Watching Our Water Ways

Environmental reporter Christopher Dunagan discusses the challenges of protecting Puget Sound and all things water-related.
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Watching the devastating decline of starfish

June 17th, 2014 by cdunagan

I went to the beach last week to see some starfish with three trained volunteers. What we found was a scene of devastation on the pier and along the beach at Lofall, located on Hood Canal in North Kitsap.

Barb Erickson photographs a sea star afflicted with sea star wasting syndrome. Photo by Meegan M. Reid

Barb Erickson photographs a sea star afflicted with sea star wasting syndrome. Another infected star dangles by one arm.
Photo by Meegan M. Reid

What had been a large population of sea stars, as scientists call them, were now generally missing. Those that remained were mostly dead or dying. Healthy ones were in a minority.

Sea star wasting syndrome is now clearly present on our local beaches, just as it has affected hundreds of locations from Alaska to Mexico.

On Friday, I was fortunate to be in the company of three women who knew quite a bit about sea stars. They were careful in their observations and precise in their measurements, able to provide data to a network of observers measuring the progress of this disease along the West Coast.

But these three women — Barb Erickson, Linda Martin and Peg Tillery — also expressed their feelings of loss for the sea stars, a creature considered a key part of a healthy marine ecosystem.

As I reported in my story, published Sunday in the Kitsap Sun (subscription), Barb was the first to assess the situation as we arrived at the beach, comparing her observations to just two weeks before.

“‘Oh my!’ shouted Erickson as she reached the base of the pier and took a look at the pilings. ‘I can see right now that there are hardly any (sea stars) here. These corners were just covered the last time. Now these guys are just about wiped out.’”

“’Look at the baby,’ lamented Tillery, pointing to a tiny sea star. ‘He has only four arms, and he’s doing that curling-up thing … We had so much hope for the babies.’”

Melissa Miner, who is part of a coastwide monitoring program, told me that researchers are working hard to find a cause of the advancing affliction. But so far no consistent pattern has emerged to explain every outbreak.

starfish2

A leading hypothesis is that something is causing the sea stars to be stressed, weakening their defenses against the bacteria that eventually kill them. The stressor could be temperature, she said, or possibly other factors such as increased acidity or low-oxygen conditions. Perhaps another organism attacks the immune system, leaving the sea stars vulnerable to an opportunistic bacteria.

Researchers may find multiple pathways to the same conclusion: a dramatic decline in the sea star population, both at the local level and throughout their range along West Coast.

When I hear about a population crash, I think about the basic tenets of population dynamics. Is it possible that the sea star population has reached an unsustainable level, given the available food supply and other factors, and that widespread disease is a natural outcome? Will the decline of sea stars be followed by an overpopulation of mussels or other prey, leading to a decline in ecosystem diversity? How long will it take for the sea stars to recover? These are issues worthy of study in the coming years.

But I’m haunted by another prospect. Having seen our familiar starfish attacked by strange bacteria and turned to mush, what lies in store for other marine organisms? Could ecological stress and other mysterious pathogens lead to the devastating loss of other marine species? Who will be next?

Peg Tillery, Linda Martin and Barb Erickson take notes on the sea stars they see clinging to the Lofall pier. Photo by Meegan M. Reid

Peg Tillery, Linda Martin and Barb Erickson take notes on sea stars clinging to the Lofall pier.
Photo by Meegan M. Reid


Amusing Monday: time to water The Onion

June 16th, 2014 by cdunagan

We can always depend on The Onion, the fake news center, to come up with odd ways of looking at the world. Sometimes I laugh out loud; other times I just scratch my head.

I’ve been sharing watery slices of The Onion since I first started the “Amusing Monday” feature in 2008. The video at right is about how scientists react when they find water on the planet Mercury.

The following are some of The Onion’s newer stories, along with some old ones that never wear out.

Nation Back On Board With SeaWorld Following Awesome Orca Trick

Ending their intensifying tide of criticism over the marine park’s unethical treatment of animals … Americans across the nation announced this week that they were “totally back on board” with SeaWorld after seeing an awesome and absolutely can’t-miss orca trick…

“What can I say? I had SeaWorld all wrong—I had myself convinced they were some sort of exploitative company that abused animals in the pursuit of cheap thrills for tourists, but then I saw that orca make a big wave by slapping the water with his fin and I was like, ‘Hold the phone, I need to see that again,’” environmental reporter Craig Edmonds said while imitating the whale’s motion with his arms.

