Category Archives: Sea life

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:

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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Hood Canal nominated as Sentinel Landscape with ties to military

Hood Canal and its surrounding watershed have been nominated as a Sentinel Landscape, an exclusive designation that recognizes both the natural resource values and the national defense mission of special areas across the country.

USS Henry M. Jackson, a Trident submarine, moves through Hood Canal in February on a return trip to Naval Base Kitsap – Bangor.
U.S. Navy photo by Lt. Cmdr. Michael Smith

If the designation is approved, it will bolster applications for federal funding to protect and restore important habitats and to maintain working forests in and around Hood Canal. Given the uncertain budget for environmental programs under the Trump administration, it wouldn’t hurt to have the Department of Defense supporting the protection of Hood Canal.

The Sentinel Landscapes Partnership involves the U.S. departments of Agriculture, Defense and Interior. The idea is to coordinate the efforts of all three agencies in locations where their priorities overlap, according to the 2016 Report on Sentinel Landscapes (PDF 5.6 mb).

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Learning to create small habitats in Kitsap, Thurston, Pierce counties

Marianne Jackson, a personal trainer and yoga teacher, lives in a fairly typical residential neighborhood in Des Moines, about halfway between Seattle and Tacoma. Marianne has been interested in gardening for years. Recently, however, she decided to up her game by creating a backyard wildlife habitat.

A flowering currant in Marianne Jackson’s garden is a native plant that is good for birds. She says hummingbirds love it.
Photo: Marianne Jackson

That’s when Sarah Bruemmer, a habitat steward coordinator for the National Wildlife Federation, entered Marianne’s life. Sarah knows how to turn small outdoor spaces — or large ones, if available — into functioning habitats. She coordinates a training program that addresses issues from soils, gardening and invasive plants to birds, butterflies and water quality.

Sarah’s month-long program, which includes weekly classes with two Saturday field trips, is scheduled for April in Kitsap and Thurston counties and May in Pierce County. Only a few seats remain for the Kitsap training to be held in Silverdale.

Marianne, 56, took the course last year and came away with a much deeper knowledge of the ecosystem. She had already ripped out her grassy lawn years ago to create what became a series of connected gardens, but the classes taught her how native plant species and water features can help native birds and butterflies.

“I already had the interest,” she said. “Now I have a lot more knowledge that I can put to use. I’m planning to get my yard certified.”

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New videos talk about protecting the ecosystem with tribal treaty rights

Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission this week released two new videos, including one that shows how tribes are using their treaty rights to protect the environment on behalf of all Northwest residents.

The video was released under the commission’s new communications banner, “Northwest Treaty Tribes: Protecting Natural Resources for Everyone.”

The video describes the Lummi Nation’s success in getting the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to reject the Gateway Pacific Terminal at Cherry Point near Bellingham. If approved, the shipping terminal could have been the transfer point for up to 59 million tons of Montana coal each year. The coal would be transported by train to Cherry Point and onto ships bound for China and other Pacific Rim countries.

The Corps of Engineers halted the permitting process last May, saying the project was too big to be considered de minimis, and it would violate the tribe’s treaty rights to take fish in the usual and accustomed area. See news release.

The video does a nice job of explaining the tribe’s position and the ecological value of fish, including a Cherry Point herring population that has declined so severely that it can no longer support the food web as it once did. Also described well are the cultural values of the Cherry Point site and longtime fishing practices.

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After environmental restoration, quiet has returned to Port Gamble

Twenty-five years ago, I stood and watched as a screaming buzz saw tossed clouds of sawdust into the air while slicing through thick logs of Douglas fir at the Pope & Talbot sawmill in Port Gamble.

Last week, I walked across the vacant site of the old mill, which was torn down years ago. Along the edge of Port Gamble Bay, I could hear nothing but the sound of the wind and an occasional call of a seagull.

