Sea Life

Explore aquatic animals, plants and seaweeds that inspire everything from cinematic monsters to tasty dishes to local economies.
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Whales and bugs, snails and slugs, seaweed and salmon too

October 3rd, 2011 by Jeff Adams

This is a plug. In part because Washington Sea Grant is a sponsor, but in larger part because this is a great opportunity not to be missed and to be encouraged into the future!

Inspired by the South Sound Science Symposium and Island County’s Sound Waters, Kitsap Beach Watchers volunteers and staff are bringing the first of such events to the residents, scientist, managers and policy makers on the West Sound (Kitsap Peninsula, though all are welcome from far and wide) – Water Courses: Connecting West Sound.

Since the registration fee includes lunch, beverages and a full day of presentations by and discussions with local and regional experts, this is a heck of a deal. The event also gives you a chance to get off the beaten path and explore historic Keyport. With over 36 speakers, Water Courses is the largest all ages water education event held on the Kitsap Peninsula. Online registration is available (www.kitsap.wsu.edu) or contact Lisa Rillie at 360-337-7157, lrillie@co.kitsap.wa.us.

Some details, speakers and topics…

Friday, October 14, 8:00 am to 4:30 pm: Naval Undersea Museum Auditorium, Keyport
The Friday symposium is a bit more technical than the Saturday series of workshops. The nine speakers for the day range in experience from Suquamish High School students (presenting work on ocean acidification and shellfish survival) to Dr. Robert Johnson (Puget Sound Partnership Science Panel member and Naval researchers). Topics are generally themed around pollution (sources, movement and prevention). $30 for the day; $22.50 if attending both; lunch included.

Saturday, October 15, 9:00 am to 3:30 pm: Keyport Community Church, Keyport
The Saturday workshops are a great way to become acquainted with some of the sea life, stream life and issues within our watershed. Plant and animal topics range from seaweed and landscaping to snails, bats and whales. Broader topics include salmon restoration, reducing pharmaceuticals in the water, understanding the fish you eat, citizen science, and farm management. There are so many great speakers and topics that deciding that you should register and attend is the easy part. Choosing only 6 of the 36 topics may prove more challenging! $25 for the day or $22.50 if attending both days; lunch included.

This is a great opportunity to learn and share about water and watershed related issues on the Kitsap Peninsula. In its first year, we hope this event will only get stronger with your participation and feedback. Hope to see you there! Jeff

Jeff Adams is a Washington Sea Grant Marine Water Quality Specialist, affiliated with the University of Washington’s College of the Environment, and based in Bremerton. You can follow his Sea Life blog, SalishSeaLife tweets and videos, email to jaws@uw.edu or call at 360-337-4619.


Windy days and low dissolved oxygen

September 26th, 2011 by Jeff Adams

It’s a good day to breath air in the southern Hood Canal. Once again, winds from the south push Hood Canal’s water north and leave southern Hood Canal belching  oxygen depleted water up to the surface. I blogged about it September 20th last year (From the south blows an ill wind) with some details and links that are still pertinent.

Sunday's ORCA buoy Oxygen Concentration data from Hoodsport. Graph: www.nanoos.org

Seven day oxygen concentrations at 10', 66' and 312' depth at the Hoodsport ORCA buoy. Graph: www.nanoos.org

I’ve attached ORCA (Oceanic Remote Chemical-optical Analyzer) buoy readings at Hoodsport for the last 24 hours and 7 days. The water breathers are probably a little stressed.

Amazing technology that we can all observe such a dramatic response in real time. Go make graphs of your own and explore data from other monitoring sites at NANOOS (Northwest Association of Networked Ocean Observing Systems). To see Hood canal data… zoom down to Hood Canal; pick your buoy; then click a variable (Oxygen conc. [concentration], Nitrate, Chlorophyll, etc.) to see a graph. Enjoy the technology; cross your fingers for the critters.

Jeff Adams is a Washington Sea Grant Marine Water Quality Specialist, affiliated with the University of Washington’s College of the Environment, and based in Bremerton. You can follow his Sea Life blog, SalishSeaLife tweets and videos, email to jaws@uw.edu or call at 360-337-4619.


