Blakely Island Dispatch: Biology in the Field


“You have to be in the field, in the forest, in the water to appreciate the field, the forest and the water. I can show them Douglas Firs on PowerPoint, and that’s just a tiny fraction of what you learn when you go out and get your hands on a Douglas Fir. It’s literally a breath of fresh air for students coming from Seattle.

Dr. Eric Long is a professor of biology at USP

For a dozen Seattle Pacific University students, the trip to Blakely Island Field Station in Washington’s San Juan Islands will complete a science requirement started online. These students were not biology majors, but they included political science and criminology students. They got off the Paraclete water taxi without any knowledge of science or the outdoors, and didn’t know what to expect. Professor Ryan Ferrer would change all that.

Students are dropped off at Blakey Pier by the Paraclet water taxi

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“I hope they will have a different perspective on nature and on science in particular…when they vote, when they make decisions about how to treat nature, how to treat their bodies with decisions of health care…that they are more familiar with scientific research and evidence-based decisions.

Dr. Ryan Ferrer, SPU Professor of Biology

Seattle Pacific University is an independent liberal arts school founded in 1891 by the Free Methodist Church of North America. The university has operated a biological station at Blakely for 45 years. It offers immersive two-week summer courses as well as weekend field trips in conservation biology, astronomy, environmental ecology, and astronomy. A five-day general introduction will also be offered to this group. Many of us who live on the island are happy to participate in university activities. We also have the opportunity to occasionally attend lectures on astronomy and deer which are open to the public. Blakely is unique in that it offers both freshwater lakes and the saltwater Salish Sea, which have rocky beaches and tidal pools, and heavily forested hills created by glaciers thousands of years ago. ‘years. The island is home to black-tailed deer and bald eagles as well as raccoons and squirrels. There are two areas which provide accommodation for around 100 homeowners. There is also an airstrip. However, most of the island’s seven miles are in a natural state and subject to selective logging.

“I get a lot of inspiration here, honestly. I wish I had more time to write at my own pace.

Helen Peterson, English major with a focus on creative writing

Main building of the SPU biology station

Spencer Lake, SPU Biological Station

The late Thomas B. Crowley, Sr., owner of Crowley Marine, donated 967 acres in 1976, then built and staffed the field station as a way to preserve much of the island in its natural state and to support SPU’s mission to teach about nature and the environment. The magnificent buildings of the field station were built by Gordon Plume, a skilled carpenter. They were made with wood and stones from the island. The campus is located approximately five kilometers from the Blakely marina. It includes dormitories, a science lab, lounge, kitchen and dining room, and a science lab.

To give students a taste of the island, their day of arrival included a trip to Blakely’s highest point, the Peak, offering spectacular views of the northwest San Juan Islands and in the distance, Vancouver Island. , British Columbia.

“The first day we went to Blakely Peak…we got to see the sunset…and all the different islands surrounding the area, and it was so awesome!”

Naide Perez, Major in Social Justice and Cultural Studies

View from Blakely Peak

The stage was set to welcome the first class in the field, who explored the forest.

“I have seen many trees in my life, but there are so many trees here!”

Alex Christiansen is a political science student

“We learned how to get a small tree core…it was so interesting to know how to find the age
of a tree!”

Jannice Barbosa Buenrostro, Major in Social Justice and Cultural Psychology

“I hadn’t really paid attention to the number of varieties of trees around you because you walk past them so fast. I really enjoyed looking at the different leaf and bark shapes. »

Helen Peterson, English major with a focus on creative writing

After learning the differences between pines, firs, maples, cedars and more about the flora of the island, the students spent the morning of the third day on the university raft in the middle of Lake Spencer. After a briefing from Dr. Ferrer on the measures and equipment ashore, the class headed to the dock. Professor Ferrer explained how simple field collection equipment was compared to more sophisticated devices and how it could be repaired in the field if necessary. Teams of three carried thermometers, water turbidity and clarity meters, plankton strainers for water samples and jars for water samples. To see the contents of the lake, they used rowboats and canoes. I was invited by Dr. Ferrer to join him in his canoe, to learn more about the lake where I had swum so many times without knowing it!

