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Beach seining reveals secrets

Scientists from the Suquamish Tribe, environmental and state agencies around the Puget Sound are taking beach combing to a whole new level in the North End. Instead of looking for shells, lost treasures and unique driftwood, they are searching for the connections between species of fish and other sea creatures and the relationship the nearshore habitat and dry land ecosystems share.

Using beach seines — nets that are dragged through the water near the shore and designed to gather organisms the researchers are observing — biologists, ecologists and other scientists from the tribe, Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration are gathering data and preparing research in conjunction with other Puget Sound nearshore studies.

“This is an ongoing program that’s now going in a new area,” said Suquamish Tribal Fisheries Biologist Paul Dorn. “This season, we’re running between Foul Weather Bluff to Kingston. This is a program we’re doing at the same time as other researchers, such as around the San Juan Islands. We’re coordinating with other researchers in the Puget Sound to compare data. We feel it’s critical to understand what species, many of them fish, use the nearshore habitats.”

The scientists venture out every two weeks or so, also working in the waters off Bainbridge Island, monitoring and collecting data on not just the fish, but crabs and other organisms as well. Similar efforts are taking place around the San Juan Islands, near Seattle and throughout the Puget Sound.

“You learn something new out there every day,” said NOAA marine conservationist and nearshore ecologist Jim Brennan. He has been following the seining data and research coming out of the Kitsap County area. He conducted beach seining while working with King County, setting the standard for many of the seining practices now in use. “In doing this, we’re starting to get some very interesting results, which always prompt interesting questions... You can learn the whole interface and connection between the nearshore habitat and the dry land.”

Brennan is hopeful once research from the study is published, western Washington area residents will read it and understand their connection with the Puget Sound organisms.

The Suquamish Tribe first began using beach seines in 1978, and some of that data still has not been published, Dorn said. The state organizations working with the tribe continue to gather data, and a packet will be made available to the public in the next few years reporting some of the findings.

“We’re hoping to have a Web site where anybody that’s interested in what’s going on can see what we’re doing,” he said. “We work with a lot of schools, colleges and a lot of landowners. We recently took some landowners from Bainbridge Island out with us, and it really opens their eyes up to what’s going on in the near shore habitat.”

“I’m a nearshore ecologist, and I like to track what’s going on,” Brennan said. “People aren’t going to protect what they don’t understand, so we need to help them learn about it. That’s what I think the biggest crisis in Puget Sound is.”

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