Tuesday, December 20, 2022

Meet Ruby, a young PTMSC fan

It would be hard to imagine a more enthusiastic fan of the Port Townsend Marine Science Center than Ruby.
Ruby arrives at Fort Worden for her
visit to the aquarium. Photo: Sarah Wright
 I first noticed Ruby visiting the museum one Sunday afternoon with her grandmother, Peggy Albers (a valued PTMSC volunteer), and grandfather. I saw a very small but nimble tow-headed little girl of about age two. She walked with purpose throughout the museum, and led her grandfather to the cormorant exhibit. 

 After talking with Peggy, I learned that Ruby visits PTMSC as often as she can, usually once a weekend on Sunday after she wakes up from her nap. At home, she talks about the marine science center daily, her favorite books are tide pool field guides and octopus books, and she is disappointed that the tides are high during the day, when she can't go see anemones at North Beach. 

 We arranged to have Ruby visit the aquarium to learn more about her fascination, and more about what makes Ruby, Ruby. 

I noticed her powers of observation first. Ruby, her mother Sarah Wright and grandmother arrived for their Monday morning visit and as she was ambling along beside the stroller her mom was pushing. Ruby suddenly stopped to peer into a crack in the decking of the pier. 

“It's dark down there,” she said. She was referring to the dark water she could see below the pier. Aquarium Curator Ali Redman welcomed us at the barn doors to the aquarium. We immediately stopped to check in on Sylvia, the giant Pacific octopus, and then Ali and Ruby spent some time assembling some shrimp-filled Duplo plastic blocks into an enrichment feeding toy for Sylvia. 
Aquarium Curator Ali Redman and Ruby
discuss adding shrimp to the Duplo blocks.
Photo: Sarah Wright

After the feeding, we let Ruby lead us and I watched as her eyes lit up as she scrambled deftly on the ‘rocks’ that serve as benches and steps at the base of each tidepool tank. 

As a child born during the midst of the pandemic, Ruby is just now emerging into public life, attending story hour with her mom at the library, and “the marine science center has been a big part of that, as well,” said Sarah. 

“There is just such a sweet legacy aspect of it too, with my husband and I both having grown up here and having had our own experiences at the marine science center, it's been a really sweet thing to bring Ruby into it as well,” said Sarah. 

When I asked Sarah how PTMSC has impacted Ruby’s life, she noted that PTMSC “makes everything so accessible … the fact that it is right on the dock over the water and we can just look into these tanks and see what we wouldn’t otherwise be able to see without snorkel gear – it’s just so amazing.” Sarah, along with her husband Reed Aubin, are both “really passionate about climate justice and the environment.” Sarah is an avid paddle boarder and is an open water swimmer right here at Fort Worden State Park. 

Part of their decision-making process to have a child in the current climate has been their hope to “cultivate and support her interest in our natural surroundings and the animals that inhabit it. Hopefully, this will contribute to a passion for conservation. If we can help her to just love all these things, then hopefully that will turn into her wanting to take care of it and protect it,” Sarah added. 

At the aquarium, each time the sea water flowed forth into the surge tank, Ruby took note, saying “high tide” as the bubbles and froth entered the tank. Ruby carefully examined all of the tanks and was excited to see the wolf eel emerge from its hiding space. 
A moment of wonder with Ali Redman,
Ruby. and her grandmother Peggy Albers

Ruby’s dedication has not gone unnoticed by PTMSC’s staff and volunteers. Ali Redman can often find time to engage with Ruby when she visits, and Sarah notes that Ai takes the time “to come out and speak to Ruby, really matter of factly, as a fully realized human being, which has been incredibly gratifying.” 

Although Ruby makes time in her life for other fascinations (chiefly: garbage trucks), her mother notes that Ruby is an “equal opportunity lover” of all the animals in the exhibit and does not just reserve her adoration for the giant Pacific octopus. 

“She loves everything equally and so she sees the animals and then she has a frame of reference, and is then excited to read books about sea animals and Pacific Northwest marine life. And that continues to tie it all together for her,” said Sarah. “Our trips create this common thread throughout the rest of her week.” 

While Ruby shares her appreciation of the animals, her mom recounted a story that highlights the specificity of her admiration. 

“Yesterday morning she was looking at a PNW marine life guidebook, and she got to the sea urchin page. In her little toddler voice, she told me, passionately, ‘sea urchins are really really pokey. I like sea urchins so much!’ 

 We hope that Ruby’s fascination with marine life and the Salish Sea continues, and we are thrilled to welcome this three-generation group into the exhibits whenever possible.

Written by Volunteer Program Coordinator Tracy Thompson

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

New bull kelp exhibit shares the wonders of this undersea ecosystem

Creating awareness and understanding of our undersea kelp forests

How can one create urgency and awareness for the protection of a largely unseen ecosystem? For the many scientists, designers, artists, educators and volunteers who worked on the Port Townsend Marine Science Center’s “Bull Kelp: Our Remarkable Underwater Forests” exhibit (BKE), the answer is through teamwork and artistry.

The first kelp forest exhibit was created in time for the 2018 Wooden Boat Festival, with creatures made out of upcycled fabric and found materials. PTMSC Program Director Diane Quinn, Aquarium Curator Ali Redman and exhibit designer Andrew Whiteman knew they could create a richer experience from this initial design.

