Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Home Crew Members Miss Doing Their Chores

Good memories keep them going
Home Crew hard at work in the PTMSC aquarium. Photo by staff.

I know people who get great satisfaction from scrubbing floors, keeping windows spotless, and doing other house-cleaning tasks. I’ve never been one of them.

So imagine my surprise to learn that there are people who eagerly volunteer to do such chores. On early morning shifts, no less. And that they’ve sorely missed accomplishing these tidying tasks during Washington state’s Stay Home, Stay Healthy shutdown.

These dedicated cleaners are the 16 or so members of the Home Crew at the Port Townsend Marine Science Center’s Aquarium. Before the coronavirus COVID-19 outbreak, a team of seven to nine people would arrive every week at the aquarium doors on Monday and Friday mornings. They worked a two-hour shift each session, performing an average of eight shifts per month for a grand total of about 112 hours of work per month.

The Home Crew cleaners don long-cuffed rubber gloves to protect themselves from the cold of the salt water, which is drawn from Puget Sound with minimal filtering.

“Since all of the water inflow comes directly from below, if the sea is very rough or at super low tides the tanks can get quite silty,” says Janette Mestre, a relative newcomer to the job who joined the Home Crew team in the autumn of 2019. “We scrub interior tank walls of algae, vacuum crud off the bottom and in the water column, and remove build up of algae, kelp debris, creature waste, and silt from the tank floor and rocks.”

Jan North takes a quick break to appreciate her work in home crew. Staff photo.

Dana Africa, who has been on the Home Crew for about five years, said they get to know the inhabitants of the tanks and, as they clean, they also inspect the animals and note any injuries, whether a female is gravid, and other health changes.

“People are generally assigned a tank," Africa says. "It may not be the same tank every week, but people tend to do the same ones.”

Dana Africa, home crew volunteer. Staff photo.
Dealing with leaks, low water levels, overflows, and fouled siphon tubes can be tricky and extra time-consuming.

Much of the crew’s work involves removing layers of algae, which grows especially abundantly in the summer sun, by scrubbing and scraping the interior of acrylic tanks. But acrylic scratches easily, and the scratches can impair the view into the tank.

“Trying to get an old, well-established algae rim formed at the bottom edge of tanks off the acrylic without scratching it” is Africa’s least-favorite job.

On the other hand, she loves siphoning, the technique used to “vacuum” debris out of the sand and gravel in the bottom of the tanks.

"Siphoning is so satisfying! I most miss the mornings I come in to clean and feed the abalone babies," she says. "I’m in a separate space, and as I siphon there is a calming sensation in me. My thoughts run to all sorts of places I don’t usually take time to explore. Abalone are strange little people — I adore their tenacity and fabulous shells.”

The work of the Home Crew is not entirely without stress.

“We have a very popular unusual little fish, the grunt sculpin, and while we now have two, for a long time there was just one, and they’re quite elusive and hard to capture," says Mestre. "After seeing it in the tank [I was siphoning] and then not finding it after finishing, I spent a very nervous weekend thinking I had sucked it up without seeing it. Happily it reappeared from it’s hiding place by Monday!”

But Home Crew work also has its rewards.

“One morning there were eight of us all diligently cleaning when someone said, ‘Look! Eleanora [the giant Pacific octopus that lived in the central tank for much of 2018] is out of her hideout!’" Africa recalls. Within a minute all of us circled her tank as she displayed all of her spectacular moves. She went the full circle so everyone got a show and some eye contact. All chores were forgotten as we, as one, were completely blown away.”

Katherine Jensen (left) & Betty Petrie. Staff photo.
“Getting to constantly learn new things and become more aware of the local marine environment is a pleasure," Mestre says. "And the excitement of the staff for what they’re doing is infectious,” Janette adds. “I miss just being there, seeing the constant changes in tank dynamics, and the camaraderie of the crew.

"I have been really impressed by the quality of the facility and exhibits for a small nonprofit like this," she adds. "They do a huge job with what they have available, and I think it must be quite difficult to maintain everything and keep all the animals healthy with the skeleton crew.”

When pandemic conditions allow it, both volunteers plan to return to their tasks.

