Category Archives: User groups

Hood Canal blooms again, as biologists assess role of armored plankton

In what is becoming an annual event, portions of Hood Canal have changed colors in recent days, the result of a large bloom of armored plankton called coccolithophores.

Coccolithophore from Hood Canal’s Dabob Bay viewed with scanning electron microscope.
Image: Brian Bill, Northwest Fisheries Science Center

Teri King, a plankton expert with Washington Sea Grant, has been among the first to take notice of the turquoise blooms each year they occur.

“Guess who is back?” Teri wrote in the blog Bivalves for Clean Water. “She showed up June 24 in Dabob Bay and has been shining her Caribbean blueness throughout the bay and spreading south toward Quilcene Bay.”

Yesterday, I noticed a turquoise tinge in Southern Hood Canal from Union up to Belfair, although the color was not as intense as I’ve seen in past years.

The color is the result of light reflecting off elaborate platelets of calcium carbonate, called coccoliths, which form around the single-celled coccolithophores. The species in Hood Canal is typically Emiliania huxleyi.

Seth Book of the Skokomish Tribe lowers an instrument to measure light levels during a coccolithophore bloom this week in Dabob Bay.
Photo: Tiffany Royal, Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission

In the past, coccolithophore blooms seem to appear when the waters of Hood Canal are calm and sunny. The organisms are said to out-compete other types of plankton when nitrogen diminishes in surface waters. Nitrogen, a key nutrient for phytoplankton, can be used up in Hood Canal during periods of calm, dry weather. It will be interesting to see how the plankton population changes after recent rains may have infused a bit more nitrogen.

Meanwhile, biologists with the Skokomish Tribe have begun to investigate how the coccolithophore blooms could be affecting shellfish in Hood Canal. In recent years, shellfish growers have reported higher-then-usual oyster mortalities around the time of these blooms.

In 2017, Blair Paul, the tribe’s lead shellfish biologist, conducted a dive survey of the vast underwater geoduck beds in the midst of a coccolithophore bloom. Blair said he noticed that the geoducks weren’t eating, and the light levels appeared to be reduced.

Tiffany Royal, a public information officer for the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, wrote about his finding, quoting Blair in a news release: “Now we want to know two things: if there is a correlation between low crab and shrimp abundance when there is a coccolithophore bloom, and if there is reduction in food production in the water column for all shellfish nutrition.”

Tribal biologists are taking samples of water for concentrations of plankton while also looking at water chemistry. They are also testing for light levels inside and outside the plankton blooms.

Since the coccolithophores seem to dominate the waters after other major plankton species have declined, it is important to know whether shellfish will eat the coccolithophores, Blair said. They aren’t toxic, but their shells may be too abrasive for the shellfish to consume, he noted.

Seth Book, a tribal biologist who coordinates with the federal Environmental Protection Agency, told me that he is interested in the ecological role that coccolithophores play in Hood Canal, which is known for its low-oxygen conditions and occasional fish kills.

“We are concerned with potential reduction in primary productivity due to reflection and light attenuation, which means less food for shellfish,” he wrote in an email. “We have started to call it an ecosystem-disrupting harmful algal boom. Not toxic that we know of, but it appears to have impacts other than pretty water.”

Increasing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere also complicates the picture. Since coccoliths are made of calcium carbonate, they might play a significant role in the carbon chemistry of Hood Canal — given their sheer number during a major plankton bloom.

The investigation of coccolithophores in Hood Canal is funded by a grant from the Bureau of Indian Affairs. A report is expected in the fall, and the tribe will follow with a mitigation plan that considers how to reduce damage to shellfish resources.

“The tribes have been here thousands of years and will continue to be here,” Seth said in the news release. “It could be a natural cycle, but what we’re seeing is having implications to shellfish and treaty resources. It could possibly spread to other parts of Puget Sound as well.

Amusing Monday: Rare beauty, adventure shown in national parks photos

Auburn photographer Scott Eliot was named this year’s winner in the “Night Skies” category of the “Share the Experience” photo contest for this stunning image of stars over Mount Rainier.

Night Skies winner: Mount Rainier by Scott Eliot.

The annual contest, sponsored by the National Park Foundation, invites amateur photographers to submit their favorite views, moments and adventures from America’s national parks and public lands. See all the winning photos on the NPF Blog.

As Scott described it when posting his photo to the contest website last year: “The early morning hours of late July begins to bring the Milky Way into alignment with Mt. Rainier from a vantage point along the Silver Forest Trail on the Sunrise Plateau of Mt. Rainier National Park in Washington state.

“A mid-summers new moon and clear skies were the only occasion necessary to spend a peaceful night out alone for some astrophotography composing the Milky Way with Mt. Rainier, before the Pacific Northwest weather changed its mind.,” he continued.

“The stillness at 2 a.m. was broken only by the sound of the rushing White River far below in the Glacier Basin as I composed and captured this image. I did have the company of climbers traversing the mountain most of the early hours, which you can find in the image, making their way to the mountain summit with a constant chain of lights.”

Grand Prize winner: Backcountry snowboarder by Ching Fu

The Grand Prize winner in the contest is Ching Fu of Asheville, North Carolina, who captured this photo of a backcountry snowboarder in Bridger-Teton National Forest.