Thingy Thursday: Catch cards and a confounding crab

September 22nd, 2011 by Jeff Adams

Few of us get a chance to see the full diversity of the Salish Sea’s crabs. Many species never venture onto the beaches. Others are small and hide well. Some even remain tucked away inside a large clam or mussel. For all the wonder, economic benefit and gastronomical pleasure crabs provide, there are several species that we don’t want to see in our waters, including the invasive European green crab, Chinese mitten crab and Asian shore crab.

European green crab (Carcinus maenas), notice the five large points on either side of the front of the carapace. Photo: Jeff Adams

Such invasive species can have dramatic economic and ecological consequences. That’s why I’m always very appreciative of folks who send notes or pictures or specimens of something unusual. Controlling the spread of marine invasive species is difficult at best, but the earlier they’re detected, the better chance we have.

I received images of a potential green crab in late August from an informed individual who had found an unusual crab at Birch Bay State Park (near Blaine and the Canadian border).

The European green crab has been present on the outer coast of Washington and up the Pacific side of Vancouver Island since the late 1990′s, but the populations have not been highly successful to date and have not found their way into the Salish Sea. Hopefully, that arrangement will continue since these buggers consume shellfish and outcompete Dungeness crab of similar size, for both food and habitat. Red rock crab on the other hand, tend to give the green crabs a serious abdomen whooping.

Green crab??? Thankfully not. Photo: Len Vandervelden

Fortunately, this is a helmet crab. It has the few large points on the front of its carapace like a green crab, and was probably a similar size (~3″ across the carapace), but helmet crabs are covered in stiff hairs and have points all the way around the back side of the carapace.

Helmet crab (Telmessus cheiragonus), a hairy or even bristly crab with several large points on either side of the front of its carapace and a couple more on the back side. Photo: Jeff Adams

The helmet crab is probably the species most commonly mistaken for a green crab. The individual in question is particularly tricky to identify since it has so many barnacles on it.

Live helmet crabs and even molts may seem unusual even to experienced beach goers. I see scores of them while snorkeling over eelgrass that’s exposed at low tide, but I rarely see them alive on the beach when the tide is out. I guess it’s no surprise that as one of the fastest Pacific Northwest crabs, a helmet crab would rather retreat with the tide than try its luck hiding from gulls in the eelgrass and algae.

Back to the European green crab… Fortunately, it isn’t living up to the initial concern in our state, but there are a lot of unknowns if it gets into the Salish Sea or if conditions change in our waters. It’s certainly important to keep a watchful eye.

Always feel free to send observations, pictures or thoughts of things extraordinary or out of the ordinary. If I can’t share part of its story, I enjoy looking for someone who can and learning together.

Oh, and just a reminder for all you crabbers… Whether you caught Dungeness or not, don’t forget to put your Puget Sound crab catch cards in the mail or enter the data online by October 1 to avoid a $10 penalty and to help managers determine how much crab should be harvested in the winter season. Happy autumn!

Jeff Adams is a Washington Sea Grant Marine Water Quality Specialist, affiliated with the University of Washington’s College of the Environment, and based in Bremerton. You can follow his Sea Life blog, SalishSeaLife tweets and videos, email to jaws@uw.edu or call at 360-337-4619.


Keep the butter out of your belly and your shovel out of the sand

August 3rd, 2011 by Jeff Adams

Screen shot of the Washington Department of Health Shellfish Safety map for Kitsap County for August 3rd, 2011.

Thanks to Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning (PSP) toxins produced by microscopic marine algae… King and east Kitsap Counties are closed to harvest of all shellfish species including clams and geoduck, oysters, mussels, and other invertebrates such as the moon snail (which are no longer legally harvestable anyway).

The meat from crabs is not known to contain the PSP toxin. The guts (butter) can contain PSP levels that are not safe, so carefully clean your crabs and toss the guts. (I guess I’d better stop letting the chickens gobble the guts lest I wake up to a poultry Jonestown.)