“I definitely plan to resume at the MSC. Can’t wait,” Africa says. “I’m ready to get excited about things again.”

Since the pandemic began, all the work usually done by the Home Crew has fallen largely to Aquarium Curator Ali Redman, with backup from AmeriCorps Member Marley Loomis. We’ll check in with them soon.

Written by PTMSC Volunteer Jenna Kinghorn.

Monday, June 22, 2020

PTMSC Peek of the Week!

Every Thursday at 2 PM

PTMSC Peek of the Week will feature a live Facebook video each week at the same time featuring something interesting happening around PTMSC.

Follow us on Facebook and receive alerts to this and other future events! 

Friday, June 12, 2020

Anika Pearl Hart Avelino awarded 2020 Anne Murphy Ocean Stewards Scholarship

$1,500 scholarship presented at Port Townsend High School ceremony

Port Townsend High School student Anika Pearl Hart Avelino was awarded the Anne Murphy Ocean Stewards Scholarship at a ceremony on June 8. The $1,500 scholarship is sponsored by the Port Townsend Marine Science Center.

Avelino has been caring for salmon since grade school, when she helped maintain her school’s aquarium for salmon releases into the Quilcene River. In middle school, she was monitoring the return of adult salmon with the North Olympic Salmon Coalition. Currently she is an intern with the Clallam Marine Resource Committee, surveying smolt salmon and other fish species in Tumwater Creek in Port Angeles.

Avelino plans to attend Western Washington University-Huxley College of the Environment in the fall.

“I would love it if more of my life was dedicated to marine and freshwater species conservation,” Avelino said. “Through my internship with salmon—a crucial keystone species—I have again realized how much I enjoy being outdoors, especially when I get to learn about what role different flora and fauna play in the natural world. I hope that I get to work with more species so I can learn more about what is needed to preserve a healthy ecosystem.”

Avelino also trained to be a docent at the PTMSC Aquarium, volunteered for several of the PTMSC’s Earth Day beach cleanups and organized two community beach cleanups on her own. She was a crew leader for a Northwest Watershed Institute tree plantathon and volunteered with the Jefferson Land Trust to remove invasive weeds.

“I try to live an environmental lifestyle in my everyday life, whether this be working to reduce waste from the household, minimize my carbon footprint or reusing and recycling as much as possible,” she said. “I also love to appreciate the environment by exploring and observing the natural world.”

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.

Monday, June 1, 2020

Orca Skeleton ARTiculation!

In celebration of the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, the Port Townsend Marine Science Center created Orca ARTiculation. The community-oriented project allowed supporters to use their artistic skills to recreate the skeleton of “Hope,” the transient orca whose articulated bones are suspended from the ceiling of the PTMSC Museum. 

Notably, the project was undertaken during the restrictions imposed by the coronavirus COVID-19 outbreak, which closed the Museum and Aquarium and imposed strict social-distancing measures.

Orca ARTiculation was spearheaded by AmeriCorps Natural History Educator Ellie Kravets. 

"I love looking for opportunities for people to take some aspect of the greater Salish Sea ecosystem and make it their own,” Ellie said. “At the PTMSC, we have this incredible resource in the Orca Bone Atlas to bring one part of our unique ecosystem right into our homes.” 

Starting on April 20, Ellie began sending emails to registrants with line art files of specific orca bones. 

“We encourage you to get creative with your bones!” Ellie wrote. “Feel free to print out our image files and color them, paint them digitally, or recreate your bones in the real world using found or recycled materials. The possibilities are endless - we can’t wait to see what you create!”

The instructions explained that completed bone art should be placed in front of a solid, contrasting background – such as a floor, wall, or curtain – and one or more photos should be taken at roughly the same angle as depicted in the original line art. Participants were asked to make sure all the images were well lit and in focus, without any dramatic shadows or moody ambiance. 

Following these steps allowed Ellie to compile the completed images and rearticulate the orca digitally for all to enjoy.

“I hope this project sparks curiosity in our participants, and I’m so excited to see the results," Ellie said as the May 31 deadline approached. 

Now completed, the Orca ARTiculation project is featured on the PTMSC website to further educate viewers about the story of Hope: her life, her stranding and how her skeleton came to the Museum.