While most people set their sights high in the sky on Aug. 21 for the solar eclipse, five focused their stare to the ground.
Every month, the Puget SoundCorps, along with community volunteers, record and collect trash along Padilla and Fidalgo Bay shorelines as part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association’s (NOAA) Marine Debris Monitoring and Assessment Project. The Aug. 21 survey was the fourth one conducted so far in Anacortes.
Hillary Foster spearheaded this location’s involvement after working on a similar project in Virginia. She wanted to work with Puget SoundCorps because she believes the group will be around long enough to carry out this assessment in years to come.
“The more data we collect, the more conclusions we can draw,” she said. And that can influence policies.
The goal is to monitor how debris moves over space and time. Each survey location follows NOAA protocols that can be used nationwide, providing a means of comparison across the board, Foster said.
Different techniques and goals are in place for the two shoreline locations. Padilla Bay is a standing-stock site, and Fidalgo Bay is an accumulation site.
Per NOAA’s protocols, trash isn’t removed from standing-stock sites, but recorded and monitored once a month. Density, patterns and seasonal effects can be determined by watching what happens to the debris. Foster said Padilla Bay is open and has more boat traffic, which makes it a good standing-stock site to compare debris movement.
Conversely, as an accumulation site, Fidalgo Bay is closed. Debris there is picked up, recorded, categorized and discarded. This method allows Foster and her team to see how fast and how much trash accumulates monthly.
“Marine debris isn’t as heavily researched as a lot of other areas,” Foster said. “There are a lot of questions out there, and that’s what the NOAA project seeks to answer.”
Volunteers Rachel Best and Tom Flanagen both heard about the opportunity from their involvement with the Salish Sea Stewards volunteer training program.
Best comes from a science background, as she used to work for the state Department of Ecology’s solid waste program, but said she wanted to get more involved in the marine sciences since joining the stewards program.
“This is new for me; I’m learning,” Best said. “But I’d like to work more in the water realm of the environment.”
Best currently lives in Snohomish and travels to Anacortes for the steward program and these types of volunteer opportunities. She’s looking to move here, as her husband is from the area.
“The more volunteers we have, the better. It’s a great way to get the community involved,” Foster said. “It helps the community feel like they’re contributing in some way to helping the environment.”
Those looking to help out at future cleanups and surveys can contact Foster via email at Hillary.firstname.lastname@example.org.