Photos by Luke Rutan.
The Wonder Of Blakely Island
The study of science at Seattle Pacific University takes occasional exotic twists and turns. The “Tropical Marine Biology” course allows students to snorkel the coral reef ecosystems of Belize or, in alternate years, to cruise Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands and observe creatures found nowhere else on earth. And then there’s Blakely Island.
One of the largest of Washington state’s San Juan Islands, Blakely is seven square miles of isolation and pristine beauty. Home to Seattle Pacific’s roughly 900-acre wilderness environmental research campus, approxi-mately 80 percent of the island is preserved in trust. The Blakely Island Field Station
and Thomas B. Crowley Laboratory provide a world of natural riches just an 85-mile car trip and a short boat ride from Seattle.
An Invariable Never Neverland
At Blakely, students experience an island surrounded by lush kelp forests, eelgrass meadows, and spectacular undersea rock walls. In the island interior, two freshwater lakes provide habitat for river otters, herons, kingfishers, bald eagles, and ospreys, as well as other diverse fauna and several distinctive forest types. A summer destination since prehistoric times, visitors to Blakely include Native Americans who used to camp at the southern edge of Thatcher Bay to hunt, fish, gather berries, and dry their harvest for winter use. Oh, and, SPU students, of course.
Among the first students to study above and below the sea at the Blakely retreat, Rick Ridgway ’77 is now an SPU associate professor of biology. Following his graduation from Seattle Pacific, he worked as an assistant lab manager at the University and went to Blakely in the summers to supervise student employees. He later attended graduate school at Washington State University for a master’s degree and doctorate. His Ph.D. dissertation focused on the regeneration of brain tissue in a salt marsh snail, a line of research that could ultimately provide a basis for treating severe brain and spinal cord injuries in humans.
Sometimes Blakely students are asked to solve nature’s riddles. When several island residents noticed an unnatural blue tint, like food coloring, in the water near the dam on Spencer Lake, they asked the Blakely experts to investigate. The student biologists examined a lake-water sample and confirmed by spectrophotometric analysis that it was neither toxic nor a science fiction invasion — it was simply blue-green algae dying and turning the water a temporary blue.
Field station research facilities at Blakely include a dining hall-library-classroom building that accommodates 24 students and staff, a residence hall with 10 double-occupancy rooms, and a dive shop. A 26-foot Beachmaster and a 14-foot inflatable comprise the Blakely “fleet.”
“Among university-owned field stations, Blakely Island is unique in its access to a variety of forest types, freshwater lakes with their associated wetlands, and marine ecosystems,” says Tim Nelson, professor of biology and director of the SPU facility. “Many field stations will have one or two of these, but we can examine all three.”
By Clint Kelly
To read more Big Ideas
, check our archives
for more about academics.