Become A Community Scientist: North Sound Stewards

After a decade of data collection, we’ve made the difficult decision to end the North Sound Stewards program at the end of 2023 due to a chronic lack of funding.

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Completed on December 12, 2023

The North Sound Stewards program has been sunsetted as of 2023. But there are many other ways to get involved! 

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The next person to track an invasive species or monitor the health of vital shoreline habitat is… you!

We train residents of Whatcom County to become community scientists and participate in beach surveys. Community scientists are integral to support important conservation work that underfunded government agencies are often stretched too thin to do. The North Sound Stewards program serves as a hub for community science in Whatcom and Skagit Counties, pairing you up with the best fit for your interests. There are opportunities for every skill set and experience level, from kayaking to data entry to photography.

Volunteer groups led by marine scientists will gather data on sea stars, forage fish (small fish that salmon, sea birds, marine mammals and others rely on for food), intertidal species, and more that will help protect these species’ habitats and longevity. Information collected through community science efforts provides a baseline of data that inform policy, management plans, restoration efforts, cleanups, and other important projects.


“We need to make sure our elected officials and the public have both the information and motivation to act. Who better to help provide these than a voter who has also helped watch over our precious ocean ecosystems?” — Chris Brown, community scientist and Whatcom Marine Resource Committee (MRC) member

The Puget Sound Partnership estimates that filling gaps in monitoring key indicators of the Salish Sea’s health, like migratory bird populations or the amount of smaller fish that Chinook salmon eat, could cost $12.5 million annually. Work done by community scientists could help bring down this figure. There would be even larger gaps in our understanding of habitat and life in the Salish Sea without dedicated volunteers. For example, RE Sources is working with the Washington Department of Natural Resources to use community science data in updated management and oil spill response plans.


There are plenty of other ways to help community science efforts besides data collection. You can help with…

    • Data entry,
    • Photography,
    • GIS work,
    • Attend presentations and talks,
    • Table at an event doing education and outreach for the Whatcom Marine Resources Committee or RE Sources.
    • Donate to support this critical work!

There are a number of smartphone apps that can be used to help collect important data. Some of these include the Water Reporter, NOAA Marine Debris Tracker, Clean Swell, and My Coast apps. 

We would like all of our participants to complete the full 25 hours within a year, but we also recognize that life can be busy. We try to host a variety of events at different times to capture differences in volunteer schedules, but sometimes we are limited by when the tide is out. We realize that not everyone will be able to meet this full commitment and there will be no consequences for not meeting the full 25 hours; however, there may be rewards for meeting other various milestones.

The North Sound Stewards volunteer program focuses on intertidal surveys, sea star wasting syndrome surveys, forage fish surveys, and more in the Cherry Point and Fidalgo Bay Aquatic Reserves, and with our partners at the Whatcom Marine Resources Committee and the Cherry Point and Fidalgo Bay Aquatic Reserve Citizen Stewardship Committees.


Learn more about intertidal monitoring in this workbook: Includes a quick overview of intertidal monitoring, the Citizen Stewardship Committees, how citizen science is used, the location of monitoring sites, etiquette in the field, and more.

Field guides to species in the Cherry Point & Fidalgo Aquatic Reserves

Presentations on identification:

Take Action

Be a part of changing the world


Become a citizen scientist today! We typically accept new volunteers between December and mid-January. However, during the rest of the year we may take a few new folks, and you can let us know you’re interested here.

Apply to be a North Sound Steward

Get in touch with our citizen science team!

Eleanor Hines, North Sound Baykeeper
Phone: (360) 733-8307 ext. 213

Projects & Skill-Building


See the 2023 intertidal monitoring schedule

Intertidal monitoring surveys collect data on beach elevation profiles and species on the beach. Lead naturalists are available to answer any questions. This is part of a long-term monitoring project, and RE Sources is looking into how to best share the data with the public. Hosted by RE Sources, Fidalgo Bay and Cherry Point Aquatic Reserve Citizen Stewardship Committees, and Northwest Straits Foundation.

