Around the world, it has been a tough one and a half years for everyone due to the COVID pandemic. Our local community has faced its own unique challenges and even SEA struggled with the lack of hands-on interpretation, especially during the spring/summer seasons of 2020 and 2021.
We missed sharing our spotting scopes with the public at Face Rock and Simpson Reef. There is simply nothing to compare to the close up views of tufted puffins outside their burrows on Face Rock, colonial nesting common murres covering the tops of Face Rock and the Kittens, and the haulout rookery of seals and sea lions at Simpson Reef. We missed seeing people at our monthly seminars and our annual volunteer training session.
SEA has also been without an office for over a year. While the Bandon Marsh National Wildlife Refuge’s (NWR) beautiful new headquarters was being constructed, all of SEA’s equipment, records, pamphlets, and much more, was divided between Board members and safely stored in our homes. Because of COVID, SEA was prevented from moving into our new office at the refuge’s headquarters, even after construction was completed. Important training materials were not readily available, educational materials and pamphlets were difficult to find, and our computer/printer set up was nonexistent.
But SEA prevailed! We created a reference book for new SEA volunteers who have joined us at Coquille Point this summer to help NWR intern/volunteers. We maintained an online presence through Zoom seminars. And, we maintained our monthly Board meetings via Zoom. As with many businesses and organizations, Zoom has been a great lifeline for SEA, but it does not match up to our in-person gatherings and social times together.
This year, SEA returned to the sand helping to protect harbor seal pups and nesting sea birds from human disturbances at Coquille Point. We safely engaged with visitors to our coast in early spring, when the seal pupping season began, and into the summer, helping NWR interns/volunteers at Coquille Point. SEA volunteers also led a small tide pool event with a couple from Vermont, who connected with us through SEA’s website.
Volunteers have also maintained a monthly citizen science project sponsored by the Nurdle Patrol group in Texas. Due to COVID fatigue, extremely hot temperatures inland, and the ever popular Circles in the Sand event, Bandon beaches have been brimming with tourists. More people on the beach potentially leads to more disturbances to wildlife. However, it has been a good opportunity to educate the public, which by and large, appreciates our efforts and information.
As a Friends organization with the National Wildlife Refuge System, SEA has been collaborating not only with Refuge interns/volunteers, but we have also partnered with the Audubon Society, SOLVE, Washed Ashore, OR State Parks and St. John’s Episcopal Church. SEA volunteers participate in Portland Audubon’s brown pelican surveys and the monitoring of black oystercatchers on the OR coast.
Personally, I had the pleasure of hosting a beach cleanup, a Washed Ashore visit, and a tide pool adventure as a collaborative effort between SEA and St. John’s Episcopal Church in Bandon, on June 30 and July 1, 2021.
Fr. Hale at St. John’s in Bandon, was contacted by Fr. Todd Young, who serves in an Episcopal Church in Hagerstown MD. Fr. Young and his wife were planning a trip to the Great Northwest with their youth group consisting of four teenagers, ages 16 and 17 years old. Though Fr. Young and his wife had visited Bandon a few years ago, none of the youth had been this far west. The group was given the opportunity to choose the destination for their trip, with a focus on ideas for growth, learning, and opportunity to make a difference. Their choice brought them to the Oregon coast with the goal of learning more about plastic pollution and the effects on marine wildlife.
Our first day began at Devil’s Kitchen Wayside where everyone was equipped with SOLVE bags, grabbers, and gloves. Prior to their arrival, I recommended a bit of homework:
1) to research nurdles (Minute disc-shaped plastics used to create large plastic forms. You can google Nurdle Patrol to learn more about the citizen science project that SEA is involved with.)
2) to research coastal wildlife on the shores of the Pacific Ocean versus the Atlantic Ocean.
Devil’s Kitchen is oftentimes a large catchment area for marine debris so it was no surprise that we began collecting trash as soon as we left the parking area. It did not take long to find piles of nurdles in a trench close to the beach grass. The exclamation of “Look, here are some nurdles!” caught my attention and the group was amazed at how many nurdles were concentrated in one area.
We consolidated our debris into one SOLVE bag which we dropped off at the Washed Ashore collection site. During the gathering activity, the amount and content of debris was significant and everyone began to understand the prevalence of microplastics and its impact on our ecosystem. It was not hard to imagine how fish, marine mammals and birds could easily ingest these plastics, which is then passed onto us.
We were able to meet Angela Haseltine Pozzi at her work site for Washed Ashore where she and other volunteers are constructing another sculpture. Angela provided a great presentation on the use of plastics and the overwhelming problems presented when it finds its way into our waterways and eventually into our oceans. Angela also informed us that her latest sculpture will eventually arrive in Norfolk VA for display. The group was excited to hear this and said they would make a point to visit the museum where the sculpture will reside. They even got to work on constructing pieces used for this sculpture at the Washed Ashore gallery. In two afternoons, they learned the artistic process and consequently became part of the project.
Our second day together involved tide pooling from Face Rock to Coquille Point. Even though the tides were not the best for tide pool exploration, we did manage to find ochre sea stars, lots of anemones, and sculpins. Coquille Point was staffed with Refuge interns/volunteers and SEA volunteers and there were several harbor seals and nursing pups present. Moreover, we were all armed with grabbers and bags to collect any trash we found!
Personally, educating and revealing the amazing wildlife on our coastline is a favorite reward of being a SEA volunteer. There is nothing better than to witness the transformation as people recognize marine wildlife and the importance of stewardship and caring for our environment. This was confirmed to me when the youth group chaperone texted me the next day stating “This morning we needed juice and found ourselves opting to purchase in cardboard vs plastic. Then, this afternoon on the beach, we found ourselves picking up trash….an impact has definitely been made on everyone!”
To summarize what this time of the COVID pandemic has meant to SEA, I have to say that we have learned to adjust, to be creative, to continue educating ourselves and others, and to maintain a positive attitude that we will get through this together. It has been quite the experience to say the least.