Wednesday, August 15, 2018

We'll See You At The Wooden Boat Festival, September 7-9!

Join us this year at the Port Townsend Wooden Boat Festival as we explore the Salish Sea! 

Journey into our walk-through model kelp forest, discover tiny plankton under a microscope, and learn how to identify the marine mammals you might encounter when you are out on the water.

Dates: Sept. 7-9
Time: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.,a every day of the festival
Location: Adjacent to the Dept. of Fish and Wildlife booth
Info: More Wooden Boat Festival information here!

Monday, August 13, 2018

Three Fascinating Things!

It’s officially been 10.5 months of service! This year serving as an AmeriCorps member at the Port Townsend Marine Science Center is finally coming to an end for me. It flew by so fast, and I’d like to share some of my favorite new things I’ve learned about.

I came to Port Townsend from Minneapolis, Minnesota where there is no marine life anywhere. So this year I was learning while I was teaching people. I’ve discovered so many fascinating things about the Salish Sea.

Fun fact: I didn’t even know what the Salish Sea was until I moved out here. I would like to share the top three most fascinating things I’ve learned and discovered during my year of service.

The first fascinating thing I’d like to mention was a bit unexpected. When I used to think of a sea slug, I pictured something ugly and didn’t think much of it. Now my whole world has been changed since I’ve been introduced to nudibranchs.

This frosted nudibranch and sea lemon were super
friendly at last weeks low tide walk. 

They are the most wonderful creatures! I can’t believe the colors they can exhibit and the designs they have. One of my favorite things from this year was seeing random nudibranchs wash into the tanks. We have an open flow system at PTMSC, so seawater is brought up from below the pier and circulated back down. This allows for unexpected visitors to make the tanks their home. Some species that come in frequently are alabaster nudibranchs, opalescent nudibranchs, Monterey sea lemons, and barnacle-eating nudibranchs. Who would have thought something as simple a sea slug would be so amazing.

The second fascinating thing is the magnificent tides that happen in this part of the world. In the Salish Sea, we have mixed diurnal tides. This means we have two highs and two lows a day of unequal height. 

I remember my first couple weeks living out here, I’d go to North Beach and try and walk down it without looking at a tide chart beforehand. Some days I’d get lucky and it would be a huge beach to explore. Other days there was hardly any room to walk at all. I learned very fast that keeping a tide chart handy is necessary. Now I frequently try and plan around the tides to discover creatures in the tide pools (and maybe even find new nudibranchs). 

One last picture with the sign as an AmeriCorps. 
The third fascinating thing was being a part of the visitor experience. As I mentioned earlier, I have been learning as I’ve been teaching. The visitors ask some seriously interesting questions and I don’t always know the answers. This helps me broaden my knowledge.
One instance in particular sticks out to me. A local visitor came to the Aquarium and we went through the whole exhibit together. Toward the end of the visit she told me she learned more about the marine environment that day then she had her whole life -- and she’s always lived next to the ocean! That was super rewarding for me to hear because me coming from the Midwest with limited knowledge myself, I never expected I’d be able to give someone local so much information about their home. 

Many more amazing things have happened this year it would take too long to write about it all. I’m sad my service is coming to an end, but I’m grateful that I was chosen to be a part of PTMSC’s team.

Written by James Swanson, AmeriCorps Citizen Science Educator.

Monday, August 6, 2018

Communities near and far are eliminating single-use plastics

This summer the Port Townsend Marine Science Center is focusing on people and communities who are empowered to end plastic pollution in our oceans and reign in climate change. Please make a gift today to ensure that people everywhere can join a journey of stewardship through the programs offered by the Port Townsend Marine Science Center. The goal is to raise $12,000. Gifts received by August 31 will be matched dollar for dollar up to $5,000. 