Invasive purple varnish (mahogany) clams hold the toxin longer than any other bivalve in the region. Butter clams also hold onto the toxin for longer than most shellfish. Sometimes shorelines will be closed to varnish clam only or to both species only, so read the health maps and warnings carefully. Even when beaches are open, it’s a good idea to cut off the black tip of the butter clam’s siphon before eating it since toxins are concentrated in the tip.

The DOH clickable shellfish biotoxin/pollution map is an excellent resource to check every time you head out for shellfish or might interact with others who are digging dinner. You can also learn more about the toxin and it’s origins from the Department of Health PSP fact sheet and the links it provides.

Noctiluca bloom in West Seattle (late June 2011). Photo: Jeff Adams

Washington Sea Grant also has a really great publication called Gathering Safe Shellfish: Avoiding Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning. The document has lots of great info and fabulous black and white drawings of some of the harvested shellfish species in the Salish Sea (great identification resource). It also discusses the difference between the striking blooms you may see and those creating biotoxins.

This too shall pass. In the meantime… enjoy the the beaches in Puget Sound’s Main Basin, but but keep the butter out of your belly and your shovel out of the sand.

Jeff Adams is a Washington Sea Grant Marine Water Quality Specialist, affiliated with the University of Washington’s College of the Environment, and based in Bremerton. You can follow his Sea Life blog, SalishSeaLife tweets and videos, email to jaws@uw.edu or call at 360-337-4619.

 


Express your inner scientist

July 8th, 2011 by Jeff Adams
  • Get home from a day’s labor, crack a beer, sit on the porch and appreciate a butterfly nectaring on a nearby flower and the evening summer sun that makes a dragonfly glow while it hunts with incredible speed and precision, eating on the fly.
  • Is that bush blooming already?
  • You just won a tough case and you’re doing your best Leonardo DiCaprio against the forward fence of the ferry observation deck, a smile on your face, the wind rushing by. You look into the water… SMACK! (no, not sea gull poop to the side of the head or a disgruntled defendant… we’re talkin’ jellies!).

What do these scenarios have in common? Citizen scientists. Elements of science may remain in an ivory tower, but in ever-increasing numbers and in very accessible ways, scientists and managers are harnessing the interests and time of every Tom, Dick and Jane to explore difficult issues like climate change, water quality and habitat loss. We can also add to the understanding of the what, where and when for our favorite groups of critters in ways we were never able to in the past.

All fair game for easy reporting by citizen scientists. Clockwise from top left: lion's mane jelly, hermit thrush, small magpie moth (non-native) and common whitetail dragonfly. Photos: Jeff Adams

There are lots of opportunities out there, but I’ll highlight a few of my favorites. Under the unofficial category of “report what you see, where you see it, when you want to”…

Don’t have experience in identifying critters? No worries. Some programs simply require you to know/report on a single species or, in the case of Sound Citizen, to collect and return a sample. For butterflies, birds, dragonflies and jellies, there are excellent physical and online guides and identification resources available. On top of that, people like me love to get the email with a subject line “what’s this?”.

I recently posted a YouTube video that should help with common jellyfish ID’s. With all the ferry riders, dock and beach visitors, boaters, divers, harvesters, anglers and shoreline homeowners in the Puget Sound and Salish Sea… we should be able to help scientists at jellywatch.org better understand jellies and blooms in our region. It’s an area of increasing interest as our climate and ocean activities evolve.

The opportunistic reporting of the list above can give a scientist valuable information in part by sheer volume of data. Volunteers willing and able to put in more time can get involved in a project that typically includes some form of training and standardized protocols and reporting. Some excellent examples in our region include…

Bainbridge Beach Naturalists (part of the Kitsap Beach Naturalist program) conduct a profile assessment of the beach slope, substrate, plants and animals. Amazing what you see when you look close! Photo: Jeff Adams

Other programs like  Nature Mapping are geared toward schools, but also give individuals an opportunity to report findings. You can even explore lots of potential projects on your own at sites like scienceforcitizens.net and citizensciencecentral.org or like citsci.org for projects geared specifically toward invasive species.

