Port Townsend Middle School students help collect marine science data on Indian Island

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PORT HADLOCK, Wash. — For the third year in a row, Port Townsend’s Blue Heron Middle School eighth grade students will help collect marine science data at Naval Magazine (NAVMAG) Indian Island April 27 and 28. Students will use a beach seine net to sample marine life including fish, crabs, and other critters.

Jake Gregg, U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) fish biologist leads the science field trip. Gregg is assigned to the USGS Marrowstone Island Marine Field Station. “This is not an exercise, the students are collecting real data which will help us characterize the fish assemblage in Kilisut Harbor,” Gregg said.

The data gathered is submitted to the North Olympic Salmon Coalition for use as baseline data in support of the Kilisut Harbor Restoration project which is currently being planned to restore the fish passage between Oak Bay and Kilisut Harbor.

The 37-meter seine net is set from a boat and pulled back to shore by the students. With the aid of biologists from USGS, National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration Fisheries, University of Washington, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, North Olympic Salmon Coalition and NAVMAG, the middle school students identify, measure and tally all of the various fish species and invertebrates they catch in the seine net.

In the past, the students have shown great enthusiasm for the hands-on field trip.

“When we get those kids out in the environment, they always have a good time,” Gregg stated. “I go into their classroom to discuss the project and tell them what to expect. Then we go out to Indian Island and they have a blast.”

NAVMAG’s environmental staff is also available to answer questions from the students about the wildlife populations and natural resources conservation programs which take place on the installation throughout the year. “It’s a great opportunity to learn how the Navy integrates the mission and environmental stewardship and serves as another means of public outreach and education for both students and teachers that participate in this annual event,” said Bill Kalina, NAVMAG Environmental Site Manager.


In 2016, 73 eighth graders from Blue Heron Middle School hauled four beach seine nets on the southern end of Kilisut Harbor. The students identified and counted more than 4,000 fish in two days of work. The students’ catch was dominated by surf smelt, shiner perch, and Pacific staghorn sculpin. More than 15 fish species were cataloged. The fish and other creatures are returned to the harbor after being measured and cataloged by the students.

Science teacher Jennifer Manning coordinates the tour for the school. “The students get so much from their visit to Indian Island,” Manning said. “It’s real scientific data they are gathering in an incredible environment.”

Gregg visits the school twice prior to the beach seining and once after to follow-up. During the first visit, Gregg explains the Kilisut Harbor Restoration project, how to work a beach seine net and the various roles needed to make the experiment work. The second visit includes a discussion on the importance of fish diversity. At the follow-up meeting, Gregg helps the students work on standard deviation, a measure used to quantify the amount of variation or dispersion of a set of data values. The students also graph the data gathered during the final visit.

“Jake is great with the kids,” Manning said. “On the bus ride to the base he gives a final briefing on what the students should expect. By then the kids know him and respect him. They know what to do.”

The students wear donated rubber boots in the water. “The kids are fascinated by the whole process,” the teacher explained. “It makes science real to them. It’s also in line with the ecology standards we teach at the school. Their experience in the field is a much better way to learn.”

Manning said the NAVMAG science visit is more memorable, more real and leaves the students more engaged than another lecture in the classroom. “They are out there enjoying themselves,” the science teacher said. “No one is standing back. Some students take the fish from the net, some put them in bucket, and some measure and catalog the fish.”

The students work with a sense of urgency to complete their tasks and get the live fish back into the harbor.

“We are happy to support both the USGS and Blue Heron Middle School in an event that is educational and benefits Kilisut Harbor,” said Cmdr. Nick Vande Griend, NAVMAG commander. “Opportunities like this teach our youth how fragile the marine environment is and hopefully inspires some to pursue careers in the marine sciences or related career fields. It’s a great experience for everyone involved and another way the Navy serves our community.”


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