Marine debris litters a beach on Laysan Island in the Hawaiian Islands National Wildlife Refuge,
where it washed ashore. (source: Susan White/USFWS)

Scientists increasingly warn that ocean plastic pollution has become a global crisis. Plastic bags, which can’t be recycled effectively, are known to adversely affect more than 200 species of marine animals in the Salish Sea alone. And microplastics are being found in large concentrations in the middle of the Pacific Ocean in an area twice as large as the state of Texas known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch

Marine debris accumulation locations in
the North Pacific Ocean. (source: NOAA)
Public awareness of the dangers posed by single-use plastics increased exponentially thanks to a 2015 YouTube video showing a sea turtle with straw embedded in its nostril. The video, first published by Texas A&M University marine biologist Christine Figgener, went viral, garnering more than 31 million views.

In 2013, Peter Ross, director of the Vancouver Aquarium's Ocean Pollution Research Program, began sampling the coast of British Columbia for microplastics. In an interview with National Public Radio, Ross said that researchers found up to 9,200 particles of microplastic per cubic meter of seawater. Ross explained that the samples contained polystyrene beads (sold as bean bag filler and fake snow) “nurdles”—the hard resin pellets used as a raw material for other plastic products—and microbeads, common in toothpaste and face wash.

"It's overwhelmingly fibers," Ross said. "And they're being readily consumed at the bottom of the food chain, in zooplankton."

 Transport and integration of microplastics into biological communities. (source: Mantareina)

study published by Science Magazine in 2015 estimated the annual volume of plastics disposed in the world’s ocean at nearly 9.1 million metric tons and that, by 2025, the cumulative output will be around 155 million metric tons. That’s the volume of more than 150 football stadiums.

In early 2017, the Vancouver Aquarium announced that it was launching a comprehensive microfiber study with the hope of tracing microfibers found in the environment back to the specific brand and article of clothing from which it was shed.

Coastal Ocean Research Institute executive director Peter Ross is leading a 
study of how various fabrics hold up to the elements. (source: Ocean Wise)
The situation in the Salish Sea is not beyond hope. A recent study found British Columbia shellfish had fewer plastic bits inside them, though foreign fibers of many kinds are still present.

Awakened to the serious threat of plastic pollution, cities and communities are taking action, galvanizing support for reducing and even eliminating some single-use plastics.

On July 4, 2012, the Port Townsend City Council approved the North Olympic Peninsula’s first plastic bag ban. At that time, Port Townsend became the sixth Washington city to pass such an ordinance, after Bainbridge Island, Bellingham, Edmonds, Issaquah, Mukilteo and Seattle.
"Bag Monster" Jude Rubin, founder of
 the Northwest Watershed Institute
Spurred by the attention-grabbing appearance of the “Bag Monster” – environmental activist and Eleanor Stopps Environmental Leadership Award recipient Jude Rubin wearing a costume made from hundreds of discarded plastic bags – as well as a city-wide citizen petition, then-Mayor David King said the rule was meant to encourage people to bring their own reusable bags when shopping.

“I would like to see us develop a way to encourage people to use durable containers,” Mayor King said. “This should be our legacy.”

Among larger cities, Seattle has been at the forefront. In 2009 a styrofoam ban went into effect, followed one year later with a requirement that food service items (exception straws and utensils) be either recyclable or compostable. In 2010, the city also mandated that businesses have compost and recycle bins. Now, just this month, Seattle has banned plastic straws and utensils altogether.

Seattle-based corporations are also taking action. In May, Alaska Air said that it's replacing plastic straws on its flights with "sustainable, marine-friendly alternatives." Then in July, Starbucks announced it will eliminate up to one billion single-use plastic straws per year from its more than 28,000 company-operated-and-licensed stores by making a strawless lid or alternative-material straw options available by 2020. The statement said the move is part of a $10 million commitment to develop a fully recyclable and compostable global cup solution in the near future.

Closer to home, Port Angeles banned plastic carry-out bags in April 2018. It joins a list of 16 cities and two counties in Washington State with a plastic bag ban. And the Kitsap Sun reported that Kitsap could soon become the third Washington county to enact a ban.
Disposable plastic cups, lids and straws often
end up in oceans and waterways.

