Friday, August 11, 2017

Eyes Under Puget Sound: Critter of the month – Common Sun Star

Crossaster papposus; photo courtesy of Neil McDaniel,
Getting ready for the Aug. 21 solar eclipse? Well, this month’s critter was born ready. The Common Sun Star goes by many common names – Rose Star, Spiny Sun Star, Snowflake Star – but no matter what you call it, there’s nothing common about Crossaster papposus. We think it is out of this world!

Total eclipse of the star
With its bright sun-like appearance, the Common Sun Star is one of the more beautiful creatures in Puget Sound. Individuals can be all one color but generally vary in color and pattern, with some featuring pink, white, orange, and yellow rings.

A star is born
Common Sun Stars can grow to an impressive 14 inches or 34 centimeters across – larger than a dinner plate – but they also grow slowly, taking 10 years to reach maximum size. As small juveniles, they prefer shallow subtidal habitats; as adults they migrate to deeper waters, down to 1,200 meters in depth. This explains why we rarely encounter them while sediment sampling, although they occur from Alaska to Puget Sound – as well as the north Atlantic coast).

Two Common Sun Stars with different color patterns; photo
courtesy of Dave Cowles at
The Common Sun Star has more arms than the typical five-armed sea star that's familiar to most of us. Resembling the sun for which the family Solasteridae was named, it has many pointed ray-like arms originating from a broad central disk. Some sea stars have as few as eight or as many as 16 arms. For this species, the magic number of arms is almost always 11. It, too, can regenerate, or grow back, missing or damaged arms if the central disc remains intact.

Close up of pseudopaxillae on top surface of a
preserved Crossaster papposus specimen.
A spine in the sand
Even if the Common Sun Star didn’t have a unique shape and color, it has plenty of distinct features that taxonomists like us can use to identify it. Its dorsal – or top – surface is covered with little hedgehog-like bundles of spines called pseudopaxillae. The mouth (located on the animal’s underside) is bare and surrounded by long spines, and there are two rows of sucker-tipped tube feet running down each arm. It also lacks pedicellariae, tiny pincer-like defense organs that many other echinoderms possess. 

Common Sun Star goes into attack mode;
photo courtesy of Neil McDaniel
Here comes the sun (star)
A dominant and agile predator, the Common Sun Star scoots across the sediment at 70 centimeters a minute, using sensory chemoreceptors to “smell” when a potential prey animal is near. While the Common Sun Star wouldn’t quite beat the Sand Star (Luidia foliolata) in a race, it has several other advantages over its speedy relative. By standing on the tiptoes of its tube feet, it can make itself tall enough to cover and engulf its prey.

Can you put your stomach outside your body to eat a big meal?  Well this star can. It has an eversible stomach, which means it can turn its stomach inside out, shooting it out through its mouth. This gives the Common Sun Star the ability to handle the larger prey items it likes to munch such as sea urchins, other sea stars, and clams.  When it appears with a big hump, you know it’s enjoying a big meal.

A brighter future?
In 2013, scientists in Washington State discovered sea stars that appeared to be wasting away and dying from a mysterious disease. We now know that Sea Star Wasting Syndrome is caused by an ocean virus, and it has wiped out millions of sea stars on the Pacific coast. Although Crossaster papposus is not one of the species hit the hardest, a few cases of wasting Common Sun Stars have been documented in British Columbia, and they are listed as “likely affected.” Keeping our fingers and arms crossed that sea star populations will rebound and thrive on our coast once more.

Critter of the Month
Our benthic taxonomists, Dany Burgess and Angela Eagleston, are scientists who identify and count the benthic (sediment-dwelling) organisms in our samples as part of Ecology’s Marine Sediment Monitoring Program. We are tracking the numbers and types of species we see in order to understand the health of Puget Sound and to detect any changes over time.

Dany and Angela share their discoveries by bringing us Critter of the Month. These posts will give you a peek into the life of Puget Sound's least-known inhabitants. We'll share details on identification, habitat, life history, and the role each species plays in the sediment community. Can get enough benthos? See photos from our Eyes Under Puget Sound collection on Flickr.

Protecting our shorelines for public and environmental benefits

This week, the Department of Ecology formally revised the state procedural rules for managing marine and freshwater shorelines.

It’s all part of the state Shoreline Management Act, which was adopted by voters in 1972. The overarching goal of the act is to prevent the inherent harm in an uncoordinated and piecemeal development of the state’s shorelines.

Under it, cities and counties are required to periodically review their land-use policies and regulations governing shoreline uses within their jurisdiction. These locally tailored shoreline master programs (SMPs) are adopted and approved by each local government and Ecology.