“I was surprised by how few people live here all year round. I appreciate how natural it is.

Maren Pingree, Criminology Major

Dr. Ferrer explains the way

Students gather at the university raft in Spencer Lake

Each team measured water clarity by recording the depths of black and white discs on a segmented rope. They also checked the temperature differences between the upper and lower lake. They captured tiny creatures in fine mesh pouches and then in a looser mesh pouch. Students began to see connections between their majors and the vitality and density of the lake.

“The design of the place is really beautiful… It makes me more aware of our carbon footprint. Maybe the fashion industry can learn something from it.

Joyce Park, Fashion Merchandising and Fashion Design major

A mesh pouch can be dragged to the lake to see what’s inside Tiny lake dwellers captured and preserved for study in a jar

Tiny lake dwellers captured and preserved for study in a jar With blue ribbon

Measurement of temperature changes as lake surface temperature increases

The group then traveled to Horseshoe Lake to compare the two bodies of water. Although one was stocked with trout and the other with bass, the measurements were identical. They spent the afternoon analyzing their data under a microscope in the lab.

After learning the basics of fresh water, the group spent the next morning by the sea at Driftwood Beach for an exploration of the saltwater tidal pools – the seawater remaining among the rocks covered in barnacles at low tide. Each team chose a pool to measure its size, salinity and temperature. The teams also measured the distance from the shore and the number of observable wildlife. The teams then selected new pools to compare.

One of Driftwood Beach’s largest tidal pools

The students descend a rocky promontory and find several tidal pools

Students learn how students can measure the area of ​​a tidal pool with irregular dimensions

“I never realized how many species could live in a small body of water that comes from the beach. I got to see starfish for the first time!

Naide Perez, Major in Social Justice and Cultural Studies

The field station also conducts research in other areas. Dr. Eric Long has been a resident of the field station for 16 years and has studied the black-tailed deer population. Residents enjoy seeing deer in the woods, and even on our land on a regular basis. Some residents are taking advantage of the limited hunting season to stock up on venison for their freezers. For suburban Chicagoans who live in the suburbs, the deer challenge is well known. Their gardens can be decimated in an hour or two. Blakely is also a place where students descend a rocky promontory in order to find tidal pools. Students must build high fences to protect the dahlias, daisies and arugula. strawberries.

A deer explores our neighbor’s property

A high fence protects a garden island

What is unique about Blakely deer is their size; they are small compared to their mainland cousins. Although deer can swim between islands, Blakely’s herd appears to have stayed alone and mated with close relatives. Their natural predators, including cougars and wolves, were wiped out by early settlers. The annual hunt is not a significant factor in herd survival. The only thing that limits its numbers is the availability of food. Dr. Long points out that the mature forest canopy blocks sunlight and reduces underbrush, which deer love. He estimates that there was once a stable population of 500 deer. Now there are only 350. To monitor the population decline, students conduct an annual deer count. Students will continue to do this until the population reaches a new equilibrium with the food supply.

Although counting deer is not on the agenda of the current group, the students had a busy week. The students made presentations about their research and special projects the last night at Blakely. They returned home on Friday morning after their week at Blakely.

The Paraclete waits for its passengers for the 40-minute journey to the mainland on the first cloudy day of the week

“It was very different from what I thought it would be. I thought we’d be at the field station, talking about stuff. But we have to do our own research in different places on the island, like a real scientist.

Dominique Shipman is a major in political science with a minor in philosophy

“It was a lot more than I expected…lots of fun…so many bugs, but we fought them!” I learned a lot about trees. I was able to understand everything we were doing… it applies to just about everything… It was an incredible experience… very, very instructive and really beautiful. The week has been so awesome! I am so sad to go there. Seeing the luggage here is the saddest part. Such a great experience!”

Melody Stice is a psychology and cultural anthropology student.

“Hearing the excitement in their voices as they experience what they’re going through here is really, really special.”

Dr. Ryan Ferrer, SPU Professor of Biology

For those of us lucky enough to have homes on Blakely Island, it is valuable to see the island with fresh eyes and take the time to learn about the habitat we are disturbing with our homes, our boats and our planes. The SPU team shares our natural wealth with the next generation. We must be careful.


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