Not to be outdone by its Salish Sea neighbors, Vancouver BC will become the first major Canadian city to ban plastic straws. The ban, which takes effect in the fall of 2019, is one part of a larger effort to eliminate polystyrene foam cups and containers, as well as disposable cups and plastic shopping bags. And Victoria BC, having already passed a law banning plastic bags, has its eye on banning other items such as plastic straws and plastic-foam containers.

Globally, the issue of plastic pollution is at the forefront of environmental agendas. The European Commission has put forward a proposal to ban almost all single-use plastics. Britain plans to ban the sale of plastic straws and other single use products. And Mumbai has became the largest city in India city to ban single-use plastics.

Today, social media abounds with warnings about plastics, with trending hashtags such as #BeatPlasticPollution, #BreakFreeFromPlastic and #NoExcuseForSingleUse.

The push to ban plastic straws has generated some controversy among advocates for the disabled, but hopefully exemptions such as Seattle’s will address this need.

Despite the momentum generated by bans on plastic bags, straws, utensils and serving containers, plastic remains a pervasive presence in our daily lives. A look through one’s weekly trash reveals all sorts of plastic packaging for food and consumer products – likely tied up in a plastic bag and tossed into the garbage can.

It has often been said “It Only Takes One Person to Start a Movement” and —so empowered— communities across the globe are starting to eliminate or drastically reduce plastic consumption.

There is hope in the actions taken so far, but clearly far more need to be done. It’s up to each of us to change our behaviors. When thousands -- and eventually millions -- of individuals stop purchasing and disposing of unnecessary plastics, the positive impact on the health of our oceans and the Salish Sea will be enormous. 

Signage on the plastic trash display tank on the dock outside the PTMSC Aquarium. 

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Nominate Your Environmental Hero!

Do you know someone who has worked to conserve or protect the North Olympic Peninsula, taken steps to encourage community-wide environmental sustainability, or altered the way you consider your impact on your local environment?

Make that person the next Eleanor Stopps Environmental Leadership Award winner!

Last year's winner, retired NASA astronaut John Fabian, spoke at the annual 
PTMSC Stewardship Breakfast about his work as organizer of the Hood Canal Coalition
From the 1960s through the 1990s Eleanor Stopps was an active member of the Northwest conservation community. Eleanor founded the Admiralty Audubon Chapter and took over the work of Zella Schultz to protect the nesting habitat for 72,000 pairs of seabirds nesting on Protection Island. She was also a tireless educator working with groups of students and Girl Scouts to raise environmental awareness.

Eleanor Stopps 
Eleanor Stopps recognized the need to protect the uniquely important marine environment of the Salish Sea. With no special political base or powerful financial backers, she formed a coalition of grassroots supporters who worked to get legislation and public support for protection of Protection Island and the surrounding marine waters. She was a primary driver behind the establishment of the Protection Island National Wildlife Refuge, one of the few established by an Act of Congress at that time.

Today, Protection Island is a critical habitat link in the preservation of the whole Salish Sea region, providing breeding habitat for Pigeon Guillemots and Rhinoceros Auklets, Bald Eagles and Peregrine Falcons, Harbor Seals and Elephant Seals, and a myriad of other species.

The Eleanor Stopps Environmental Leadership Award is given annually to a citizen of the North Olympic Peninsula (Jefferson and Clallam counties) who, like Eleanor Stopps, has created a legacy of conservation.

Please take a moment to recognize your environmental hero by nominating them for the Environmental Leadership Award.

The winner of the award will join the visionaries and risk-takers before them with their name engraved on the Eleanor Stopps plaque as well as an official presentation of the award at the Marine Science Center's annual Stewardship Breakfast.

Everyone nominated for the award will receive public recognition on our blog, Octopress online, and in a press release to regional media.

Email your completed form to

Nominations must be received by August 23, 2018.

Honor your hero today...