Education Coordinator Carolyn Woods  and Outreach Coordinator
Mandi Johnson work together sewing bull kelp fronds to the exhibi
A successful application for funding from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Aquatic Lands Enhancement Account (ALEA) program helped PTMSC staff, volunteers, artists and artisans create this new experience: A multi-sensory exhibit that suggests a dive in a bull kelp dominated forest.

Visitors are surrounded by dynamic artwork, created by Timbul Cahyono, as they walk through the small structure. Cahyono’s images of sea otters, swimming puffins and other sea creatures are printed on translucent fabric, which provides a watery feel.

Port Townsend visual artist and former PTMSC AmeriCorps Marine Educator Mariah Vane created a host of kelp forest residents, including fluffy sea anemones, prickly sea urchins and realistic articulated crabs.

The bull kelp fronds and particularly, the bull kelp bulbs, are strikingly realistic and have been crafted from green microfleece around a hidden craft ball. A ball joint from an electrical supply store connects the stipes to the bulbs with a satisfying click.

Layers of bull kelp fronds composed of the same translucent fabric as the exhibits walls were carefully hand sewn into the exhibit’s “ceiling’ (or water surface) by PTMSC staff. That water surface also includes what can only be described as a”pigeon guillemot’s butt,” the swimming side when viewed from underwater.

The interpretive panels are printed on PET 100% recyclable material and PTMSC will upcycle them when the exhibit eventually ends — turning them into bags and other merchandise.

The kelp bulbs are made from upcycled holiday ornaments and the rocks that the holdfasts attach to are filled with upcycled packing foam. 

Mandi Johnson and Program Director Diane Quinn at work
hand sewing bull kelp fronds to the exhibit's ceiling.

The rewarding opportunity to sit together around a large table during a work day and hand-sew exhibit highlights proved to be a delightful chance for coworkers to get to know one another. Staff members brought in their sewing machines from home to hem the exhibit walls and attach fabric signs, and others donated bins of quilted batting and fiber stuffing to create the exhibit’s sea floor "rocks.”

The fact that the exhibit artist is married to the aquarium curator, and that the exhibit designer and the program director worked together at Seattle’s Burke Museum for many years, added to the fun of the whole project.

The beauty of the structure’s imagery extends to the carefully researched and thoughtfully written interpretive panels that accompany the exhibit. Andrew Whiteman took the lead on writing the narratives based on an outline that Ali Redman created. The text incorporates some of the work that the Puget Sound Restoration Fund did for their bull kelp StoryMap.The panels feature historical, cultural and even culinary uses of kelp with imagery freely offered by generous sources who believe in the importance of sharing the value of this vital ecosystem.

BKE visitors will learn that the kelp forest is one of the most productive ecosystems in the world. Found in cool marine waters around the globe, kelp forests’ diverse and dynamic communities are comparable to coral reefs and rainforests. In North America, kelp forests provide habitat for over 1,000 species of plants and animals such as fish, invertebrates, sea otters, sea lions and whales.

Interpretive materials also include 21 actions one can take at work, within one’s community, while on the water and as one goes about their day, including purchasing sustainable seafood products and supporting kelp farming by using toiletries, food and other household products containing sustainable kelp ingredients. Support for organizations working to conserve and restore kelp forests is also encouraged.

Hand constructed sea creatures populate the exhibit.
A handy field guide is provided at the exhibit, featuring the beautiful images from the installation, helpful for identifying the 40 creatures illustrated.

Designed to be a highly portable exhibit, the structure is basically a folding tent that features several enhancements, including a recorded soundscape that will play sea sounds on discreetly placed speakers. Ambient lighting simulates the nearshore habitat’s location to the sun and future plans include a live tank with sea creatures found in the forest. A video of a kelp forest underwater experience by well-known documentary videographer Florian Graner will be available as well. 

PTMSC volunteers have been very eager to sign up for opportunities to provide interpretation for the exhibit and have been provided resources and individualized training to effectively tell the story of this ecosystem. These volunteer docents will be on hand for the exhibit Friday through Sunday, November 25 through February 25, in our Flagship Landing Gallery located in downtown Port Townsend.

The nearshore, including kelp forests, are a priority habitat but comparatively few people in our area have access and means to explore them. We know that education and outreach are an integral part of their protection and recovery, and we are excited to introduce this immersive science learning experience to students, families and adults throughout the region.

Written by PTMSC Volunteer Coordinator Tracy Thompson.

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Update: PTMSC's resident giant Pacific octopus

Sylvia weighs more than 20 pounds and is still growing

When our resident giant Pacific octopus (GPO), Sylvia, joined our collection in June 2020, he was a planktonic paralarva no bigger than a dime. Over two years later, Sylvia weighs more than 20 pounds and is still growing. GPOs live around 3-4 years and weigh 44-66 pounds when fully mature.
photo by Melissa Bixby

In the wild, GPOs are found from the rocky intertidal to the quiet depths, with many found in kelp forests. While Syvlia’s kelp forest is admittedly smaller than nature, it forms the base of the husbandry and enrichment program that keeps his physical and psychological needs met. 

As he matures, how we care for him adjusts to his changing needs. New and more challenging puzzle feeders, enhanced training, frequent meals, and a little extra attention are all components to providing the best possible experience for visitors and Syvia himself.

