Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Low Tide Walk at Night

As a marine educator who employs mostly inquiry-based curricula, I ask a lot of questions. Paired with my natural draw toward scientific reasoning, it turns out I spend the majority of my time wondering. The ocean is my greatest source of wonder, and therefore, inspiration.

What's going on down there, anyway?

Thankful for my fellow Bendy Bunch partners-in-adventure! 
During the first half of my service term, I've learned so much — from how to decipher the mood of invertebrates to how to most effectively nurture the curiosity of nine-year-old students. However, throughout my educational career, if there's one thing I've learned, it's that there is an arduous amount of information I don't know, and likely will never know simply because I don't have the capacity to know it. From this idea stems my inherent joy for teaching. Over the past five months, I've teamed up with Port Townsend Marine Science Center (PTMSC) volunteers, partners, visitors, and staff in numerous capacities in an attempt to reveal a truth or two. My favorite way to go about answering this existential ecological question is to go out and explore!

Did you know that over half of the American population lives within 50 miles of the ocean? As Port Townsend residents, we are lucky enough to live directly on the coast. Much of our local peninsular coast is also relatively undeveloped, providing us with infinite opportunities to grow as naturalists by getting outside. It is easy to get caught up in the routine hustle and bustle of life and forget that we are continually surrounded by endless natural beauty; of this, I am sometimes certainly guilty. Every time I enter the wilderness, I am re-shocked by the sheer existence of it all. Regardless of whether or not I am physically or emotionally present, Nature steadfastly is (though in an increasingly industrialized world, this will soon be an even more distant reality, but that's for another blog post).

Lest we forget to treasure what lies below our flippers and boots.
Pictured: one of the two blood stars that were spotted during the walk.
We were thrilled to only see healthy sea stars!
Despite such a large proportion of our fellow humans living in such close proximity to the ocean, most don't often have the opportunity to directly interact with ocean inhabitants. To some extent, the ocean is intrinsically difficult and dangerous to access and explore. Other factors limit, though, propel the inaccessibility: socioeconomic standing, physical ability, culture, etc. At PTMSC, we use the Marine Exhibit as an vector for safe human-ocean interaction. For this ability, I consider us most fortunate. However, there's something exceedingly special about physically immersing ourselves in a marine habitat. The intertidal zone confers us with the ability to do just this — explore an exposed ocean. Throughout the year, PTMSC offers Low Tide Walks in an effort to foster this type of immersion. These programs are equitable — free and open to the public. By offering these types of hands-on learning experiences, we empower our neighbors and friends with the ability to be informed citizens, agents of change, and stewards of our shared natural world.

Needless to say, it was inspiring have 40 people brave a particularly chilly February evening in the pouring rain for PTMSC's first Low Tide Walk at Night of 2016 at North Beach.
Katie Conroy, our Marine Mammal Stranding Network AmeriCorps,
points out a sculpin to a low tide walker.

Why explore the intertidal zone at night?

When we see them at low tide, many organisms look drastically different than they do underwater. At night, though, we can see some animals that we wouldn't normally see during the day at all because they are nocturnal, or spend the daylight hours in deeper ocean zones. Moreover, some animals like crabs become more active during the night because they are less likely to be eaten by a predator. Thus, tide pooling at night allows people to see animals or behaviors they might literally never see otherwise.

There are few things as fitting to illustrate the importance of being physically present and always open to discovery as nighttime tidepooling. Something about stumbling around with flashlights in the dark makes every animal, from anemone to sculpin, a treasured find.

A beautiful sculpin. Sculpins belong to
the diverse Family Cottidae, which has 200 species in Puget Sound alone!
I spotted a bonus science angel(!): Rebeccca, our Marine Exhibit
AmeriCorps and naturalist extraordinaire, looks at a sample of seawater
swarming with zooplankton.

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

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