Fitting last week’s theme of climate change, The Onion reports this story:

Scientists Recommend Having Earth Put Down

Claiming that it is the humane thing to do, and that the planet is “just going to suffer” if kept alive any longer, members of the world’s scientific community recommended today that Earth be put down.

Radio News:

Scientific Journal Releases List Of Year’s Top 100 Compounds

Obese Salmon Unable To Swim Upstream To Spawn

After repeatedly gorging itself on marine sea life for more than seven years, a severely obese chinook salmon told reporters Wednesday he had grown too overweight to swim upstream and reproduce.

Drought Bad; Water Good

Sources nationwide are confirming this week that the current drought is bad and that water is very good …

Pool-Safety Tips

Here’s a sampling:
— Your body is 70 percent water, so don’t worry: Even if you were to drown, only 30 percent of you would die.
— Remember, you can’t leave young children unsupervised around the pool, the way you do in the house.
— Don’t swim in the end of the pool where unscrupulous Japanese commercial whalers are using gill nets and explosive harpoons.

NHL Finishes Freezing Water For 2011 Season

… A shortage of frozen water on hockey rinks in the beginnings of previous seasons meant that players were forced to adapt to less than ideal conditions, skating on whatever frozen water was available and then trudging clumsily over the exposed dirt or wooden floors….

“We also now completely understand—and agree—that all parts of the rink have to be covered with ice,” Bettman added. “Even the parts behind the nets.”

Old-Fashioned No-Water Practice Gets High School Diving Coach Fired

Perkins County High School diving coach Tony Spencer was fired Friday for what he called an “old-fashioned no-water practice,” a drill that left three swimmers dead and several others in intensive care.

“If you can dive into a pool with no water, imagine what you can do with a pool that has water,” the 72-year-old Spencer said as he was led to a police car…

Rain Told To Go Away In 1986 Returns

A rainstorm that in August 1986 was told to “go away” and advised to come again another day returned Monday, soaking the downtown Adair area for much of the afternoon.

A non-water video you may find amusing:


More Office Workers Switching To Fetal Position Desks


Amusing Monday: To laugh about climate change

June 9th, 2014 by cdunagan

I just realized the other day that I’ve never offered any jokes about climate change in my weekly “Amusing Monday” feature — although I did present a video clip from Stephen Colbert’s “The Colbert Report” a little more than a year ago. See Amusing Monday, Feb. 4, 2013.

Please don’t tell me it is inappropriate to laugh about tragedy. I mean, don’t even suggest that we can’t find humor in something that does not exist.

So I’ll raise the stakes this week by offering TWO Stephen Colbert videos plus a smattering of jokes from across the comedic landscape — which, by the way, is growing warmer by the year.

David Letterman: “Experts say this global warming is serious, and they are predicting now that by the year 2050, we will be out of party ice.”

Jay Leno: “They say if the warming trend continues, by 2015 Hillary Clinton might actually thaw out.”

Jimmy Fallon: “The White House released this massive report on the effects of climate change called the ‘National Climate Assessment,’ which beats the original title, ‘It’s Getting Hot in Here. (Fallon)

Jimmy Kimmel: “President Bush has a plan. He says that if we need to, we can lower the temperature dramatically just by switching from Fahrenheit to Celsius.”

Conan O’Brien:
“Yesterday, a group of scientists warned that because of global warming, sea levels will rise so much that parts of New Jersey will be under water. The bad news? Parts of New Jersey won’t be under water.”

The jokes above, except for Jimmy Fallon’s, were from “Late night jokes about global warming.”

Do you like cartoons? Take a look at this “Cartoon Gallery” from various artists compiled by Daniel Kurtzman. I’ve linked to the first; click the right arrow to see the full series.

