Conservation, Research and Education Opportunities International

Understanding algal blooms in Liberty Bay, WA

SEA Discovery Center

With the immense marine shorelines wrapping the Kitsap Peninsula and Puget Sound, the marine environment is in Kitsap residents’ everyday life, from work to recreation. In the summer of 2017, visitors to the SEA Discovery marine center asked us why the water in Liberty Bay (our local estuary) would turn different colors – one day thick and green and another day bright orange – and suddenly become filled with jellyfish. Alarmed, they told us the colored water and jellyfish were ‘getting worse’ every year. When we asked local city engineers and tribal natural resource managers, we learned no one was monitoring these aspects of Liberty Bay. Galvanized by a topic near to their hearts, a series of students from the nearby extension campus of Western Washington University’s (WWU) Huxley College of the Environment came to the SEA Discovery Center and volunteered to investigate the planktonic food web of Liberty Bay at an ecosystem scale. Over the course of the year, the students discovered that the bay changes dynamically, with extreme cycles of phytoplankton and zooplankton blooms (and die offs) and formation of stratification via temperature & salinity. However, elucidating the relationships between the abiotic and biotic components of the estuarine ecosystem beyond saying ‘it’s complicated’ requires uninterrupted, multiyear monitoring. Unfortunately, one by one, student volunteers who wished to continue working on the research have left because they cannot afford to financially support their own education and living expenses and volunteer at the same time. So instead of gaining experience in their field of interest, they work in restaurants and grocery stores. The student body of WWU’s Huxley extension campus is 94% community college transfer, 57% first generation, and 27% culturally diverse, and much in need of opportunities for students to gain professional experience as research scientists and develop a support network. We are requesting financial support to provide stipends for a team of 2 undergraduate students to conduct this research for 1 year. Twice a week throughout the year, the students will collect water samples to identify and quantify abundance of plankton and measure depth profiles of key oceanographic parameters, such as temperature, salinity, chlorophyll fluorescence, and dissolved oxygen. The students will communicate their findings to a variety of audiences. Because community visitors inspired this investigation, the students will post their data on a ”Marine Weather” display in the SEA Discovery Center aquarium. They will present their results to the community as part of the center’s Lecture Series, and share their findings with local environmental managers and at a scientific conference. ($20,000)