“Dream” is a clever animated video promoting the annual Wildlife
Conservation Film Festival in New York City. The festival is more
than films, with workshops on wildlife topics and a goal to connect
average people with filmmakers, conservationists, researchers and
One of my personal goals for the coming year is to see more of
the wonderful films being produced about conservation concerns,
environmental issues and wildlife preservation.
Among the films being released next year are “A Plastic Ocean,”
a feature-length documentary that explores the problem of plastic
pollution in 20 locations around the world, including the Great
Pacific Garbage Patch in the North Pacific Gyre, 1,500 miles off
the West Coast. The film also discusses practical and technological
approaches to solving the plastic problem.
A free 2017 calendar, published by the National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration, features winning artwork in a contest
that focuses on the problem of trash in the ocean, otherwise known
as marine debris.
More than 700 students from around the country participated in
the contest, and one of the 13 winners was a seventh grader from
Washington state named Sallie S. Neither her full name nor hometown
was disclosed, and I never received a response to an email sent to
her on my behalf by NOAA officials.
Sallie’s statement on the back of the calendar: “Marine debris
impacts our oceans and Great Lakes, because the plastic and other
garbage could badly injure or kill the sea animals. What I will do
to keep our ocean debris free is to not litter. Not littering is
very important, because if you litter the debris can go into
drains, then it can go into the lake or the sea. Then once it goes
in the sea, ocean organisms could then die.”
When I was a young child, we didn’t have to worry about wildlife
getting strangled by six-pack rings, because these plastic binders
for cans had not been invented yet. I was 9 years old in 1961 when
this simple, convenient form of packaging was invented, so I
clearly remember the transition. (See Hi-Cone
At the time, nobody predicted the conservation consternation
that would be created by such a simple piece of plastic. During the
1970s and up to present, pictures of entrapped birds and other sea
creatures became common, suggesting that we at least cut the
plastic to save the animals. The first video provides a story of
Before the invention of six-pack rings, people bought soft
drinks and beer in cardboard packages, which sort of wrapped around
the cans. Pabst Blue Ribbon may have been the first beer sold in
cardboard cartons (second video), although Coca Cola may have
started the phase. The Coke
company claims to be the first to take its bottles out of
wooden crates and begin offering cardboard packaging for consumers
as early as 1923.
The Harper Estuary restoration project is finally coming
together, with one contractor being hired for culvert removal,
others bidding for the excavation work and engineers completing the
designs for a new bridge.
Since June, the first phase of the project has been divided into
two parts. The first actual construction will involve the
replacement of a 24-inch culvert that carries Harper Creek under
Southworth Drive. The new structure will be a three-sided,
open-bottom culvert that spans 16 feet across the stream.
Bids were opened, and a contractor has been preliminarily
selected, said Doris Small, project coordinator for the Washington
Department of Fish and Wildlife. A meeting has been scheduled for
Tuesday to iron out the final details and award the contract, she
The work must be completed by Oct. 15, so things will progress
rapidly, she said. An announcement will be made soon regarding a
temporary detour on Southworth Drive.
The remainder of the first phase involves the excavation of dirt
and other debris used to fill in the estuary years ago. The project
has been reduced slightly in size from the original design,
reducing water contact in certain spots, Doris told me. Also, an
analysis of the soils to be removed concluded that some of the fill
material is contaminated at such a low level that it can be used as
fill elsewhere or sent to a composting facility.
Bids will be taken on the excavation project until Sept. 13, and
the work must be done before the middle of February.
The design of a new 120-foot-long bridge on Olympiad Drive is
between 60 and 90 percent complete. Applications have been
submitted for several grants to complete the project, primarily
construction of the new bridge. The bridge will replace a 36-inch
culvert where the road crosses the estuary. The design includes
access for people to walk down to the water, and it can be used to
launch small hand-carried boats.
As I described in
Water Ways in June, the existing makeshift boat launch must be
removed to allow the restored estuary to function properly. I am
told, however, that county officials are still looking for a nearby
site to build a new boat launch with access for trailered
If grants are approved to cover the cost, the bridge could be
under construction next summer, Doris said. The total estimated
cost of the entire restoration is now $7 million, with $4.1 million
approved from a mitigation fund related to contamination from the
Asarco smelter in Tacoma.
The Eco-Comedy Film Competition was created to get people
thinking about the environment by reaching them through
entertainment instead of a heavy-handed message.