Here are more jokes from lesser-known comedians:

“John Boehner says he’s not qualified to debate the science of climate change. And don’t even get him started on that wacky evolution thing.” — Warren Holstein

“Pat Sajak is correct when he says global warming alarmists are racists. They never talk about the plight of brown or black bears.” — Adam Wolf

“Al Gore has warned that cigarette smoking is a, ‘significant contributor to global warming.’ Making even more of an impact was the hot-air released by this comment.” — Chris Mata

“’I’m not paying to heat the outdoors.’ — some old guy who’s never heard of global warming” — Dan Dodge

“What if global warming IS a hoax and we make this world a better place … for nothing.” — Cold Lord Quietus


For humpback whale, so many fish, so little luck

June 4th, 2014 by cdunagan

This amazing photo of a humpback whale chasing a massive school of herring was taken in Prince William Sound by Rich Brenner of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

A lone humpback whale swims into a huge school of herring, which keeps moving away. Photos by Rich Brenner, Alaska Department of Fish and Game

A lone humpback whale swims into a huge school of herring, but the fish keep moving away.
Photo by Rich Brenner, Alaska Department of Fish and Game

Rich took the picture in April during an aerial survey of herring. He says he has observed many humpbacks feeding on herring during the spring survey, but this whale was not having much luck, probably because the water was so clear. As the whale approached, the herring kept moving away, creating odd patterns in the water.

“As I was watching the scene, I couldn’t help but think that the whale was expending a lot of energy and not receiving much in return,” Rich wrote me in an email. “But the shallow depth and clear water probably did not favor it.”

In the weeks prior to the flight, a large algae bloom covered this area near the village of Tatitlek. If the bloom had continued, the whale and much of the herring might have been difficult to see, he said.

“Thus, we were very pleased to get such a clear view of the situation and observe the movement of the herring along with the whale. The herring school undulated away from the whale, and they were able to keep a gap between them. Only once did we observe the whale lunging forward and getting under the school.”

The second photo, below, shows the whale lunging upward and possibly getting a mouthful of herring. The platform in the top photo is part of a frame for a net pen used to hold hatchery salmon before their release.

The spring herring survey measures the extent of the spawn along the shoreline, which is used to estimate the overall biomass in Prince William Sound.

Rich said he estimated that herring in this massive school would amount to several hundred tons. GIS experts will map the school to help construct a formal estimate of the biomass.

The state has not approved a commercial herring fishery in Prince William Sound since 1999. During the 1980s and early 90s, large numbers of herring were caught commercially, Rich said. Sometime around 1993, the population crashed and has never fully recovered.

“The reason for the depleted biomass, relative to the years when we had a commercial fishery, is a subject that has been hotly debated by scientists and others for the past 20 years,” he said.

As stated in an announcement by ADFG:

“Preliminary spawn estimates (from 2013) are 20.7 mile-days (south of Knowles Head) and 5.5 mile-days (north of Knowles Head), and 3.2 mile-days (Montague Island) for a total of 29.3 mile-days of spawn. This is fewer mile-days of spawn in PWS than in any year in which commercial fishing occurred since 1973.”

Another good source of information on herring is the Prince William Sound Science Center.

The humpback whale may have caught up with some of the fish, as it surges to the surface.

The humpback whale may have caught up with some of the herring, as it surges to the surface.


Amusing Monday: Creative cakes take you places

June 2nd, 2014 by cdunagan

I’m still amazed — and amused — by the idea that talented artists can create edible cake sculptures depicting just about any object or scene — including underwater realms and seaside landscapes.

osprey

The water-related themes are especially amusing, because water is one place you would never want to put a cake.

One amazing artist is Kim Simons, who got her start in cake decorating about five years ago while watching cake shows on television. As she told “Dessert Professional” magazine:

“I said to myself, ‘I can do that!’ So I taped the shows and freeze-framed the shots to learn of all the products they used. I started to play around with the materials and found my true passion in the process.”

The magazine listed Kim, a New Jersey resident, as one of the top 10 cake artists of North America last year.

Since then, she has won numerous awards for her specialty cakes, including the osprey cake, which was named best of division for show cakes at last year’s “That Takes the Cake! Sugar Art and Cake Show” in Austin, Texas. No one photo can capture the intricacy of this cake, so check out Kim’s website for a variety of shots of the osprey cake, and click each one to enlarge. The details are truly amazing.

