This year, like much of the world, Friday Harbor Labs has faced extraordinary challenges. For us, the central question has been: how can research and education safely continue at FHL in the midst of a pandemic? After all, as a field station, our value lies in our location and on-site resources: access to a wonderful diversity of marine habitats and organisms, combined with extensive housing, lab, boating, and other research facilities. In turn, we rely on visiting scientists, scholars, and students to support our staff and infrastructure.
Through spring, FHL was largely locked down, with only critical personnel on site. We took that time to make plans for how to safely reopen for in-person operations, plans made possible in part by the fact that FHL is fortuitously well situated for a pandemic. Its location on an island offers the first line of protection: in spite of significant COVID-19 outbreaks in WA state, a total of only 16 cases have been recorded to date on San Juan Island. A second line is provided by the relative isolation of FHL itself, as its residents can live, dine, and study on campus while interacting little with the surrounding community. Hence, an island within an island.
Working closely with San Juan County Health and UW Health and Safety officials, we created a COVID-19 prevention plan that revolves around a system of “pods:” small groups whose members share housing and research space, travel in vehicles together, and maintain distance from other pods. The plan also includes rigorous protocols for testing and quarantine (before and after arrival), and severely restricts off-campus travel. In June, the prevention plan was approved and in place.
For the summer, we successfully ran an 9-week research internship (one of few such programs held in person in the country) and a Fish Morphology class of 18 students; we also hosted a cadre of hardy researchers. Autumn quarter began in late September with the arrival of a record number (55) of students, including an unprecedented 20 UW freshman. On arrival day, a number of parents told us how grateful they were that their young students were given the opportunity to begin their university careers with an in-person learning experience in a safe, supportive community.
These positive outcomes to a difficult year would not have been possible without the support of our donor community and the Dean’s Office, as well as the hard work of our dedicated FHL staff. As always, we are grateful for the larger village that cares so strongly about FHL!