“After a couple hours of skinning uphill, we came out to this ridge to get a better view of where we wanted to ride back down,” he wrote. “This was the scene in front of us. The pristine snow-covered slopes, the sea of trees, the mountains, and particularly the lighting just stopped me in my tracks.”

The Grand Prize winner will receive $10,000, and the winning image will be featured on the America the Beautiful Pass, which will get you into national parks and federal recreational lands throughout the country. In 2015, Cameron Teller of Seattle, a former Kitsap County resident, claimed the top honors, as I described in Water Ways, May 4, 2015.

“These photos are a window into the incredible experiences that await us at national parks and public lands across the country,” Will Shafroth, president of the National Park Foundation, said in a news release. “This annual contest is a great example of how committed partners help inspire people to get out and explore these diverse places of beauty that belong to all of us.”

Adventure & Recreation winner: Olympic National Park by Ashley Kerkemeyer

This year, about 1,400 photographers submitted more than 8,000 photos. And, for the first time in the contest’s history, the top three prize winners and the “fan favorite” were all photos taken in the same state — Wyoming.

“Perhaps that’s fitting,” wrote Suzanne Rowan Kelleher, contributor to Forbes magazine, “given that Wyoming is home to the first national park (Yellowstone), the first national monument (Devils Tower) and the first national forest (Shoshone) as well as 25 national historic landmarks and 11 nationally recognized areas, trails and monuments.”

Olympic National Park also makes an appearance in this year’s photo contest, with a photograph by Ashley Kerkemeyer, whose camera captured her 6-year-old daughter, Lillie, in a laid-back position enjoying the outdoors.

“In 2017, my husband and I decided to sell our house, quit our jobs, buy an RV and travel around the country with our two daughters, Lillie and Lennon, before they started school,” wrote Ashley, who is from Meridian, Idaho. “This photo is of my oldest daughter and was taken a few months into our travels while we were in Olympic National Park.

“While this photo doesn’t display the best composition/lighting that a great photo should have, I love it despite its flaws because it represents her to a T,” she added. “She’s a happy, kind, free spirited kid who is happiest when she’s outside. When she’s in nature she seems connected to it, and I can see her come alive — which makes my heart happy!”

Second place: Bison by Joe Neely

Second-place in the contest went to Joe Neely of Phoenix, Arizona, who spent a week in Yellowstone National Park to fulfill his vision of capturing an image of a bison coming out of a fog.

“I had tried multiple times around various areas during prior visits, near the geysers, during sunsets and even while on paid park tour, but I had no luck” he wrote. “But this photo happened in the most unlikely of places, up on the northern range near a pull-out where we had to stop because the snow flurry and fog was becoming too dense to see. I chose this image because, at first glance, it seems like an intense stare down with a frozen beast. But really it is just a powerful image that captures the harsh winter conditions that these Yellowstone bison endure as a way of life.”

The photo at the bottom of this page is the third-place winner taken by Adam Jewell of Conshoshocken, Penn., at Schwabacher Landing in Grand Teton National Park. This vantage point lies on the Snake River east of Grand Teton near Jackson Hole.

“When I drove down the road, the pair of moose were walking on the bank opposite the parking area,” Adam wrote. “When the moose popped out of the woods in the water in front of the Teton Mountains, I grabbed a camera and took a few shots. It was a case of being in the right place in the right time.

“It’s not too difficult to find a beautiful landscape to photograph in the national parks,” he said. “If you wander around long enough with a telephoto lens, chances are you’ll get some nice photos of whatever wildlife is native to the area. When you get really lucky, the two combine in one scene at sunrise or sunset, you happen to have a camera with you and you get an image that shows all the elements of that particular ecosystem.

The 2019 Share the Experience photo contest is now open. For rules, prizes and submission information, go to the contest’s official webpage, sharetheexperience.org.

Third-place: Moose by Adam Jewell

Ocean acidification gets attention in four bills passed by the U.S. House

The issue of ocean acidification gained some traction this week in the U.S. House of Representatives, where bipartisan support led to the approval of four bills designed to bring new ideas into the battle to save sea life from corrosive waters.

If passed by the Senate, the legislation would allow federal agencies to set up competitions and offer prize money for the best ideas for reducing ocean acidification, adapting to ongoing changes or solving difficult research problems. The bills also foster discussions about climate change by bringing more people to the table while providing increased attention to the deadly conditions that are developing along the coasts and in estuaries, such as Puget Sound.

U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer

“We know that changing ocean chemistry threatens entire livelihoods and industries in our state, said U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor, in a press release. “There are generations of folks in our coastal communities who have worked in fishing and shellfish growing — but that’s endangered if we don’t maintain a healthy Pacific Ocean.”

Later in this blog post, I will reflect on other Kilmer-related issues, including the so-called Puget Sound Day on the Hill.

In a phone conversation, Rep. Kilmer told me that he was encouraged with the widespread support for a bill that he sponsored called the Ocean Acidification Innovation Act of 2019 (HR 1921), which passed the House on a 395-22 vote. The bill would allow federal agencies to sponsor competitions and offer prize money for the best ideas. Money would come out of existing funds that agencies use for related purposes. The bill was co-sponsored by Northwest Reps. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Battle Ground, along with Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, an Oregon Democrat, and Rep. Don Young, an Alaskan Republican. Five representatives from coastal areas in other parts of the country added their names to the bill.

