Marine Debris Collection and Survey
On June 28, 2012, our class participated in a marine debris survey. In 2009 a tsunami in Japan swept garbage away from Japanese shores and currents brought garbage to the Washington coast. We expected to see Japanese garbage on the beach. Before we went out in the field we had to prepare for what we would find in the field. Even after all the preparation, it was shocking to see that much garbage on the beach. The majority of the garbage was plastic wrappers. It makes you realize that convenience is nice, but the results are ugly, messy and potentially hazardous to marine life.
There are special techniques for picking up beach garbage. Our group spread out and walked in a zig-zag pattern along the beach. This allowed us to cover as much beach area as possible. Upon finding a piece of garbage, we would record what kind of garbage it was (plastic, metal, etc.) and if it came mainland or traveled in the ocean from a different country. We were surprised to find how little garbage was from Japan. Most of the garbage we picked up was from our country. As it turns out we are messy people!
Elwha River Study
After our marine debris study, we went directly over to the Elwha River which was nearby. We sampled water and measured some physical properties along the Elwha River. The first time we did water sampling, we had to write out the procedures that not only we, but future groups would use. We are setting up a project for future summer Natural Resources students to monitor the Elwha River and compare data as the effects of dam removal materialize. Developing protocol turns out to be more complicated than one might think! To complete a full water sampling, we measured water temperature, air temperature, the amount of dissolved oxygen in the water, the water turbidity (how much sediment is in the water), and the canopy cover. Additionally, we took a picture of the area we were surveying and found the GPS coordinates.
Finding the canopy cover was interesting. Our group used a tool called a Spherical Densiometer to find the canopy cover above the water. A Spherical Densiometer is a small, square tool that flips open. On the inside is a half-sphere mirror divided into little squares. Although it was a difficult tool to use, it was still really cool!
Water turbidity was another intriguing component of water sampling. A member of our group would take a sample of water out of the Elwha River and place it into the water turbidity meter. Even though the meter calibrated water turbidity for us, we had a very short window of time to write out the water turbidity before the number changed on the tool. Because the sediment in the water was moving in the sample, the tool had a difficult time calibrating the exact number, so we took several readings and found the average of them all. That process gave us the best data for water turbidity.
After we were done sampling the water, our group had a lot of fun along the riverbank. Our group, and other students in the class, enjoyed playing in the mud and throwing rocks into the water when we were done with our work. There are nice rocks on the beach of the Elwha River for throwing. Also, there are nice mud puddles! All this wonderful mud was a result of silt from the Elwha dam removal. We learned a great deal about water sampling and marine debris. After all the field work, we hiked to the vehicles and drove back to the Skills Center in Port Angeles to reflect on the day’s activities.