When mature, octopuses reproduce and then pass into their final life stage: senescence. To promote animal welfare, we aim to release octopuses as they reach maturity and before they enter senescence. 

Many visitors wonder how we determine when that is. Although age and weight can be general indicators, there are many additional physiological and behavioral indicators such as appetite, physical condition and changes in behavior patterns. So when will we release Sylvia? We don’t know yet, but we are watching carefully to find out. Until then, Sylvia continues to grow to maturity while showing visitors just how amazing and precious our marine environment and its inhabitants are.

Written by PTMSC Aquarist Ali Redman

Monday, October 24, 2022

Microbial ecology, aquaponics and more with Lee Bebout

Volunteer Spotlight

As a child growing up in Arkansas and Oklahoma, Leslie (Lee) Bebout’s family loved to go fishing. “What you did as a family on your weekends, or whenever you got together, you would go fishing,” she recounted.

Lee wasn’t that enamored with fishing. “My favorite thing was to sit by the side of the river or creek and watch the little fish or tadpoles. Sometimes I would build little dams to see what they were eating. There was something about the light and the breeze and the sun, I found it very fascinating and mesmerizing.”

This childhood activity of quiet contemplation and observation no doubt influenced Lee’s career as a microbial ecologist, which is the study of the interactions of microorganisms with their environment, each other, and plant and animal species. She holds a Master’s degree in geology from the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill, and a Ph.D. in microbial ecology from the University of Aarhus, Denmark.

Lee met her biogeochemist husband Brad Bebout at Chapel Hill when they were studying for their Master’s degrees. They have been able to work at four different places together, most recently at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif.

“It has been amazing, how we have done this [career in academia] and managed to survive. What we do is similar, but different enough that I always ended up finding a position too,” she said.

The Bebouts made the move to Port Townsend from Bonny Doon, Calif., in December 2020. The pandemic and eventual shutdown of their research lab gave them a lot of dark hours to fill that winter, so they took a variety of Washington State University extension classes, including the Beach Naturalist, Stream Stewards and Cultivating Success courses, the latter of which taught them how to run a farming business.

Lee doesn’t currently have a plan to start a farming business but she and Brad continue to be fascinated with aquaponic farming. This system uses the ammonia and nitrates in the fish waste water and converts them into nitrates to fertilize the vegetables, while using less water than traditional agriculture.

They were active aquaponic farmers at their home in California, cycling through tilapia, koi and catfish along the way. Ultimately, however, Lee said they found the catfish “too cute” to eat. She is unclear as to which fish they might use for their Port Townsend efforts.

The couple hope to ultimately grow enough vegetables for their own use, for their friends and neighbors and to donate to the local food bank.

Lee began volunteering for the PTMSC in earnest this past spring. She has staffed a regular greeter shift on Sundays in the aquarium, a role she enjoys.

“I like greeting people, it's kind of fun! I really try to make it a positive experience for folks,” Lee said.

She’s gained a lot of knowledge about pinto abalone and giant Pacific octopuses but feels she has more to learn to be a docent.

Lee and Brad also commit time as volunteers for PTMSC’s SoundToxins program, pulling plankton samples from Discovery Bay. They are also involved in a mussel sampling program with the Washington State Department of Health.

Lee is interested in studying aquaculture for shellfish farming and hopes to learn more about zooplankton. She is becoming more familiar with the local phytoplankton thanks to her time behind the microscope in PTMSC’s ‘labacita’ and enjoys the diversity of specimens in the cold water of her new environment.

She credits her adult daughter, who attended college in Tacoma, with enticing her to the area. Her daughter is now an EMT and emergency room technician who also teaches kayaking and stand up paddleboard classes.

“We enjoyed visiting the Olympic Peninsula over the years and wanted to get away from the crowds, earthquakes and drought of California,” Lee said.

She and Brad both have plans to get more involved in PTMSC’s education programming. They have experience with valuable teacher education models used in California, including the STEP and Star programs, both of which focus on real-world applications for both students and teachers.

#volunteers, #marinescience, #marineeducation, #citizenscience

Thursday, October 20, 2022

Exec. Director Bee Redfield Interview Featured on KPTZ Local Public Radio

Our Executive Director Bee Redfield recently interviewed with KPTZ's Larry Stein, sharing her personal history leading to this new position.

She also talks with Larry about her plans in moving forward with the ambitious expansion of the PTMSC in their new home at the Flagship Landing building on Water Street.

Listen to the half-hour recording on KPTZ's Attention Please! Podcast page.


Tuesday, October 11, 2022

Volunteer spotlight: Darryl Hrenko

Darryl Hrenko has volunteered with
enthusiasm and creativity since 2007

A dedicated volunteer since 2007

A scheduled half-hour meeting to get to know Port Townsend Marine Science Center volunteer Darryl Hrenko stretched out to over an hour over tea at the Fort Worden Commons recently.

Darryl came bearing a couple of three-ring binders with sections marked for many of the projects he’s been involved with as a volunteer over the years. Suffice it to say, there is probably not a task or a role at PTMSC that Darryl hasn’t given a try, but his primary interest these days is any project with "a beginning, middle and an end” and he particularly prefers teaching and assisting with the youth education programs.

Among the many occupations this former Army and Vietnam War veteran has held, teaching science at Benson Polytechnic High School in Portland, Ore., remains a highlight.