“There is a legitimate problem, and people are beginning to see the impacts of the changing ocean chemistry,” Derek said. “This should a bipartisan issue.”

Both Democrats and Republicans from coastal regions of the country are hearing from people in the fishing and shellfish industries about threats to their livelihoods from ocean acidification. For some lawmakers that is a more practical and immediate problem than just focusing on the environmental catastrophe shaping up along the coasts.

“A whole lot of people in D.C. still don’t get it; that’s just a reality,” Derek said with respect to the closely related causes of ocean acidification and climate change. President Trump, he noted, has never backed down from his assertion that the climate crisis is a hoax.

“By coming out of the House with 325 votes, we hope to provide some traction with forward motion going into the Senate,” he said of his plan to foster innovations for addressing ocean acidification.

The bill was crafted in consultation with various groups, including the XPRIZE Foundation, which has demonstrated how the power of competition can launch a $2-billion private space industry, according to Kilmer. The Ansari XPRIZE competition resulted in 26 teams competing for $10 million, yielding more than $100 million in space-research projects, he noted.

Rep. Herrera Beutler said she, too, is optimistic that the legislation will lead to innovative solutions.

“Shellfish and fishing industry jobs in Pacific County are jeopardized by the detrimental effects of ocean acidification…,” she said, “and I’m pleased that my House colleagues gave it their strong approval. The next step is approval by the U.S. Senate, and I’ll continue advocating for this legislative approach to protecting fishing businesses and jobs.”

Increasing acidity of ocean water has been shown to result from increasing carbon dioxide absorbed from the atmosphere. The effect is exacerbated by land-based sources of nitrogen, which can increase the growth of algae and other plants that eventually die and decay, thus decreasing oxygen while further increasing carbon dioxide.

Carbon dioxide readily converts to carbonic acid, which can impair the critical growth of shells in commercially valuable shellfish, such as oysters and crabs, as well as pteropods and other tiny organisms that play a key role in the food web — including herring, salmon, right up to killer whales.

The problem is even worse along the Pacific Northwest Coast, where natural upwelling brings deep, acidified and nitrogen-rich waters to the surface after circulating at depth in the oceans for decades, if not centuries.

To help people understand the economic threat, Kilmer cites studies that estimate the value of shellfish to the Northwest’s economy:

Other ocean acidification bills passed by the House and sent on to the Senate:

Puget Sound Day on the Hill

About three weeks ago, on a reporting project for Puget Sound Institute, I joined more than 70 people who traveled to Washington, D.C. to meet with congressional leaders. Climate change and ocean acidification were among the many Puget Sound concerns discussed during the series of meetings.

The annual event is called Puget Sound Day on the Hill, and it includes representatives of state and local governments, Indian tribes, environmental groups and businesses. Participants may share their own particular interests, but their primary goal is to get the federal government to invest in protecting and restoring the Puget Sound ecosystem — the same type of investment that the Washington Legislature expanded upon this year.

During those meetings, Kilmer expressed optimism that federal funding for salmon and orca recovery would match or exceed that of the past two years, when President Trump in his budget proposed major cuts or elimination of many environmental programs. Congress managed to keep the programs going.

Here are my reports from that trip:

Fix Congress Committee

During the trip to Washington, D.C., I learned that Derek Kilmer is chairing a new bipartisan committee nicknamed the “Fix Congress Committee,” formally known as the Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress.

Goals include improving transparency of government operations, reducing staff turnover to heighten expertise, and implementing new technology. High on the list of challenges is improving the budget and appropriations process, which Kilmer called “completely off the rails.”

The committee recently released its first recommendations with five specific ideas to “open up” Congress. Check out the news release posted May 23 or read the news article by reporter Paul Kane in the Washington Post. One can stay up to date with the committee’s Facebook page.

Derek tells me that many more recommendations will be proposed by the end of the year. If you are interested in the workings of Congress or would like to follow bills as they work their way through the process, you might want to review the videos of committee meetings.

I found it interesting to learn about all the things that technology can do. One of my complaints is that it is difficult to compare final versions of a bill with its initial draft, not to mention all the amendments along the way. Current technology would allow two versions of a bill to be compared easily with a simple keystroke.

“Some technology issues are simple, and some will take more time,” Derek told me, adding that the committee’s staff is limited but some of the ideas are being developed by staffers who work for House members. Some of the ideas are being developed by outside groups.

Other specific issues to be addressed by the committee include scheduling issues; policies to develop the next generation of leaders; ideas for recruiting and retaining the best staffers; and efficiencies in purchasing, travel and sharing staff.

Legislative Action Award to Kilmer

Rep. Kilmer is among six members of Congress — two senators and four representatives — to be honored this year with a Legislative Action Award from the Bipartisan Policy Center, a nonprofit think tank that promotes good ideas coming from both Republicans and Democrats.

“The Legislative Action Awards recognize members with the unique capacity to identify common interests and get things done,” said BPC President Jason Grumet in a March 13 news release. “It takes real skill and commitment to govern a divided country.

