Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Earth Day Beach Clean Up: A Marine Debris Debrief

The beaches and waterways around Port Townsend look so beautiful and pristine, it is hard to believe they are facing some very serious threats from pollution. Especially in the Salish Sea, a unique binational estuary that is home to some very large metropolitan cities such as Seattle, Vancouver, Victoria, Tacoma, and smaller port towns such a Bellingham, Olympia, and Port Angeles.

The beaches in the Salish Sea are used for recreational, residential, commercial and industrial purposes but they are also home to many unique species.

Marine debris is one form of pollution that can impact human and wildlife health. Marine debris is defined as:

Any persistent solid material that is manufactured or processed and directly or indirectly, intentionally or unintentionally, disposed of or abandoned into the marine environment.
Marine debris may enter directly due to human action, or indirectly when washed out to sea via rivers, streams and storm drains. Marine debris has become one of the most pervasive pollution problems facing the world’s oceans and waterways.*

Some of the most commonly found marine debris items are:

On Earth Day weekend, 2018, the Port Townsend Marine Science Center partnered with Washington CoastSavers and the Port Townsend Food Coop to host a local beach cleanup to remove marine debris from our local beaches.

The day started early with volunteer divers Howard, Tim, and Tusker gearing up and heading out right under the PTMSC pier. They worked together to remove five abandoned crab pots tangled on the pier pilings. These pots were sitting on the bottom and posed a threat to animals living there (see upcoming post by AmeriCorps Emilee on derelict fishing gear).

Volunteer diver, Howard. Photo by W. Feltham
Volunteer divers, Tusker and Tim. Photo by W. Feltham

AmeriCorps member James (and PTMSC Aquarist Ali ) helped 
pull the pots up onto the pier once they were cut free. Photo by W. Feltham
Volunteers stopped by the Natural History Exhibit portico to sign in and get their beach assignments. Photo by W. Feltham

We had volunteers remove debris from North Beach, Chetzemoka, Downtown Port Townsend, Boat Haven, Fort Worden, Fort Flagler, and a few places in between.

Thanks so much to all of the PTMSC volunteers who enthusiastically 
ran the check-in station, helped sort debris, fill out data cards, and 
connect the clean up with the significance of caring for the Salish Sea.
What a great crew! Photo by W. Feltham

Beach Clean Up volunteers embark on their beach walk, scanning the ground for man-made debris while also enjoying the beautiful weekend day.
Photo by W. Feltham

Over 130 people volunteered their time to clean up Port Townsend’s beaches. Many were locals but we also had participants visiting from Seattle and elsewhere.

Photos by W. Feltham
Once volunteers returned with their loot, the debris was weighed and sorted. We threw on gloves and dug into the garbage to document and itemize our findings. We recycled cans and bottles and completed a Washington Coast Savers data sheet so we could track what we were seeing.

Photos by W. Feltham
We saw a lot of cigarette butts, straws, bottle lids, shotgun shells, plastic food wrappers, rope bits, and construction debris. All of this debris can be harmful to wildlife and humans.

Plastic is especially dangerous. As it sits in the water, it breaks into smaller and smaller pieces and begins to absorb pollutants in the water, becoming extra concentrated with contaminants. As it degrades, it becomes harder to remove. 

Plastic can also begin to take on a fishy smell as it sits and absorbs toxins and collects marine life. It is easily mistaken for prey and ingested by marine animals. Once consumed, this debris can cause illness from toxins or can block digestive pathways causing starvation. Plastic has been found in the bodies of small bait fish (a staple of marine food webs), seabirds, whales, and a plethora of other animals. It has even made its way into shellfish and fish markets for human consumption. Gross huh?

There is an unimaginable amount of marine debris in the world’s oceans and the Salish Sea. Beach clean ups are a great way to remove what washes ashore. But what if we could prevent human debris and plastics from entering our waterways in the first place? One way to do this is to stop supporting the creation of single-use plastic products by:
  • supporting reuse 
  • considering the lifespan of the products we are buying 
  • seeking out products with little or no packaging 
  • saying NO to straws 
  • considering where you are creating waste and try to reduce it 
Collectively, during this clean up, we removed 659 lbs of garbage from Port Townsend beaches!

Thank you so much for all of the attention to detail and love you brought with you to clean up our beaches! What a great way to appreciate this amazing ecosystem we all call home!

All photos by PTMSC volunteer (and past PTMSC Board President) Wendy Feltham -- Thank You Wendy!

* U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, “Report to Congress: Impacts and Control of Combined Sewer Overflows and Sanitary Sewer Overflows” August 26, 2004, (EPA Publication 833-R-04-001),

Written by AmeriCorps member Mariah Vane

Friday, May 18, 2018

Spring Off The Pier

Coming from the Midwest, my experience of spring has been a bit different from the way it is out here on the Olympic Peninsula and the Salish Sea. I figured it would be fun to share a few of the new things I’ve encountered so far this spring at the Port Townsend Marine Science Center.