“Clean Water” is the theme for this year’s competition,
sponsored by The Nature Conservancy and American University’s
Center for Environmental Filmmaking.
More than 80 short films were entered into this year’s contest.
Everyone is eligible to vote online for the People’s Choice Award
by selecting from among the seven finalists. Watch those seven
videos on the
Eco-Comedy Film Competition website, and vote using the form
beneath the video players. Make sure you click in the lower right
corner to go full screen. I’ve posted a couple of my favorites on
this page, but please don’t let that influence your own choice.
The winning video will be selected by a panel of judges. The
Grand Prize winner will be announced March 22 and will be awarded a
Painting large murals of endangered species on exterior walls
across the U.S. is a way of “fostering connections between people
and the other forms of life that surround them,” according to Roger
Peet, a Portland artist who is leading the project, commissioned by
the Center for Biological Diversity.
The latest mural, painted on a building in Los Angeles, shows a
blue whale breaching off the coast of an urban area with an
industrial skyline. The mural was painted from a massive stencil by
Brooklyn street artists Icy and Sot, who are brothers, according to
“Brooklyn Street Art.” The mural is designed to inspire
protection for the whale and reduction of ocean pollution, the
artists said in an interview.
The Center for Biological Diversity is perhaps best known for
suing the federal government to list and protect declining species,
but it has also been committed to public outreach, including the
condoms featuring endangered species. The organization launched
the mural project to call attention to at-risk wildlife specific to
local communities where the murals are painted, according to the
CBD’s website on the mural project.
The first mural in the series, featuring a mountain caribou, was
painted in Sandpoint, Idaho, northeast of Spokane. This area of the
Selkirk Mountains is the last remaining territory for the caribou
in the lower 48 states. Mural artists Mazatl and Joy Mallari worked
with Peet on the project.
“The city of Sandpoint unanimously approved the mural project
for a prominent downtown building and passed a resolution
supporting recovery of the caribou and augmentation of the southern
Selkirk herd — exactly the kind of local support for endangered
species our project is designed to foster,” states the CBD’s
The second mural, painted by Peet last summer in Butte, Mont.,
shows the Arctic grayling, a fish in the salmon family that was
once common in Northern Montana, the headwaters of the Missouri
River. Because of river diversions and pollution, the fish
population has declined dramatically. In the lower 48 states, the
fish survives only in a stretch of the Big Hole River near Butte.
Montana Standard has the story.
A monarch butterfly on a wall in South Minneapolis, Minn., is
the third mural in the series. In late summer, monarchs undergo
metamorphosis in Minnesota and other northern regions before
migrating to Mexico for the winter and then to the southern U.S.,
where they lay their eggs. Pesticide and development have taken a
toll on the monarch habitat and reduced their population by 80
percent over the past 20 years, according to the CBD website. Peet
worked with Barry Newman on the mural.
In November, a mural featuring the watercress darter was
completed in Birmingham, Ala. This small, brilliantly colored fish
is found only in the Birmingham area. Peet worked with Birmingham
artists Merrilee Challiss and Creighton Tynes on the mural.
“Birmingham was selected as the site of darter mural because
Alabama is a world hotspot for freshwater animal diversity, and the
center is working to protect hundreds of Alabama species from
extinction,” says a
news release from the Center for Biological Diversity.
Upcoming murals include a mussel — the pink mucket — in
Knoxville, Tenn., an aquatic salamander — the Ozark hellbender — in
St. Louis, Mo., multiple fish of the Colorado River on the Navajo
reservation in Arizona, and bull trout in Oakridge, Ore. Organizers
say more murals could be painted with additional funding and
support from local artists.
Painter Roger Peet, who continues to manage the mural project,
says the effort is built upon the biodiversity of individual
“Those species embody an area’s natural history and contribute
to what makes it irreplaceable. They also have something to say
about the future, as many are in danger of going extinct. And when
we lose species, the places and lives we live become poorer and
shallower places as a result.
“To help bring these species into the light, we decided to paint
them on the walls… Whether that’s a fish in a river, a butterfly
flitting from plant to plant or a caribou chewing lichen off a tree
trunk, we’re bringing together artists and communities to create
big, bold images that will become part of the neighborhoods where
they’re created, making it a little easier for people to care about
the native species struggling to survive in their midst.”
All photos courtesy of the Center for Biological
Four years ago, I wrote an “Amusing Monday” blog post I
called “Toilet songs for the holidays.” This year, I was
unsuccessful in finding some good water-related songs for the
Christmas season, so I thought a replay might be in order. The
following, from Dec. 19, 2011, features an amusing song called “O
Christmas Grease” by Steve Anderson.