Washington Sea Grant will go live with a Washington-specific citizen science clearinghouse some time in the next year. Or you can just contact local organizations to explore opportunities. In Kitsap you might start with me at Washington Sea Grant (contact info below), or with organizations such WSU Beach Watchers or the Stillwaters Environmental Education Center.

The best of the citizen science networks provide something in return for our efforts. No, not a key chain or a shopping tote (although some provide those as well). We get maps and checklists and image collections and newsletters and data analysis and publications… All of which reflect our contributions to scientific exploration and the greater body of scientific knowledge. None of which would have happened without our participation.

COASST is an excellent example of providing feedback to volunteers. In return for their dead bird surveys, COASST volunteers receive a newsletter explaining some of the trends in the data and featuring natural history information about sea and shoreline birds. … Plus, volunteers get cool bird postcards (pictures tend to be of the live birds and a bit more attractive then the dead ones). A free COASST training will be hosted by Washington Sea Grant and WSU Kitsap Extension in Bremerton on July 28th (RSVP to info@coasst.org). Other dates and opportunities are available on the COASST calendar.

Thanks for your interest in contributing to the body of scientific knowledge that we need to make informed decisions and to effectively care for the Puget Sound, Salish Sea and beyond. … Oh, gotta go… I need to chase down a dragonfly!

Jeff Adams is a Washington Sea Grant Marine Water Quality Specialist, affiliated with the University of Washington’s College of the Environment, and based in Bremerton. You can follow his Sea Life blog, SalishSeaLife tweets and videos, email to jaws@uw.edu or call at 360-337-4619.


Terrific Tides and Getting Crab Crazy!

July 1st, 2011 by Jeff Adams

Pulling a crab pot can require some muscle. Photo: Jeff Adams

Dust off the crab pots (both the one with holes and the one with boiling water), it’s crab season! The long awaited day has arrived (as of 7:00am today, 7/1), and many will feast on freshly caught crabs for the holiday. After all, Dungeness crabs are as Northwest’erican as espresso and apple pie. Don’t forget the red rock crab though. It’s tougher to crack, but abundant and mighty tasty.

Chris Dunagan shared a story on the recreational harvest this crab season, and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has a one stop recreational crabbing website with a 4 minute video, regulatory, harvesting, cleaning and cooking tips and more. A few things to note…

- A fishing license and crab endorsement are required. (Don’t forget you need to pay to get into Washington State Parks now.)
- You can keep up to 11 crabs a day!

  • 5 hard-shelled, male Dungeness crabs and
  • 6 hard shelled red rock crabs (male or female).

- Use pots (with degradable cords to prevent ghost fishing) or collect by hand.
- Don’t forget to RECORD AND REPORT your catch! (Says the guy who’s committed to doing his part for the fishery… and to not paying the $10 penalty again this year.)

While your on your way to or from your favorite destination, check out some of these excellent holiday weekend beach walks and events. Have a crabby day! JEff

A barnacle encrusted red rock crab. If you get a crab like this, you might as well eat the barnacles too... taste a bit like shrimp. Photo: Jeff Adams

This week’s minus tides for the Central Puget Sound (remember you may need to add up to an hour or more for out of the way fingers like Dyes Inlet, and much of South Puget Sound)…

  • 7/1 Fri; -2.6 ~11:30am
  • 7/2 Sat; -2.7 ~12:15pm
  • 7/3 Sun; -2.4 ~1:00pm
  • 7/4 Mon; -1.8 ~1:40pm
  • 7/5 Tues; -0.7 ~2:15pm

Kitsap Beach Naturalists
- Silverdale Waterfront Park, one of my favorite urban Kitsap beaches, Saturday July 2nd from 12:30-2:30pm
- Scenic Beach State Park, Seabeck, WA, July 2, Noon-2:00pm
- Fay Bainbridge Park, Bainbridge Island, WA, July 3, Noon-2:00pm

Harbor WildWatch (Gig Harbor and the south of Kitsap Peninsula)
- Kopachuck and Penrose State Parks, July 1, 10:30am-2:30pm
- Penrose and Joemma State Parks, July 2, 11am-3pm
- Kopachuck and Penrose State Parks and Narrows Park, July 3, 11:30am-3:30pm
- Kopachuck and Penrose State Parks, July 4, 12:30pm-4:30pm