Monday, July 30, 2018

The power of one empowers many: Angela Haseltine Pozzi

This summer the Port Townsend Marine Science Center is focusing on people and communities who are empowered to end plastic pollution in our oceans and reign in climate change. Please make a gift today to ensure that people everywhere can join a journey of stewardship through the programs offered by the Port Townsend Marine Science Center. The goal is to raise $12,000. Gifts received by August 31 will be matched dollar for dollar up to $5,000. founder Angela Haseltine Pozzi with her tufted puffin creation.
Photo credit ©

Portland, Ore., native Angela Haseltine Pozzi has always believed in “art for all,” spearheading public art projects, community art and artist-in-residency programs wherever she went. But following the untimely death of her husband to a brain tumor in 2002, she needed to heal.

Seeking renewal, she traveled to Oregon’s spectacular coastline for respite. In the process of restoring her health, Pozzi found something else in dire need of healing: the ocean. Moved to action, her 30-year career as an artist and educator of children and young adults kicked in, providing her with a framework to research the many challenges that confront the world’s oceans. She reached the inescapable conclusion that marine debris was choking the world’s oceans and depleting the environments and sea life she had always treasured.

That realization touched off a spark of inspiration. Could ocean debris be used to empower others to reduce—or even eliminate—their use of plastics? Pozzi had worked with recycled materials in the 1990s, when she founded Creative Art Supplies to build 3-D art kits from reclaimed materials. From her coastal home in Bandon, Ore., she decided to enlist the help of local volunteers to clean up the beaches, using the collection of plastic debris to construct sculptures of the sea animals most affected by the pollution. plastic-debris sculpture
on  display at Chicago's Shedd Aquarium, 1 of 7.
Shedd Aquarium display, 2 of 7

In 2008, Pozzi founded the Artula Retreat and Residency Program and Arts Institute, which evolved in 2010 into the non-profit Artula Institute for Arts and Environmental Education and the Washed Ashore project.

The mission of Washed Ashore is ambitious: Use the arts to educate a global audience about plastic pollution in oceans and waterways and to spark positive changes in consumer habits.

Shedd Aquarium display, 3 of 7
Shedd Aquarium display, 4 of 7
To date, hundreds of volunteers have removed thousands of pounds of trash from Oregon beaches, and Pozzi and her dedicated staff have created dozens of giant sculptures that are on display around the country to raise awareness about the threats of marine plastic debris.

Displayed at aquariums and natural history museums from coast to coast, the installations are promoted with the tagline “Art to Save the Sea!” and the huge sculptures gather crowds wherever they are shown. A recent trip by PTMSC volunteers to Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium provided an opportunity to photograph some of the jaw-dropping sculptures that are pictured here.

Shedd Aquarium display, 5 of 7
Shedd Aquarium display, 6 of 7

Shedd Aquarium display, 7 of 7
Pozzi and her team have also created an Integrated Arts Marine Debris Curriculum to provide resources to educators, volunteers, and staff at all Washed Ashore exhibit locations, focusing on the idea that every action counts and offering tangible ways to change individual and community behaviors.

Vowing that this effort is her life’s work, Pozzi says, “Until we run out of plastic on the beach, we will keep doing our work.”

Today we know that plastics of every form are omnipresent in the marine environment. Between microbeads in cosmetics and microscopic fiber strands washed out of synthetic clothing, and styrofoam packaging, disposable water bottles, food containers, utensils and straws -- to name only a few – plastics not only litter our oceans and waterways, they are being ingested by marine animals and the toxins are entering the food chain, ultimately ending up in some form on our dinner plates.

At the Port Townsend Marine Science Center, staff and volunteers are also using plastic debris in creative ways to showcase the perils plastic pollution to visitors, exemplified by the plastic sculptures displayed in the large glass case on the dock adjacent to the PTMSC Aquarium. 