Knowing more than a few sewer operators in my day, I can tell
you that their leading pet peeve is all the stuff that people dump
down their toilets and drains.
I’ll never forget the courtroom description of a giant “rag
ball” — some 30 feet long — found in Bremerton’s sewer. Rag balls
are the accumulation of diapers, tampons and baby wipes that get
flushed down the toilet and become caught somewhere in the sewer
Bremerton’s famous rag ball became wrapped up in courtroom
testimony during a lawsuit against a sewer contractor hired by the
city to run the operation. For details, check out my story from
April of 1998.
What I really wanted to share with you this week is a song
called “O Christmas Grease” by Steve Anderson, a water resources
analyst at Clean Water Services. This is the agency that manages
wastewater and stormwater in a 12-city region west of Portland,
Steve often writes music and performs in a band when he’s not
working at the utility. He told me that he started writing original
songs as well as parodies of existing tunes to entertain his fellow
water experts at conferences. Last week, for example, he showed up
at a conference to help educators decide whether humor is useful in
educating people about wastewater issues.
Steve says the public-education folks at Clean Water Services
tolerates his songs, but they do not fully embrace his activities.
His first song — a parody about the low levels of drugs that make
it through the treatment process — got him into a little hot water
with some folks in the business. “Dope in the Water” is sung to the
tune of the Deep Purple original.
“The Ballad of Betty Poop” was written as a kid’s song for
Take-Your-Children-to-Work Day. It’s about the adventures of a
plastic GI Joe and other characters. It includes these famous
lines: “Give it up, you toilet treasures… You’ll never make it all
the way to the river…”
Steve has not released these songs to the public, though he
readily shares them with friends and anyone who will listen. I must
thank Gayle Leonard, who writes a blog called “Thirsty
in Suburbia,” for bringing Steve’s songs out into the light and
putting me in touch with this creative force in the sewer
More than 466,000 animals — from seals to sea birds to salmon to
crabs — were found dead during the retrieval of “ghost nets” over
the past 12 years by the Northwest Straits Foundation, which
celebrated a major milestone today. In recognizing the end of a
significant program, I’d like to add a little personal history.
The celebration in Everett marks the completion of the intense
effort to retrieve nets lost from fishing boats in less than 105
feet of water — because the vast majority of the nets have been
removed. Future roundups may be planned if more nets are found or
reported by commercial fishers, who are now required to report lost
The removal program has pulled out more than 5,660 derelict
fishing nets and more than 3,800 crab and shrimp pots blamed for
killing all those marine mammals, birds, fish and other creatures,
according to statistics kept by the organization.
“Removing these nets restores marine habitat forever.” Joan
Drinkwin, interim director of the Northwest Straits Foundation,
said in a
news release. “Marine mammals like porpoises, diving birds, and
fish can now swim and dive in Puget Sound without the risk of being
entangled in these dangerous derelict nets.”
Northwest Straits Foundation stepped up and tackled the huge
ghost-net-removal project with the first grant from the Washington
Legislature in 2002. Through the years, other funding came from the
federal government, foundations, fishing groups, tribes,
corporations and private individuals. In a separate project, U.S.
Navy divers removed derelict nets from selected underwater
“Just about every agency and organization in Puget Sound that
works to protect and restore our marine waters has contributed to
this effort,” Drinkwin said. “We have many people to thank, so this
is a celebration not just of our work, but of collaboration and
pulling together to achieve great things.”
I’d like to add some personal notes, giving a bit of early
credit to Ray Frederick, who headed up the Kitsap Poggie Club in
2000, when Ray first called my attention to the ghost net
It was right after a
state initiative to ban non-Indian gillnets failed at the
ballot box, leaving many sport fishermen upset with what they
viewed as the indiscriminate killing of fish, including salmon
listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.
Ray called me and said gillnet fishing will continue, but
something should be done about the ghost nets. I think that was the
first time I had ever heard the term. Here’s how I began the first
of many stories (Kitsap
Sun, June 30, 1999) I would write about this subject:
“In the murky, undersea twilight of Puget Sound, scuba divers
occasionally come face to face with the tangled remains of rotting
fish. Nearly invisible in the dim light, long-lost fishing nets
continue to ensnare fish, birds, seals, crabs and other creatures
that happen along.
“Divers call these hidden traps ‘ghost nets.’
