Our underwater backyard: life at Lopez pontoon

Daniel Dembwy

My Edmonds News publishes monthly stories and photographs of the Edmonds Underwater Park, with features written by members of the youth diving team directed by Annie Crawley, underwater photographer, filmmaker, writer and advocate of the Edmonds oceans.

The underwater world is full of surprises. Although Puget Sound’s average temperature of 50 degrees is not a tropical paradise, life underwater is incredible; in fact, the cold is what makes our region unique. As a member of Annie Crawley’s dive team, I feel so lucky to be able to explore and understand this world through scuba diving, science and photography. Edmonds Underwater Park is one of my favorite places. This is also where I learned to dive when I was 10 years old. Located at Brackett’s Landing North in Edmonds, this is my underwater backyard. For 50 years, Edmonds Underwater Park has been a marine protected area. There is so much below the surface that cannot be seen from the earth. Dive with me into this underwater world to explore the incredible life that needs our protection.

If you’ve ever been to Brackett’s Landing North, you might remember a large jetty protruding into the water. It’s a great place to see the water, ferries, wildlife, and divers below. Sometimes I venture out to the pier to watch my teammates surface from a dive, serving as a lifeguard diver for my team and community. The buoys that stain the surface of the water help divers navigate the underwater trail system created by Bruce Higgins and the Park Stewards volunteer team. If you squint, you might see a few blue buoys located straight from the pier, which mark my favorite spot in the park: the Lopez pontoon.

To reach the Lopez pontoon my team and I use a combination of compass navigation and natural navigation with park features such as trails. The founder and head of our dive team, Annie Crawley, has created a special PADI scuba diving course that teaches us how to navigate on our own to the Lopez pontoon and explore the park. I want everyone to be able to find their way to the pontoon because it is truly remarkable. I believe this unique structure, full of life and beauty, reflects the complexities present throughout the global ocean.

The Lopez pontoon, placed by volunteer divers on November 4, 2009, is a large concrete structure 100 feet long, 20 feet wide and 13 feet high. I think this is one of the most beautiful, colorful, and vibrant structures in the Pacific Northwest. On a sunny day, the pontoon is illuminated by the rays of the sun and serves as a hub for so many different animals. Schools of fish circle the summit, giant lingcods rest below, and giant feathery sea anemones cling to the sides. There are plenty of other small creatures across the pontoon hiding under algae or in the shell of giant barnacles.

The impressive size of the pontoon allows it to serve as a vital habitat for many different organisms. From the smallest hermit crab finding its favorite shell to the cabezon looking for a snack, the pontoon offers a place for all life. Lingcod is cleaned by symbiotic shrimp and sculpins, a school of rockfish, juvenile king crabs from Puget Sound mix with sponges and tunicates. Some animals also use the Lopez pontoon to hunt for food. For example, a small sculpin will find coonstripe shrimp to eat while nudibranchs may also find their favorite tunicate or bryozoan foods. During one of my favorite dives, I watched a feathery sea anemone catch and feed on a passing egg yolk jelly. As scuba divers, we explore, admire and learn so much about the marine world.

The pontoon is special for me and my dive team because it is our playground. We learned to navigate underwater to the edge of the park and return safely to the shore. It’s gratifying to be able to navigate the park with a compass and natural navigation cues, and a huge accomplishment for divers. Edmonds Underwater Park is a great place to take photos and search for interesting animals. I see the Lopez pontoon as a combination of all that is beautiful in the Pacific Northwest. I love exploring the ocean and know what is in danger of getting lost as our climate changes. I hear stories about the sunflower starfish that once lived in the park, but are now almost extinct. We are fortunate to find a resident star who lives near the pontoon. With each dive, I look for this star with envy because I know that it represents a hope for our future. Each of the park’s species plays an important role in the ecosystem that feeds our planet. We cannot afford to lose even one species, because all life is interrelated and interdependent on each other.

Humans are the cause of the destruction of our Earth and our underwater backyard, including ocean acidification, pollution, overfishing, and runoff. Just because most people can’t see what lies beneath our ocean’s surface doesn’t mean that it isn’t affected by our daily actions. I don’t want to see life on the pontoon disappear. When I see the life in my underwater garden affected by human activity, I can only imagine what is happening to the rest of our ocean. We must recognize these problems and take action to preserve our underwater world. It’s part of our own backyard and our lives depend on a healthy ocean. The action begins with each of us. I hope my images and stories help you better understand what lies beneath the surface of our underwater backyard, so you’ll want to find out and protect it.

The next time you head to Brackett’s Landing North Pier, look for the blue buoys and remember the incredible life that exists below the surface. We are fortunate to inhabit this world alongside so many other living beings. It is our job to take care of this Earth. If we have the technology to fly to the moon, we have the technology to save our planet. Instead of looking for life on Mars, let’s explore and protect the 70% of our world that most people don’t know much about: our ocean. I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else!

– By Daniel Dembowy

Daniel Dembowy has been diving since the age of 10, and immediately knew it was his passion. He is a PADI rescue diver and underwater photographer. Its goal is to document the beauty of the ocean so people can help save it. He attends Inglemoor High School and enjoys his science lessons.

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