#6 in a series of guest blog posts by Seattle Aquarium beach naturalists Bobby Arispe and Jen Strongin.
I can’t believe my first beach naturalist season is getting into the home stretch. I have one more shift coming up towards the end of the month at Saltwater State Park. Since I was not scheduled for a shift this past weekend, I thought I would recap the training process and share my favorite photos.
The newbie training started in May with evening classroom time at the Seattle Aquarium. There were over 60 new volunteers and we were eager to start learning. We got to get hands-on with anemones, urchins and even a really large moon snail. In the weeks that followed, we learned a lot about the nearshore—the area between the forests and into the shallow waters. The nearshore is essential to all of the creatures that live in the Puget Sound. We took a (figurative) deep dive in the lives of salmon and learned how integral a healthy ecosystem is for these fish, as well as orcas. We learned about algae, plankton, ocean acidification and tides. During that classroom session, we got a microscopic view of all the life that’s in a couple drops of seawater, pulled right out of Elliott Bay. And then we got cake! An amazing cake representing the nearshore and intertidal zone, complete with fondant sea stars and nudibranches, candy straw tube worms, and fondant salmon.
Our first on-the-beach training at Saltwater State Park got canceled due to storms and high wind, but a few weeks later we all met at Carkeek Park to work on identifying the many creatures that live in the low tidal zones. We had our guidebooks and the knowledge of beach naturalist captains as we explored the beach. We also focused on the nearshore, and walked through the edge of the forests and streams that feed into the Sound.
Our next training beach walk was on South Alki, where veteran beach naturalists joined us. It was exciting to learn from so many different people, each with their own favorite creatures and knowledge.
After all of our studying and reading, we got our official red hats and nametags at the final training session at the Seattle Aquarium. All of the beach naturalist volunteers and staff were present for that evening’s session. We learned about the importance of eelgrass and the Washington Department of Natural Resources’ efforts to track, study and recover the dwindling eelgrass beds. We also learned how the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is using mussels to monitor and measure the water quality of the Puget Sound.
And then it was dress rehearsal time. I was scheduled at Lincoln Park. I got to put on the red hat and the many-pocketed vest and practice my beach conversations. Our group got to see an octopus, which I am pretty sure is a rite of passage for a new beach naturalist.
Before signing up to volunteer, I really had questioned whether I could find the time to volunteer. It seemed like a lot of commitment: the evening classes; shifts on the beach. The chance to learn something new and feel a deeper connection to the waters that surround me made the time worth it in the end. I was able to fit in the training and beach shifts around a busy work week. I encourage anyone with a passion for the sea to sign up next year. Not only will you learn many new things, you will be encouraging future marine biologists and scientists—modeling proper beach etiquette and creating an interest in conserving and protecting our waters. I know that I am hooked and will continue to volunteer with the Seattle Aquarium.
Bobby is new to the Beach Naturalist program, joining after encouragement from a co-worker who is a seasoned volunteer.
His passion for the Salish Sea started when he and his wife moved to Seattle three years ago from San Antonio, Texas.
Bobby is an avid photographer and enjoys capturing his adventures of the Pacific Northwest. During the week you will find him biking to work where he leads a creative team at a local marketing agency.