“”It’s a little eerie, seeing fish like that,’ said Steve
Fisher, an underwater photographer from Bremerton. ‘You can see
that something has been eating on them, and the fish are a pretty
good size — bigger than you would normally see.’”
I reported that a few net-retrieval operations had been
conducted since 1986, but state officials were warning against any
ad hoc operations following the death of a volunteer scuba diver,
who became tangled in fishing gear and ran out of air.
Ray got involved in a campaign to seek state and federal funding
to eliminate ghost nets. He wrote to Gov. Gary Locke and select
legislators. I located
one of Ray’s letters, which expressed frustration about the
lack of action to remove the derelict gear he knew was killing sea
life in Puget Sound.
State Sen, Karen Fraser, D-Lacey, who had been pushing for
funding, was joined by then-Rep. Phil Rockefeller, D-Bainbridge
Island, the late-Sen. Bob Oke, R-Port Orchard, and other
legislators to push through funding to develop new guidelines to
safely remove derelict gear. The Northwest Straits Commission,
which wanted to remove ghost nets in and around the San Juan
Islands, was chosen to conduct the study, which led to “Derelict
Fishing Gear Removal Guidelines” (PDF 2.3 mb).
Now that most of the nets have been removed in water less than
105 feet deep, the effort must turn to removing nets in deeper
water, where they are likely to snare threatened and endangered
rockfish species in Puget Sound.
NOAA Fisheries and the Washington Department of Fish and
Wildlife have listed abandoned nets as threats to rockfish and
recommend action. The most promising method of removal is remotely
operated vehicles. A report by
Natural Resources Consultants (PDF 1.4 mb) spells out the
A selected group of art students has created a unique collection
of posters, videos, illustrations and a mural to deliver a
coordinated message about protecting water quality and salmon
The project, supported with a grant from NOAA Fisheries,
involved students from the Pacific Northwest College of Art in
Portland. The art students have been producing various elements of
the projects over the past year.
Animation student Beryl Allee teamed up with illustrator Grace
Murphy to produce a potential media campaign called “Citizen in the
Watershed,” focusing on how human damage to the ecosystem
eventually comes back to harm humans. The first video on this page
is called “Littering.” Two other videos, one dealing with yard care
and the other with driveway runoff, can be viewed on NOAA’s website
“NOAA 2015 Science in the Studio Award” or on Beryl’s Vimeo’s website.
An illustration to accompany public-outreach information about
household products has been completed, with two more to be done
before the end of August. See
A mural design produced by PNCA graduate Esteban Camacho
Steffensen depicts examples of human alterations to the landscape
comingled with images of the natural ecosystem. These images are
all wrapped together inside an outline of a chinook salmon — a key
symbol of the natural Northwest.
The mural design can be printed on posters or painted on the
wall of a building with instructions provided by the artist. The
idea is that human activities cannot be separated from natural
systems but that people can make choices to reduce their impacts.
Read about the artist and his work on
Interdisciplinary artist Stephanie Fogel created a poster to
encourage people to properly dispose of medicines. The design
features a salmon surrounded by pills, and the message can be
customized for Washington, Oregon or California with specific
information about disposing of pharmaceuticals. Read more about
Stephanie J. Fogel.
The final video, below, was completed last year by Beryl Allee,
who created the interesting illustrations, and John Summerson, who
helped with animation and managed the sound design. The video helps
people understand just one way that fish can be affected by hard
armoring, such as bulkheads, constructed to protect shorelines from
erosion. How the video was produced and other information can be
found on NOAA’s website,
“Bridging art with science to protect salmon habitat.”
The Center for Environmental Filmmaking at American University
in Washington, D.C., holds an annual “Eco-Comedy Video
Competition,” based on a different environmental theme each year.
This year’s theme to challenge student creativity was “Clean water,
The winner of the Grand Prize and Viewers’ Choice awards this
year was a video called “Dude, or the Blissful Ignorance of
Progress” (shown in video player).
The Center for Environmental Filmmaking was founded on the
belief that films are vitally important educational and political
tools in the struggle to protect the environment, according to
Professor Chris Palmer, who started the center. The goal is to
train filmmakers to create films and new media that promote
conservation in ways that are ethically sound, entertaining and
All the contest entries can be found in the
comments section of the YouTube webpage about the contest.
I found another video on the center’s website that was not
involved in this particular contest but was both educational and
amusing. It was a public service announcement called “Tap Water.”