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 or by calling (360) 385-5582 to request a form. 

Nominations can be submitted by email to 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.