Port Townsend students get hands-on marine science lessons at Naval Magazine Indian Island
By Liane Nakahara, Naval Magazine Indian Island Public Affairs
PORT HADLOCK, Wash. – Eighth grade science students from Blue Heron Middle School in Port Townsend, Washington, took a field trip to Naval Magazine Indian Island May 7-8 to get some hands-on lessons in marine science.
During this two-day field trip, the students were led through a series of activities that professional researchers would do to collect field data. This included using a net to catch near-shore marine life, separating and identifying the different species, counting the number of fish caught, and measuring them.
“The idea was to have the students help us collect usable fish density data that relates to the Kilisut Harbor restoration project, and in the process, give the students and idea of what it’s like to do fisheries research,” said Jake Gregg from the U.S. Geological Survey Marrowstone Marine Field Station.
The hands-on project was led by personnel from U.S. Geological Survey’s Marrowstone Marine Field Station, with support from personnel from National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Fisheries Service, U.S. Navy, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, and the North Olympic Salmon Coalition.
“The students did a good job and helped us collect very good data,” said Gregg.
In addition to fish seining work at a beach on Indian Island those two days, the eighth graders also performed water quality tests on the water collected from Oak Bay. The students split up into two groups on each day – one group did water quality tests in the morning, while the other did fish seining. In the afternoon, the two groups switched activities.
“It’s incredible to watch the students get excited to work together to accomplish these tasks,” said Blue Heron Middle School Science Teacher Jennifer Manning. “We have a student who is normally pretty quiet in class, but being here and being outdoors, she really opened up and showed excitement for this kind of work. I think we may have inspired some future marine biologists or fisheries scientists here.”
The field data collected, with the assistance from the eighth graders, will be used to show species distribution and amount of marine life before and after any work to re-open the flow of water between Kilisut Harbor and Oak Bay. This is just the first in several field data collections that would be done leading up to and following the restoration of Kilisut Harbor.
“When we were first approached by USGS to conduct this project on base, we agreed that this would be a great way to expose the students early to marine science and help reinforce what they are learning in the classroom,” said Naval Magazine Indian Island Environmental Program Director Bill Kalina. “We also wanted them to learn about the importance of near-shore habitat in the marine food chain and how it is a critical piece of the larger ecosystem.”
Kalina explained that the shallow, calm waters of Kilisut Harbor make it an ideal habitat for eel grass and other small fish to thrive. Baby salmon can feed off of those smaller fish and find protective cover from predators in the eel grass.
He said that there wasn’t always a filled-in roadway connecting Indian Island and Marrowstone Island, and Kilisut Harbor used to be a salmon migration route. Removing part of the filled-in roadway and replacing it with a bridge would allow water to once again flow between Kilisut Harbor and Oak Bay.
Gregg said that restoring the flow of water through Kilisut Harbor could also change the quality of the water for the better and possibly allow salmon to return to their former migration route through Kilisut Harbor instead of migrating through Portage Canal, which is much more challenging for baby salmon.
Kalina said, “I’m glad we were all able to give the students this opportunity to better understand how they are connected to their environment. Plus, this kind of hands-on experience will stay with them, and some of them will remember this field trip for the rest of their lives.”