Local governments helped us revise the rules and we also factored in comments we received from the public. The updated rules:
  • Define procedures for counties and cities to comply with a legislative requirement to periodically review local master programs on a repeating eight-year cycle. The first round of reviews are due in June 2019 for jurisdictions in King, Pierce and Snohomish counties.
  • Outline a new optional process cities and counties can use for amending SMPs that reduces duplication by consolidating local and state comment periods.
  • Incorporate recent state laws and adopt other “housekeeping” changes.
For more information about the revised SMP rules, please contact our senior shoreline planner, Tim Gates.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Tackling toxics leads to economic boon for Wenatchee

Recently, the city of Wenatchee celebrated the groundbreaking for a new four-story, 174-room hotel and conference center, the Hilton Garden Inn, to be built along the city’s waterfront area. The development, a former public works yard, is a great example of how cleanups can help to turn blighted properties into new investments.
Holding up a rendering of the new hotel and conference center,
from left to right: Steve King, City of Wenatchee;
Valerie Bound, Matt Durkee, and Mary Monahan, Ecology's
Toxics Cleanup Program; and Justin Clary, Maul Foster Alongi.

Although the three-acre site was located on prime real estate near the Columbia River, for years developers were discouraged by the liability from potential contamination. In 2009, Ecology provided the city with a $150,000 Brownfields Integrated Planning Grant that funded an investigation of the contamination on the site and a redevelopment assessment. 

Various contaminants including lead, arsenic, benzene, and carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons were found in the soil. The city entered the site into Ecology’s Voluntary Cleanup Program, bringing in our staff to provide technical assistance.

The preferred cleanup plan included capping the contaminated soil with a new building footprint, parking lot, and landscaping. Following construction of the cap, an environmental covenant was recorded for the property to ensure the cap remains in place.

In March 2016, Ecology determined that the site no longer posed a risk to human health or the environment. Cleaning up the site allowed the city to find a developer, Spokane-based A&A Construction and Development Company.

The hotel will be located just north of the Pybus Public Market, a successful waterfront development, and part of a broader development plan for the area (watch this video to learn how cleanups helped transform the Wenatchee waterfront).

During the August 4 groundbreaking ceremony, former Wenatchee Mayor Dennis Johnson said that the hotel “is the culmination of a dream that began 15 or 16 years ago. It’s an important project to help tie together pieces of development along the waterfront.”

Current Wenatchee Mayor Frank Kuntz said that the brownfield redevelopment will complement the adjacent market and neighboring downtown businesses, create jobs for the community, generate local and state tax revenues, and address a lodging shortage.

This has been an “impressive collaboration” with the city and its consultants, said Jim Pendowski, program manager of Ecology’s Toxics Cleanup Program. “We couldn’t ask for a better partner than the city and we appreciate their openness and willingness to think long term about what benefits their community.”

This urban revitalization project is an excellent example of how local governments can use Ecology-provided tools to enhance their communities.

By Cheryl Ann Bishop, Toxics Cleanup Program

Fecal Matters: Freeland County Park CLOSED to Swimming, Island County

BEACH Program Update

On August 10, 2017, Island County Public Health issued a no water contact health advisory for Freeland County Park beach. This closure was issued due to high fecal bacteria levels in the water. This beach will be re-sampled next week to see if bacterial levels have dropped. The public is advised to avoid any contact with the water until further notice.

Contact with fecal contaminated waters can result in gastroenteritis, skin rashes, upper respiratory infections, and other illnesses. Children and the elderly may be more vulnerable to waterborne illnesses.

Stay updated about water quality at your beaches by keeping up with us on our blog Fecal Matters, on Facebook, or join our listserv.

Julianne Ruffner, our BEACH Program Manager, is available at 360-407-6154 or for questions.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Smoke on the water, smoke in your eyes, what are you doing Friday at 5?

 Wildfire smoke can come on suddenly and last from hours to weeks. I’m sure you’ve noticed that Washington is currently smothered in smoke from the British Columbia wildfires.

If you’re planning on being outside this weekend, we’ve got some important safety tips for you.

Check for burn bans

There are multiple burn bans across the state right now. Before you go camping or have ANY kind of fire, check to see if your area is under a burn ban. Recreational fires and the use of charcoal grills are banned in many areas. There are too many health and safety risks from all the smoke and high temperatures!

Health effects from smoke exposure

The smoke you see is made up of small particulate matter, called PM2.5. Even if you are healthy, it can affect you. Watch for symptoms that include:

  • Itchy eyes and throat.
  • Coughing.
  • Headache.
  • Nausea.
  • Sneezing.
  • Difficulty breathing.
If you have children, are pregnant, elderly, or have any kind of respiratory or cardiovascular disease you are particularly susceptible to these symptoms. 

If air quality is unhealthy in your area, stay indoors with the windows closed and limit your outdoor activity. Consider mowing the lawn, or jogging, another day when the air has cleared. If you must be outside you can purchase an N95 mask at a local hardware store.

Now you can monitor air quality on the go!

The Environmental Protection Agency just released the Android version of the Smoke Sense app that lets you: 

  • Monitor air quality in your area.
  • Log your health symptoms if you’re in a smoky area.
  • Learn how air pollution affects your health.
When you use this app, you’re helping EPA study how exposure to wildfire smoke affects public health and productivity, and how they can communicate those risks to you.

Download the app from the Google Play Store or visit the EPA website to learn more (iPhone app coming soon).

Have a great weekend and be safe out there!