Locations: Fidalgo Bay in Skagit County and Cherry Point in Whatcom County

  • Expected hours: 5 hours per survey (varies)
  • Trainings: Dates coming soon!
  • Survey dates: May-August
  • Tasks: Identification of species including counts and percent covers, elevation profiles, photography of surveys and/or for quality control, scribes to record data, survey set up and break down, data entry

With some extraordinary low tides expected this summer in Whatcom County and an influx of people finding new ways to get outdoors during the pandemic, our waterways need a little extra TLC — and we all have a part to play to protect beaches. Be a volunteer out at Larrabee and Birch Bay State Parks over the summer and talk to folks about everything from tide pools to delicate ocean critters, and even (gasp!) poop pollution.

We need volunteers who want to stoke curiosity and build excitement for Whatcom County’s iconic beaches and help the public give more personal attention to reducing their own impacts. No experience required, we’ll help train you.

Collect scoops of substrate from our local beaches, then process them to find out how many forage fish eggs there are. Hosted by Whatcom Marine Resources Committee, Northwest Straits Initiative, and Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

  • Locations: Little Squalicum Beach, Marine Park
  • Expected hours: 2.5 hours per month
  • Trainings: 8-hour training with WDFW required to lead a site; may show up and learn while doing
  • Survey dates: TBD (depends on tide)
  • Tasks: Scribes, scoopers, photographers, winnowers

Sample water quality at one site once per month. Take a lead role on a site or help as needed. Each site has two people who sample monthly for enterococcus bacteria, an indicator of whether the water is safe for recreation. When high counts occur, action will be taken to identify sources of pollution. This program includes everything from collecting samples to performing lab work and posting the results online. Hosted by Northwest Straits Surfrider Foundation.

  • Locations: Larrabee State Park, North Chuckanut Bay, mouth of Padden Creek, Squalicum Beach, Locust Beach, Nooksack River Delta
  • Expected hours: 3 hours monthly
  • Trainings: Field training and lab training
  • Survey dates: TBD (once per month)
  • Equipment or skills needed: Will be wading up to knees in ocean water; water quality sampling and lab skills will be gained
  • Tasks: Field sampling, lab work, data entry, pollution identification and control

North Chuckanut Bay has been closed to shellfish harvest for decades due to high bacteria levels. Help collect data to determine the sources of pollution, in order to open up the area to shellfish harvest. Hosted by Whatcom Marine Resources Committee, Whatcom County.

  • Location: North Chuckanut Bay
  • Expected hours: 2 hours per sampling event, 1-2 times per month
  • Trainings: Train as you sample with someone experienced
  • Survey Dates: TBD (once or twice per month, dependent on tides). Sign on to get email updates with details!
  • Equipment or skills needed: kayak, gear, and paddling skills; may help out with land-based samples from freshwater; learn to take water quality samples for fecal coliform bacteria and take salinity and temperature
  • Tasks: water sampling, scribe

Identify and measure sea stars for signs of sea star wasting syndrome. Surveys happen at low tide, and are often done alongside intertidal monitoring in the summer during the day, and in the winter at night under a full moon. Data goes into a West Coast database to help scientists study wasting syndrome patterns and whether or not populations are recovering. Hosted by Cherry Point Aquatic Reserve Citizen Stewardship Committee, RE Sources, Rocky Intertidal Monitoring Institute.

  • Locations: Neptune Beach and Clayton Beach
  • Expected hours: 2 hours per survey
  • Trainings: Train on site with experienced people
  • Survey Dates: Each site once in summer and once in winter. Sign on to get email updates with details!
  • Equipment or skills needed: Learn to identify and measure sea stars
  • Tasks: Identify, count, measure, and assess the health of sea stars, photography, scribes

Help out with early detection of invasive green crabs. Traps are set once per month at a low tide. The next day, participants identify and count species found in the traps and report to Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. If a green crab is found, further action will be taken. Hosted by Whatcom Marine Resources Committee, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, RE Sources.

