Monday, July 31, 2017

From Park to Pier: The Early Days of the Port Townsend Marine Science Center, Part 1 of 4

This year, in honor of our 35th anniversary, the Port Townsend Marine Science Center is asking our supporters to match a generous $10,000 bequest from Mirriel Bedell, the mother of co-founder Judy D’Amore, to underwrite our commitment to place-based, people-powered, hands-on learning. Donate today to help us reach our goal and fulfill our mission to inspire conservation of the Salish Sea!

(This is the first of a four-part series about how Judy D’Amore and Libby Palmer founded the Port Townsend Marine Science Center. Read Part 2 here, Part 3 here and Part 4 here.)

It was a chance meeting in a Port Townsend coffee shop in the early 80s. Fueled by a mutual enjoyment of live music, Libby Palmer struck up a conversation with Frank D’Amore that soon became an invitation for her to meet Frank’s wife, Judy, who he said was equally passionate about singing.

Libby and Judy’s subsequent meeting marked the beginning of a lifelong friendship, and the backdrop against which the Port Townsend Marine Science Center would later be founded.

“It didn’t take long for us to discover that we were both interested in science, “Libby remembers. “She had two kids, I had three dogs, and in terms of going to the beach together and spending time outdoors, it was a perfect match.”
Judy D'Amore (l) and Libby Palmer (r)
teaching their first class.

Judy, a native of Iowa, worked as an Audubon naturalist in Ohio before following her brother to the Pacific Northwest. Originally from the east coast, Libby had a teaching background in mathematics.

The earliest iteration of what has now become the thriving Port Townsend Marine Science Center was a 1981 summer class for children.

“We ended up exploring the beaches, exploring ponds, and taking the kids to the places we wanted to take them,” remembers Judy. “We had about 15 kids from kindergarten through the 4th grade."

“Four days a week, we used a small building in Chetzemoka Park for our classes,” says Libby. “But we had to take it all down on Fridays, because someone was usually having a wedding on the weekends!”

“We collected animals down on the beach, and each of us had a microscope,” explains Judy. “We acquired tanks and pumps but most of our tanks were fresh water at that point because we knew that maintaining the proper temperature would be an issue in salt water tanks.”

The classes were an instant success.

“Summer was the perfect time to hold these classes, because the tides are out more often during the daylight hours, which is not the case the rest of the year,” says Judy.

Inspired by their success, Libby and Judy wondered how they might take their efforts to the next level. They began visiting year-round centers like the Feiro Marine Life Center in Port Angeles to familiarize themselves with the operations of a more established institution. Their curiosity was peaked when they learned that it received funding from the state.

The Poulsbo Marine Science Center was also of interest to them. It was there that one of the educators encouraged each woman to apply for a $500 scholarship for marine biology projects that was being offered by the Marine Science Society of the Pacific Northwest, a local non-profit founded by former Washington Gov. Dixie Lee Ray.

“We took the applications and decided that $1000 in grants would cover the plumbing for a Sears pump,” explains Libby.  “Even though we did not yet have a building!”

As it turned out, they each received a $500 grant. Now the challenge was to find a permanent location to house their new equipment.

Judy adds, “We had been looking around Port Townsend, and we kept eyeing that building out on the pier at Fort Worden.”

As perfect a location as they knew it would be, convincing others of that fact would take determination, patience and diplomacy. Lots of diplomacy.

(To be continued...)

Monday, July 24, 2017

Building the Future Through Education

This year, in honor of our 35th anniversary, the Port Townsend Marine Science Center is asking our supporters to match a generous $10,000 bequest from Mirriel Bedell, the mother of co-founder Judy D’Amore, to underwrite our commitment to place-based, people-powered, hands-on learning. Donate today to help us reach our goal and fulfill our mission to inspire conservation of the Salish Sea!

You may not immediately recognize the name Mirriel Bedell, but it’s fair to say that if you are passionate about conserving the Salish Sea, this inspiring woman has impacted your life.
Mirriel Bedell

That’s because Mirriel was not only a remarkable person in her own right, she is also the mother of Port Townsend Marine Science Center co-founder Judy D’Amore.

Born in 1919 in Chicago, Mirriel was raised by her mother and two aunts after her father’s death.  She received a degree in chemistry at the University of Iowa, where she also met and married Jack Hummel. Over the next few years, the family grew to include their daughter Judy, the eldest, and four other children.

Learning about the natural world was a "given" in Hummel 
family life. 

“Nature was important to both our parents,” says Judy. “We took lots of camping and canoeing trips when we were growing up. My parents even moved us to a house on the edge of town where our backyard consisted of five acres of woods.”

Mirriel’s inquisitive nature served her children well.

“Science and exploration were always a very big part of our lives,” Judy explains. “We raised chickens, rescued and rehabilitated snapping turtles and baby birds, and caught fish from local streams for our aquarium. There were endless tadpoles and, somewhere along the way, even a pet skunk!”

