Home-school children participate in marine data collecting

PORT TOWNSEND — A sleek, high-tech Mary Beth leaves Port Townsend Boat Haven on a sunny Wednesday afternoon with nine alternative-school students aboard.

Bucking in high winds, the 43-foot research vessel enters Scow Bay, passing eight bald eagles picking apart a carcass on a sandy spit off Indian Island.

A white cloud of alarmed sea gulls hangs over Rat Island, perhaps disturbed by an unknown predator.

Seal heads bob to the surface, the doglike mammals floating in glistening waters as the research boat cruises by.

Students’ curious gazes spy countless moon jellyfish swirling in the currents stirred by Mary Beth’s powerful prop.

With binoculars glued to their eyes, burgeoning 12- and 13-year-old researchers shuttle between the boat’s stern and bow, gleefully avoiding splashing water and trying to catch sight of great Northwest marine birds and mammals.

But their true objective remains roiling within Port Townsend Bay.

Data expedition

The group, sponsored by Admiralty Audubon Society, joined the Menzies Project crew in its weekly data collection expedition.

Instructed by an enthusiastic Menzies staff, students checked water quality, monitored seabed conditions with a live underwater video camera and investigated plankton specimens under a microscope.

And though with little success, they also searched for evidence of Olympia oysters, the state’s native shellfish that still inhabits the shores between Indian and Marrowstone islands.

Port Townsend-based Menzies Project operates an environmental monitoring and educational program with the goal of promoting stewardship and the sustainability of Puget Sound marine resources.

“The activities that they do on board are very representative of the research scientists do out on the water,” said Libby Palmer, a home-school teacher whose six students joined the tour.

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