“Thankfully,” he continued, “there are still true legislators in the Congress who understand how to build coalitions that deliver sound policy for the American people. It is an honor to recognize six of these leaders today and remind the public that principled collaboration is the essence of effective democracy.”

In accepting the award, Derek issued this statement: “The folks I represent want to get the economy on track — and they want Congress to get on track too. In recent years, there’s been far too much partisan bickering and far too little Congress. That’s why I’ve been so committed to finding common ground.

“Congress is at its best when people listen and learn from one another to find the policies that will move our country forward. It’s an honor to receive this award, and I thank the Bipartisan Policy Center for encouraging members of Congress to work together for the common good.”

Amusing Monday: SeaDoc followers go wild with new video series

“Salish Sea Wild” is a new video series by the SeaDoc Society designed to transport the viewer right up close to the living creatures that occupy the underwater and terrestrial realms of the Salish Sea.

The videos portray the beauty of our inland waterways as well as the excitement and occasional amusement of diving down into the ecologically rich waters that many people know only from the surface. The host for the series is wildlife veterinarian Joe Gaydos, science director for SeaDoc.

“Amid the wealth of biodiversity in our backyard, we’ll discover trees that eat fish, fish that mimic plants, plants that grow two feet a day, and animals that bloom like flowers,” Joe says in an introductory video (the first on this page). “We’ll focus on scientists working to preserve and restore the Salish Sea and to save its iconic species like salmon and our beloved orcas.”

The underwater world has already been the source for some remarkable video for the series, but the producers say they will also head to the mountains to visit terrestrial creatures as well as those that thrive in the coastal upwellings of the Pacific Ocean — from bears to giant octopus, from seabirds to ancient rockfish, along with various plants and seaweed that support the intricate food web.

SeaDoc, based on Orcas Island, is a nonprofit organization affiliated with the University of California, Davis, and dedicated to science and education in and around the Salish Sea. Producing the video series along with SeaDoc is Bob Friel, award-winning writer and documentary filmmaker who lives on Orcas Island.

This ambitious video project was launched in January with a 12-minute video that compares steller sea lions to grizzly bears, with the crew of Salish Sea Wild encountering a bunch of frisky stellers in the icy waters off Hornby Island, which is not quite halfway up Vancouver Island’s inner coast in British Columbia.

I wanted to wait until a few more videos were produced before promoting it here, and we’re now at that point. The next video, 14 minutes long, takes viewers in a submarine to the bottom of the Salish Sea. A massive school of sand lance is one of the captivating clips in the video shot near the San Juan Islands. Joe’s excitement is contagious as he eagerly boards the submersible that dives deeper than a scuba diver can go.

In the next video, the SeaDoc research team heads to the coast to describe seabirds — including the endangered and mysterious marbled murrelets. It reminded me of the first time I met Joe Gaydos, who was at the time studying Western grebes off the Kitsap Peninsula. See Kitsap Sun, March 5, 2007.

If you are as eager as I am to see what comes next, you can sign up for notification of each new video on SeaDoc’s YouTube channel. The videos also can be viewed on www.SalishSeaWild.org and on SeaDoc’s Facebook page and Instagram feed.

The last video on this page includes some amusing outtakes from the ongoing adventures of Salish Sea Wild. Could Joe Gaydos be the next Jacques Cousteau? Check out “Zee Undersea World of Jeaux Gaydeaux.”

Finally, just for younger people, SeaDoc recently launched the Junior SeaDoctors program, designed to connect young adventurers with their wild surroundings. Read about killer whales, ocean circulation and stormwater on the home page of Junior SeaDoctors, where one can signup to join the club. The program includes a curriculum for teachers who wish to use the materials in their classroom to meet Next Generation Science Standards.

Ghost-net busters are entering a new era of hunting and removal

My mind is unable to grasp, in any meaningful way, how much death and destruction was caused by fishing nets that were lost and abandoned through the years.

Filmed in 2007, this KCTS-9 video describes the problem of ghost nets and a project that would eventually remove nearly 6,000 nets.

Nearly 6,000 of these so-called “ghost nets” have been pulled from the waters of Puget Sound over the past 17 years. Until removed, they keep on catching fish, crabs and many more animals to one degree or another.

We can support responsible fishing, but those of us who care about Puget Sound must never again allow lost nets to be forgotten, as if “out of sight, out of mind” ever worked for anyone.

The latest concern, as I reported last month in the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound, is that 200 or more ghost nets are still lurking at depths below 100 feet, which is the level considered safe to operate by divers with normal scuba gear. Remotely operated vehicles (unmanned submarines) are being developed to go after nets remaining in deep water, where they are killing crabs and many other deep-water species — including rockfish, some of which are listed under the Endangered Species Act.

Another concern is that some commercial fishermen, for unknown reasons, are still failing to report the nets they are losing during the course of fishing, despite state and tribal requirements to do so. We know this because newly lost nets, with little accumulation of marine growth, are still being found.

The Northwest Straits Foundation operates an outreach program to inform fishers about the importance of reporting lost nets and the legal requirements to do so, as I describe in my story. This is a no-fault program, and if a fisher reports a lost net, it will be removed free of cost. If the net is usable, the owner will likely get it back.

