Keeping watch on the water

There are many things you can learn at the beach, but some of them you might not want to know. Like all of the ways humans use seaweed.

We put it in tires and film, the Manchester Elementary students learned Friday while participating in the fourth Manchester Beach Seining spearheaded by The Committee to Restore Duncan Creek. That didn’t sound so bad, but when they heard it was in toothpaste and salad dressing, they got quiet.

And chocolate pudding?

“That’s kinda gross,” said sixth-grader Akilah Ross, who was near the Manchester Dock with more than 200 of her classmates, enjoying the sun and eagerly awaiting her chance to inspect some sea creatures firsthand.

Akilah obviously did not find the animals so gross, since she quickly got as close as she could to the first small English sole and the pair of tiny shrimp placed in buckets on the sand for the fifth and sixth graders to see.

Representatives from Puget Sound Water Quality Action League, the Suquamish Tribal Marine Resource Program and King County Department of Natural Resources were all on hand to oversee the seining — which involves dragging a large net through the water to collect any living creatures and pull them briefly out — and educate the children on what they found and the purpose of the event.

“Our goal with this today is to get more people to understand the near-shore habitat,” Doug Myers, of the Puget Sound Water Quality Action League, told the group. “I’m teaching you some new words today. If you just learn what those two words mean, I’ll be happy.

Myers said he and the other researchers were not only concerned with the health of creatures living in the ocean at Manchester Beach, but with that of the habitat near the shore as well.

“It is very important to protect the water habitat, but also the vegetation alongside it, including the trees and the grass,” Myers said. “They all add to the water environment.”

Meyers said a healthy shore environment means healthy plants, and healthy plants offer food and shelter to insects, which in turn feed the the fish and other animals living in the ocean.

“Some of our actions are having adverse effects on the environment,” said Jim Brennan, a senior ecologist with King County’s marine and sediment assessment unit told the students. “What we are doing today will give us an idea which species are in this shallow water.”

Brennan said it was not only important to do these type of collections, but to do them right.

“We need to be very careful with what we catch,” he said. “We’re here to learn what we can about them, but return them alive.”

“Any time you’re handling fish or other creatures, there’s a chance there will be some mortality, so there’s always that tradeoff,” said Randall Thurston, with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). “We just like to make sure people are thinking about that when they’re designing these studies.”

Thurston said both a scientific collection permit and a take permit is necessary for such beach seinings, which were both acquired by Jim Dorn, a biologist with the Suquamish Tribal Marine Resource Program, who was one of the main participants Friday.

Dorn said it is always a concern of organizations like the WDFW that seinings not occur with the public without proper supervision and monitoring, which he said was provided by several experts on scene.

Dorn said it is always preferable to have as many groups as possible conduct a seining at once, both to combine limited resources and to make sure the creatures are brought out and back in quickly.

Dorn said he was there in particular to monitor the impact of the Suquamish Tribe’s farm-hatched Chinook salmon — hatched in Grover’s Creek and reared in Gorst — on the local environments.

“We are comparing the relative health of the hatchery fish with those of natural origin, which we can tell apart because the natural origin fish have all their fins,” Dorn said.

Dorn said unfortunately it was only on the third net pull that the group Friday got any salmon, and those were only Chum and Cutthroat salmon. The seining still provided valuable information, however, because he is also monitoring the health of the smaller, “foraging” fish that are the salmon’s primary food source.

Dorn said perhaps the most immediate benefit of a seining such as the one held at Manchester is to offer the public a look into the “society at sea.”

“Most people, they think of the water as recreational or aesthetic,” Dorn said. “A seining allows the public to see what’s actually going on in there.”

Dave Kimble, of The Committee to Restore Duncan Creek, said the purpose of the seine was to collect scientific data about the beach environment, and provide education and outreach about the project.

Kimble said the three previous beach seines conducted at Manchester focused on data collection and data logging provided for reference and analysis. The latest event had two special distinctions.

First, the group on Friday the group was videotaping the event using underwater equipment, which Kimble said would help others review current seining techniques and allow them to observe behaviors of species both captured and not captured.

What Kimble seemed most excited about was the swarm of children, however, the largest group of kids to show up for one of the beach seinings, which Dorn was happy about as well.

“That was the biggest turnout I’ve seen,” Dorn said. “Two hundred and forty kids — that nearly blew my wetsuit off!”

“This is really all about the kids,” Kimble said, explaining that so many students were able to attend Friday because it was a school day. Previous events had been on a Saturday, he said, which did not allow as much school participation.

The student participation was also due to a relationship Kimble formed with Manchester Elementary School’s vice principal Erin Williams — who also teaches his daughter, Chloe — and fellow teacher Ann Giantvalley.

“We really wanted to instill some feelings of ownership of the beach in our students,” said Ann Giantvalley.

Giantvalley said some classes have been having lessons on salmon and the water cycle, but she and Williams said the were saving most of the lessons for afterward.

“They need to see it,” she said. Once students touch and see things firsthand, she said, the lessons will have more meaning, and they are more likely to remember them.

“You want people to see what’s in it, so they can help keep it clean,” said Akilah.

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