Because plastic is ubiquitous in our daily lives, we can draw inspiration from individuals like Angela Haseltine Pozziand our own PTMSC staff, AmeriCorps and volunteers to become empowered to stop purchasing single-use plastics, reduce our use of plastics overall and recycle plastics whenever their utility has ended.

The power of one empowers many, creating the climate for change, one person at a time!

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Eliza Dawson is just getting started

This summer the Port Townsend Marine Science Center is focusing on people and communities who are empowered to end plastic pollution in our oceans and reign in climate change. Please make a gift today to ensure that people everywhere can join a journey of stewardship through the programs offered by the Port Townsend Marine Science Center. The goal is to raise $12,000. Gifts received by August 31 will be matched dollar for dollar up to $5,000.

Longtime Quimper Peninsula residents and newcomers alike have been watching and admiring the feats of Port Townsend native Eliza Dawson.

2018 Anne Murphy Ocean Stewardship Scholarship recipient Eliza Dawson.

In 2009 when she was in fifth grade, Eliza was one of several children and adults who assembled the bones of a gray whale for display at the Port Townsend Marine Science Center. When the body of "Spirit" had washed ashore on the North Shore of the Olympic Peninsula in 1999 at the tender age of 1.5 years, his death was a mystery.

Eliza and her sister Chloe articulating the orca
skeleton of Hope in 2011 at the PTMSC. 
Then in 2011, Eliza was a member of the volunteer team that articulated the skeleton of the female orca that is on display in the orca exhibit in the PTMSC museum. “Hope” washed ashore in 2002 and a necropsy revealed she had the highest concentrations of PCBs ever measured in a marine mammal.

In a 2018 Seattle Times interview Eliza recalled, “That was a wake-up call for me.” She wondered, how could a whale living in the pristine waters around Port Townsend be so full of deadly toxins?

From that moment forward, her commitment to raising awareness about the dangers of ocean pollution and climate change was unwavering.

Recently Eliza— now 22 and a graduate of the University of Washington’s College of the Environment —garnered national attention when she decided to join a rowing team competing in The Great Pacific Race with Team Ripple Effect to highlight climate change and the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. The largest of five gyres of plastics floating in the world’s oceans, it is estimated to cover an area twice the size of the state of Texas.  

Eliza (second from right) and her teammates on
Team Ripple Effect (
Eliza left Monterey, Calif., with her three crewmates on June 6, hoping to set a new world record for an all-women crew by rowing to Hawaii in less than 50 days. Even though the team was forced to end their quest early due to the serious medical condition of one of the crew members, Eliza became even more determined to bring the perils of climate change to the forefront of public awareness.

“The path forward is never easy,” she wrote on her blog, “This week has probably been the toughest week of my life but we’ve still got a lot to do in this world. Resilience and perseverance is what it will take to champion a greener future.”

Her new plan? Cycle 400 miles through the remote Alaskan and Canadian wilderness to view rapidly receding glaciers, bountiful wildlife and scenery. 

“I remain determined to bring awareness to the impacts of climate change and I am looking forward to documenting my cycling journey,” she wrote in her blog before departing.

Eliza’s grueling and challenging journey was a success. She and her teammate arrived in Skagway, Alaska in mid-July.

Eliza's arrival in Skagway, Alaska (
“While the enormity and untamed beautify of this part of the world feels indestructible, the impact of climate change is all too real,” she wrote. “I am reminded how changes in the climate are impacting, and will continue to impact, the landscape, vegetation, animals, and communities in these regions (as well as globally). It is very important that we continue to fight against climate change and enact policies to champion a better future.”

This fall, Eliza will begin a PhD program in climate science at Stanford University, where she will use models and radar observations to improve our understanding of ice sheets and aid in improving sea level rise predictions.

Like many across this country and around the world, Eliza is standing up for change. In so doing, she is empowering all who care about climate change and ocean pollution to make a difference—in ways big and small—every day.

Together with people from all walks of life who are are ready to take action, we can continue Eliza’s inspiring example by nurturing a stewardship ethic in each and every one of the thousands of people who visit the PTMSC each year.

