Ron Hirschi, Wildlife Author and Scientist
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SOAR Blog: Save Our Albatross Research Project
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Words on Water

Ron Hirschi, a Voice for Nature

About My Work

My writing career began when I became fascinated with children's books I read to our daughter, Nichol. Lobel's Frog and Toad led me down the path I still follow. I also work as a biologist and when I tried to find nature books for Nichol, it seemed that few of them combined real life images and accurate science. In those days I was also seeing, firsthand, the incredible damage to stream and ocean habitats that was occurring in the 1970s in the Pacific Northwest. I was angry about habitat destruction, but wanted to soften my anger and turned to writing and working with kids on environmental projects.

My vision is to share nature's beauty with kids while helping them to gain a sense of responsibility for their community and the environment as a whole. Stated best in Hawaiian, I hope kids gain a sense they can Malama i ke Kai- Protect the Ocean in a way you might protect your family and friends.


Meet Fred, co-founder of SOAR. In June 2009, he was selected to be part of a group of educators to fly to Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument, more commonly known as the Northwest Hawaiian Islands.

He and other educators lived on Midway atoll for seven days. There, they found something far more breathtaking than beauty...Plastic everywhere! Fred and his friends learned that thousands of albatross die each year from swallowing plastic.

Plastic also concentrates the ocean's man-made toxic chemicals so if the albatross don't die of starvation, they can die from cancer and other diseases. But there's hope. Before Fred visited Midway atoll, he met with students in Hawai'i and around the United States to gather questions and ideas for help.

In Seattle, Fred met Evelyn, a 5-year-old who suggested starting SOAR: Save Our Albatross Research. It's simple. Schools everywhere invent their own community research projects on plastic pollution and share their results & solutions. For example, Mr. Jeff's student council in Santa Cruz, California is collecting plastic bottle caps around campus during the first week of school. Then they'll brainstorm ways to get their student body to use less and recycle more. At the end of the year, they'll recount plastic bottle caps to see if they made an impact and submit their results to SOAR.


New from Boyds Mills, features some of the most magnificent bear photographs as seen throught the lens of Thomas Mangelsen. If you have never seen his photos up close and in larger format, stop by his Images of Nature galleries the next time you are in the Denver Airport, strolling the streets of Jackson, Wyoming, or visiting any number of other locations out west.

Ron and Tom's new book is part of a much larger effort to put paw to the hiking trail and:

Ron has teamed once again with the Trust for Public Land to help buy land as part of a project hoping to help link the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem with Canadian habitats. Once secure, these lands will provide pathways for large predators, especially endangered grizzly bears.

This project started when Mrs. Kitto's fifth grade class filled a honey bear container with nickels, dimes, and quarters.........
They discovered that one honey bear can hold as much as $17 and that their funds could actually buy habitat for bears. They did research on grizzly bears and studied maps of bear movements and habitat needs, then took action. They started collecting more change and moved on to a bigger effort. These students at Wilson Elementary in Wilson, Wyoming were soon selling copies of OUR THREE BEARS each morning before school. With a generous discount from Boyds Mills Press, they were able to send more than $1,000 in proceeds to the Trust for Public Land in Bozeman, Montana. All the while, Mrs. Kitto smiled, enjoying her class as they learned real life math skills while helping their world.

Inspired by Wilson Elementary, OUR THREE BEARS remains available as a fund raiser. You can help raise funds for a worthy cause while reading this great introduction to Black, Grizzly, and Polar Bears. Purchase of Our Three Bears as part of the project will insure that donations go directly to setting aside land for the grizzly. Plans for a Polar Bear and Black Bear project are also in the works.

Get in touch with Ron Hirschi for more details, including an offer of a much reduced author visit rate if your school helps raise funds for the Trust for Public Land or a land protection group in your community. Check out the Montana Legacy Project at for information on lands to be purchased for grizzly bears. For related information and classroom projects, check out the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative at


WHO LIVES IN THE DEEP BLUE SEA is Ron's newest coloring book from Island Heritage. Filled with sea life not usually seen face to face, it also includes not one, not two, but four different sharks, including the rare and only recently discovered Megamouth!

Ron offers WHO LIVES IN THE DEEP BLUE SEA and other books as fund raisers as part of projects to protect and purchase shoreline habitats in Hood Canal and the Salish Sea. See his marine ecology pages and click on the following,†free downloadable coloring pages of kelp forests, eelgrass beds, and a walk with a S'Klallam Seya (Grandmother). All created for the Trust for Public Land by Hawaiian artist and author, Tammy Yee


Puget Sound

Turn over almost any rock at the beach on a low tide and tiny shorecrabs will run for cover or raise their claws high. Check out their legs to identify two different kinds, but be careful, they can pinch. Oregon Shorecrabs are greenish and have hairy legs. Purple shorecrabs are a lot darker in color and have smooth legs.

Turn over another rock down by the water's edge. Look closely and chances are good you'll see a some quick, wiggling little fish called gunnels. They look like eels and wear some of the most beautiful colors of any fish. Catch one if you can and put your prize into a container of water so you can look at them face to face. Some are emerald green, others red like kelp, and many wear patterns like diamonds on their long, smooth back.

No fast moves from lots of other creatures you will also see - sea stars, chitons, limpets, and barnacles too. All live together on rocks that offer them a home at the edge of Puget Sound. Get to know them all, face to face on the next low tide, coming soon to a beach near you!

Puget Sound (Click to enlarge and print)


Eelgrass Treasures

Check the tide book. Wait for a minus tide. Then head for the eelgrass flats to search for some of the most beautiful seashore treasures in Puget Sound. Wade in the shallows, letting the soft eelgrass plants wrap around your legs. Look closely. Some of the plants aren't plants at all!