He found his way to that job after completing his B.S. while working in electronics at the Multnomah County Jail.

“It was a brief walk across the courtyard from the jail to Portland State University, and my boss was open to flex time which made it very easy,” Darryl said about completing his education.

He followed that with a Masters’ in teaching from Lewis and Clark College.

Darryl’s most recent project for the PTMSC has been to create resin casts of European green crab specimens — he brought his two most recent creations with him to tea. The cast specimens will be an ideal way to train visitors and students how to identify this invasive species.

Darryl and his wife Lynn bought property in the Port Townsend area in 2000 and then built their dream house in 2005. Once that project was completed, he began volunteering in earnest and spent 3-4 years as a docent in the aquarium and museum and, since then, has spent time doing SoundToxins research, working on the Marine Mammal Stranding Network, helping assess and fix the aquarium’s hydrophone system, building a necropsy table and so much more, for a lifetime total of over 1,000 hours as a PTMSC volunteer.

He credits his fascination with marine life to his upbringing in Santa Cruz, Calif., and a childhood filled with fishing, swimming and diving “just for the fun of it.”

Darryl opted to join the Army once out of high school as a good opportunity to go to language school and learn a language, in his case, French. After serving for 13 months in Vietnam, he was then transferred back to Fort Bliss in Texas, where he “spent the worst and longest two years of my life.” He disliked Texas so much he volunteered to go back to Vietnam.

He is also very active with a number of other organizations in town, is the leader of Port Townsend’s “best” community garden (in North Beach, near his home) and also volunteers as one of the instructors for the Northwest Maritime Center’s Maritime Discovery program (co-taught with fellow PTMSC volunteer John Conley), which is taught to area 7th graders each spring.

Darryl has also been very active as a youth mentor for the YMCA’s Building Futures program and also works part time at Redfish Kayak here in Port Townsend.

Darryl and his wife are big fans of rail travel, and have notched a couple of cross country trips on Amtrak, with plans to use Rail Canada to visit Nova Scotia in the future.

It was a treat to get to know this dynamic and capable-of-just-about-anything volunteer!

Wednesday, October 5, 2022

Lorna Smith awarded the 2022 Eleanor Stopps Environmental Leadership Award

Port Townsend Marine Science Center honors longtime environmental activist
Lorna Smith, recipient of the 2022 Eleanor Stopps Environmental Leadership Award

The Port Townsend Marine Science Center has selected Lorna Smith as the recipient of the 2022 Eleanor Stopps Environmental Leadership Award. The award was announced at the annual PTMSC Stewardship Breakfast Fundraiser, held at Fort Worden State Park on Oct. 5.

Lorna (Campion) Smith started her environmental career in 1978 as a volunteer for Seattle Audubon, when she became involved in the dam proposed for the Skagit River system at Copper Creek. Her analysis revealed the environmental impacts the dam would inflict on the river, the salmon and the bald eagles that rely on them. She recommended that Seattle Audubon register its opposition to the project. The ensuing groundswell of opposition eventually halted the dam’s construction.

Smith went on to become the conservation chair and a vice president for the organization. In her role, one effort in particular affected the Olympic Peninsula and its citizens: the creation of a wildlife refuge for Protection Island, home to 70% of the seabirds that nest in Washington state's inland waters.

Smith closely coordinated with Eleanor Stopps and together the formidable duo established an extensive grassroots campaign. Working with with U.S. Reps. Mike Lowry and Don Bonker, a bill was drafted to establish the Protection Island National Wildlife Refuge. In time, the entire Washington delegation supported the legislation and ultimately the effort proved successful, resulting in one of the few federally protected marine refuges established by an Act of Congress at that time.

Smith also became involved in the campaign to halt construction of the Northern Tier Pipeline involving a proposed oil export terminal in Port Angeles. The plan called for an underwater pipeline spanning the Salish Sea (including up and over Whidbey Island) to a terminus on the mainland. The pipeline’s safety technology was called into question, as well as the environmental review process.

Smith helped mobilize an army of like-minded organizations and letter writers from the Olympic Peninsula and the greater Seattle area, and persistent grassroots opposition grew. A lawsuit to halt the pipeline on environmental grounds was undertaken and eventually the project was abandoned.

Smith's environmental and political career has spanned decades. She has served as the executive director of the nonprofit Western Wildlife Outreach, as a board member of the Washington Environmental Council and the Olympic Forest Coalition, and as a volunteer for Jefferson Land Trust and Jefferson County Conservation Futures Committee. She was appointed by Governor Inslee to the Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission in 2020 and is currently a member of the Jefferson County Planning Commission.

“It is the highest honor I can think of, to be the recipient of the Eleanor Stopps Environmental Leadership Award,” Smith said. “Knowing Eleanor and working so closely with her makes the award particularly meaningful to me. We were a great team and achieved what many thought would never happen, when Congress decreed Protection Island a National Wildlife Refuge.

“Eleanor was, and remains my hero for her tirelessness, cheerfulness and unshakeable faith in achieving permanent protection for the tens of thousands of seabirds who nest on Protection Island,” Smith said.