  • Locations: North Chuckanut Bay, Marine Park, Drayton Harbor
  • Expected Hours: 5 hours (2.5 hours for two consecutive days per month)
  • Trainings: If interested, North Sound Stewards can pair you up for a 6-hour class training provided by WSG annually in March
  • Survey Dates: TBD; two consecutive days per month at low tide April – September
  • Equipment or skills needed: Boots or waders, learn species identification and percent cover estimations, must be ready to trek in serious mud
  • Tasks: Scribe, identification of species, setting traps, molt hunt and count, habitat characterization

Bird populations have declined throughout Puget Sound since the 1970s. Help compare current marine bird populations and see how they may or may not be changing over time. These studies can also help compare trends on the regional level. Hosted by Skagit and North Cascade Audubon, Fidalgo Bay and Cherry Point Aquatic Reserve Citizen Stewardship Committees, Department of Natural Resources, Western Washington University, and RE Sources.

  • Locations: Cherry Point and Fidalgo Bay
  • Expected hours: 3 hours per survey each month
  • Trainings: occasionally offered in winter; other tasks available if you do not pass the training
  • Survey Dates: TBD (once per month September – May)
  • Equipment or skills needed: Bird identification and counting skills appreciated, though there are tasks for everyone
  • Tasks: Scribe, counter, spotter

Little kelp data exists in Puget Sound. These surveys entail visiting the same kelp beds annually to record perimeter, temperature, depth, photos, and other measurements for year-to-year comparisons. This project is one-of-a-kind and still developing. Each season seems to entail more scouting and adding new sites. These surveys are being compared with drone surveys to better understand the strengths and weaknesses of both methods. Hosted by Whatcom Marine Resource Committee, Northwest Straits Initiative.

Locations: Lummi Island, Cherry Point, Alden Bank
Expected hours: 4 hours, or up to 1 weekend for surveys
Trainings: TBD
Survey Dates: Late July through September.
Equipment or skills needed: Must be a competent kayaker and have your own boat
Tasks: GPS tracking, scribe, photographer

Swap out sensors from Cherry Point and Fidalgo Bay sites every three months. Department of Natural Resources needs your help tracking all of its sensors. These sensors collect continuous data on pH, temperature, chlorophyll, and other important parameters to better understand how ocean acidification may be impacting nearshore marine environments and whether eelgrass beds provide important refuge for organisms. Other data is collected on a more frequent basis in the summer time such as counting and measuring eelgrass, oysters, and swapping spat tiles in addition to cleaning the sensors. Hosted by Northwest Straits Surfrider Foundation, Department of Natural Resources, and RE Sources.

  • Locations: Cherry Point Aquatic Reserve, Fidalgo Bay Aquatic Reserve
  • Expected hours: 2 hours once every 3 months, or 3 hours every other week May – September
  • Trainings: 5 hours with DNR or tag along with someone trained
  • Survey Dates: TBD (once every 3 months, or 4 times per year to swap; one every other week during low tide in the summer)
  • Equipment or skills needed: Will be swapping out heavy equipment and cleaning scientific instruments in the field, boots and/or waders can be helpful, DNR will provide scientific equipment needed
  • Tasks: GPS and location skills, cleaning instruments, measuring oysters, measuring and counting eelgrass, and swapping spat tiles

Help monitor Olympia Oysters! The monitoring plan is still being compiled, but there will be plenty of opportunities to help collect data and determine the success of re-introducing Olympia Oysters to North Chuckanut Bay. Hosted by Whatcom Marine Resources Committee.

  • Locations: North Chuckanut Bay (aka Mud Bay)
  • Expected hours: TBD
  • Trainings: TBD
  • Dates: TBD
  • Equipment or skills needed: TBD
  • Tasks: TBD (likely intertidal surveys, elevation profiles, seeding and counting established oysters)

When you go to your local beach, pull out your smartphone and log marine debris! Help NOAA assess what and where marine debris is accumulating to better understand how we can start tackling this issue. Hosted by Surfrider Foundation, Whatcom Marine Resources Committee, National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, and RE Sources.

  • Locations: Beaches near you
  • Expected hours: Whatever works for you
  • Trainings: None needed
  • Dates: Whatever works for you
  • Equipment or skills needed: NOAA Marine Debris App, learn how to ID marine debris and enter into app; can also use the Clean Swell App or MyCoast App
Skill-building opportunities

North Sound Steward offers workshops and talks on local science to volunteers and the public. Make sure you sign up to become a citizen scientist to hear about them all! Below are some recent presentations given to volunteers.

See all videos here.