The same goes for the painted turtle cake below. The detail shots help you take a closer look, as if you were seeing the cake in front of you. This cake won several awards at the 2011 National Capital Area Cake Show in Annadale, Va., where the theme was “Under the Sea.” I would have loved to have seen that show.

If you’re intrigued by these cakes, you must check out all of Kim’s creations under the tab “Award Winning Cakes” on her website, Cakes by Kim Simons.

See also previous “Water Ways” entries on cakes:

turtle


Rolfes named ‘Legislator of Year’ by enviro group

May 28th, 2014 by cdunagan

Washington Conservation Voters has named state Sen. Christine Rolfes as its 2014 “Legislator of the Year.”

Rolfes was praised for her deft legislative work in this year’s session and “for being one of the state’s strongest environmental leaders,” according to a statement from the political organization.

Christine Rolfes

Christine Rolfes

“In the Senate, Sen. Rolfes fought for real action to protect Puget Sound and the public from the threat of dangerous and increasing oil traffic in our state,” said Joan Crooks, CEO of Washington Conservation Voters, in the news release. “She proved time and again that she is an effective champion who isn’t afraid to take on industry and the Big Oil lobby to protect our environment and communities.”

Rolfes was recognized for submitting and promoting legislation designed to improve the safety of oil transport in and around Puget Sound. See Senate Bill 6262, the “Oil Transportation Safety Act” — one of only two priorities put forth this year from the Environmental Priorities Coalition.

The bill was blocked by legislative leaders in the Senate in favor of a bill proposed by the oil industry, Crooks said.

“In the 2014 Senate’s most dramatic moment on the floor, Sen. Rolfes skillfully used a rare procedural motion to set the industry bill aside,” stated the news release. “Her leadership resulted in the bill’s eventual demise; it was a deft and dramatic maneuver for this environmental champion.”

Rolfes’ predecessor in the Senate from the 23th District, Phil Rockefeller, also from Bainbridge Island, was named Legislator of the Year by WCV in 2007. That’s the year he served as chief architect of the bill to create the Puget Sound Partnership and pushed through the legislation. The partnership has since taken on the role of coordinating the restoration of Puget Sound. Rockefeller left the Senate when he was appointed to the Northwest Power & Conservation Council in July 2011.


Amusing Monday: the many sides of dolphins

May 26th, 2014 by cdunagan

Who doesn’t love dolphins? Something about their social, often playful, nature seems to stir the heart and bring smiles all around.

Today, I’d like to share three very different videos of dolphins. Click on full screen to get a good view. The first video shows a woman riding a wake board when a large number of dolphins swim up and surround her.

“We’re going to make a YouTube sensation with this, I’m sure,” says the boat driver. The video has generated more than 5 million views since it was posted a little more than a year ago.

The second includes footage of dolphins blowing bubble rings, then slicing and dicing them in playful ways. Seeing them do this causes me to reflect not only on their intelligence but also their cultural development.

The third video is the story of a surfer who owes his life to dolphins after he is attacked by a great white shark.

I’d also like to share the words of Daniel McCulloch, a leading dolphin photographer who created a website called “Dolphin Synergy”:

“As we aspire to being the most `civilised’ or `evolved’ species on this planet, it is quite humbling to realise that not only has it been inhabited for 30-40 million years compared to our 1 million or so, by another truly sentient species, but that that species is extremely emotionally, mentally & socially developed.

“Rather than being plagued with wars, violent aggression, homicides, rapes, boredom, lonliness, apathy, anger and perpetual survival struggles and starvation of the majority of the species, the dolphins are living a life and social structure of profound joy and harmony, so much so that the ancient Greeks modeled their very advanced democracy on the dolphins’ social structure.”

Read more at McCulloch’s page, “Synchronicity: The Dance of the Dolphins.”


Streamlined name is simple: ‘Clean Water Kitsap’

May 22nd, 2014 by cdunagan

I can’t begin to estimate the number of times I’ve typed “Kitsap County Surface and Stormwater Management Program” over the past 20 years in stories about pollution in Kitsap County and the need to clean up local waterways.