By Kim Allen and Miriam Duerr| Air Quality

Smoke chokes Washington - air quality worst in the nation

Air monitors around Washington state are lighting up the maps like a Christmas tree - and red lights aren't good.

Almost every community in the state has been hit hard by smoke blowing in from British Columbia wildfires. You can see it, you can almost reach out and touch it, and many of us are feeling it.

If you look at air quality across the U.S., Washington has had the worst readings since the wildfire smoke hit the state earlier this week.

Air quality monitors in the U.S.

Monitors hitting high readings like never before

Mike Ragan, Ecology's air monitoring coordinator, took a snapshot of air pollution values across the state early Thursday and found high levels of particle pollution - everywhere.

"We've never seen numbers like this across the board," said  Ragan. "When the state's cleanest air monitor hits very high levels of pollution, you know it's bad."

Department of Ecology air quality network on Aug. 3. The dots represent an air quality monitor. See the corresponding legend for air quality values.
In Washington, it's not uncommon for some parts of the state, usually Central and Eastern Washington, to reach unhealthy levels of air pollution during a wildfire. What's different about the current scenario is that the entire state has been blanketed by a thick layer of smoke and Western Washington in particular is socked in.

In the air pollution world, a daily average of up to 12 micrograms of particle pollution per cubic meter is considered in the healthy range. Anything over that has varying levels of health impacts:
  • 0 – 12 Good
  • 13 – 19  Moderate
  • 20 – 34 Unhealthy for Sensitive Groups
  • 35 – 80 Unhealthy
  • 80 – 135 Very unhealthy
  • Over 135 Severe impacts
Even what is typically the state's cleanest air, measured at the monitor on Cheeka Peak near Cape Flattery on the Olympic Peninsula, is showing signs of the smoke.

"Last year at this time, Cheeka Peak read 1 microgram per meter. This morning, it had a reading of 208," Ragan said. "Cheeka Peek is near a shipping lane on the coast. That's not where we expect to see dense air pollution."

While the numbers Ragan captured were not the daily averages, they represent the bigger
picture: It's hard for people to breathe. 

Below is the snapshot of readings Ragan took Thursday morning:

Monitor location Air pollution PM 2.5 values*
Cheeka Peak 208
Lacey 80
Port Angeles 130
Puyallup 132
Tacoma 149
Twisp 183
Winthrop 176
Omak 132
Chehalis 117
Spokane 53
Seattle/Duwamish 102
* Micrograms per cubic meter at time of measurement. Not the 24-hour average.

We saw it coming, but who knew it would be this bad?

Forecasters at Ecology tried to prepare people for the hit, issuing warnings beginning on Monday about the expected smoke, but they didn't know it would land this hard. 

"We knew a lot of smoke would transport from the B.C. fires, but this really is unprecedented," said Ranil Dhammapala, an Ecology atmospheric scientist

If you can see it and feel it, don't go in it

So what can you do? You can always check state air quality monitors to determine what the air quality levels are, but a good rule of thumb is if you can see the smoke, stay inside. Health departments and toxicologists are urging people to forego strenuous outdoor activities. Now's not the time to get that really awesomely-hard park workout in or work on your best 10K time. Stay inside. Wait it out. Mow your lawn another day.

By Camille St. Onge, Communications

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Chehalis Basin Board holds special meeting Aug. 3

Board will discuss work plan, projects and funding

The Chehalis Basin Board will hold a special meeting on Thursday, Aug. 3, in Montesano. The Board is tied to the new Office of Chehalis Basin that the Washington Legislature established within Ecology on July 1.

Lawmakers tasked the seven-member Board with developing a long-term strategy to reduce flood damage and restore aquatic species habitat in the Chehalis River basin. The Board is also responsible for developing budget recommendations to the governor.

At its Aug. 3 meeting, the Board will begin to address how best to move forward with flood control projects and habitat restoration plans in the basin without a state capital budget.

The previous iteration of the Board, the Governor’s Chehalis Basin Work group, requested $60 million in state and federal funding in the capital budget to help pay for projects, studies and plans to reduce flood damage and restore aquatic habitat in the Chehalis basin.

However, since the Legislature adjourned without passing the capital budget, it means some of this work may be delayed and Ecology no longer has funding to hire a director for the new Office of Chehalis Basin and other supporting staff. 

Board meeting topics

The August special board meeting will begin at 9 a.m. at the Montesano City Hall, 112 N. Main St. in Montesano. Agenda items include:
  • An overview of the two-year Chehalis Basin Strategy 2017-19 work plan.
  • Options for continuing work to reduce flood damage and restore aquatic species habitat in the Chehalis River basin without a state capital budget.
  • Presentations and updates regarding potential options to construct a flood retention facility and to make levee improvements at the Chehalis-Centralia Airport.
  • Discussion regarding the Restorative Flood Protection action and the Aquatic Species Restoration Plan.
There will also be time set aside for public comment. Please come and join us as we embark on this important work.
Email Ecology’s Chrissy Bailey for more information.

Contact: Curt Hart at (360) 407-6944