All posts by Christopher Dunagan

Green crab invaders settle in on Dungeness Spit, Olympic Peninsula

An invasion of the European green crab, which started last summer in northern Puget Sound, appears to be continuing this spring with 16 green crabs caught in traps at one location on Dungeness Spit near Sequim.

European green crab
Photo: Gregory C. Jensen, UW

The new findings are not entirely unexpected, given that invasive green crabs have established a viable population in Sooke Inlet at the southern end of Vancouver Island in Canada. From there, young crab larvae can move with the currents until they settle and grow into adult crabs. Last summer and fall, green crabs were found on San Juan Island and in Padilla Bay.

The big concern now is that a growing population of invasive crabs could spread quickly to other parts of Puget Sound, causing damage to commercial shellfish beds and disrupting the Puget Sound ecosystem.

“It knocks the wind out of your sails for sure,” said Emily Grayson when I asked how she felt about the latest discovery. “You feel kind of powerless, and you want to get out there and start doing things.”

European green crabs were found on Graveyard Spit, the small spit that juts off the main Dungeness Spit. Google maps

Emily, a biologist with Washington Sea Grant, coordinates a group of trained volunteers known as the Crab Team. These folks place crab traps in dozens of locations where habitat is suitable for green crab survival. When invasive crabs are found, the volunteers put out many more traps in hopes of reducing the population before it grows out of control.

The hope is that invasions can be found early so that the extensive trapping makes it more difficult for the limited number of crabs to locate suitable mates and continue to expand the population. Each female can lay up to a million eggs at a time, and they are not limited to just one or two broods each year.

Officials with Washington Sea Grant are not only dealing with foreboding feelings about the green crab invasion but also concerns that the Crab Team may be shut down for lack of funding. At the federal level, President Trump has proposed eliminating the entire Sea Grant program nationwide, halting research and various types of assistance for marine projects across the country.

“We don’t like to think about a world where we have to stop this program in midstream,” said Kate Litle, assistant director of programs at Washington Sea Grant, “but that’s what will happen if we don’t get funding.”

At the same time, the state’s Aquatic Invasive Species Program may also have little or no money to battle the green crabs. Program officials requested increased funding from this year’s Legislature to support the Crab Team as well as address invasive zebra and quagga mussels. The budget proposed by the state Senate contains the full funding — including a portion of utility tax revenues that currently go into the state’s general fund. The House budget for the program includes a new fee on nonresident watercraft, but the amount of revenue is relatively small.

“If we lose the Sea Grant early detection program, we are going to be in a world of hurt,” said Allen Pleus, coordinator of the Aquatic Invasive Species Program at the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. Allen said it would be hard to get along without the trained Crab Team volunteers, who provide the first line of defense for all of Puget Sound.

Emily said she has about 150 volunteers putting out crab traps in every part of Puget Sound, and the number may grow. After last year’s discovery of green crabs in northern Puget Sound, officials from tribes have stepped up to help along with staff from state and federal agencies.

Trapping begins in April and continues into September if the funding holds up. So far this year, traps placed in Padilla Bay — where four crabs were caught last year — have come up empty, Emily said. That’s a good sign, she said, “but we definitely have a different story at Dungeness Spit.” To review last year’s findings, see Water Ways, Oct. 1, 2016.

Unlike Padilla Bay, where the four crabs were few and far between, the 17 crabs caught at Dungeness Spit were all in the same location. Of the first four crabs caught on April 13, two were caught in the same trap on Graveyard Spit, a small spit that juts out from the main Dungeness Spit.

More traps were placed in that general area — up to 52 traps at one time. Three more crabs were caught on April 18, then five more on April 19, one on April 20, and then three more yesterday, along with a discarded shell.

“If we can trap them down to make it harder for the males and females to find each other, that is the best we can do,” Allen told me.

The trapping at Dungeness Spit is being done with staff and volunteers from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which oversees the Dungeness Spit National Wildlife Refuge.

Anyone can look for green crabs and help control their spread while visiting salt marshes and shallow pocket estuaries. People are asked to leave all crabs in place and follow the instructions to email a photograph of a suspect crab to the Crab Team. For identifying information, visit the Crab Team website.

Amusing Monday: All sorts of animals can be viewed live online

Millions of people watched and waited online for April the giraffe to give birth at Animal Adventure Park near Harpursville, N.Y. — although I am not sure how many were viewing live at the moment of birth. Of course, it is now recorded on YouTube for anyone to see.

As of yesterday, zoo officials announced on Facebook that a new camera will be installed to allow occasional viewing at times to be announced. For a $5 subscription, you can sign up for text alerts about the baby. This has become a real money-maker for the zoo. Frankly, I’m amazed at the level of interest, but it will probably decline now that the baby has arrived.