Throughout her children’s lives, Mirriel endowed them with the belief that anything was possible, and that the post-WWII days represented an exciting time where “the doors were open.”

When her husband died, Mirriel obtained a teaching certificate and continued to pursue her passion for knowledge by teaching high school science. She would later marry George Bedell, a physician and widower with four children of his own.

“George was a very kind and thoughtful man,” says Judy. “I think he felt that Mirriel would be a great mother for his children. And she was -- for all nine of us.”

As the Hummel and Bedell children entered adulthood and started their own families, Mirriel continued to share her enthusiasm for education by bringing her grandchildren to summer camps at the Port Townsend Marine Science Center.  

Last fall, Mirriel passed away at the age of 97. But that was not the end of her story. Her inspiring legacy lives on at the Port Townsend Marine Science Center, thanks to a $10,000 bequest from her estate.

We are grateful to Mirriel, not only for inspiring Judy and her siblings, but also for her generous gift that will allow future generations to learn about the curiosities and wonders of the Salish Sea. Her life is a testament to the eloquent words of English philosopher Herbert Spencer: “The great aim of education is not knowledge, but action.”

Thursday, July 13, 2017

2016 Port Townsend Marine Science Center Annual Report

Do you know how many youth attended learning camps at the Port Townsend Marine Science Center in 2016? 
How about the value of free science programs and scholarships offered to schools and summer campers in in 2016? (Hint: It was 50 percent more than 2015!)

Or how many people -- of all ages -- took part in our 2016 education programs about marine life, climate change and the future of the Salish Sea?

Guess how much financial and in-kind support was provided by the Port Townsend Marine Science Center “Pod” to harvest the skeleton of a 30 foot, 15-ton gray whale for a future educational display?

Or the number of guests who visited our exhibits in 2016?  (Hint: The average was 284 per week!)

You can find all those answers – and much more – in the 2016 Port Townsend Marine Science Center Annual Report, now available online. Learn how our incredible place-based, people powered, hands-on learning center is inspiring conservation of the Salish Sea!

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Under The Pier - Diving for Citizen Science

Diving for Citizen Science: Howard Teas 
This blog was written by PTMSC volunteer Howard Teas

Citizen science is alive and well at the Port Townsend Marine Science Center. Less well known is the role for divers in these activities. We collect data for the Sea Star Wasting Program as well as providing support for the Marine Exhibit, and from time to time we get extras, such as the regular monitoring of the grey whale as it was turned from a 15,000 pound carcass into a skeleton.

The sea star wasting monitoring program includes weekly counts of all stars at the Marine Exhibit and quarterly counts of stars in two long-term plots on the east jetty at the Indian Island county park which were established with Dr. Melissa Miner, UC Santa Cruise and the MARINe program. We added two subtidal sites to that on the east footing for the Indian Island bridge and along the main bulkhead under the Marine Exhibit. The Indian Island site was chosen for three reasons. First, it is close to the intertidal site. Conditions are very similar at the two sites. Second, the boundaries of area counted are easy to identify; the vertical surface of the footing down to the substrate. Third, there are no deep holes beneath rocks for stars to hide in. Counts are done during the same month as the intertidal counts, providing consistency in our data. There is only a short time during slack water between tidal changes, so the subtidal Indian Island counts are done snorkeling, rather than with scuba. We can move faster without the scuba gear and we can continue to work in somewhat higher currents. Counts are made in vertical strips about a meter wide, with markers on the bottom to help us maintain orientation within each strip. We swim to the bottom, then count stars while swimming toward the surface. Each star seen in the study area is identified to species and size is measured in 5cm increments (0-5, 5-10, 10-15, and >15) from the middle of the body to the end of one arm. The counts include ochre and mottled stars, with occasional blood stars included.

Crab on whale carcass still
from video taken by Howard Teas

The second subtidal site is along the bulkhead beneath the Marine Exhibit. We count all stars on the open water side of the old wood bulkhead, using the same protocol as at Indian Island. Typically we see more species here, and lower total counts. Ochre stars are seldom seen, while mottled stars are common. Blood stars and a few sunflower stars are also identified along the wall. The site allows the use of scuba, due to lower current speeds, but access is limited by wave action. The typical southeast wind for much of the year builds waves high enough to block counting. We are adverse to the extreme vertical motion when the wind is up and floating objects, like divers, are banged up against the piling while counting near or at the surface.

Other common activities include collecting fish, invertebrates, and kelp for the Marine Exhibit and maintenance projects, such as clearing the outside of the water intake pipes of barnacles and mussels. While not typical, we also snorkeled around the grey whale regularly last summer, checking on the progress the whale was making in losing weight. We videoed the status of the whale to show those above water the progress that was being made, and allowed the group to pull the whale out of the water before significant damage was done by the hungry marine cleaners.

Like these videos? Find a full playlist on YouTube.

For more information about citizen science projects, 
please contact Betsy Carlson