Editorial: Quartermaster Harbor needs all of our help

Readers of The Beachcomber no doubt noticed that news about Quartermaster Harbor dominated the paper’s front page the two last weeks. This is partly due to the idiosyncrasies of the newspaper world: We follow the news, wherever it might lead us.

But on another level, it’s no coincidence.

Quartermaster is an ailing bay, and at a time when concern about the overall health of Puget Sound is mounting, our own marine estuary has become a focal point for scientific research.

King County and the state have a federal grant that will help them map the sources of nitrogen in the bay, one of the pollutants leading to its eutrophication — the dense growth of algae and other plant life that is leading to its depleted oxygen levels.

That research is being supported by work by a University of Washington Tacoma professor and her students, who have spent the past three years taking water samples in the bay in an effort to understand why Quartermaster has the region’s highest levels of an alga that causes paralytic shellfish poisoning.

And now, a new project is about to unfold, an effort to see if native mussels — considered filter feeders because of the way they take in nutrient-laden waters and excrete cleaner water — can play a role in helping us heal our ailing bay.

Scientists are careful by nature, and none are making pronouncements about why the bay’s nutrient loads are high. It’s possible, for instance, that there are some natural sources of nitrogen in the bay.

But those who know Quartermaster well — who have spent years walking, clamming and living there — know intuitively that people have contributed significantly to the bay’s problems. And now, thanks to some of these new projects, we can help be part of the solution.

The Puget Sound Restoration Fund, a small, highly regarded nonprofit that is undertaking the mussel research, wants volunteers. Islanders can help them collect native mussels to attach to the raft or even help build the raft. The group also hopes to recruit high school students who could become part of the field research team, measuring water quality to assess the mussels’ effectiveness in filtering out particulates.

It won’t be easy cleaning up Quartermaster. Years of inadequate septic systems have no doubt taken a toll. But we can make a difference. Those who live on its shores can work with the county to ensure their sewage is not going into the bay. As for the rest of us, we can clean up after our dogs, pick up garbage, advocate for its health and participate in innovative efforts like the Puget Sound Restoration Fund’s project.

How to help

Contact the Puget Sound Restoration Fund at (206) 780-6947 or visit its Web site at www.restorationfund.org. Betsy Peabody, who heads the organization, will discuss the project at the next Vashon-Maury Island Community Council meeting, at 7:30 p.m. Monday, Feb. 15, at McMurray.

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