Why a fisher would not report a lost net is hard to imagine, unless the person is fishing illegally. If the person losing a net cares at all about natural resources or the future of fishing, one would think that reporting would be swift — even if that person had to swallow some pride for taking inadvisable actions that lost the net.

If this matter of nonreporting does not turn around, fishers may face additional regulations — such as a requirement to place tags on the bottom of every net to identify the owner. That way, the owner could be identified and charged with a violation when an unreported net is found. Currently, identification is placed at the top of the net on floats, which often get removed when fishers pull up as much net as possible.

Maybe all commercial fishers should be required to look at pictures of dead fish, birds and porpoises entangled in lost nets and sign an agreement to report lost nets.

The numbers only begin to tell the story. In the 5,809 nets removed at last count, more than 485,000 organisms were found. That includes 1,116 birds, 5,716 fish, 81 marine mammals and 478,000 invertebrates, including crabs.

But that’s only the intact animals that were found. For every animal found during net removal, many more probably were killed and decomposed each month that the net kept on fishing — and for some nets that could be up to 30 years.

According to a study led by Kirsten Gilardi of the University of California, Davis, the 5,809 nets could have been killing nearly 12 million animals each year — including 163,000 fish, 29,000 birds and 2,000 marine mammals. Those numbers, based on a series of assumptions, are mind-boggling. But even if the numbers are not entirely accurate, they tell us clearly that every net is important.

I’ve been reporting on this issue of ghost nets since about 2000, when Ray Frederick of the Kitsap Poggie Club first alerted me to the problem and went about convincing state legislators that they ought to do something. See my story in the Kitsap Sun, May 4, 2000, which began:

“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.’”

One of the early state-funded projects was the removal of a 300-foot net near Potlatch, led by the Hood Canal Salmon Enhancement Group. See Kitsap Sun, June 29, 2002.

Today, most of the ongoing effort in Puget Sound is coordinated by the Northwest Straits Foundation and Natural Resources Consultants, which have gained considerable knowledge about how to find and remove ghost nets at any depth.

Sandra Staples-Bortner to retire from Great Peninsula Conservancy

Sandra Staples-Bortner, executive director of the Great Peninsula Conservancy, will retire at the end of this month after 11 years on the job. Those involved in the regional land trust say she will leave the organization much larger and stronger than before her arrival.

Sandra Staples-Bortner
Photo: Kenna Cox

Great Peninsula Conservancy — which protects salmon streams, forests and shorelines — was formed in 2000 by the merger of four smaller land trusts: Kitsap, Hood Canal, Indianola and Peninsula Heritage land trusts. See Kitsap Sun, May 23, 2000.

The goal was to create an organization large enough to hire full-time staff and manage a growing slate of properties, according to Gary Cunningham, longtime board member who was instrumental in the merger. The conservancy struggled financially in its early years, he said, but Sandra helped turn things around.

“She has definitely done the things that the board knew had to be done to make this a financially viable and stable organization that can protect property in perpetuity,” Gary told me.

Sandra was able to improve connections with people in the region, increase donations of land, implement fund-raising activities and ensure stewardship of the lands under control of the Great Peninsula Conservancy, he said. Sandra already understood the environmental issues, Gary added, and she quickly picked up on the legal and technical details — such as working out conservation easements to formalize land-management.

“We depend on the local community to keep us healthy,” Sandra told me. “Our founders did a great job in starting out, and we revise our procedures every couple of years to make things work better.”

With community support and grants from government agencies, the number of properties has grown along with more staffers to focus on specific efforts, such as acquisitions and fund-raising. The organization has played a role in conserving 10,500 acres, compared to 2,100 when Sandra arrived.

“I feel GPC has reached a strong point in time,” she said. “We have really talented, dedicated staff doing exciting conservation projects and reflecting desires to save this wonderful peninsula.”

Kitsap County Commissioner Rob Gelder said Sandra played a critical role in the Kitsap Forest and Bay Campaign, as she helped coordinate a coalition of diverse groups. She also helped to make the conservancy a partner in the Hood Canal Coordinating Council’s In-Lieu Fee Mitigation Program, a process that allows for complete compensation for environmental damage from development.

“It has been a great partnership,” Rob told me. “Sandra has had that great can-do vision, and she has had her fingers in a lot of things that will leave a lasting legacy.”

One of the more recent goals is to increase the public’s connections to the properties, such as leading community hikes to view important fish and wildlife areas. Information kiosks are being constructed to provide information about some of the larger properties.

Another new project is an outdoor camp for at-risk individuals, she said. “Most of them have never done anything like hike or spend time outdoors.” See job post for NextGen Outdoors Camp.

“Sandra has a knack for connecting people to the land and inspiring people to want to help save it,” said GPC President Kit Ellis in a press release. “She has made it easy for each of us to make a difference by joining a volunteer work party or making a donation.”

I asked Sandra to describe the most important land acquisition that occurred during her tenure, and she started off by talking about the ecological values protected by the recent acquisition of Camp Hahobas, a former Boy Scout Camp.