Celebrate Oakland Bay – Family Fun with the Stars (site with link to flyer)
- Walker County Park, Shelton, July 3, 11am-4pm

Vashon Low Tide Festival
- Point Robinson Light Station and Park, July 2, 10am-3pm

South Sound Beach Naturalists
- Priest Point Park, June 2, 12:15pm – 3:15pm.
- Burfoot and Tolmie State Parks, June 3, 12:30pm – 3:30pm

Seattle Aquarium Beach Naturalists are on a variety of east Sound Beaches
- Richmond Beach, Carkeek Park, Golden Gardens, South Alki, Lincoln Park, Seahurst and Des Moines Beach Park, July 2, 11-2:30; July 3, 11:30-3; July 4, 12:30-3:30

I’m sure there’s more! Please share other opportunities through comments.

Jeff Adams is a Washington Sea Grant Marine Water Quality Specialist, affiliated with the University of Washington’s College of the Environment, and based in Bremerton. You can follow his Sea Life blog, SalishSeaLife tweets and videos, email to jaws@uw.edu or call at 360-337-4619.


Terrific tides and Bremerton’s Lions Park

June 14th, 2011 by Jeff Adams

Thanks to some of the summer’s lowest tides, there’s great fun on the beaches this week. I’ll put a few events below. If you know of others, please add them as comments. I also wanted to recommend one of my favorite local beaches.

Beach goers exploring Lion's Park's broad gravel beach at low tide. Photo: Jeff Adams

The fast currents that rush through Bremerton’s Port Washington Narrows (the shallow, narrow waterway that connects Dyes Inlet to Sinclair Inlet) create excellent habitat for diverse sea life. Lion’s Park (sometimes called Lebo Field or Lebo Recreation Area) is on the north side of the Narrows and just northwest of downtown Bremerton.

I’m sure I’ll come back to this park in later blogs, but it will be particularly good viewing the next couple days while the tides are around -3.0 and the edge of the kelp bed is exposed. The City of Bremerton has also done some amazing reworking of the park to improve shoreline habitat and reduce stormwater pollution. Check it out and let me know what you think.

Tides this week…

  • 6/14 Tues; -2.9 @ 10:30am (better hurry!)
  • 6/15 Wed; -3.1 @ 11:10
  • 6/16 Thurs; -3.0 @ Noon
  • 6/17 Fri; -2.6 ~12:40pm
  • 6/18 Fri; – 1.9 ~1:15
  • 6/19 Sun; -0.9 ~2:00

Peg Tillery, WSU Kitsap Extension Beach Watcher Coordinator sporting the Kitsap Beach Naturalist hat and the logo's inspiration (purple star Pisaster ochraceus). Lion's Park, Bremerton. Photo: Jeff Adams

Beach walks and such…

Kitsap Beach Naturalists
- will join Stillwaters Environmental Center at Kingston Marina and on the beach north of the Kingston Ferry Terminal, June 18, 12:30-2:30pm (Stillwaters will be there starting at 9:am)
- Fay Bainbridge Park, Bainbridge Island, WA, June 18, Noon-2:30pm
- Scenic Beach State Park, Seabeck, WA, June18, 1:00-3:00pm

Harbor WildWatch and Shellfish Partners
- Purdy Sand Spit on the shore of Henderson Bay off of Hwy 302 in Purdy, WA, June 18, Noon-4:00pm

South Sound Beach Naturalists
- Priest Point Park, June 18, 12:30pm – 3:30pm. and at
- Burfoot and Tolmie State Parks, June 19, 1:30pm – 4:30pm

Seattle Aquarium Beach Naturalists are on a variety of east Sound Beaches
- Richmond Beach, Carkeek Park, Golden Gardens, South Alki, Lincoln Park, Seahurst and Des Moines Beach Park, June 14, 10-1; June 15, 10-2; June 16, 10-2; June 17, 10:30-2; June 18, 11:30-3; June 19, 12:30-3:30

Hope you get to enjoy some time on the shoreline! JEff

Jeff Adams is a Washington Sea Grant Marine Water Quality Specialist, affiliated with the University of Washington’s College of the Environment, and based in Bremerton. You can follow his Sea Life blog, SalishSeaLife tweets and videos, email to jaws@uw.edu or call at 360-337-4619.