As Eliza so eloquently said, “Human power is our determination to fight and our dedication to win.”

Thursday, June 28, 2018

PTMSC Volunteer Trades Oars For Bike Pedals To Motivate Environmental Action

At age 10, Eliza Dawson volunteered at PTMSC on the Orca Project, preparing the bones of Hope the orca for display.

This summer, Eliza now 22, participated in the Great Pacific Race with Team Ripple Effect, an international team of young women to row across the Pacific from California to Hawaii to motivate environmental political action. Team Ripple Effect's guiding principle was that "while crossing the Pacific will be a monumental challenge, the challenges facing our planet are even greater. Each of us is working in our local communities to tackle issues threatening our planet and future. Together, we hope to have a global impact."

While the team had to end the row due to a medical emergency, Eliza has chosen to continue the mission on terra firma.

From Eliza's blog:

"This is my new plan: For the first two weeks of July, I will cycle 400 miles through the remote Alaskan and Canadian wilderness, getting an up-close view of rapidly receding glaciers, as well as bountiful wildlife and scenery. I remain determined to bring awareness to the impacts of climate change and I am looking forward to documenting my cycling journey."

Prior to her rowing journey, the Port Townsend Marine Science Center awarded the Anne Murphy Ocean Stewardship Scholarship. “We continue to be inspired by Eliza,” said PTMSC Executive Director Janine Boire. "We cheer her efforts to raise the consciousness of people everywhere about the threats to our marine environment."

Follow Eliza's blog to read more of Eliza's own words and for updates on her cycling journey.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Crabbing Season is here!

Summer is here, and that means crab season! Crab season in our local waters around the Port Townsend Marine Science Center will open this year on June 30. Other opening days in the Salish Sea region can be found here on the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife website.

Opening of crab season at the PTMSC means a lot of hustle and bustle. The sea becomes a minefield of bobbing red and white crab pot buoys, people hauling out crab pots from over the pier, and people checking their crabs to make sure they are the right sex and size (more info here). The picnic tables are full of children and parents getting their haul ready to take home. The waters are speckled with boaters doing the same things.

Every year it is estimated that sport fishermen will catch over a million pounds of Dungeness crab!

When returning crabs that don't meet WDFW catch standards, remember to use the 
PTMSC crab elevator to safely lower your crabs back to the Salish Sea. 

So, how do these lucky people catch all those crabs? Here are a few tips to keep in mind when crabbing.

First things first. Get your license from the WDFW. Anyone over the age of 15 is required to carry a current fishing license with a crab endorsement on it. 

Once you have your license, or are in the process of getting it, it's time to choose your catch method. The most common way to catch crab in the Salish Sea is by using a crab pot. Crab pots can be purchased or created according to WDFW standards found on their website.

When creating and setting your crab pot, make sure to follow these tips to make sure that your pot and catch are not lost. 
  • Avoid marine transit and ferry lanes.
  • Check tides and currents: Avoid crabbing during strong tidal changes and currents.
  • Use high visibility buoys to clearly mark your gear.
  • Use a weighted line to sink below the surface and avoid being cut by passing boats.
  • Weight your pot so they do not move in high currents or tidal changes.
  • Use longer line. Use 1/3 more line than water depth to allow for changes in tides and currents.
  • Secure lid and escape panels with biodegradable cotton escape cord. This allows crabs to escape from lost pots after the cord degrades.

Here are a few helpful videos:

How to weight your pots

How to rig your line

When to set your pot

How to set your pot

How to modify your crab pot

You are now ready to catch some crab! These helpful hints will help you keep your catch and prevent your pot from becoming one of the 12,000 crab pots that are lost every year. Once lost at sea, crab pots become derelict or abandoned fishing gear. 