Then she mentioned the massive Kitsap Forest and Bay Project in North Kitsap, Grover’s Creek Preserve near Indianola and Felucy Bay Reserve on the Long Branch Peninsula. She talked about working to save much of Petersen Farm as an agricultural property, then she started talking about smaller acquisitions of importance. I think she could have gone on and on, describing the natural values of each property without choosing a favorite — as one might talk about their children or grandchildren.

For reference, here are links to some of these properties:

“They all have interesting stories,” Sandra noted.

Acquiring property or conservation easements to protect a property often begins with a love of the land by a longtime property owner or by family members who inherit the beloved property, Sandra said.

“Many land owners are as much about saving land as we are,” she noted.

To maintain each property, the organization tries to get a cash donation, known as a stewardship bequest. If the owner wants to donate an important piece of land but cannot provide stewardship funding, then GPC will seek outside tax-deductible donations or government grants.

High priorities for acquisition are salmon streams, shoreline areas and connected forest parcels that can help preserve wildlife-migration corridors, Sandra said. Also important are properties that allow people to enjoy wildlife.

“We’re fortunate on this peninsula that we still have amazing timberlands,” she noted, adding that private and state forestlands contain key habitats and should be maintained as working forests as long as possible.

In her retirement, Sandra plans to travel with her husband, play with her two young grandchildren and spend even more time outdoors.

Can volunteer trappers halt the green crab invasion in Puget Sound?

The war against the invasive European green crab continues in Puget Sound, as this year’s Legislature offers financial support, while the Puget Sound Crab Team responds to crabs being caught for the first time in Samish Bay in North Puget Sound and at Kala Point near Port Townsend.

In other parts of the country where green crabs have become established, the invaders have destroyed native shoreline habitat, diminished native species and cost shellfish growers millions of dollars in damages. See Environmental Protection Agency report (PDF 1.3 mb).

European green crab trapping sites in Puget Sound.
Map: Washington Sea Grant

In Puget Sound, it’s hard to know whether the crabs are being trapped and removed rapidly enough to defeat the invasion, but so far humans seem to be holding their own, according to Emily Grason, who manages the Crab Team volunteer trapping effort for Washington Sea Grant.

“The numbers are still in line with what we saw the past two years,” Emily told me. “Since the numbers have not exploded, to me that is quite a victory. In other parts of the world, they have been known to increase exponentially.”

The largely volunteer Crab Team program is focused on placing baited traps at 56 sites in Puget Sound, as shown in the first map on this page. About 220 trained volunteers are involved in that work, with various federal, state and tribal agencies adding about 40 additional people.

Last year, 69 78 crabs were caught in the traps. All but eight of those were on or near Dungeness Spit, where officials with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have increased their trapping in an effort to catch every crab willing to crawl into a trap. The agency manages the Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge.

In Samish Bay, east of the San Juan Islands in North Puget Sound, three green crabs — including a female bearing eggs — were captured in January while shellfish growers were tending to shellfish beds in the bay. This was the first time that green crabs have been caught in the winter, when they usually move offshore, according to Emily. For that reason, the overall trapping program begins in April and ends in September. But far out on the mudflats, during a low tide, the crabs might be found by those working the shellfish beds. See Emily’s Crab Team blog post from Jan. 23.

Staffers at Padilla Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve added a fifth trapping site in an extremely muddy area of Samish Bay, an area that would be tough for volunteers to monitor, Emily said.

A new Port Gamble site was added in an effort to detect any crabs that may have arrived during their larval stage and begun to grow. Port Gamble on the Kitsap Peninsula is considered to be in the proximity of Kala Point near Port Townsend, where a single green crab was found in September, just before the end of the trapping season. Further extensive trapping located another green crab in nearby Scow Bay between Indian and Marrowstone islands. See Emily’s Crab Team blog post from Sept. 25.

The monitoring at Point Julia in Port Gamble Bay will be managed by the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe, which may propose additional sites in the area.

Based on research since the Crab Team was formed in 2015, more crabs are caught in May than any other month, Emily told me, so everyone is waiting to see what shows up this month. As the waters warm and the crabs go out in search of food, they may become more vulnerable to trapping. So far this spring, 16 green crabs have been trapped along Dungeness Spit with one from nearby Sequim Bay.

Another big trapping month comes in August, before the crabs move offshore, she said.

The trapping effort is geared to catching as many crabs as possible at a young age, because a large population of breeding adults in any location could threaten to spread the infestation throughout Puget Sound. Having Crab Team volunteers putting out their traps in strategic locations increases the probability that green crabs will be found before they get established. If needed, larger eradication or control efforts can be launched with the help of other agencies.

As part of the effort, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife added a staffer last year to do spot checking in vulnerable areas not regularly trapped. That increases the chances of detecting an invasion.

For the first time this year, the Legislature funded the Crab Team’s operating budget, which allows Emily and other Crab Team leaders to focus on finding crabs, rather than spending their time searching for funding to keep the program going.

The hope, of course, is that fewer crabs will be caught this year, as an indication that the population is being held in check. It would be nice to think that all the major infestations have been found.

“We hope that this is going to be an easier year,” Emily said, “but we don’t get to determine that. We have to be responsive to whatever happens.”

