The old adage, the only constant is change, was never truer than in 2020. During a global pandemic we all faced uncertainty and adversity. But as I reflect on the last year, one thing stands out: Despite months of being separated, both as a team and from the public, we have emerged even stronger. We created innovative solutions and collaborated in new ways, seizing new opportunities amidst the pandemic’s chaos.
When schools were closed, we remained connected to students and lifelong learners by adapting our programs for online learning. We created online and DIY activities, and low tide walks also went virtual, using social media.
Despite the aquarium being closed to the public, our commitment to nurturing marine animals continued uninterrupted. Our new light trap project allowed us to collect and count larval Dungeness crabs to better enable a sustainable fishery. It also brought us many other species, including Sylvia, a giant Pacific octopus that we have been raising from the paralarval stage.
Our support for community science never wavered, with AmeriCorps team members filling in when volunteers were unable to participate so that vital programs like the Marine Mammal Stranding Network, Sound Toxins and the Protection Island Aquatic Reserve bird and mammal survey were able to continue.
These silver linings of 2020 are a testament to our organization’s resiliency. While the events of this pandemic continue to present challenges, out of this ambiguity we have forged a strong path forward.
There are many positive changes on the horizon including opening of Phase 1 at the Flagship Landing building on Water Street in the spring of 2022. A much more extensive renovation of Flagship, what we are referring to as Phase 2, lies years ahead. This planning will include repurposing our existing museum building at Fort Worden into our Field Station for environmental learning.
I would like to express my deepest gratitude to our dedicated friends in the PTMSC community who supported us so generously during a very demanding year. Your steadfast commitment has been invaluable in making all this possible and paving a pathway through the numerous challenges, furthering our vision of generations of environmental stewards living in balance with marine ecosystems.
Much work lies ahead. The State of the Salish Sea, the most comprehensive research report of its kind in 25 years, confirms that the degradation of our marine environment is outpacing recovery efforts. To that end, we have created a joint strategic plan with community marine science centers around Puget Sound and are brainstorming how we can best support each other to achieve our common goals.
We look forward to facing into the future with you as we fulfill our mission with an even broader audience of ocean stewards.
Janine Boire, Executive Director
When the worldwide pandemic reached Port Townsend, the PTMSC rapidly shifted to online learning tools to connect people with each other and with our mission, to inspire conservation of the Salish Sea. The education team developed the Orca Skeleton ART-iculation Project so that our community, then under quarantine, could illustrate line drawings of the bones of Hope the orca. Our constituents took on the challenge and “eventually we had the entire skeleton illustrated and digitally articulated,” said PTMSC Education Coordinator Carolyn Woods.
As the summer progressed, we continued to offer online programs: Carolyn hosted low tide walks via Instagram, which included interactive quizzes and polls about our local tide pools. The education team created a resource page on our website where kids and families could find online activities and DIY explorations of the marine environment. And so as not to disappoint a teacher from Spokane who has been bringing his biology class to PTMSC for 28 years, we conducted a remote plankton lab via Zoom. In partnership with Centrum, we held our annual WaterWorld camp, this time virtually and online.
“It's been a delight just to talk with students again and see them getting excited about the Salish Sea and how to conserve it.”
-Carolyn Woods, PTMSC Education Coordinator
While we observed guidance from public health officials on how to stay safe during an unprecedented pandemic, PTMSC continued to conduct essential research and projects under the banner of community science.
Our commitment to public health continued with scaled back SoundToxins sampling through the pandemic closure. We collected water samples at two of our four sites, looking for harmful phytoplankton and reporting results as part of our role in the early warning network to prevent shellfish poisoning.
“The Marine Mammal Stranding Network is probably our biggest community science project,” states PTMSC Community Science Coordinator Betsy Carlson. “We are the responders if somebody sees a stranded marine mammal on the shores of East Jefferson County.” Pandemic or not, marine animals still need a lookout on our shores so PTMSC never wavered in our commitment to this important network.
In addition, the Protection Island Aquatic Reserve bird and mammal surveys continued uninterrupted during the lockdown. We conducted 12 surveys, covered a total of 295 miles (492 km), had the highest daily tally of 77 eagles on the island, spotted marine mammals 347 times, and counted 16,942 individual birds in the water. This data allows us to see which animals use the protected waters and establishes a baseline to monitor how it may change over time: in October, we saw 28 different bird species, the highest number of the year, including the Yellow-billed Loon.
