Volunteers power PTMSC

Volunteers power the Port Townsend Marine Science Center all year long

Outstanding! For a relatively small organization, the Port Townsend Marine Science Center is able to maximize its impact to inspire conservation of the Salish Sea thanks in no small part to the efforts of our dedicated cadre of volunteers.

In 2023, over 125 volunteers recorded 9,180 hours of time, expertise and talent to the organization. According to the Independent Sector, a nonprofit advocacy group, the time given to an organization by a volunteer is worth $31.80 per hour. If one does the math, that pencils out to $291,924 worth of impact to our organization.

The Whale on the Wharf

One of the most visible demonstrations of volunteer accomplishment would surely have to be the installation of a 42’ gray whale skeleton on Union Wharf. This volunteer effort, led by Dr. Stefanie Worwag and Mario Rivera, began when the animal stranded and died on a  beach near Port Ludlow over 5 years ago. 

The push to articulate the skeleton and install it moved into high gear last year after Stefanie and Mario received permission from NOAA to display the skeleton. They approached PTMSC who facilitated the partnerships that led to the installation on Union Wharf. We are also grateful for the 2,231 hours of volunteer time provided by others, including Les Schnick and Eric Brenden for designing, constructing, hoisting, and installing the display structure for this marine mammal specimen, nicknamed Gunther by Mario and Stefanie.

And volunteers helped us celebrate this achievement by staffing the celebratory gathering of the installation on a sweltering day in mid-August and by being onsite through much of the month to answer visitor questions.

Volunteer assistance also happened in the quieter moments, with one-on-one communication between a volunteer low tide walk guide and a curious child, or in moments in the Aquarium or Museum, where visitors can ask any question they want and be met with respect and information.

Low tide walk volunteer, Lisa

Some grit and elbow grease also comes into many a volunteer task, notably for the folks who help out as aquarium aides. They have scheduled morning shifts each week where they clean tanks, help feed the animals and do general updates to the facilities. It can be cold work, but they are on site reliably and knowledgeably.

Citizen Science volunteers

Our citizen science programs rely on volunteers all year long. The dedicated crew on the Sound Toxins team sample water from Mystery, Discovery and Port Townsend Bays, and at Fort Worden, and then carefully examine those samples microscopically, looking for any harmful phytoplankton varieties, and also categorizing and tracking the other varieties, as well. And who’s to say there isn’t a little romance to cold water and microscopes? Currently, four married couples serve as teams for this project.

Larval crab count team

Twelve volunteers also helped with the ongoing larval crab count program which we participate in with the Pacific Northwest Crab Research Group. A large, lighted, collecting device is deployed at the end of the Fort Worden pier which overnight attracts a range of critters, including any larval crab, or megalopae, that swim by. Volunteers carefully examine the contents and count each crab larva they find. The goal of the project is to be able to better predict the abundance of adult Dungeness crab in four years based on larvae found today This research project supports one of the State’s most lucrative and important fishing enterprises.

Volunteers in the exhibits

The greeters and interpreters in our Museum and Aquarium provided 1,835 hours of volunteer assistance this year! They delved into such questions as do black oystercatchers really eat oysters? (actually, no, they primarily eat mussels and other bivalves); and where is a gray whale’s ear located on its skull? (just below its jaw bone). Eight volunteers are needed each day when the Aquarium and Museum are open, and they arrive on time, on schedule and willing to help.

Museum docent, Jassen

Greeters and docents in the exhibit committed 200 hours to training; everything from learning how to operate our cash management system, to studying orca whale habitat and diet, to participating in courses taught through other organizations. We can’t thank them enough for their dedication to learning about the Salish Sea.

Repair events

Our JeffCo Repair program kept 1,085  pounds of items out of the landfill in 2023 thanks to the volunteers at this program who provided fix-it services in events held throughout the county. Bike mechanics, sewists, electronics repair people and others volunteered over 555 hours to this program which is supported by a Public Participation Grant offered through the Washington State Department of Ecology. 

