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Study on the Sea

The interisland ferry is turning out to be an excellent place for me to research and write about the impact of climate change on the Salish Sea. Recently I visited another water-based location—the University of Washington’s Friday Harbor Laboratories (FHL) on San Juan Island. Faculty and researchers from the UW and around the world go there to study oceanography, chemistry, biology, ecology, and other marine disciplines. I had a chance to observe some of their work at the facility’s annual open house on May 11.

fhl (1)Most of the 490-acre tract of land on which FHL is located is a biological preserve, so the open house was a rare opportunity for the public to explore the protected land and marine environments. I boarded the interisland ferry that Saturday morning and walked the ­­­­­mile-and-a-half to the preserve.

Once there, I joined other visitors to see SCUBA demonstrations; touch invertebrates and algae; collect plankton and examine it under a microscope; press algae; tour the UW’s 58-foot research vessel R/V Centennial; listen to marimba music; eat hot dogs; and take in short talks by scientists.

nets2In 1903, Friday Harbor was chosen by the UW for a marine biology field station because the waters around San Juan Island are relatively free from pollution. Here, researchers and students can collect representatives of nearly all major groups of marine algae, invertebrates and fish. The varied terrestrial and freshwater habitats also offer diverse flora and fauna.

Friday Harbor Laboratories also manage biological preserves for research at False Bay and Argyle Lagoon on San Juan Island, at Point George and Cedar Rock on Shaw Island, and other areas. In honor of the lab’s 75th anniversary, FHL alumni founded the Whale Museum, the first museum in the country devoted to a species living in the wild. The museum, located in Friday Harbor, continues to promote stewardship of whales and the Salish Sea ecosystem through education and research.

oarsIn the field station’s first year, Professor Trevor Kincaid taught six-week summer classes. Today, research at FHL is conducted throughout the year, and courses are offered during autumn, spring, and summer. Various college-level educational groups visit FHL for field trips, meetings, and symposia during the autumn, winter, and spring.

whiteley-ext-300x172One facility at FHL that particularly interests me is the Whitely Center. Funded by the Helen R. Whitely Foundation, the center offers lodging, meals, and study space for scholarly work and creative activity by people in all disciplines. In addition to the serene environment, Whitely Scholars have access to FHL library’s core collection of books and journals on marine biology and zoology as well as the full UW Libraries collection of e-journals and databases.

As I conduct research for my essay collection about the Salish Sea, climate change, and the interisland ferry, I often feel overwhelmed by how much I have to learn. Throughout my afternoon at the open house, the immensity of this learning task hit hard. As I browsed the library and visited other parts of FHL, though, I also thought, “Wow, look how much I could learn!” I hope to have the opportunity to do so in the future at FHL.

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