Monday, September 24, 2018

A Summer of Citizen Stewardship in Protection Island Aquatic Reserve

Submitted to WA Dept. of Natural Resources Aquatic Reserve Newsletter by PTMSC's Citizen Science Coordinator Betsy Carlson:

It was a busy summer in the waters and along the shore of Protection Island Aquatic Reserve (PIAR). Citizen Stewards conducted the first Intertidal Monitoring Project with the Cape George Environmental Committee and Port Townsend Marine Science Center volunteers and staff near Cape George Colony. Eleanor Hines, Michael Kyte and Erica Bleke brought their expertise from Fidalgo Bay and Cherry Point Reserves, to help make this a very successful event. Twenty people participated and recorded 88 species.

Out on the water, Port Townsend Marine Science Center and Puget Sound Express hosted five “Puffin Cruises” for 230 people through Protection Island Aquatic Reserve. (sign up for an upcoming Protection Island cruise here!) One trip took a detour to Smith Island to see a Horned Puffin that had been reported in the area. On their way back, a pod of orcas passed by making it a very memorable evening.

The intrepid team of Bob Boekelheide, birder, Ross Anderson, boat captain, and others, continued monthly bird and marine mammal surveys in PAIR and Protection Island eagle counts from the boat. August survey was the third highest bird density that has been recorded since the start of monthly surveys in November 2016. In Bob Boekelheide’s July report, he wrote “As is typical during summer, locally nesting species -- Pigeon Guillemots, Rhinoceros Auklets, and Glaucous-winged Gulls -- dominated the survey. These three species accounted for over 76 percent of all the birds we recorded. The next two most abundant species, Common Murre and California Gull, do not nest here, but both use the Aquatic Reserve as migration stopovers. These five most abundant species accounted for 95 percent of all the birds we tallied.” Harbor porpoises continue to forage in the waters around Protection Island and are most often observed south and southwest of the island. And, in September, a minke whale swam through a transect east of the island.

Bald Eagle numbers soar in the summer with nesting birds and hatchlings along with the occasional ailing harbor seal pup providing easy prey. The crew has counted as many as 63 eagles and over 600 harbor seal pups on the island. Winter months bring greater species diversity as seabirds migrate into the area and fewer eagles when harbor seals and nesting birds are no longer present.

If you would like to learn more about the bird and mammal surveys, come to the afternoon lecture on February 20th, when Bob Boekelheide will be presenting a talk “Seabirds and Marine Mammals of Protection Island AquaticReserve” as part of the Port Townsend Marine Science Center’s Future of Oceans speaker series.

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