Kitsap County Commissioner Linda Streissguth, left, along with Commissioner Rob Gelder and water quality manager Mindy Fohn reveal the new name on a truck used to clean out storm drains. Photo courtesy of Kitsap County

Kitsap County Commissioner Linda Streissguth, left, along with Commissioner Rob Gelder and water-quality manager Mindy Fohn reveal the new name on a truck used to clean out storm drains. / Photo courtesy of Kitsap County

But my typing fingers are already offering thanks for a new, shorter name, which will no doubt save some ink as well.

We won’t be talking about the “swim program” anymore when trying to pronounce the abbreviation, SSWM. I hope we won’t need any abbreviation for the new name, which is “Clean Water Kitsap.”

“Clean Water Kitsap” nicely wraps up the goals and image of the long-running program with just three words. It’s a good name with an up-to-date style.

This is the program that collects stormwater fees from properties in unincorporated Kitsap County and uses the money to track down pollution, reduce stormwater and help people do the right thing. The spirit of the program is captured in a new video you can see on this page.

Four agencies receive portions of the stormwater money and coordinate their efforts to clean up our local waters. Here is a short summary of what they do:

Kitsap County Public Works (Stormwater Program): Maintenance of public stormwater systems, inspection of private systems, upgrades to regional systems, street sweeping, watershed monitoring and public education.

Kitsap Public Health District: Countywide monitoring of streams, lakes and bays; pollution identification and correction programs; pollution advisories; public-health investigations; and septic system education.

Kitsap Conservation District: Farm-management assistance and planning; rain garden and green infrastructure grants and assistance; and backyard habitat grants.

WSU Kitsap Extension: Training for stream stewards, beach watchers and rain garden professionals; and coordination of various volunteer projects.

I wrote about the newly approved name Clean Water Kitsap in November (Kitsap Sun, Nov. 29, 2013, subscription), when officials began planning on how they would roll out the new name and logo. Some people wanted to start using the name right away, but organizers kept a lid on it.

logo

As of today, the new name is official and will be used with a new logo. A new website is coming.

I wrote a brief story for tomorrow’s newspaper (Kitsap Sun, May 22), but I could not attend today’s dedication because of other reporting commitments.

From a news release from the county, we get these quotes:

Kitsap County Commissioner Linda Streissguth:
“It seems fitting that we are making this change in 2014, at the 20-year mark of this innovative and nationally-recognized program. It is built upon partnerships between agencies, volunteers and community groups.”

Kitsap County Commissioner Rob Gelder:
“Our community may not know what their stormwater fees pay for or think about stormwater management every day. But, Kitsap residents benefit every day – rain or shine.”

The site of the dedication was an overhauled stormwater pond north of Silverdale. The pond, with 2,000 young plants, will increase stormwater storage by 20 percent and provide habitat for birds and other wildlife.

Chris May, manager of the county’s Stormwater Program, speaking of the revamped pond :
“Thanks to the Public Works crews for transforming this ‘water prison’ to a water quality improvement project for Clear Creek and a community amenity. As we move to greener stormwater solutions, it’s facilities like this that will help restore our streams and Puget Sound.”

County Commissioner Rob Gelder joins the planting effort at a stormwater pond at Quail Hollow north of Silverdale. Photo courtesy of Kitsap County

County Commissioner Rob Gelder joins the planting effort at a stormwater pond at Quail Hollow north of Silverdale. / Photo courtesy of Kitsap County


Amusing Monday: Do lawyers multiply in the rain?

May 19th, 2014 by cdunagan

I find it amusing that the average daily precipitation in Kitsap County from 2006 through 2009 correlates well with the number of lawyers in the Northern Mariana Islands.

There is also a strong correlation between the per capita consumption of cheese in the United States and the number of people who died by becoming tangled in their bedsheets — at least for the years 1999 to 2009.

As a science writer, I’m constantly reading reports that mention correlations, such as the correlation between smoking and lung cancer or the correlation between global warming and atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration. Finding such correlations is often a key step to explaining important observations, whether close to home or across the universe.

Now Tyler Vigen has flipped the idea of correlations around, looking for correlations between anything and everything, all for the sake of amusement. He calls his new website “Spurious Correlations.”

