says. "Developing policies is a really important aspect of how we deal with our natural resources."

Baibak's interest in science policy is what drew her to work with botany professor Frank Shaugnessey at HSU. His research focuses on eelgrass, a flowering plant that is a valuable habitat and food source for marine animals in Humboldt Bay. It also accounts for 45 percent of the eelgrass in California.

"I wanted to do something that was useful to the management community and I knew that working with Frank would give me the opportunity to have my research used by California Fish and Game," she says.

Baibak's work with the California Department of Parks and Recreation also has real-world applications. Policy makers will use the guidelines she helps develop as they decide how to best manage sea rise along California's coast.

"Sea level rise and storm surges contribute to the loss of cultural and natural resources, infrastructure, park facilities and decreased public access. It's a very complex issue that we have not had to deal with in recent history. It is a learning process for everyone involved."