“Which animals use the waters around Protection Island has not been looked at in detail ... and thanks to some dedicated volunteers, we've had a chance to observe the seasonal changes in the bird and marine mammal populations within the aquatic reserve.”
-Betsy Carlson, PTMSC Community Science Coordinator
Our aquarium was active throughout 2020, despite being closed to the public much of the time. We kept busy caring for our thriving marine life, starting new projects, and expanding virtual outreach. One exciting example of this is the light trap. We joined the Pacific Northwest Crab Research Group (PCRG) and began collecting data for the Larval Crab Study. Using a light trap to collect zooplankton, we search for Dungeness crab in their planktonic megalopae stage. The research goal is to learn more about Dungeness crab population dynamics and abundance in the Salish Sea. The project brings much more than that to PTMSC's aquarium.
The light trap provides a daily "snapshot" of the tiny animals drifting past Ft. Worden. By tracking the dynamic assortment of young fish and invertebrates, we learn about the makeup and seasonality of the local eelgrass community. Small numbers of select species are reared in our aquarium to highlight the diversity of life that depends on healthy eelgrass habitats.
An especially big opportunity came in a "tiny" package. Sylvia the giant Pacific octopus, named in honor of world-renowned marine biologist Sylvia Earle, was originally referred to as Tiny because she arrived at PTMSC as paralarvae, a baby octopus no larger than a nickel. Little is known about the early development of giant Pacific octopus. Successful rearing from egg to adult has only been reported twice. Caring for Sylvia and sharing the process online has given us and many others the joy of observing the growth and development of one of the Salish Sea's most intriguing species.
“Through the PCRG and its diverse membership, the long term monitoring of light traps throughout the Salish Sea will enable a more sustainable fishery that benefits our community and environment. The successful rearing of Sylvia is just one example of how the project enhances our knowledge, exhibits and programs."
-Ali Redman, PTMSC Aquarium Coordinator
2020 By The Numbers
- We cared for 1,437 animals in the Aquarium as 78,840,000 gallons of seawater flowed through the aquarium's life support system.
- We transferred 772 pinto abalone to the Puget Sound Restoration Fund for release. And another 1,511 arrived at PTMSC for release in 2022.
- We counted 20,083 Dungeness crab megalopa for the Larval Crab Research Project (Pacific Crab Research Group)
- We conducted 12 Protection Island Aquatic Reserve bird and mammal surveys--we covered a total of 295 miles (492 km), counted 234 eagles on the island, and 347 marine mammals, and 16,942 individual birds in the water.
- We conducted 4 sea star surveys and found an average of 16 healthy ochre and mottled sea stars at our Indian Island plot.
- We served 710 students and adults from underserved schools through our Salish Sea Science education programs.
- Instagram Engagements - 12,035 (up 116.4% from 2019's 5,562 engagements)
- Instagram posts and stories - 215 Total published (up 206.1% from 2019's 82 posts)
- Instagram Impressions - 143,896 (up 239.8% from 2019's 42,344 impressions)
Highest reaching social media posts:
Facebook: August 5 (What's in the Water Wednesday - Six-Rayed Sea Star) - 4.5K viewers
Instagram: June 10 (What's in the Water Wednesday - young octopuses) - 764 viewers
2020 PTMSC Staff
Janine Boire, Executive Director
Liesl Slabaugh, Development & Marketing Director
Diane Quinn, Program Director
Betsy Carlson, Community Science Coordinator
Debra Diner, Administrative Specialist
Phil Dinsmore, Facilities Coordinator
Brian Kay, Marketing & Development Coordinator
Alexandra Redman, Aquarium Curator
Gabriele Sanchez, Volunteer & Program Coordinator
Carolyn Woods, Education Coordinator
2020 PTMSC AmeriCorps Members
Mandi Johnson, Volunteer Program Educator (2019-2020)
Ellie Kravets, Museum Educator (2019-2020)
Marley Loomis, Aquarium Educator (2019-2020)
Michael Siddel, Community Science Lab Educator (2019-2020)
Holly Weinstein, Volunteer Program Educator (2020-2021)
Molly Shea, Museum Educator (2020-2021)
Dorit Nowicki-Liss, Aquarium Educator (2020-2021)
Meghan-Grace Slocombe, Community Science Lab Educator (2020-2021)