What we have accomplished in the realm of beach cleanups and our repair program would quite literally be impossible for us to do without our network of dedicated volunteers. We wouldn’t be able to have the reach our cleanups have had, whether that is trekking miles out to remote beaches and hauling massive loads back or helping manage one of our multiple check-in locations for participants. As for repair, without the skilled folks that show up to each event ready to help fix whatever comes through that door we would be nowhere! You all help provide our community with an opportunity to take action towards sustainability!

Mandi Johnson, PTMSC Outreach Coordinator

The annual Auction

Volunteers also turned out to help with our largest fundraiser of the year, the annual You, Me & the Salish Sea auction, which in 2023 raised a record $177,365! Bid spotters and runners, item description writers, a dynamic decorating crew and more provided 200 hours.

When we stage an event like our auction, or our Stewardship Breakfast, volunteers who help with set up, decorations, greeting, flowers, and administrative duties, all make it possible for more money that is donated at the event to go directly to pay for programs that change lives, rather than paying for putting on the event. In this way, volunteers’ contributions are multiplied. And most importantly, volunteers bring a sense of fun and heartfelt goodwill to our fundraising efforts. We are so grateful.

Liesl Slabaugh, PTMSC Development and Marketing Director

Other more prosaic tasks were also undertaken, and deeply appreciated! From stuffing envelopes for mailing out membership packets, to weeding the rain garden, to dusting and sweeping the museum, volunteers provided over 225 hours of maintenance work to PTMSC.

PTMSC downtown

The value of having a downtown location is also enhanced through volunteer assistance. Every Friday afternoon volunteer Toni Davison provides visitors with the rare opportunity to explore the microscopic world. She sets up two microscopes and provides a range of natural items for people young and old to examine. Children are amazed by what they see, and adults are provided an experience that many of them haven’t had since they were in school themselves. Toni’s work has not only inspired wonder, it has also garnered donations to the organization, and has been the impetus for a number of people to step forward as volunteers themselves.

The Gallery space at Flagship has also welcomed volunteers to interpret special exhibits presented by PTMSC. Visitors explored the underwater world of a Bull Kelp forest, and were able to see artistic recreations in 3-D of the animals that live there, along with immersive sound and lighting and a detailed underwater video of this habitat.

And this winter volunteers from outside the organization stepped in with their expertise and personal fossil collections at our Fossil Lab. Many thanks go out to members of the Quimper Geological Society for participating.

Board of directors

Perhaps the least visible of volunteer tasks are those taken on by our Board, which is responsible for governance of the organization. Through its committees, the Board tackles issues that are essential to the future survival and sustainability of PTMSC: community engagement, legislative relations, finance, facility, and leadership. They explore future opportunities, make investment decisions, publicly represent PTMSC, and help the Executive Director prioritize the annual budgets to keep PTMSC headed in a direction consistent with its evolving mission and enduring values.

Board director, Diane (center), with staff members

Most often Board members start as everyday volunteers – where they get to know PTMSC staff, functions, activities, audiences, and daily challenges. Some start as community volunteers for Board committees, where their specific expertise and knowledge can help the Board make wiser decisions. Regardless of how they get to know PTMSC, they come to the Board deeply dedicated to ensuring its long-term success. Their commitment is essential to the survival of a strong, constantly evolving organization.

Although many of the tasks undertaken by a PTMSC volunteer happen on a predictable schedule, most do not, and it requires a bit of grit and persistence to respond to the needs and to prepare to meet them. Submerging cages of mussels at zero tide in December? Moving the entire collection of whale bones from one shop to another in March? PTMSC volunteers will do it, and for them we are truly thankful.

Interested in volunteering?

Exhibit docents Judy and Linda

We’re expecting a busy spring and summer for volunteer activity with PTMSC. If you are interested, visit our volunteer page here – where one can also find our volunteer application. Further questions? Contact Tracy at volunteer@ptmsc.org.

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