About the Eleanor Stopps Environmental Leadership Award
Eleanor Stopps

From the 1960s through the 1990s, Eleanor Stopps was an active member of the Pacific Northwest conservation community. She founded the Admiralty Audubon Chapter and was a primary driver behind the establishment of the Protection Island National Wildlife Refuge in 1982. Today it is a critical habitat link in the preservation of the entire Salish Sea ecosystem, providing breeding grounds for pigeon guillemots and rhinoceros auklets, bald eagles and peregrine falcons, harbor seals and elephant seals, and myriad other species.

Stopps died in April 2012 at the age of 92.

The leadership award created in her memory is presented annually to a citizen(s) of the North Olympic Peninsula (Jefferson and Clallam counties) who has led a successful resource conservation effort that benefits the North Olympic Peninsula and its residents directly; acted as a community catalyst for programs, initiatives or ventures that demonstrate a commitment to the future of the earth and its biodiversity; become a model for future leaders in business and education; or has been an exemplary citizen or policy maker who has implemented decisions that, though they may entail risks, have helped our communities take the next step towards environmental sustainability.

The PTMSC has sponsored this annual award since 2009.

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Joyfully caring for the animals in the exhibits

PTMSC volunteer Lori VanDeMark

Volunteer Spotlight: Lori VanDeMark

Lori VanDeMark grew up in the Olympia area and has always loved the Puget Sound. She said that even though she spent a lot of time there when she was growing up, “I didn’t feel like I knew a lot about the plants and animals that lived there.”

Lori and her husband bought a home in Cape George in 2019 upon her retirement from a career as a dental hygienist, and she began volunteering at the Port Townsend Marine Science Center that same year.

“Once we moved to the Port Townsend area and I was close to the water again, I really wanted to learn more,” she said. “I was looking for a way to volunteer and do something in the community where I could get to meet people and learn something along the way and this really fit the bill.

“And once I started looking into it shortly after we moved, everybody was so friendly and kind and positive, and I liked the mission!”

When Lori was asked about one of her favorite aspects about volunteering at the aquarium, she said, “You know, probably the proximity to Sylvia,” a giant Pacific octopus. “I know that’s not surprising, as he’s so fascinating.”

She has since expanded on her octopus knowledge through research, as well as watching the oft-mentioned documentary, “My Octopus Teacher.”

One notable experience as a young woman helped inform Lori’s fascination with the natural world and conservation issues in general.

“I remember noticing a beach that we went to a lot in the South Sound. All of a sudden, the sea stars were gone. I had the feeling like I was witnessing an extinction, it was so noticeable. I even noticed they were gone before I heard about sea star wasting disease, and that really kind of hit close to home and made me more focused on conservation,” she said.

Lori and her husband are the parents to two young men. The eldest is a build engineer at SpaceX in Southern California. He’s worked on the Falcon rockets and then on the Falcon Heavy and the Starship.

“He is on the development end of things and works with the theoretical designers and the actual builders to make prototypes and tests. It’s a very exciting job with a ton of hours,” she said.

Lori’s youngest son is a student of the Japanese language, whose studies in Japan were interrupted due to the pandemic. He now lives in the area, hoping to return to his studies in the near future.

Hobbies for Lori include gardening, home improvement, kayaking and knitting. She confidently assured me that she could teach me to cable stitch, a technique I’ve found too daunting to attempt!

It was so wonderful to meet this delightful volunteer and it is so gratifying to know that she is assisting with the operations of our aquarium.

Written by PTMSC Volunteer Coordinator Tracy Thompson.

Sunday, September 4, 2022

Volunteer spotlight: Patt Roche

Patt Roche on the pier after 
assisting in the aquarium. Photo by PTMSC staff.

Elephant seals and cougar encounters - exploring the natural world with Patt Roche

The wonderfully charming Patt Roche chose the Port Townsend Marine Science Center as the first place she wanted to volunteer upon her retirement. We took some time for a chat on the Fort Worden pier following her morning shift as an aquarium aide.

Patt grew up in Napa Calif., but made her way back to her home state of Washington 27 years ago when she “... loaded up a trailer and headed north.”

“I wandered into Port Townsend for breakfast one morning and before I knew it, I was signing a lease on a little studio space and then found a place to live, and it all worked out.” she said.

Ultimately, Patt “opened a little arts and crafts gallery,” as she referred to it, in the Hastings Building in downtown Port Townsend. It was called the Roche Gallery & Studio and she happily operated it until 2012. The owners of the Hastings Building, where the gallery was located, made some management changes at that time and she took the opportunity to retire.

Patt’s initial involvement with the PTMSC was as a greeter in the gift shop, back in the days when the entirety of the PTMSC exhibit space was out on the pier.

“I loved coming out here then. I remember when I first started visiting, it was all in this building (gesturing to the aquarium building behind her), it was so sweet! The little aquarium, and back in the classroom was a gift shop. Everything was contained out here,” she recalled.

At first, Patt was a volunteer in the gift shop, and also put herself on the list as a fill-in volunteer as an aquarium aide.

“I didn’t have a regular shift [as an aquarium aide], but I was on the list if they had vacancies, and they could see I was game to come on,” she said.

Patt can’t recall precisely how long she has been volunteering at the aquarium, where she has been performing the same tasks each day for years.

“I clean the four tidepools, with the same routine each day. I start out in [tidepool] #4, see how everybody is doing, and then move on down the line.” she said.

Patt has also volunteered for the Marine Mammal Stranding Network, with her most memorable aspect of that job managing the “big elephant seal that liked to go to Waterfront Pizza!”