Each spring, I post an Amusing Monday piece showing where to find some of the best critter cams around the world. I’m pleased to report an ever-expanding number of cameras, not only those in zoos and aquariums but also those in outdoor locations where wildlife experts can study animals without disturbing them. Because of the Internet, we are able to essentially look over the shoulders of researchers and even watch the animals when official observers are not around.

Explore.org, a division of the Annenberg Foundation, is becoming the go-to website for connecting people live with animals via webcams. As I write this, the number of live video feeds listed on the website totals 65, although the number changes frequently as a result of shifts in animal activity as well as technical issues. Scroll down below the video player for text messaging related to each camera for interactions between video operators and online observers.

Several live feeds are able to show Northern Resident killer whales when they pass through Johnstone Strait, off the northeastern shore of Vancouver Island in British Columbia. The Explore.org webcams are coordinated with OrcaLab, a research station run by Paul Spong on nearby Hanson Island.

One of the newest Explore.org feeds shows a pair of long-eared owls and their owlets near Missoula, Mont. (Check out the first video player above). Besides watching the live image, one can scan backward in time using the scroll bar to get a better view of the babies.

One of the most popular critter cams is the one at Brooks Falls in Katmai National Park in Southeast Alaska. Beginning in June, brown bears congregate at the falls to catch migrating salmon. The bears seem to vary in their hunting techniques, some catching fish in midair. Until that webcam gets up and running, one can view highlights from previous years.

A number of popular critter cams from past years have been taken down for various reasons. Sometimes a nesting site does not get used. Also, funding to support the projects is always an issue, and I’m sorry to say that WildWatchcams from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is almost completely closed down at the moment.

One of my favorite live animal cams is still Pete’s Pond in Mashatu Game Preserve in Botswana, on the border with Zimbabwe and South Africa. It is often nighttime in Africa when it is daytime in our part of the world. The darkness, illuminated with infrared lights, is a good time for viewing, because that is when animals come to drink from the watering hole. (The site was offline when I posted this Monday afternoon.)

I’m sort of thrilled with the idea that we can visit a remote part of Africa and observe lions and zebras moving about in real time. The text-messaging feed allows people to communicate with the camera operator and other observers. The system is run by US Stream, an IBM subsidiary.

The third video is Cayman Reef near the East End of Grand Cayman Island in the Caribbean.

Explore.org also arranges its critter cams by channel. Here are some good ones to check out:

Earth Day on Saturday includes old events plus new March for Science

With Earth Day falling on a Saturday this year, all sorts of environmental activities have been scheduled for this weekend. On top of your typical Earth Day activities, there will be a March for Science in Washington, D.C., as well as in Seattle and hundreds of other communities across the country.

It just seems like a great time to get out and do something. I’m hoping the weather cooperates. The National Weather Service predicts that warm weather tomorrow will give way to a low-pressure trough moving over Western Washington on Saturday. That weather system might be traveling slowly enough that the rains won’t appear until later in the day when most activities have been wrapped up in the Puget Sound region.

I should mention that Saturday also is the annual Kids Fishing Party in Gorst, which coincides with the opening of trout season. Sponsored by the Kitsap Poggie Club, the family-fun event allows youngsters to catch a fish at the fish-rearing facility at Otto Jarstad Park in Gorst. Fishing rods and bait are provided, and the Poggies will even clean the fish for cooking. For details, go to the Poggie Club’s website.

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Amusing Monday: Ocean trash is still attached to art and education

Trashy art is getting better and better. Some years ago, people started transforming debris found on the beach into sculptures worthy of an art show. Now the trashy art has gotten so good that we can actually attend an art exhibit where trashy sculptures are on display.

Called “Washed Ashore Exhibits,” one group of sculptures has been placed in an ongoing display at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C.

A traveling exhibit will open at Tacoma’s Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium beginning next week and continue until Oct. 21. I don’t believe the pictures on this page or in the photo gallery of sculptures on the Washed Ashore website truly capture the effect of seeing these large sculptures up close.

Of course, the whole idea is to raise awareness about marine debris, most of which begins with a careless discard of trash — although some of the interesting items were probably lost by accident. Regardless of the source, these plastics and other materials don’t belong in the ocean, where they can harm sea life in various ways, from ingestion to entrapment. Such debris also turns our beaches into a trash dump.

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Floodplains by Design solves problems through careful compromise

Water

The water understands
Civilization well;
It wets my foot, but prettily,
It chills my life, but wittily,
It is not disconcerted,
It is not broken-hearted:
Well used, it decketh joy,
Adorneth, doubleth joy:
Ill used, it will destroy,
In perfect time and measure
With a face of golden pleasure
Elegantly destroy.

— Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)

Floodplains by Design, a new program that combines salmon restoration with flood control, is a grand compromise between humans and nature.

I got to thinking about this notion while writing a story for the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound regarding the need to protect and restore floodplains in order to improve habitat for salmon and other species. The story is part of a series on Implementation Strategies to recover Puget Sound. Check out “Floodplain projects open doors to fewer floods and more salmon.”

Floodplains by Design is an idea born from the realization that building levees to reduce flooding generally causes rivers to rush faster and flow higher. Under these conditions, the rushing waters often break through or overtop the levees, forcing people to rebuild the structures taller and stronger than before.

Flooding along the Snoqualmie River
Photo: King County

Salmon, which have evolved through untold numbers of prehistoric floods, were somehow forgotten in the effort to protect homes and farmland built close to a river. Absent the levees, floodwaters would naturally spread out across the floodplain in a more relaxed flow that salmon can tolerate. High flows, on the other hand, can scour salmon eggs out of the gravel and flush young fish into treacherous places.

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Bremerton loses ground in annual ‘water pledge’ competition among cities

Bremerton may need some help to get back on top in the National Mayor’s Water Pledge Challenge, an annual competition that encourages people to take specific steps to save water and help the environment.

As usual, Bremerton started out on top in its population category when the contest began on April 1. The city held its own through most of last week. But now the city has slid down to number 4, which means that more water customers are needed to take the pledge. Go to My Water Pledge.

Bremerton has always done well in the competition, perhaps largely because of the enthusiasm of Mayor Patty Lent, who likes to see people conserve water and always wishes the city can come out on top in the competition. This year, a good showing in the competition would be especially nice, considering that Bremerton is celebrating the centennial of its unique water system.

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Amusing Monday: Cartoon could be a mascot for this blog

If I needed a mascot for this blog, I just found the perfect cartoon character. His name is Raindrop, and he appears in a cartoon series called “Raindrop, the Water Adventure.”

While this cute and funny cartoon seems like something a child would enjoy, it also introduces concepts that many adults can appreciate — such as the formation of weather, pollution, erosion, evolution of life, and man’s role in altering the environment.

I’m seeing what appears to be a cartoon that appeals to a wide range of ages with discussions of water issues central to life on Earth. As such, these are also issues I often discuss while reporting about Puget Sound protection and recovery.

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New brochure alerts landowners to landslide hazards and what to do

Geology experts in Washington and Oregon have produced an easy-to-read brochure that can help people understand landslide risks, the underlying geology of slides and precautions that could avoid a disaster.

I have written a lot of words about landslides through the years, often relating stories of people involved in a catastrophic slope failures. But this new publication excels as a concise discussion of what people need to know if they live on or near a steep slope.

After the Oso landslide in the Stillaguamish Valley three years ago, I wrote a piece in the Kitsap Sun to help residents of the Kitsap Peninsula understand the risks they could be facing. Now I can point people to this graphically rich pamphlet, called “A Homeowners Guide to Landslides for Washington and Oregon” (PDF, 3.8 mb). It was produced by the Washington Department of Natural Resources and the Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries.

“Our job is to understand Washington’s complex geology and how it impacts the people who live here,” Washington State Geologist Dave Norman said in a news release. “We want to make sure we put that information into their hands.”

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Amusing Monday: Artist goes to water and to ice to make giant portraits

Sean Yoro, a Hawaiian-born artist, paints landscapes — or should I say he paints on the landscape, often taking great risks.

Sean, who goes by the name Hula, has stood on a surfboard to paint at the edge of a waterfall. He has paddled among Arctic icebergs to create his art. And he has worked for days on the watery undersides of bridges, painted the hull of an old ship and rendered images on many other man-made structures that impose on the natural world.

What he most often paints are visually stunning murals of human faces and forms — mostly women — on a huge scale.

His latest project, called Maka’u, found him precariously standing on his paddle board at the edge of a high man-made waterfall. His picture shows a female subject deep in the water and clinging to a rope to avoid being swept over the spillway. Check out the first video on this page.

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Rainfall in the first six months of water year exceeds yearly average

Halfway through the current water year, which began on Oct. 1, rainfall patterns on the Kitsap Peninsula are shaping up to look a lot like last year.

Hansville rain gauge (click to enlarge)
Source: Kitsap PUD

For most areas, total rainfall is well above average, as it was last year at this time. It is also well below the record accumulation in most places. One exception is Hansville in North Kitsap, as you can see in the first chart on this page. There, the total rainfall is tracking both last year and 1999 — the highest year on record, which goes back 35 years at that station.

Moving into the drier half of the water year, it is now obvious that we will be above average in rainfall for the entire year, since we have already reached the average in most places.

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