The examples above are taken from Tyler’s website, which includes a “discover” page that allows you to search out and graph your own correlations from a long list of independent variables. Try it; it’s fun. You can also sign up for an RSS feed to check out a new spurious correlation each day.

Vigen, a geospatial intelligence analyst for the Army National Guard and a graduate student at Harvard Law School, is not a mathematician.

As he tells NPR’s Scott Simon, it is easy to find correlations when the number of data points are quite small. The question becomes whether the correlations are statistically significant — and that’s where Vigen’s spurious correlations become nothing more than a chuckle.

In a YouTube video, Vigen states:

“The purpose of the Spurious Correlations I show is not to say the data is ambiguous and you can interpret it however you want. No! Statistical data can show correlations, and then it’s up to us rational thinkers to establish whether there is actually a connection between the variables or if it’s merely a coincidence.”

Since he is not a statistician, Tyler says he will leave it to others to produce a video to help people understand how to measure statistical significance. One book he recommends is Nate Silver’s “The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail — but Some Don’t.” Silver, of course, is the guy who earned a reputation for baseball predictions using statistics before he moved into the political world, where he predicted the 2008 presidential election results for 49 of the 50 states.


Taking time to remember Billy Frank Jr.

May 13th, 2014 by cdunagan

UPDATE, July 24, 2014
The latest issue of “Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission News” (PDF 1.1 mb) is dedicated to the late Billy Frank, who served as chairman of the commission for nearly 40 years. The issue includes numerous tributes from those who worked with Billy through the years. Print copies are available by emailing Tony Meyer or Emmet O’Connell at NWIFC.

UPDATE, June 11, 2014
Jeromy Sullivan, chairman of the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe, wrote a tribute to Billy Frank that is worth reading. Jeromy mentions three admirable attributes of Billy Frank and gives examples of each. They are words to live by.

  • Stand up for what you believe in … even when no one else will.
  • Treat people with respect even if you’re on opposite sides.
  • It’s the big and small things that make your community a better place.

Read Jeromy’s entire column, written for the Port Gamble S’Klallam Newspaper.
—–

The affection and admiration expressed for Billy Frank Jr. has been somewhat overwhelming in recent days. I thought it would be nice to pull together some of the tributes — including the memorial service — that talk about this man who was an irrepressible voice for salmon recovery, environmental restoration and Native American rights.

Billy, 83, a member of the Nisqually Tribe and chairman of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, died last Monday, May 5, at his home. As I said in Water Ways last Tuesday, I believe Billy will remain an unforgetable force.

An estimated 6,000 people attended his memorial service Sunday at the Squaxin Island Tribe’s Skookum Creek Event Center, located at Little Creek Casino Resort near Shelton.

The service was recorded by Squaxin Streams and posted on the Livestream website, which is the video player on this page.

Billy Frank’s own words, “Nobody can replace my life,” speak of the changes from one generation to the next. Billy knew as well as anyone that we can’t go back, but he asked people to help determine a better environmental future. Secretary of State Legacy Project.

 

 

Tributes, statements, news

William D. Ruckelshaus, former chairman of the Puget Sound Partnership’s Leadership Council, of which Billy was a member. Published in Crosscut, May 8.

Martha Kongsgaard, current chairwoman of the Puget Sound Partnership’s Leadership Council. Published on the partnership’s website, May 6.

Gov. Jay Inslee, statement from the Governor’s Office

President Barack Obama, statement from the White House

U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, VIDEO, speech on Senate floor, May 12.

U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, VIDEO, speech on Senate floor, May 12.

U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor, VIDEO, speech on House floor, May 9.

Former U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Bremerton. Statement, Van Ness, Feldman.

Kitsap Sun editorial cartoon by Milt Priggee

Kitsap Sun editorial cartoon by Milt Priggee

John Dodge, reporter for The Olympian. Published in the Olympian, May 8.

E3 Washington, Education, Environment, Economy. Website, May 7.

Indian Country Today Media Network

Leonard Forsman, chairman of the Suquamish Tribal Council, and Jeromy Sullivan, chairman of the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribal Council, in Kitsap Sun, May 5.


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"In the end, we will conserve only what we love, we will love only what we understand, and we will understand only what we are taught."Baba Dioum, Senegalese conservationist

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