Tuesday, December 15, 2015

A Rainbow Connection

Today through Friday, 12/18, the Port Townsend Marine Science Center is seeking to meet a $3,000 match challenge from a generous donor. Donate today and every dollar you give will go twice as far. With your help, we will meet our goal of raising $15,000 for our annual fund to double our impact next year. Thank you for helping to inspire conservation of the Salish Sea and monitor the health of our local ocean.

On the first Saturday of every month, I get to hang out on the beach with three of Port Townsend's finest birders. Surveying seabirds with these citizen scientists as part of the Seattle Audubon's Puget Sound Seabird Survey (PSSS) is a real treat. The PSSS has been a part of my service quite literally since Day 1. I arrived to my first day of service on the morning of October 1 completely unaware that I would spend my evening training on PSSS protocol until 7:30 PM, let alone leading my first survey two days later. These short, 30-minute surveys are now one of the projects I look forward to most each month as the AmeriCorps Citizen Science Educator at the Port Townsend Marine Science Center. This month, we were graced with the presence of a full rainbow for the entire survey. It was truly remarkable!

PTMSC citizen scientists braving 30mph winds on December 5th, 2015, to conduct the monthly PSSS. We counted 39 individuals representing 8 species, and one double rainbow. (Pictured left to right: Bruce Marsten, Ron Sikes, and Bill Vogt. Photo credit: Zofia Knorek).

Rainbows are an optical illusion — they change based on the viewers' perspective. Since the rainbow lasted for over an hour, I was gifted with the opportunity to change my perspective numerous times. As a marine ecologist whose primary research interests are underwater, I spend a lot of time looking down and thinking about what lies below. This rainbow was a stark symbol of what glory there is to see if I remember to look up. Moreover, I now recognize the diversity of lenses — and hence, perspectives — I use at PTMSC to view and learn from the Salish Sea: my own eyes (and glasses), binoculars, spotting scopes, microscopes, cameras (digital and underwater!), and most importantly, the lenses of other organisms, human or not. To me, the processes of investigating (changing our perspectives) and communicating (sharing our perceptions) are what science and education are all about; I serve to embody and inspire these processes.

LOOK, A GIANT YELLOW GUNNEL! Or, AmeriCorps Marine Exhibit Educator Rebecca Mostow, living life from the perspective of our eelgrass tank inhabitants (while cleaning up their poop...nice multitasking!). (Photo credit: Chrissy McLean).


This season's sea star wasting survey (see Rebecca's blog report next week!) required climbing and crawling over and under barnacle rocks and peering into the smallest of crevices to observe our favorite five-armed phenoms. (Photo credit: Carolyn Woods).
In the holiday spirit of joy, light, and giving thanks, I would like to thank AmeriCorps/Washington Service Corps and PTMSC for this multifaceted rainbow connection (obligatory Kermit reference). Over the period of two short months, AmeriCorps and PTMSC have connected me to a phenomenal group of volunteers, visitors, students, colleagues, and scientists. It is quite fitting that my first taste of citizen science was ornithological in nature. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology is renowned for pioneering the bridges (or, keeping in theme: connections) between citizen science and ecology. Further, seabirds are an important ecological connection between our ocean, land, and sky. Citizen science is not as prevalent in marine science as it is in other systems. I am thankful for the opportunity to serve at an organization that is at the forefront of marine citizen science, and studies such a wide array of subjects, particularly those that challenge me to think critically and broaden my interests.

I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, a talented birder. I don't even think I qualify as an "okay" birder. I have astigmatism, so trying not to trip over what is right in front of me is enough of a daily chore — one that is not eased with a pair of binoculars. However, like anything else, careful practice brings improvement. My ability to spot and identify our friends of flight has been greatly refined  — the majority of my bird sightings used to turn out to really be leaves (what I jokingly called a 'leafbird', not to be confused with real leafbirds). Our study site is the open water of the Straits of Juan de Fuca just north of Pt. Wilson. Thus, we do not count birds in trees, which relieves some obstructive difficulties (and eliminates the potential for 'leafbirds' altogether), but does not come without other challenges. The birds are often highly active and can fly away at any moment without notice. Seabirds can also disappear underwater to dive and forage fish. On windy days, high wave action can obscure our direct line of sight to the birds. Thank you to Ron, Bill, and Bruce for sharing your birding knowledge and braving gnarly winds with me every month. And, thank you to all of our citizen scientists for your continued devotion to, and incredible patience with, your respective projects. You strengthen the institution of science more than you will ever know.

Finally, I am overwhelmingly thankful that this refracted light ignited such deep reflection of the inspiration I receive from you, my allies in conserving the Salish Sea, every day.

Looks like I found a service (s)pot o' gold at each end of the rainbow! (Photo credit: Zofia Knorek).




ZOFIA KNOREK is the Citizen Science Educator and an AmeriCorps Member serving at the Port Townsend Marine Science Center

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