Derelict gear is considered to be a long-lasting marine debris and can include abandoned or lost nets, lines and pots. Most synthetic fishing gear can take decades (or more) to degrade and will continue to "ghost fish" or catch animals until removed from the ocean, as well as damage important habitat for animals. This gear is also a fiscal loss to the owner and becomes a hazard for divers, plus it can entangle boat motors and cause significant damage.

AmeriCorps member James with recovered derelict crab pots 
from under the PTMSC pier. Photo by Wendy Feltham

Thanks to the Northwest Straights Commission and WDFW, thousands of derelict fishing gear has been removed from the Salish Sea. With the help of fishermen all around the Puget Sound, WDFW has been able track and remove lost gear. If you are unable to recover your crab pot during crab season remember to contact WDFW or the Northwest Straits Commission.

There are no penalties when reporting lost or abandoned gear! Report your lost crab pot or fishing gear here.

Written by AmeriCorps Natural History and Volunteer Educator Emilee Carpenter.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Coastal Explorers -- July 9-13

Attention parents and grandparents!

We’ve got the perfect summer activity for 8 and 9 year olds: PTMSC Coastal Explorer day camp, July 9-13.

During the 5-day session, campers will discover how the beach, pond, glacier, and forest ecosystems support life on the Salish Sea. 

Our skilled camp counselors will guide your child in exploring the vast and wondrous underwater world that our marine environment has to offer.

Camp is $285 ($10 off for PTMSC members).

Only a few spaces remain, so sign up today!

Monday, June 11, 2018

Best Tidepooling

When I started my service term at the Port Townsend Marine Science Center, I found that I had been left a letter of advice from Brooke Askey, the AmeriCorps member in my position before me. It contained all sorts of wisdom and included one sentence in particular that intrigued me: “Salt Creek Recreation Area has the best tidepooling I’ve ever seen.”

My first view of the recreation area

So I am not exaggerating when I tell you that I have been looking forward to our Salt Creek Education Program with the Blue Heron Middle School 8th graders since my first day here.

PTMSC Education Coordinator Carolyn Woods showing off some seagrass

The Blue Heron students have been going to Salt Creek for many years now accompanied by PTMSC staff, AmeriCorps and volunteers to do a monitoring project that looks at how water quality relates to efforts to protect salmon habitat. They collect data at Salt Creek with their teachers and look at plants, animals and substrates in the intertidal zone with us.

Students surveying their plot

It was so fun to watch the students test out their scientific field surveying skills and discover their monitoring plots. Often when students first arrived at their plots they would proclaim with disappointment that there was nothing there. However, once they were encouraged to look more closely and move the top layer of seaweed, they were amazed at the beautiful world of bizarre life forms they uncovered.

We found tidepools full of juvenile sculpins darting between shadows, mating spotted leopard nudibranchs, vast swaths of mussels and barnacles, little shore crabs at every turn and the biggest gumboot chiton I’ve ever seen!

Volunteer Sue Long examining a large gumboot chiton

I can now say with confidence that Brooke was right and I will pass on this tidbit to the next AmeriCorps in my position: Salt Creek Recreation Area has the best tidepooling I’ve ever seen.

AmeriCorps James Swanson and I, clearly excited about the inter-tidal zone! 
Photo by Jo Ferrero 

Written by PTMSC AmeriCorps Citizen Science Educator Lily Evanston 

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Earth Day Beach Clean Up: A Marine Debris Debrief

The beaches and waterways around Port Townsend look so beautiful and pristine, it is hard to believe they are facing some very serious threats from pollution. Especially in the Salish Sea, a unique binational estuary that is home to some very large metropolitan cities such as Seattle, Vancouver, Victoria, Tacoma, and smaller port towns such a Bellingham, Olympia, and Port Angeles.

The beaches in the Salish Sea are used for recreational, residential, commercial and industrial purposes but they are also home to many unique species.