Officials working along the Washington Coast, led by the Makah Tribe, have their hands full with an invasion that may have started as early as 2014 and has resulted in more than 1,000 green crabs being caught. Check out the story on the website of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission.

The interactive map below allows for selection of trapping sites, locations where crabs have been found and areas with suitable habitat for invaders. For those who would like to get involved in the Crab Team’s efforts, check out Sea Grant’s website and the “Get Involved” page.

This blog post was revised from an earlier version to correct changes in the total number of green crabs found last year and to clarify the overall effort.

‘Survive the Sound’ salmon game now open to all with no charge

“Survive the Sound,” an online game that involves tracking salmon migrations in Puget Sound, has thrown open its doors for everyone, whether you donate money or not.

The idea of buying a salmon character to participate in the game has been abandoned after two years, and now the fish are free for the choosing. Long Live the Kings, which sponsors the game, still welcomes donations, of course, but money is not a prerequisite.

“We wanted to make sure that everyone has an opportunity to learn more about salmon and steelhead and support the movement to recover them,” Lucas Hall, project manager for LLTK, told me in an email. “So, we’ve simplified the sign-up process and eliminated any fees associated with participation.”

Eliminating the fees also makes it easy to form or join a team, which can consist of any number of people. The winner is the team with the greatest percentage of fish surviving to the end of the five-day migration. So far, more than 400 teams have been created among more than 2,000 players signed up for the game.

If you register with “Survive the Sound,” you will receive daily emails tracking your fish character, based on actual fish that were tracked during past research projects. Most fish characters in the game will perish somewhere along the way, as salmon do in real life, but some will make it all the way through Puget Sound to the ocean.

The deadline for joining the game is May 5. Go to “Survive the Sound” for details or to sign up. The game begins the following day.

Many teachers are involving their students in the game, which can be a springboard for describing the life cycle of salmon and the perils they face from egg to adult spawner. Last year, more than 30,000 students participated through their classroom, and many classroom teams continue. See “Getting started in the classroom” for classroom materials, including a live webinar involving salmon scientists.

If you have questions about the project, you can check with Lucas Hall, lhall@lltk.org.

Boaters, kayakers, etc.: Please take heed and be safe out on the water

With the weather warming up and opening day of boating season just around the corner, I would like to take a moment to mourn for those who have lost their lives in boating accidents.

A kayak adrift near Vashon Island raised alarms for the Coast Guard on March 31.
Photo: Coast Guard, 13th District

More importantly, I would like to share some information about boating safety, because I keep thinking about Turner Jenkins, the 31-year-old visitor from Bathesda, Md., who lost his life in January when his kayak tipped over at the south end of Bainbridge Island. (See Kitsap Sun and Bathesda Magazine.)

Every year, it seems, one or more people lose their lives in the frigid waters of Puget Sound — often because they failed to account for the temperature of the water; the winds, waves and currents; or their own skills under such conditions. An Internet search reveals a long list of tragedies in our region and throughout the country.

This warning is not to scare people away from the water. I will even tell you how to enjoy Opening Day events at the end of this blog post. I can assure you that my own life would be much poorer if I chose to never be on, near or under the water. But for those who venture forth in boats, you must do so with your eyes wide open to the dangers — especially if your craft is a paddleboard, kayak, canoe or raft.

So let’s go over the “Five Golden Rules of Cold Water Safety,” according to the National Center for Cold Water Safety. Click on each one for details:

  1. Always wear your PFD
  2. Always dress for the water temperature
  3. Field test your gear
  4. Swim test your gear
  5. Imagine the worst that can happen

While gathering information for this blog post, I spoke to Susan Tarbert, who manages West Marine in Bremerton. She told me that it is impossible to predict your body’s reaction to cold water until you are plunged into that bone-chilling situation.

Kayakers near Port Gamble
Photo: Kitsap Sun

“There are all kinds of things that you think you will do, but you just don’t know,” Susan told me.

She said she was out on Puget Sound in a boat with her husband when she leaned up against a gate on the boat’s rail. It was a gate that was always locked — until this time, she said. She splashed down into the water, wearing a heavy coat and boots.

“As my husband pulled me up, he said, ‘Don’t you know the first thing you do is take off your boots?’ Yes, I know,” Susan responded. “But when it happens, you are so cold that you just want out. Falling in the water is not what you think it will be.”

Since then, Susan has been spreading the word about being aware of the risks while having fun on the water.

Because everyone reacts to cold water differently, one of the suggestions mentioned in the “rules” above is to swim-test your gear before going out in a small watercraft. That means putting on whatever clothing you plan to wear on the water and jump right into the shallows, or tip over your boat under controlled conditions. The more you can do to prepare, the better off you will be if something goes wrong. For additional info, read Ocean Kayak’s “Basic Safety Tips.”

Because of the dangers of cold water, the Coast Guard automatically launches a search for a missing person whenever someone reports an unoccupied boat of any size floating on the water. That includes surfboards and paddleboards. KIRO-TV reporter Deedee Sun describes the problem in the video below, which can be viewed full-screen.