When there was a moment in her life that inspired her love for the natural world, Patt instead recounted a terrifying encounter with a cougar when she was young.

“As a teenager in Napa, California, we lived in a canyon. One night, I and three of my friends were taking a moonlit stroll down to a swimming pond about a quarter mile from my house.

“For some reason, we all had hair standing up, with prickles on our neck — we were uneasy. We got down to the pond and were ready to dangle our feet in the water and hang out and then all of a sudden, something about 50 feet away from us let out a horrific scream!” she said.

“It was a cougar, apparently trying to decide which one of us it was going to have for dinner. By then we were all in the water, thinking ‘cats don’t like water.’ We were out in the middle of the swimming pond treading water when all of a sudden headlights appeared,” she recounted. 

Turns out, it was her mother, who had also had an uneasy feeling. She piled all the soaking wet girls in her car and rescued them from the encounter. Although the cougar was known in the area, a patron of the local gun club had taken a shot at it, injuring it and impacting its ability to feed itself.

PTMSC is very grateful to our dedicated aquarium aides who help keep the tanks clean, and the animals fed.

Patt’s favorite aspect of volunteering?

“It is always an interesting experience! she said. “I like keeping weekly tabs on Sylvia [the giant Pacific octopus] to see how she is doing. And just being on hand when something interesting happens.” she said.

Thank you Patt for all you do for PTMSC!

Written by PTMSC Volunteer Coordinator Tracy Thompson.

Saturday, August 27, 2022

Looking for harmful algae blooms

Jo Ferrero peers through the Zeiss microscope in the PTMSC "labacita" scanning for harmful phytoplankton. 
Photo by PTMSC staff.

Jo Ferrero’s Monday morning starts out on the pier at Fort Worden, where she pulls up a sample of the Salish Sea for her role as a SoundToxins (a Puget Sound phytoplankton monitoring program*) volunteer for the Port Townsend Marine Science Center. She then brings the sample back to the “labacita,” the compact laboratory located in a portable building behind the museum, to peer at the samples through the Zeiss microscope. She is looking for evidence of harmful algae blooms – any of the harmful phytoplankton whose presence can affect humans and sea life.

Self-identified as a science “nerd,” Jo has enjoyed the work of looking for problematic phytoplankton since 2017. She and her husband, PTMSC board member Rich Ferrero, moved to Port Townsend in 2016 after living in Edmonds for many years. With a background as a registered nurse in an otolaryngology (the study of diseases of the ear and throat) practice at Group Health, she is comfortable peering through a microscope and enjoys the time spent in the lab during the spring and summer months.

Jo’s first volunteer role at the PTMSC was in 2016, as a docent in the aquarium, and she has also assisted with tasks for the fundraising auction. This summer she began a new volunteer role as well, stepping in to help as a Puffin Cruise host.

“Oh it’s been fabulous,” she said about hosting the bird and marine mammal watching cruises that travel to Protection Island on Puget Sound Express vessels.

Jo enjoys pointing out the many birds to the avid bird watchers and this summer there have been an abundance of marine mammal sightings, as well. A detour to observe a humpback whale in Discovery Bay was a highlight. Her husband Rich noticed the cruise boat from their home in Cape George and was delighted to see the humpback following behind the Express boat as it left the bay!

Back in the labacita, Jo follows a grid pattern to locate the various phytoplankton and records the pseudo-nitzschia and noctiluca she sees on the form provided. Later, the data will be added to a SoundToxins computer database, where the information will be aggregated in order to mitigate harm from algae to residents and sea life.

Jo says she is grateful to have an opportunity to monitor and document phytoplankton for this project, and to do “whatever we can to try to keep things together for the environment.”

*SoundToxins, a diverse partnership of Washington state shellfish and finfish growers, environmental learning centers, Native tribes and Puget Sound volunteers is a monitoring program designed to provide early warning of harmful algal bloom events in order to minimize both human health risks and economic losses to Puget Sound fisheries.

Written by PTMSC Volunteer Coordinator Tracy Thompson.

Friday, August 5, 2022

Nominations now open for the 2022 Eleanor Stopps Environmental Leadership Award

The Port Townsend Marine Science Center is seeking nominations for the 2022 Eleanor Stopps Environmental Leadership Award. 

Eleanor Stopps
This prestigious honor recognizes significant contributions to the protection and stewardship of the natural environment of the North Olympic Peninsula. The award pays tribute to Eleanor Stopps, whose vision, advocacy and determination exemplify the power and importance of citizen leadership.

The nomination form can be downloaded at https://ptmsc.org/about/eleanor-stopps-award or by calling (360) 385-5582 to request a form. 

Nominations can be submitted by email to info@ptmsc.org or hand delivered to the PTMSC office at Fort Worden State Park. All nominations must be received no later than 5 p.m., Aug. 25.

The recipient will be honored at the annual PTMSC Stewardship Celebration at The Commons in Fort Worden State Park in mid-October.

About Eleanor Stopps
From the 1960s through the 1990s, Stopps was an active member of the Pacific Northwest conservation community. She founded the Admiralty Audubon Chapter and continued the work of Zella Schultz to protect the habitat for 72,000 pairs of seabirds nesting on Protection Island. 

