Wednesday, August 15, 2018

We'll See You At The Wooden Boat Festival!

September 7-9

Join us this year at the PT 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.

10am to 4pm every day of the festival
Location: Adjacent to the Dept. of Fish and Wildlife

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...