Linda Berry-Maraist, restoration manager for Pope Resources, describes the renewed shoreline along Port Gamble Bay. // Photo: Dunagan

I came back to the old mill site to see how things looked following completion of the $20-million-plus cleanup of Port Gamble Bay. Some 111,000 cubic yards of dredge material is now piled up in the middle of the site, an amount roughly equivalent to 10,000 dumptruck loads.

In addition, nearly 8,600 wooden pilings — most imbedded with creosote — were removed and shipped off for disposal, making it one of the largest piling-removal projects in state history. The final number of pilings removed far exceeded original estimates, largely because buried ones kept turning up during the removal work.

“It’s a huge relief to get this done,” said Jon Rose, vice president of Pope Resources who has overseen a decade of planning and cleanup. “It has been very hard on our staff, hard on the town, hard on our financial statements.

“I think we are on the right side of the mountain,” he added. “Look at how incredible the shore looks.”

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Hope is alive for restoration of Puget Sound shellfish beds

Officials in Washington state’s Shellfish Program have identified a clear pathway to meet a state goal of restoring 10,800 net acres of shellfish beds to a harvestable condition by 2020.

The 10,800-acre target, established by the Puget Sound Partnership, was considered overly ambitious by many people when the goal was approved in 2011. Many still believe that the shellfish restoration effort will go down in flames, along with other goals, such as increasing chinook salmon and killer whale populations by 2020.

In reporting on the Shellfish Implementation Strategy, a document still under development, I’ve learned that the goal is within reach if enough of the ongoing recovery efforts around Puget Sound continue to make progress. Please check out my latest stories “Bringing the shellfish back” and “Closing in on the magic number in Samish Bay,” both published in the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound.

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Canadians produce mariner’s guide to whales; can U.S. follow?

If knowledge is power, officials in British Columbia have taken a strong step to protect whales by producing a booklet that can help ship captains reduce the threats to marine mammals.

The “Mariner’s Guide to Whales, Dolphins and Porpoises of Western Canada” (PDF 39.3 mb) was compiled and published by the Coastal Ocean Research Institute, a branch of the Vancouver Aquarium. Financial support came from nearby ports.

The guide is just one step in resolving conflicts between ships and whales, but it seems like a worthwhile move. If people who control the ships are willing to put scientific information into action, they could avoid cumbersome regulations along with unintended consequences that sometimes arise from political battles.

“The purpose of this guide is to help mariners reduce their risk of striking and killing, or seriously injuring a cetacean (whale, dolphin or porpoise),” writes researcher Lance Barrett-Lennard in a preface to the guide. “It includes descriptions of frequently encountered whales and dolphins, locations along the coast where cetacean densities are highest, and simple measures they can take to greatly reduce their risk of striking a whale, dolphin or porpoise.

“I have yet to meet a mariner who doesn’t feel terrible if his or her ship hits a cetacean … so I know the motivation to reduce strikes is there,” Lance continued. “The key is knowing how to do it. To that end, I hope that bridge crews on vessels transiting through B.C. coastal waters will use the information in this guide to reduce the risk of hitting a whale on their watch.”

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More coho salmon are expected, but fishing will remain limited this year

Total returns of coho salmon to Puget Sound this year are expected to be significantly higher than last year, and that should help smooth negotiations between state and tribal salmon managers working to establish this year’s fishing seasons.

But critically low runs of coho to the Skagit and Stillaguamish rivers in Northern Puget Sound could limit fishing opportunities in other areas, as managers try to reduce fishing pressure on coho making their way back to those rivers.

In any case, both state and tribal managers say they are confident that they can avoid the kind of deadlock over coho they found themselves in last year, when a failure to reach agreement delayed sport fishing seasons and threatened to cancel them altogether. See reporter Tristan Baurick’s stories in the Kitsap Sun, May 4 and May 28.

“We’re in a much better situation than we were last year,” Ryan Lothrop, a salmon manager with Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, told a large gathering of sport and commercial fishermen yesterday in Olympia.

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