Stopps was also a tireless educator and recognized the need to protect the vast and delicate ecosystem of the Salish Sea. With no dedicated political base or influential financial backers, she worked with groups of students and Girl Scouts to raise environmental awareness, eventually forming a coalition of grassroots advocates who labored to marshal public support and push for legislation to preserve Protection Island and the surrounding marine waters. 

In fact, Stopps was a primary driver behind the establishment of the Protection Island National Wildlife Refuge in 1982, one of the few federally protected marine refuges established by an Act of Congress at that time. Today it is a critical habitat link in the preservation of the entire Salish Sea region, providing breeding grounds for Pigeon Guillemots and Rhinoceros Auklets, Bald Eagles and Peregrine Falcons, Harbor Seals and Elephant Seals, and myriad other species.

About the Eleanor Stopps Environmental Leadership Award
The Eleanor Stopps Environmental Leadership Award is presented annually to a citizen of the North Olympic Peninsula (Jefferson and Clallam counties) who has:
- Led a successful resource conservation effort that benefits the north Olympic Peninsula and its residents directly;
- Acted as a community catalyst for programs, initiatives or ventures that demonstrate a commitment to the future of the earth and its biodiversity;
- Become a model for future leaders in business and education; or 
- Has been an exemplary citizen or policy maker who has implemented decisions that, though they may entail risks, have helped our communities take the next step towards environmental sustainability.

The Port Townsend Marine Science Center is pleased to sponsor this award and invites nominations so that citizens who have demonstrated positive leadership for the environment can be recognized.

Thursday, July 28, 2022

Summer Fundraising Campaign Honors 40th Anniversary

One of the Port Townsend Marine Science Center’s core values is multi-generational learning. Our 40 years are a testament to that.

Quinton Coley at age 5
with his grandpa Peter Badame 

Take Quinton Coley. He began exploring the Salish Sea with his grandpa, Peter Badame, who
was one of the first PTMSC staffers. Quinton, now 12, has attended summer camp every year
since he was five.

Quinton Coley (age 12) this summer, learning
about the Salish Sea at PTMSC's Marine
Biology: Afoot and Afloat camp  

“I have seen my grandson develop his skills of observation and deduction,” says Peter. “I’ve witnessed his increasing curiosity, and his respect and joy for the mysteries and interconnectedness of the natural world. The PTMSC connects youth like Quinton with the Salish Sea, which is so important for our shared future.”

Betty Petrie, former PTMSC board member

Then there’s former board members Johanna King and Betty Petrie were involved in flensing a gray whale found on the beach near Middle Point over 20 years ago. Little did they know how many generations would benefit from their discovery.

“It was a messy, smelly job flensing that whale,” says Johanna. “But it was well worth the effort when I see the next generation of marine scientists being inspired by these bones and the story of ‘Spirit’ the gray whale.”

Bee Redfield, PTMSC's Executive Director
Today, under the leadership our new executive director, Bee Redfield, we are poised to expand our mission to inspire conservation of the Salish Sea. Bee has been meeting with stakeholders since she started in April. A recurring theme is concern about climate change and its impact on the ocean and on sea level rise. 

“At the same time,” Bee says, “there is great excitement about how our new facility on Water Street is an opportunity to reach so many more people with the story of how we can powerfully respond to these big challenges.”

Please join us as we strive to inspire even more ocean stewards.

Your donation funds efforts such as:

  • Citizen science projects like the Dungeness crab larval study and the clam shell ocean acidification study to better understand current ocean conditions.

  • A program for 5th and 6th graders that includes a town-hall simulation teaching civic dialogue on issues such as a carbon tax to address ocean acidification.

  • Exhibits of Salish Sea habitats in our aquarium, the threats they face, and the solutions being created by scientists and advocates today.


Be part of the solution!  
Inspire more generations of ocean stewards like Quinton, Peter, Johanna and Betty by donating today.  

Double your money by taking advantage of a challenge match of $8,500 by August 31.  

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Local Earth Day 2022 beach cleanup sets records

2,100 pounds of debris removed

This was our first year loaning out 
wood-framed sand sieves, which were 
popular with families with small children 
for recovering microplastic debris.
On April 23, in honor of Earth Day, the Port Townsend Marine Science Center held our biggest beach cleanup ever, setting several records. Our sponsors included the Port Townsend Food Co-Op, Olympic Disposal, and the Washington State Department of Ecology, which provided funding.
The afternoon was sunny and cool. At 1 p.m., 134 volunteers began arriving. They continued to show up throughout the day, full of enthusiasm, with some joining the effort just an hour before our 5 p.m. wrap-up. Some people could only spare an hour; others spent the entire afternoon walking the beaches, crawling over rocks, and scrambling up and down banks.

They came singly and in teams, including children and senior citizens, high school and college students, families with toddlers, and groups from civic organizations. We loaned out work gloves, bags, and pickup sticks. This year we included mesh sand sieves for the first time, which allowed volunteers to isolate microplastics—an activity especially popular with families including young children. 

