Dennis Cartwright wears many hats: Sound Toxins Volunteer, Sea Star Monitoring Guru, Sensaphone First Responder, Sea Urchin Husbandry Expert, On-Call Aquarist, and Puppy Wrangler to name just a few. He navigates between these varied roles with ease, grace, and a constant smile. Below is a conversation we had yesterday, with a liberal addition of editor’s notes.
A year and a half.
[After only 16 months, Dennis has racked up an impressive 250 volunteer hours.]
Are you a member of the Marine Science Center?
And how’s the puppy?
The puppy is a monster. It learned how to hide things in pots the other day. And it knows that I eat cheerios every morning. I pour my cereal into the bowl over the kitchen floor so every morning, we both get cheerios for breakfast.
In what capacity to you volunteer here? Or maybe the better question is in what capacity don’t you volunteer here?
Sound Toxins, Sea Star Wasting, HomeCrew, and miscellaneous maintenance stuff.
[Examples of the aforementioned mysterious, miscellaneous maintenance: replacing rusty cables with high-quality line, removing live decorator crabs from the plumbing, and assuring me that yes, that sea star is fine.]
What aspect of the Marine Science Center’s work resonates with you?
[Dennis demonstrates his commitment to our Citizen Science program by regularly braving the wind and waves of Discovery Bay to collect plankton samples.]
What was your favorite day of volunteering so far?
Hm, I don’t know. That’s a tough one.
The day the new crop of AmeriCorps arrived, right?
Well, that actually was a great day. You know what the best day was? When you got into graduate school. And then again when Zofia got into graduate school. We’re all so happy for you. Did I ever tell you about seeing Bromus tectorum seeds walk?
[At this point, Dennis and I veered off into a conversation about awns and hydrostatic action and invasive terrestrial plants. I’ll spare you the details. Suffice it to say, wonderful, scientific distractions like this one are a regular part of my interactions with Dennis.]
What is your personal connection to the Salish Sea?
I started sailing on the Schooner Adventuress in 2003. My daughter started working with them and then she got me involved. You know, I grew up on Long Island Sound and then spent too many years inland [at Washington State University]. Coming to Port Townsend was almost like coming back to the water. [Here Dennis clearly wanted to say, “almost like coming home” but he could not bring himself to be even the littlest bit sentimental.]
Can you tell me about a particular experience of awe you’ve had with the Salish Sea?
Yes. I was spending some time at Friday Harbor Labs, taking photos to use in my Intro Biology slides. I was out taking a walk by myself one evening when I heard the strangest noise. I couldn’t figure out what was making it, so I followed the sounds all the way to the beach. Then, suddenly, a pod of orcas surfaced, only 50 feet away from the shore. And this was the first time I had ever seen orcas. It was misty and foggy and they surfaced so close. I’d call it mystical. [and I’d call it MIST-ical. But I’m far too punny for Dennis].
That sounds incredible.
The guy I was rooming with was so mad. [Dennis’ reenactment has been censored to ensure this blog is appropriate for all readers] He’d stayed behind to nap or read a book or something. And I’d seen whales.
Why do you feel the Marine Science Center’s work is important to the conservation of the Salish Sea?
The more people know about the Puget Sound, the more they will love it. And the more they love it, the more they will want to take care of it.
REBECCA MOSTOW is the Marine Exhibit Educator and an AmeriCorps member serving at the Port Townsend Marine Science Center.
The Marine Exhibit is open for Spring Hours! Come say hello to the resident animals and get ready to meet some brand-new critters! The exhibits are open Friday-Sunday, 12-5 pm.