Since spring is in the air, many animals have been feeling frisky. The kingfishers have been out and about chattering away with each other. I’ve even witnessed them diving for schooling fish under the pier a few times.

There is always something new to see when looking off the pier into the water below. Since April has started, this is especially true. Jellyfish and ctenophores are frequently visible. On first glance I only saw a few, however when I focused more I noticed hundreds of them. I have never seen so many live jellies in the wild before, so this really was an experience.

Ctenophore caught off the pier.

Each of these jellies was about the size of a quarter.

Large schools of sand lance, tube snout, and herring (known as bait balls) have been coming into the pier for its sheltered waters. These large schools sparkle and shine in the water due to their counter shading. Counter shading is a technique used to disorient their predators. It looks like an underwater light show! 

The plankton we’ve sampled in the last few weeks have had a lot more activity in them. Baby barnacles, crabs, copepods and more were common in our samples. This increase in plankton has to do with sunlight being stronger and nutrient availability greater than in the winter months.

Even the animals in the aquarium have got more energy. Over the winter, most of their appetites were reduced, but in the last couple of weeks everybody is eating a lot more food. Many have been spawning, including the invertebrates that are broadcast spawners. This means they release their sperm and eggs into the water, hoping they mingle and fertilize. This makes for some murky water conditions in the tanks when it happens.

We also have been collecting animals lately to add to the exhibits. Recently we netted some eelgrass right off the pier. Babies critters were everywhere: juvenile flounder, gunnels, crabs, and sculpins were coming up in the net. This was so exciting to see since eelgrass beds are nurseries for juvenile fish. That is one of the reasons we have two tanks dedicated to eelgrass because it is so important for the early life stages of certain species, especially salmon.

Two juvenile flounder hiding in the sand of the eel-grass tank.
(There is also an orange-tipped nudibranch hiding in the back)

There is too much for me to mention in one blog post, but not being from the Northwest and witnessing all this going on I can only think one thing: The Salish Sea is one productive body of water, especially this time of the year. The PTMSC Aquarium and pier here are the perfect place to showcase that richness!

Written by AmeriCorps Marine Science Educator James Swanson.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Explore the Salish Sea: Joe Gaydos Beach Walk and Book Signing

Image courtesy Little Bigfoot Books
Saturday, June 2

Orca Exhibit Classroom

Joe Gaydos, VMD, PhD
photo by Wendy Shattil
Lead scientist for the SeaDoc Society Joe Gaydos, co-author of "The Salish Sea, Jewel of the Pacific Northwest," wildlife veterinarian, self-proclaimed science nerd and wildlife fanatic has just published the much anticipated "Explore the Salish Sea, A Nature Guide for Kids."

In this special meet-the-author family event, Joe will be giving a short kid-friendly presentation in the Museum classroom based on his book before leading a beach walk here at Fort Worden. Copies of both books will be available in the Gift Shop, or bring your copy for a signature.

The talk is most suitable for children over 8 years of age. The program and beach walk are free with admission to PTMSC on a first-come, first-served basis. Space is limited.

Reservations are encouraged -- Click here to RSVP!

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Low Tide Walks

Join us for a guided walk at low tide and meet animals living on the beach!

We have three dates for low tides walks this summer:
June 16
11:30am - 1pm

July 14
10:30am - 12:30pm

August 11
9:30 - 11:30am

Meet at the Museum portico entrance for a guided Low Tide Walk on the beach with PTMSC naturalists. Explore tide pools and learn about how marine organisms are adapted for the challenges of living in the intertidal zone. We recommend weather-appropriate clothing and shoes with good traction for moving around on wet slippery rocks.

$5 adults, $3 children over 5, includes admission to the Marine Science Center.
PTMSC members are free!

This event is family-friendly; children under 18 must be accompanied by an adult.

RSVPs are appreciated but not required.
To RSVP, contact Carolyn at or 360-385-5582 x109

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Marine Mammal Stranding Network Profile: Casey Gluckman

Throughout the 2018 GiveBig campaign, we are sharing the inspiring stories of the PTMSC’s support for marine mammals. Plan your donation now to support place-based, people powered, hands-on learning at the Port Townsend Marine Science Center. Knowledge is power, and together we can inspire even more people to conserve the Salish Sea!

PTMSC Marine Mammal Stranding Network volunteer Casey Gluckman.
 If you think Port Townsend Marine Science Center volunteer Casey Gluckman’s involvement with the Marine Mammal Stranding Network is a random act of serendipity, think again! Indeed, her story is one of a lifelong call to action to protect marine mammals and ocean habitat.