In the past, cleanup registration has been at Fort Worden State Park, and volunteers have been sent to a couple of spots in Port Townsend. For Earth Day 2022, people spread out over five official cleanup sites, each with its own registration station, located at:
  • Everyone returned with interesting items and a smile.
    Who knew picking up trash could be such a delightful task.
    Cape George Colony Beach
  • Fort Worden State Park
  • Downtown Port Townsend
  • Indian Island County Park
  • Shine Tidelands State Park
In addition:
  • The Jefferson County Trash Task Force cleaned up Flagler Road along the entire length of Indian Island.
  • A group of homeowners hauled in debris from their private beaches on the far side of the Hood Canal Bridge.
  • Two teams scoured several miles of beach in the remote locations of the southern tip of Marrowstone Island and at Hood Head.
  • Volunteers brought in debris from an unofficial cleanup at North Beach.
All this activity made for a grand total of 10 areas cleaned up.

What Did We Find? What Didn’t We Find!?

I arrived for my afternoon shift prepared to help volunteers weigh their hauls and sort their items for recycling, reuse or the dumpster. There were only a few bags and loose items piled in one corner of the gargantuan dumpster at 2 p.m.

Soon people began arriving and dumping out their reusable trash bags. We used a luggage scale and found most loads in the range of 1.5 to 5 pounds.

I didn’t think we’d be able to fill up the gargantuan
dumpster in a mere four hours, but I was wrong!
Then the first big load arrived, 125 pounds of debris from North Beach, brought to us in the back of an SUV because it didn’t fit into the cans provided there. Then a pickup truck arrived, and then another, both brimming over with several hundred pounds of debris. Word came that two more trucks were expected. In between unloading the trucks, more volunteers arrived with their reusable trash bags.

They dragged back everything from microplastics and aluminum cans to old tires, lost traffic cones and wayward construction materials. An entire fiberglass dinghy, rolled up carpet remnants and throw rugs, a three-legged plastic chair and PVC pipes of all sizes ended up in the dumpster. In went hoses, golf balls, scraps of fishing gear, buckets, shattered ceramic dishes, tile, plastic food wrappers, pieces of foam and many lengths of weathered lumber—complete with rusty nails sticking out!

Trash hauled off the beach came in by the
truckload in the late afternoon.
Beside the dumpster we piled a couple dozen plastic shellfish grow bags, which we hope to return to their owners. Volunteers took home several of the dozen-or-so styrofoam crab pot buoys to use as space-fillers under the dirt layer of large pots for plants. Everyone was enthusiastic about saving the collection bags, which were repurposed from originally holding bird seed or agricultural materials.

For those who were interested in a detailed analysis, a printed form helped us tally their takes. A 5-year-old volunteer named Ellie and I dumped out her small bag of trash, and she carefully counted out microplastics (20 pieces), bottle caps (3), straws (1), rope (1), bottles (1), pen-cap (1), and cans (1). Like everyone else who helped out on our Earth Day cleanup, Ellie took great pride and pleasure in her work that day.

PVC pipe, buckets, and hoses were also
common in the debris recovered.
Olympic Disposal, who generously donated their services, recorded a final whopping 2,100 pounds of debris removed!

My spirits were uplifted for days afterwards. I can’t wait to do dumpster duty again in September, when we’ll participate in International Coastal Cleanup Day. I hope you can join us, stay tuned for the date by checking out our Coastal Cleanups webpage here.

By Jenna Kinghorn, PTMSC Volunteer

Monday, June 13, 2022

Elio Wentzel awarded Anne Murphy Ocean Stewards Scholarship

High school senior to attend Yale University
Elio Wentzel, recipient of the
2022 Anne Murphy Ocean Stewards Scholarship.

The Port Townsend Marine Science Center announces that Elio Wentzel has been awarded the 2022 Anne Murphy Ocean Stewards Scholarship. The $1,500 scholarship will help Wentzel (who uses they/them/their pronouns) in their study of foreign languages and architecture, interconnected by environmental studies, at Yale University.

"We are thrilled to be able to help this exceptional young person take their passion for the Salish Sea out into the world and make a difference," said PTMSC Executive Director Bee Redfield.

“Throughout my entire life, my wonder for the natural world has driven my passion for protecting it,” Wentzel said. “Linguistics provides me with a precise approach to studying language and, in turn, humanity. These ideas of communication connect to an interdisciplinary approach to environmental studies.

“Architecture can be a conduit for environmental policy, serving my passions for math and design while allowing me to make a real impact in people’s lives as I endeavor to make spaces that are intentionally equitable and accessible, as well as beautiful,” they said.

As a youth, Wentzel attended the PTMSC’s Junior Explorers summer camp. In high school, they participated in the Students for Sustainability (SFS) and Youth Environmental Stewards (YES) clubs. SFS was instrumental in the passage of the city council’s ordinance to ban plastic straws – a source of marine pollution – that was enacted in January 2021.

“I have conducted regular beach clean-ups for the Salish Sea and been a student representative with our local chapter of the Sierra Club, which often discusses action items to help solve marine environment injuries,” Wentzel said.

“Another issue close to my heart is sustainable farming and food production practices, which also affect our sea and other nearby environments. Through YES, I leaned into the education portion of activism, volunteering my time to create a Fort Worden plant guide full of photography and easily accessible information,” they said.

Laura Tucker, mentor to the Students for Sustainability, says "It’s students like Elio that are going to change this world for the better."

About the Anne Murphy Ocean Stewardship Scholarship

The PTMSC awards the Anne Murphy Ocean Stewardship Scholarship annually to an East Jefferson County student or graduate who embodies the values that Murphy demonstrated in her 24 years as the organization’s executive director: curiosity, wonder and love of the marine environment.