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Citizen scientists wrap up summer of intertidal surveys at Fidalgo Bay, Cherry Point

posted Aug 8, 2017, 2:40 PM by Unknown user   [ updated Aug 8, 2017, 3:09 PM ]
By Hannah van Amen, Communications and Public Relations Intern

This July, a dozen RE Sources staff members and volunteers headed to the Fidalgo Bay Aquatic Reserve for our third annual intertidal survey along a beach that was once the site of a mill. Surrounded by industrial facilities and hidden behind a boat yard, the site has a stunning view of Mount Baker and the smaller San Juan Islands.

RE Sources for Sustainable Communities, in partnership with the Fidalgo Bay Aquatic Reserve, began performing intertidal surveys along this specific stretch of beach three years ago, to monitor its restoration after a fire burned down the mill.

This summer, intertidal surveys were also performed at several sites in the Cherry Point Aquatic Reserve, which together provide an important baseline of information on the health of the intertidal zone in North Puget Sound. Learn more about the Aquatic Reserves.

The history of Custom Plywood

After the Custom Plywood building was destroyed in a fire in 1992, many of the materials — including the chemicals used to treat the wood — contaminated the water and sediment of Fidalgo Bay.

The Washington State Department of Ecology selected this site and 9 others as part of a long-term project to restore Fidalgo Bay shorelines. Ecology removed thousands of tons of toxic sediment, brought in new sediment, and planted eelgrass plugs to help restore the site.

After just three years, life is already returning to the beach. Once a blank slate, the site is now home to bent-nosed clams, bubble snails, crabs, and more. Learn more about the site in an article from the Skagit Valley Herald.

“The Custom Plywood site is a chance to watch nature in action,” said Eleanor Hines, lead scientist at RE Sources for Sustainable Communities. “It’s fascinating to see how quickly our marine environment can rebound, and it’s so special to be part of the group that’s documenting the transition.”

Our citizen science volunteers

Citizen scientists are integral to support the work that underfunded agencies cannot do themselves, and their vital role helps organizations like RE Sources contribute to scientific research for the health of the Salish Sea.

One citizen science volunteer, Kippy, taught for more than 30 years before retiring. This year is her first year doing surveys, and she said enjoys the opportunity to spend her days outside. “I have been a teacher for a long time, I like being outside and I love learning — so this was a perfect opportunity for me!”

Another volunteer, Margaret, is part of the North Sound Stewards program. Originally from Texas, she has lived all over the world, including Florida and Australia.

With degrees in both biology and chemistry, Margaret enjoys being able to use her education while spending time outdoors. Her biggest shock about Washington beaches is the absence of dangerous creatures. “When I was growing up, if you saw something moving in the water the first thing you did was get out. Here in Washington, it's probably just a crab,” she said with a laugh.

“Our volunteer citizen scientists come from a variety of different backgrounds,” said Natalie Lord, the Aquatic Reserve Coordinator at RE Sources for Sustainable Communities. “The best part is seeing how their collective experiences allow them to learn from one another and come together to perform this important work.”

North Sound Stewards

Some intertidal survey volunteers are part of North Sound Stewards, a new program where participants commit to 50 hours of volunteering in one year. The information these citizen science volunteers collect can help inform policy, restoration efforts, cleanups, and other important projects.

North Sound Stewards participants can get involved in everything from intertidal, sea star, and forage fish surveys to more technical opportunities such as monitoring ocean acidification, tracking bull kelp, and uncovering invasive green crabs. Learn more about North Sound Stewards.

North Sound Stewards has reached the limit for participation this year, but if you're interested in becoming a citizen scientist, you can sign up to be put on the waiting list or explore our full list of citizen science opportunities for other ways to get involved. We're always looking for volunteers!