Happily volunteering – just about everywhere

Volunteer Lindsay Kotzebue, captivated by the vibrant life of the Salish Sea, is devoted to its active exploration and preservation

A post-pandemic move to Port Townsend from Seattle in 2022 introduced volunteer Lindsay Kotzebue to the Port Townsend Marine Science Center.

A self-described “professional volunteer” Kotzebue has involved herself in nearly every aspect of the PTMSC’s programming.

After an active childhood growing up in the beautiful Rocky Mountains in Arvada, Colorado, Lindsay moved to the equally scenic Seattle area, where she took her college degree in kinesiology and her massage therapy certification into the health sciences field. She has worked as an exercise physiologist for cancer rehabilitation patients, and as the Operations Director for Seattle Sleep Health. Although she found her degree and subsequent work rewarding, she says:

“I mean, I should have actually been a vet because that’s what I really actually love, being around animals. So as my craziness in the medical field started getting busier and busier, I was just like, I don’t want to do this anymore. And my outlet was to start volunteering at the Woodland Park Zoo.”

She started as a docent there in 2014, working in the Tropical Asia zone, as well as the Living Northwest Trail. She also helped develop an interpretive cart for the Matschie’s tree kangaroo that includes information about this small marsupial from Papua New Guinea, the captive breeding program and the Tree Kangaroo Conservation Project.

Choosing Port Townsend

After deciding to leave Seattle with her housemate group, they chose Port Townsend as they were seeking “…a community that is more involved in agriculture, in community-based projects. We kind of hit the jackpot here. I’m trying to focus on being out and about and enjoying the community rather than being one of those people who are sucked into my social media. So that was part of breaking away from being in the city – let’s get away from social media and let’s be face to face with people and face to face with my community and in my environment.”

Kotzebue has thoroughly immersed herself in the work of the conservation community in Port Townsend, and with the life forms of the Salish Sea.

Dungeness crab megalopae
Red Pacific octopus and snailfish.

Her first role at PTMSC was as a docent in the aquarium, holding down a regular shift on Sunday afternoons and sharing her enthusiasm with visitors from near and far.

Currently she spends time once a week, April through September, hoisting a 5-gallon larval crab trap up from under the pier at Fort Worden State Park, and then carefully scooping out the cold water to examine and categorize the life forms found swimming there.

Bright yellow snailfish, Dungeness crab megalopae, and recently a red Pacific octopus, a tiny speckled blob with eight tiny limbs, are all to be discovered in the light trap waters. The larval crab trap program is a citizen science project for PTMSC, as part of a network that monitors larval Dungeness crab populations to better understand the population dynamics of this important species.

This past January, Kotzebue was on the beach at Fort Worden for a blustery day among other hardy volunteers, identifying the non-native beach grass out of the three look-alikes, in order to pull it out of the ground to give the natives a better chance at survival.

All year long she is inside the aquarium volunteering as an aquarium aide, gently cleaning algae off the plexiglass tank walls, stuffing frozen shrimp into toys to enrich and feed a clever and hungry Kakantu, the giant Pacific octopus, or feeding kelp to very tiny baby pinto abalone.

Beach cleanup on Marrowstone Island

For PTMSC’s Earth Day beach cleanups, Lindsay is the PTMSC representative for Marrowstone Island, hiking from the east side up to Nodule Point, carrying a frame backpack and helping carry out a combined 172 pounds of garbage this year. Her efforts have earned her a special status, “We’ve had a good group (of volunteers) out there, so it’s been a lot of fun. I’m the only non-Marrowstoner, so I’m an honorary Marrowstone Islander now.”

In March, she assembled not one, but two eight-people tables of revelers for PTMSC’s fundraising auction, friends and fellow volunteers, all there to support the science center, the research it does, the animals it cares for.

In June she is under the pier, sitting quietly in a kayak, volunteering for the Pigeon Guillemot Breeding Survey Program, which is managed by the Salish Sea Guillemot Network.

Tied loosely to the buoys under the pier, she and her friend bob gently in the water patiently monitoring for feeding, looking to see if the pigeon guillemots are bringing their favorite foods, gunnels and sculpin, into their nests.

The North Olympic Salmon Coalition also benefits from Kotzebue’s enthusiasm for the natural world, as she volunteers each fall for the salmon spawner surveys in Chimacum Creek. After learning to identify the salmon redds, the nests that female salmon dig in the gravel of the stream beds, volunteers go forth and count as many of these sites as they can find to help inform the future spawning capacity.

Along with examining the life within the sea, on top of the sea and at the sea’s edge, Kotzebue also takes the plunge INTO the Salish Sea, as well. She has joined a burgeoning number of ‘Cold Plungers’, a group of community members who regularly swim off the Fort Worden beach.

Along with these singular experiences, Kotzebue has been achieving a steady progression of practical training, including the Washington State University Extension’s Beach Naturalists course, and the Jefferson Land Trust’s Tidelands to Timberline natural history course.

She is now a naturalist with the Land Trust – providing a synergistic bit of overlap when she volunteered to assist with the plankton study portion of the course led by PTMSC, as well as participating in the course’s Aquatic and Riparian Zones day.

Most recently, she completed the WSU Extension Master Gardener certification course. She and fellow PTMSC volunteer and board member Jassen Bowman are eager to put their new skills to work at the museum’s rain garden, and she also has time to participate in not one, but two community gardens!

And also, goats?

Long a fan, she and a housemate bottle fed six baby goats and ended up adopting two, who they now board with Ground Control Goats, a local company which provides goats to munch away at property owners’ overgrowth, a nimble-hooved squad of vegetation eliminators. Kotzebue’s goats Moonage and Sassafras also proudly marched at the opening festivities of the Port Townsend Farmers Market in April.

And in support of local craftspeople, food growers and the spirit of the market itself, Lindsay is also on hand on Saturday mornings to volunteer to set up the market, and back again to assist with takedown.

While quite obviously taking advantage of many of the conservation education resources in our area, Kotzebue also admires the people behind the programs.

“I mean, there’s so many people that are so knowledgeable here and so willing to share that I feel like I’m just constantly running into someone who’s willing to share their knowledge. And I’m just sponging up all the information I can.”

It certainly is a privilege for PTMSC to benefit from the enthusiasm and smarts of this dedicated naturalist, and the feeling is reciprocated:

“I love PTMSC because I love organizations that are involved with animals, and are also involved in educating the community about the animals, not just the animal itself, also the environment that they’re in. I’m really lucky that I’m at a point in my life where I can devote this much time to volunteer work…it’s enriching me and I am excited to continue this work in the future as PTSMC grows and changes. I thrive on the opportunity to not only work with animals, but to also share that excitement with visitors.”

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