After completing her master’s degree in geology at the University of South Florida, Casey met her future husband, David. She says that partnership “redirected her life,” leading her to pursue a law degree.

Casey and David then opened their law firm, focusing on environmental and land planning law.

“We also lobbied the state legislature and state and regional agencies for environmental groups and public interest health care organizations,” Gluckman says.

Gluckman was soon offered a job as the director of the Division of Resource Management in the state Department of Natural Resources. Among her many responsibilities was oversight of the state manatee protection program.

“I learned a lot about marine mammals and the coordination between federal, state and local governments, plus encouraging volunteer efforts by corporations and individuals,” Gluckman explains.

When the often-searing heat of Florida summers posed a health challenge, the Gluckmans packed up and headed north to the Olympic Peninsula, where they had visited several times.

Once settled, they began to pursue volunteer opportunities.

Marine Mammal Stranding Network volunteer Casey Gluckman on the
beach near the Port Townsend Marine Science Center's Marine Exhibit.
“Marine mammals continue to draw me, so working with the stranding program was a natural choice,” Gluckman says.

It has been 10 years since Gluckman joined the PTMSC’s Marine Mammal Stranding Network volunteer corps. Her only regret is that she cannot devote more time to the effort.

Indeed, ask MMSN volunteers why they do what they do, and a common theme begins to emerge.

Gluckman explains: “Every stranding is a different story. Some are hard work, some are funny, some are sad. But each presents a teaching and a learning opportunity.”

Indeed, anyone who has ever gazed into the inky eyes of a harbor seal pup knows it’s often a case of love at first sight. They are among the most common of the marine mammals in the Salish Sea. But every hour spent guarding these precious pups is also an hour of unparalleled first-hand observation. In fact, many of the MMSN efforts relate directly to protecting seal pups during the busy summer tourist season. 
Harbor Seal Pup #007 stranded. Photo courtesy of Michael Tarachow

“The harbor seal pups present a great opportunity to interact with and educate the public while I keep learning,“ Gluckman says. “Last summer, a mom left her seal pup on the beach by the pier to the PTMSC marine exhibit during one of the busiest weekends of the summer. The little one created a ‘circus,’ interrupting many swimmers, walkers and boaters, especially when it decided to nap on the boat ramp!”

Several years ago, two several-hundred-pound elephant seals chose the downtown Port Townsend beachfront as their molting spot. 

“They kept us hopping,” remembers Gluckman, “especially the one that went for a stroll in the middle of Water Street and had to be ‘encouraged’ back to the beach!”

Northern elephant seal, "Buddy," in 2013, one day after hauling out to molt.

When asked why she thinks people love volunteering for the Marine Mammal Stranding Network, Gluckman answers without hesitation: “Who wouldn’t want to spend a couple of hours enjoying the beach while helping marine mammals at the same time!”

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Marine Exhibit Docent Training (2 Sessions)


Saturday, May 12
9 am - Noon (Part 1)

Thursday, May 17
6 - 8pm (Part 2)

Aquarium Classroom

Would you like to be a volunteer with the Marine Science Center? Have you been wondering how you can share your Salish Sea enthusiasm with our visitors this summer? It's time to be a Docent in the Aquarium. Learn about local marine animals and their nearshore habitats in the aquarium and touch-able tide pools, explore ways to engage visitors of all ages, and be an ambassador for the work of the PTMSC. 

Part 1: Focusing on the science content, this session is for new Docents and returning Docents who may have missed earlier training.

Part 2: Focusing on exhibit interpretation and the nuts and bolts of docenting. Required for all new Docents, current Docents welcome.

The exhibit is open from 12-5 pm until Memorial Day. We fill 4 shifts on each day: Friday, Saturday, and Sunday from 12-2:30 pm and 2:30-5 pm.

Beginning Memorial Day we are open Wed.-Mon. (closed Tuesdays) from 11am - 5pm. At that point we need to fill 24 slots each week in the Aquarium alone.

For more information or to sign up, contact

Marine Mammal Stranding Network Responder Training

photo by Steve Jurvetson, Flickr
Two Free Trainings:

Wednesday, May 9th
1 - 4 p.m. Museum,
Port Townsend Marine
Science Center

Tuesday, May 29th
2 - 5 p.m.
Laurel B Johnson
Community Center,

Please join us to learn about local marine mammals, why they strand, and the amazing network of volunteers that come to their aid, collecting data and monitoring their health. Become part of our network and receive training on stranding response. No previous knowledge of marine mammals or data collection required.

Please contact Mariah Vane 360.385.5582 ext. 116 or with questions or to register.