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Visiting the MaST Center

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Back of the MaST Center

This month, your faithful editorial manager had the pleasure of visiting the Marine and Science Technology (MaST) Center at Highline College off Redondo Beach in Des Moines, Washington. Following my interview with Randy Williams and Jim Trask of the Washington Scuba Alliance (WSA), Randy invited my cousin Hannah and I for a visit and off-hours tour of the facility.

By John Tapley; photos by Hannah Wyatt

The MaST Center, according to its website, “fosters a culture of marine stewardship by engaging our community through interactive learning, personal relations and exploration” and stands proud as a beacon for WSA operations in western Washington’s backbone, Puget Sound. Part teaching institute and public learning center, the facility unveils a swath of information on neighboring waters, its many creatures, and the importance Puget Sound plays in our daily lives as Washingtonians.

Jellies

There’s a lot packed within the 2,500 square-foot center. Upon arriving in the foyer, Randy drew our eyes to the remains of sea creatures mini and mighty: a 38-foot gray whale suspended from the ceiling immediately left us awestruck; skeletal seals, smaller creatures, and pelts adorned the walls. Across the large room, a series of intricately painted interpretations of the surrounding sea struck us with an appreciation for the artists who captured these tableaus and for the many MaST volunteers who made them possible.

It was a cool late morning with overcast greying the immediate area: the MaST Center’s brightness contrasting against the environment: against Redondo’s long expanse. After touring the entrance, Randy directed us to the dock and pump area, where Washington waters are cycled into the facility’s aquarium. We met with aquarist and center supervisor Matt Wilson, who amicably shared details on his longstanding work. Along the way, Hannah and I encountered a box of beetles: instruments used to efficiently clean animal flesh and detritus from bones. While the container noted the beetles only feasted on necrotic flesh, we gave them a wide berth; Randy invited us into the aquarium.

I’ve written for Scuba H2O Adventures Magazine and its predecessors for nearly eight years, and I must confess I’ve rarely encountered the majestic and mystifying creatures we often cover in our stories. The MaST Center boasts over 15 tanks in its aquarium, holding 3,000 gallons of seawater, which regularly flows in and out of Redondo Beach. As Randy shared the aquarium’s residents with us, I focused on a large habitat that, spare a natural formation and some odds and ends, seemed devoid of life. Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted a tapered tentacle, which slowly lead to a massive cephalopodic creature: before us, the acclaimed giant Pacific octopus shed its camouflage in a captivating gradient display. “Casper”, as the clever creature is called, greeted us by extending his long, ropey tentacles across the greater portion of the tank: his suckers undulating against the glass. It was my first time seeing a giant Pacific octopus, and it helped me better understand their seemingly preternatural intelligence.

Casper

Randy continued the aquarium tour, sharing details on the sea life, which included popular Puget Sound mainstays like stars, anemones, and rock fish. Wall displays featured jellies in smooth, groovy neon, and seeing a wolf eel chomping out of its cubbyhole for a meal was a spectacle. Overall, the aquarium houses over 250 species from local waters.

I would like to thank Randy Williams for sharing the MaST Center with us, and on a personal level, the tour has electrified my devotion to covering stories on community managed institutions and programs. The MaST Center may not be up to the scale and size of Seattle Aquarium, but it exudes a charm and earnestness that makes me want to return and volunteer. In kind, our magazine is proud to support it and the efforts of WSA.