Habitat specificity… or… home, home on the whale

May 20th, 2011 by Jeff Adams

I’ve really been enjoying a blog by Jackie Hildering, “The Marine Detective” from Port McNeill, BC. In her most recent post to themarinedetective.com, she share a story of a relationships between species that literally build upon each other.

In Humpback Whale Gooseneck Barnacles?! She shares the wonder of diversity and discovery that never ceases to surprise. In her research on humpback whales she and her colleagues noticed a species specific whale barnacle on a particular humpback. As time went on, the barnacle changed like a gnarly wart growing hair. Finally, they got a close look at the “hair” to find it was a barnacle specific barnacle – the humpback whale barnacle barnacle. Share the marine detective’s wonder and enjoy her amazing photos.

Humpback whale in Colvos Passage near the Southworth ferry. Jeff Adams

Humpback whales sometimes find their way into Salish Sea waters (as you may note in my Loch Ness blurr style humpback pic). So bring the binoculars next time you hear of one (join the Orca Network list for near daily whale sightings info). Wonder not only at the magnificence of the whale, but see if you can spot a humpback whale barnacle, or even a barnacle with a medusa doo. Cheers! JEff

Jeff Adams is a Washington Sea Grant Marine Water Quality Specialist, affiliated with the University of Washington’s College of the Environment, and based in Bremerton. You can follow his Sea Life blog, SalishSeaLife tweets and videos, email to jaws@uw.edu or call at 360-337-4619.


Last chance for a close shave

May 18th, 2011 by Jeff Adams

Happy razor clammers! Kim Pham

The last opportunity of the season to collect our outer coast’s famous razor clams (Siliqua patula – Latin for Pod open since it looks like a newly germinated seed pod) is today (5/18) through Sunday (5/22). The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has a whole series of pages devoted to razor clams, including how to dig them and their relationship with domoic acid, a toxin that causes amnesic shellfish poisoning and is produced by the group of diatoms called Pseudo-nitzschia. So far, the razor clam beaches have the Department of Health OK for harvesting razors this week.

If you’re looking for a spur-of-the-moment staycation you might give this some thought. Our Salish Sea clams generally stay in one place while you rake/dig them near the surface or chase their neck down deep. Razor clams take a different approach on their beaches of deep sand. They have a specialized foot that can rapidly extend, long and pointed, straight down into the sand. Once extended, the end of the foot expands to act as an anchor. Muscles then contract and pull the entire clam deeper into the sand. You shovel, they plunge, you shovel, they plunge… the chase is on!

Jackknife clam from Foulweather Bluff preserve. Jeff Adams

You might imagine, such an approach wouldn’t work well in many Salish Sea beaches because of the mix of sand gravel and cobble that are often dominant. Hence, we fjord-folk have to travel to the open coast and bravely face the Pacific expanse to forage for these delicacies.

On the other hand, we do have a very similar-looking species, called the jackknife clam or blunt razor clam (Solen sicarius, meaning something like Pipe dagger-man, ouch!). Its shiny, oblong, beige to brown shell is similar to the razor clam, but certainly unique among Salish Sea clams. The shell of a jackknife, however, is relatively narrow and more squared off on the ends. Also, the hinge, where the two shells connect, is at one end of the shell instead of near the middle. That’s pretty unusual to see among our clams.

Partially buried jackknife clam shell, from Foulweather Bluff preserve. Jeff Adams

The jackknife clam is not often seen alive since it prefers sand and mud from the very lowest tides down to about 180′. Jackknife clams (up to 5″ long) also dig a more permanent burrow than a razor clam, whose burrow fills and empties of sand more regularly. The jackknife burrow may be 15″ deep or more and can be relatively smooth lined, particularly in substrate that’s more of a hard mud. The clam can zip quickly to the bottom when threatened. It can then dig deeper if necessary… but it’s no longer so zippy.