Coast Guard alarms went off on Sunday, March 31, when a Washington State Ferries captain reported a kayak adrift between Vashon Island and West Seattle. A Coast Guard crew began a search, which could have gone on for awhile except that a group of campers called in a report. It turned out that the kayak was one of five that had drifted away from the shore of Blake Island, where six kayakers had been camping. Check out the news release from the Coast Guard’s 13th District.

Even in Hawaii, drifting surfboards and kayaks frequently lead to the dispatching of boats, helicopters and shoreline search teams, based on the outside chance that someone may be in danger — even when there are no reports of missing persons. See the Honolulu Star Advertiser from April 2 and The Maui News from March 27.

Every year before boating season, the Coast Guard sends out news releases to encourage people to label their watercraft with names and phone numbers at a minimum.

“Every unmanned-adrift vessel is treated as a potential distress situation, which takes up valuable time, resources and manpower,” said Lt. Cmdr. Brook Serbu, command center chief for the Coast Guard’s 13th District in Seattle. “When the craft is properly labeled, the situation can often be quickly resolved with a phone call to the vessel owner, which minimizes personnel fatigue and negative impacts on crew readiness.”

The Coast Guard usually takes possession of drifting vessels. If the owner can’t be found in a reasonable amount of time, a vessel may be destroyed or turned over to the state for disposal, according to the latest news release.

The Coast Guard promotes the use of special identification stickers made available through the Coast Guard Auxiliary. I have had trouble the past few years getting hold of anyone in the Auxiliary who can provide the stickers, and my pleas for the Coast Guard to provide a simple email address or phone number have gone unheeded.

Auxiliary officials generally provide the Coast Guard’s orange “If found … “ stickers to outdoor recreation stores, but there seems to be a backlog of requests to get them at the moment, according to Susan Tarbert of West Marine. She still has a supply, however, of the Coast Guard’s silver “Paddle Responsibly” checklist, which has a place for a name and phone number. Both stickers contain adhesive on the back to attach to the inside of a kayak.

Susan also recommends sticking reflective circles on your paddles to help power boaters spot paddlers in low-light conditions. The movement of the paddles sends out a noticeable signal, she said. All the stickers, as well as informative brochures, are provided free, and officials with the local Coast Guard Auxiliary visit the stores to restock the materials.

Doug Luthi, manager of West Marine in Gig Harbor, says he has both stickers on hand. Drew Pennington, who manages the Olympic Outdoor Center store in Poulsbo, said he expects his supply to be restocked soon.

As for the fun part of boating, anyone can enjoy Opening Day, whether or not you have a boat or even know someone with a boat. Seattle Yacht Club leads the tradition that dates back to the opening of the Lake Washington Ship Canal in 2013. Besides the boats that pass through the Ballard Locks and join the Parade of Boats in the ship canal, visitors can watch crew races, a sailboat race and other festivities.

Visit the Seattle Yacht Club’s “Opening Day” website for a complete schedule of events, which officially begin Wednesday, April 1.

Amusing Monday: “Just for Laughs: Gags” seen in more than 100 countries

Whether you think “Just for Laughs: Gags” is hilarious or inane, the hidden-camera pranks have been viewed in more than 100 countries around the world. They are even shown on airline flights between countries.

Since nobody talks in the videos, no translation is needed. At the beginning of each video segment, actors show the viewers what they plan to do to their unsuspecting victims. At the end, the pranksters introduce themselves, and the cameras are revealed.

The “Just for Laughs: Gags” webpage on YouTube contains an estimated 2,000 videos showing practical jokes of all kinds, mostly performed on city streets. (I gave up counting the number of videos about halfway through, and it would be near-impossible to figure out the number of page views.) For this blog post, I’ve chosen four water-related bits.

The original “Just for Laughs” is the name given to a comedy festival held each year in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Founded in 1983 by Canadian Gilbert Rozon, it is the largest and most important comedy show in the world, according to a 2007 story in The Guardian. (For more history, see Wikipedia.)

“Just for Laughs: Gags” borrowed the familiar name in 2000, when producers launched a new television prank show based on “Candid Camera.” It was shown first on the French Canadian television network Channel D and was later picked up by networks based in the United Kingdom, France, the U.S. and about 30 other countries. (Wikipedia)

For my taste, a few of these videos at a time is enough, but they are so ubiquitous on YouTube that you are likely to run into them at any time. Be careful or you will find yourself going down a rabbit hole and coming back with a few hours missing from your life.

Some people are perplexed that anyone would enjoy these videos. Keyan Gray Tomaselli, a South African communication professor, author and media critic, called the series “inane” in his book about cultural tourism after he watched some segments on a commercial flight. He also noted in his book that his comment elicited an apology from a Canadian friend of his.

But other people have praised the universal appeal of this type of humor, which harkens back to the days of silent films and slapstick comedy.

Major Ray Wiss, a Canadian soldier who wrote about his two tours in Afghanistan, said building a relationship with Afghan soldiers took more than just eating and playing cards with them. Television really broke the ice, he said, noting that “for pure social connection” there was nothing like “JFL: Gags.”

“The Afghans got the jokes and laughed as hard as I did,” Wiss wrote. “Yes, these people are different from us. But they are far less different than many would believe.” See the excerpt from “A Line in the Sand: Canadians at War in Kandahar.”