About Us - Marrowstone Marine Field Station

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Basic and applied research at the Marrowstone Marine Field Station is directed towards understanding ecological processes that impact marine ecosystem health. 

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The Marrowstone Marine Field Station is located near Nordland, Washington at the northern tip of Marrowstone Island in northwest Puget Sound. The 5.2 acre campus was originally utilized as a lighthouse keeper’s residence, erected in 1896, but was transferred without reimbursement from the U.S. Coast Guard to the then Bureau of Sport Fisheries and Wildlife (BSFW) in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) in 1972, for use as a scientific research facility. Shortly afterwards, the Western Fish Nutrition Lab (WFNL) in Cook, Washington, then run by Dr. John Halver, moved its Bowman Bay Field Station at Deception Pass to the newly acquired site on Marrowstone Point.

The BSFW had the responsibility, under the Anadromous Fish Conservation Act, to preserve and improve stocks of coastal anadromous fish species and the waters they inhabit. The ability to adjust seawater salinities at the MMFS proved beneficial for evaluating the transition of juvenile salmonids into seawater. Early studies identified nutritional and environmental factors influencing adaptation of anadromous fish to the ocean, and defined physiological requirements for their conversion. These early feasibility studies provided specific guidelines for release of hatchery reared fishes by federal, state and private agencies. The decision was made to create a permanent field station at the site in 1974. The first biologist-in-charge was Clarence Johnson, who transferred from the WFNL in Cook, WA. Around the same time, the WFNL in Cook closed and the MMFS began its affiliation with the Western Fish Disease Laboratory in Seattle.

The initial MMFS consisted of the original light keeper’s residence (converted into the analytical lab and office space), a garage (converted into a small wet laboratory) and boathouse (converted into a tool shop). Municipal freshwater was supplied by the City of Port Townsend through Fort Flagler’s piping system. Seawater was originally pumped from a 58 ft. well located at the northern tip of the property in an abandoned gun embankment. The well was capped in 1975 because of low salinity, and a seawater intake system, designed to pull water directly from Puget Sound, was installed. In the same year a new 3,200 square foot wet lab was constructed. An additional intake system was installed in 1985 enabling the lab to pump up to 200 gpm seawater from depth of 40 feet. From 1990 to 1992 Marrowstone underwent an extensive $4 million renovation. New additions to the facility consisted of an office/analytical laboratory building and two new wet laboratory buildings. The old wet laboratory was extensively renovated and a new and greatly improved seawater intake system was added; the renovations resulted in enhanced seawater capacity and increased water quality. In 1998 the water system was upgraded even further with the addition of automated sand filters, which in conjunction with the existing U.V. system provide premium quality, specific pathogen free seawater.

While under the auspices of USFWS, research at the MMFS was limited almost exclusively to juvenile salmonids. Projects addressed problems encountered by fish reared in a hatchery and later released for their seaward migration. Most projects involved experimental manipulation of the fish or their living conditions in their fresh water stage, followed by the subsequent observation of seawater survival and adaptability. After the transfer to the WFDL in Seattle an additional emphasis was placed on developing new and improved methods for the prevention and control of diseases in anadromous fishes.

The MMFS, along with four other field stations (Columbia River Research Laboratory, Klamath Falls Field Station, Reno Field Station, and Dixon Duty Station) currently operates under the administrative auspices of the U.S. Geological Survey - Western Fisheries Research Center (formerly the USFWS – WFDL). Scientific effort at the MMFS is currently focused on marine ecosystem health, and the largest program area currently involves marine fish health research. Efforts are currently underway for program expansion into ballast water treatment technologies and ecology of invasive species.


The MMFS Mt. Baker Laboratory

Mt. Baker Laboratory.

Mt. Baker Laboratory

The Mt. Baker Laboratory is designated as the nursery area where specific pathogen-free, immunologically naïve marine fishes are reared. The laboratory includes approximately 3,200 square feet of tank space that is plumbed and organized for rearing of marine fishes under specific pathogen-free conditions. Additional space in the laboratory is designated for live feed production. Special disinfection procedures are implemented for all personnel and items entering this laboratory to prevent the inadvertent introduction of fish pathogens.



The MMFS Mt. Rainier and Mt. Olympus Laboratories

Mt. Rainier and Mt. Olympus


Mt. Rainier and Mt. Olympus Laboratories

The Mt. Rainier and Mt. Olympus Laboratories contain approximately 6,200 square feet of wet lab space and are organized with replicated tanks, sea-tables, and aquaria for experimental manipulations. These laboratories are used for maintaining collections of wild organisms and for conducting challenge studies using SPF or wild fishes. All effluent from the laboratories is treated with hypochlorite for safe and responsible handling of endemic fish pathogens. The laboratories contain designated spaces for quarantine / isolation and experiment preparation and processing.





The MMFS Fish Health Laboratory

The Fish Health Laboratory.

Fish Health Laboratory

The Fish Health Laboratory is used for sample processing and is equipped with the latest equipment and techniques utilized in fish health diagnostic and research laboratories. Laboratory space is designated for aseptic cell / tissue culture, virology, bacteriology, parasitology, PCR (DNA and RNA amplification), fish necropsy, etc. Additional fish health laboratory (Link to Fish Health Project Description) resources are utilized at the Western Fisheries Research Center which maintains a state-of-the art fish health research facility.




The MMFS Visiting Scientist Quarters

Visiting Scientist Quarters.

Guest House

The Guest House is a three story dwelling, originally built in 1896 as the light keeper’s residence for the Lighthouse Service on Marrowstone Island (the light has since been updated and moved to a pedestal in the front yard). The latest round of renovations were completed in 2005, and the 2500 square foot Guest House currently provides comfortable accommodations for visiting scientists including 5 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, kitchen, meeting space, and a lounge.