Summer clamming is a great time with nutritious benefits. Just keep your eyes on your regulations and limits, refill your holes and don’t forget to check the Department of Health’s marine biotoxin pages and alerts. If you head out to the Coast this week/weekend… enjoy, feel great about supporting the local economy… and may your skills be sharper than a razor. JEff

Jeff Adams is a Washington Sea Grant Marine Water Quality Specialist, affiliated with the University of Washington’s College of the Environment, and based in Bremerton. You can follow his Sea Life blog, SalishSeaLife tweets and videos, email to jaws@uw.edu or call at 360-337-4619.


Terrific Tides and Historical Harper

May 17th, 2011 by Jeff Adams

Harper fishing pier on the right and ferry "dolphin" on the left. The dolphin was removed in 2009 shortly after this picture was taken. Jeff Adams

Along with the amazing sea life you might encounter around the Kitsap Peninsula, the Salish Sea and beyond, I also want to periodically highlight some beaches that host our saltwater bounty.

The area of South Kitsap from the Harper pier, south into a pocket estuary is a great place to watch birds, dive, reflect on history and our shoreline fingerprint, launch a boat, and explore the beach. The area uncovered by a low tide is a real hodgepodge of public and private ownership, but the boat launch and fishing pier are readily identifiable public access points.

Harper has a history well worth noting. The fishing pier stands were the ferry system linked Kitsap to Vashon and West Seattle until the early 1960′s. Until their 2009 removal, a remnant of the ferry dock (a cluster of deteriorating creosote pilings called a dolphin) could be seen at the end of the pier.

The Harper pier is frequented by divers and anglers alike. For divers, there are even a couple wrecked boats to explore beyond the pier. The sport plumose anemones, kelp crabs, barnacles and other piling fare to enjoy. Divers also find abundant lures, lines, bottles and mobile phones lost by the piers other regular users. It’s also a great place to see birds and get a great view of the Central Puget Sound.

A pile of brick from one of the Harper Clay Products brick dump areas. Jeff Adams

A fascinating history lies on the beach near the boat launch, and just under the surface. The Harper Clay Products Company started making bricks from nearby clay in the late 1800′s (click here for some great old photos and maps). The good bricks can still be seen in Pioneer Square buildings in Seattle and in the Governor’s Mansion in Olympia. The discarded bricks, however, are abundant near the boat launch as one of the “brick dump” areas used by the factory. The bricks wind up supporting barnacles, rockweed and some other animals that live on hard surfaces, though in the areas where they’re piled deeply, they don’t do any favors for the mudflat organisms that would have been there in their absence.

A rich pocket estuary and salt marsh lies to the south of the boat launch and road. The culvert that feeds this area is the subject of restoration interest, with the intent of broadening the salt marsh habitat to its historic extent.

As for this week’s great low tides…
Our first -3 tides of the season are today and tomorrow. Excellent mid-day minus tides continue through Sunday. As a bonus, it looks like we’re even in for a few sunny days.

A layer of discarded Harper bricks can be seen on the eroded edge of the boat launch. Picklweed and grass now grow on top. Jeff Adams

5/17, -3.0 at 11:30am, Tuesday (better hurry:)
5/18, -3.2 at 12:10pm, Wednesday
5/19, -2.9 at 1:00pm, Thursday
5/20, -2.3 @ 1:40pm, Friday
5/21, -1.3 @ 2:30pm, Saturday
5/22, -0.2 @ 3:15pm, Sunday

Head out to Harper or your favorite walking, birding, shellfishing, trash cleaning, beachcombing, all around breathtaking beach to enjoy the low tides and maybe a bit of sunny and sixty for a change. Time to trade knee boots for sandals? Cheers! JEff

Jeff Adams is a Washington Sea Grant Marine Water Quality Specialist, affiliated with the University of Washington’s College of the Environment, and based in Bremerton. You can follow his Sea Life blog, SalishSeaLife tweets and videos, email to jaws@uw.edu or call at 360-337-4619.


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