Marine debris is one form of pollution that can impact human and wildlife health. Marine debris is defined as:

Any persistent solid material that is manufactured or processed and directly or indirectly, intentionally or unintentionally, disposed of or abandoned into the marine environment.
Marine debris may enter directly due to human action, or indirectly when washed out to sea via rivers, streams and storm drains. Marine debris has become one of the most pervasive pollution problems facing the world’s oceans and waterways.*

Some of the most commonly found marine debris items are:

On Earth Day weekend, 2018, the Port Townsend Marine Science Center partnered with Washington CoastSavers and the Port Townsend Food Coop to host a local beach cleanup to remove marine debris from our local beaches.

The day started early with volunteer divers Howard, Tim, and Tusker gearing up and heading out right under the PTMSC pier. They worked together to remove five abandoned crab pots tangled on the pier pilings. These pots were sitting on the bottom and posed a threat to animals living there (see upcoming post by AmeriCorps Emilee on derelict fishing gear).

Volunteer diver, Howard. Photo by W. Feltham
Volunteer divers, Tusker and Tim. Photo by W. Feltham

AmeriCorps member James (and PTMSC Aquarist Ali ) helped 
pull the pots up onto the pier once they were cut free. Photo by W. Feltham
Volunteers stopped by the Natural History Exhibit portico to sign in and get their beach assignments. Photo by W. Feltham

We had volunteers remove debris from North Beach, Chetzemoka, Downtown Port Townsend, Boat Haven, Fort Worden, Fort Flagler, and a few places in between.

Thanks so much to all of the PTMSC volunteers who enthusiastically 
ran the check-in station, helped sort debris, fill out data cards, and 
connect the clean up with the significance of caring for the Salish Sea.
What a great crew! Photo by W. Feltham

Beach Clean Up volunteers embark on their beach walk, scanning the ground for man-made debris while also enjoying the beautiful weekend day.
Photo by W. Feltham

Over 130 people volunteered their time to clean up Port Townsend’s beaches. Many were locals but we also had participants visiting from Seattle and elsewhere.

Photos by W. Feltham
Once volunteers returned with their loot, the debris was weighed and sorted. We threw on gloves and dug into the garbage to document and itemize our findings. We recycled cans and bottles and completed a Washington Coast Savers data sheet so we could track what we were seeing.

Photos by W. Feltham
We saw a lot of cigarette butts, straws, bottle lids, shotgun shells, plastic food wrappers, rope bits, and construction debris. All of this debris can be harmful to wildlife and humans.

Plastic is especially dangerous. As it sits in the water, it breaks into smaller and smaller pieces and begins to absorb pollutants in the water, becoming extra concentrated with contaminants. As it degrades, it becomes harder to remove. 

Plastic can also begin to take on a fishy smell as it sits and absorbs toxins and collects marine life. It is easily mistaken for prey and ingested by marine animals. Once consumed, this debris can cause illness from toxins or can block digestive pathways causing starvation. Plastic has been found in the bodies of small bait fish (a staple of marine food webs), seabirds, whales, and a plethora of other animals. It has even made its way into shellfish and fish markets for human consumption. Gross huh?

There is an unimaginable amount of marine debris in the world’s oceans and the Salish Sea. Beach clean ups are a great way to remove what washes ashore. But what if we could prevent human debris and plastics from entering our waterways in the first place? One way to do this is to stop supporting the creation of single-use plastic products by:
  • supporting reuse 
  • considering the lifespan of the products we are buying 
  • seeking out products with little or no packaging 
  • saying NO to straws 
  • considering where you are creating waste and try to reduce it 
Collectively, during this clean up, we removed 659 lbs of garbage from Port Townsend beaches!

Thank you so much for all of the attention to detail and love you brought with you to clean up our beaches! What a great way to appreciate this amazing ecosystem we all call home!

All photos by PTMSC volunteer (and past PTMSC Board President) Wendy Feltham -- Thank You Wendy!

* U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, “Report to Congress: Impacts and Control of Combined Sewer Overflows and Sanitary Sewer Overflows” August 26, 2004, (EPA Publication 833-R-04-001),

Written by AmeriCorps member Mariah Vane