Emerald green, pipefish can be longer than a hot dog but are always thinner than a pencil. Relatives of seahorses, the males carry little ones in a pouch until the baby pipefish swim freely. Many other baby fish, crabs, and shrimp live in the eelgrass. Young salmon and Dungeness crab are especially attracted to the valuable sea plant habitat.

Eelgrass is unlike most ocean plants. It actually has flowers like plants on land. It needs a steady, but not overwhelming supply of sand for its strong roots to take hold. This sand supply comes from bluffs along the beach, a river of sand that flows from land to sea and along the shore. Follow the ripples of sand out to the green sea grass garden and look for the pipefish, a tasty crab, herring, salmon, flounders, sea stars, clams, and much more. They all need eelgrass to survive.

Featured up close: Cutthroat Trout. Cutthroat Trout are actually salmon. They can be found in eelgrass all year long, where they hunt for shrimp, clam necks, herring, and sandlance. You might fish for them with a spoon, fly, or bait. Hold one in your hand and you will be treated to a dazzling splash of bright orange --- their ≥cut≤ throat.

Eel Grass (Click to enlarge and print)


Aliens Have Landed

They don't arrive in spaceships or fall from the night sky, but Puget Sound is crawling with alien creatures. Some are welcomed. Some are not. Find them next time you head down to the beach or join in efforts to rid Puget Sound of some of the most harmful aliens.

Cordgrass, also known by its scientific name, Spartina, grows in tidal marshes. It is a pesky invader from the eastern United States. As it spreads, this tall green grass pushes out native plants. Watch for cordgrass in northern parts of Puget Sound wherever you find native saltmarsh plants such as pickleweed. This low growing plant has chubby little finger-like stems and spreads right out to the edge of the sea. Long ignored by most people, pickleweed is now being farmed and sold to restaurants where it is served as ≥sea asparagus≤.

An invader from Europe, the Green Crab scurries through the shallows in search of clams, often eating another alien, the Manila Clam. Green Crabs grow to about three inches across their brown to greenish backs and have a red underside. Manila Clams may not be native, but people enjoy them so much for food we let them live in our midst. They are usually the clam you will be eating if you order ≥steamers≤ at a restaurant or buy live clams at the market. Native ≥steamers≤ are still preferred by many. They have a much rounder, white shell compared with the Manila's orange tinted shell that has a yellow interior.

Alien oysters cover many beaches, but they were brought to Puget Sound intentionally when the native, Olympia Oyster was nearly driven to extinction due to over-harvest and pollution. Non-native oysters came from Japan and from the eastern United States. Hopping along for the ride, snails known as Oyster Drills spread along with the tasty oysters, one kind of drill from the east and one from Japan.

Oyster drills evolved with the non-natives that are much larger than our native Olympia Oyster. The Drills can bore through the thin shell of baby Olympia Oysters and slurp out the soft parts. Oyster growers can pluck Oyster Drills from the beaches. They can also pluck clumps of the Oyster Drill's rice-like eggs, ridding the beach of these pests before they hatch.

Aliens Have Landed (Click to enlarge and print)


Kelp Forest

To do this right, go down to the beach on the lowest tides of the summer, minus 2 feet or lower. Better yet, head up to Port Townsend on one of these low tides. Visit the Marine Science Center then walk just a little ways west of the center, around Point Wilson. Spread before you, all the way to Sequim, you will see ocean life so amazingly beautiful you will think it was created by artists with all the colors ever imagined.

This rocky beach and many others like it in northern Puget Sound gets its brilliant, living color from earth's fastest growing plant, kelp. Bull Kelp sprouts so quickly, you can almost watch it grow. Kelp plants attach to the rocky sea floor with a holdfast that acts a lot like a land plant's roots. A long, hollow stem grows from the holdfast, reaching up to where a hollow bulb floats on the surface. Long, irridescent blades spread from the floating bulb to create a canopy like the leaves and branches of a forest.

The Kelp Forest is filled with Shrimp, Kelp Crabs, Rock Crabs, Kelp Greenling, Buffalo Sculpin, schools of Herring and juvenile Chinook Salmon, and so many colorful invertebrates you could never count them all. Giant Chitons, Scallops, and even a tiny limpet with a shell shaped just right to attach to the stem of the kelp plant. Seals hunt the edges of the Kelp Forest, Orcas do too.

Wade into the Kelp Forest, letting the long, soft blades wrap around your legs. Find a tiny Kelp up on the beach. Many lose hold, washing away from the forest. Wrap its tiny stem around a big Kelp's holdfast and the baby Kelp might grow in place. Better yet, find a beach that has lost its Kelp and join efforts to restore a Kelp Forest for the future.

Featured Up Close: River Otter. Like their relatives the Sea Otter, River Otters love to dine on crabs, fish, and other sea creatures living in kelp forests. Sea going River Otters are the most common marine mammal in Washington and all Puget Sound shorelines are home to these curious and sleek animals. They have a much longer tail than sea otters and don't have that grizzled, scrubby look but once you see one in the wild, you will be watching for them up and down the coast. Be Aware though, otters love to tease dogs and have been known to lure dogs out into big water, so keep your pooch on a leash when walking the beach.

Kelp Forest (Click to enlarge and print)

Other Creature Features:

Seya's Beach
(Click to enlarge and print)

Lights in the Water
(Click to enlarge and print)

Get in touch with Ron to learn how your class or community group can arrange a seining trip to a Puget Sound Beach to learn more about endangered fish and disappearing habitats you can protect. If you've never held a live kelp greenling, staghorn sculpin, or baby salmon, these trips are for you!

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©2007 Ron Hirschi. All rights reserved.