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.

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