Seawall construction: improving the nearshore habitat
Do you know why juvenile salmon have a hard time migrating along Seattle’s central waterfront? Their eyes struggle to adjust to the stark contrasts of light and dark between open areas and piers. Currently, 60 percent of Seattle’s central waterfront is covered by piers and other over-water structures, making migration difficult for tens of thousands of salmon leaving the Green/Duwamish River each year.
This fall, the Seattle Department of Transportation will embark on a multi-year effort to replace the failing seawall along Alaskan Way. The design for the new seawall includes habitat improvements such as intertidal benches to provide a shallower nearshore environment. But getting light to these spaces has been a key concern.
State-of-the-art fish surveys and monitoring by UW are helping the Seawall Project team develop designs to improve lighting conditions for salmon along the central waterfront. The current design includes places for continuous light-penetrating surfaces (kind of like the glass blocks you see when taking the Underground Tour) throughout this key corridor, bringing light to the waters navigated by migrating salmon.
Replacing the seawall will provide a new foundation for the waterfront and help protect it from earthquakes, storms and tidal forces. At the Aquarium, we’re particularly excited about the opportunity it provides to restore fish habitat and reconnect people to the water. We encourage you to watch as this new fish migration corridor takes shape!
BEACON on the beach
Shortly after Bryan Bartley moved to Seattle in 2003, he went on a camping trip to Salt Creek on the Olympic Peninsula. He couldn’t tell a sea cucumber from a sea urchin but one of his companions, a volunteer with the Aquarium’s Beach Naturalist program, could. “Salt Creek has spectacular tide pools,” Bryan says. “I was inspired by her ability to identify and interpret what we were seeing.” The experience stuck with him and he trained to become a Beach Naturalist himself.
Then, in 2010, “I was looking on the Aquarium website, and I saw this program where kids are actually doing science,” Bryan recalls. As a Bioengineering graduate student at UW, he wanted to encourage kids to think scientifically—so he volunteered with the Citizen Science program.
This is where Bryan’s two lives began to intersect. One of Bryan’s professors was affiliated with BEACON, a National Science Foundation Center for the Study of Evolution in Action, which has one of its five sites located at UW. Although he wasn’t directly involved with BEACON, Bryan had been part of many conversations about the Center’s work, and it occurred to him that Citizen Science’s focus on field conservation might dovetail with BEACON’s mission of illuminating the power of evolution in action.
In the summer of 2012, Bryan attended a seminar at BEACON’s headquarters at Michigan State University. Louise Mead, the Center’s education director, heard Bryan talking about Citizen Science and approached him to learn more. Six months later, BEACON funded a joint proposal from UW and the Aquarium.
The project will provide summer internship opportunities for high school students at UW, as well as additional funding for Citizen Science. In return, BEACON graduate students gain experience in curriculum design and support, assist Citizen Science program staff and train teachers at 14 Puget Sound high schools in the classroom and on the beach.
Bryan is happy to have made the connection. “My role is to bring people together. The relationships and opportunities coming out of this experience are paying off in ways I never could have predicted,” he says.