Washington’s Aquatic Reserves

Some of Washington’s most valuable waterways are protected by the state Aquatic Reserves system, the only system of its kind in the United States. RE Sources partners with volunteer citizen stewardship committees to monitor, restore, and protect the Cherry Point and Fidalgo Bay Aquatic Reserves.

Upcoming monitoring events
Benefits: Educational, economic, cultural, and ecological

Washington State needed a system that would maintain parts of its aquatic lands with particular ecological, educational, and scientific importance to the Salish Sea. These Aquatic Reserves also hold cultural significance for many communities, including Indigenous nations.

Since 2004, the Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has established and now manages eight Aquatic Reserves, two of which are right here in Whatcom and Skagit Counties. RE Sources works primarily with the Cherry Point and Fidalgo Bay Aquatic Reserves. Their unique purpose is not only to protect and restore species and native habitat, but also to inspire stewardship and create education and outreach opportunities within the communities and stakeholder groups involved.

The Reserves face many environmental challenges —  increasing vessel traffic, water pollution, abandoned fishing gear which continues to kill fish, habitat destruction, and shoreline modification. Monitoring and learning about these aquatic ecosystems and the species they support is key to better understanding how we can protect our state’s waters through legislation and management actions. Just visiting an Aquatic Reserve deepens your understanding of the environments we are fighting to protect and leaves you with a greater sense of connection and purpose.

Volunteer community scientists are vital to these efforts.

Monitoring events also occur year-round, and you don’t need previous scientific experience to be a great volunteer! Contact our Americorps Aquatic Reserves Monitoring & Stewardship Coordinator if you are interested in getting outside and helping at Cherry Point or Fidalgo Bay Aquatic Reserve or if you are interested in attending a Citizen Stewardship Committee meeting. Visit WA DNR for more information about each Aquatic Reserve and the statewide DNR program.

Citizen Stewardship Committees are volunteer teams who steward each state Aquatic Reserve. They meet once a month and work to protect and implement management actions through environmental monitoring, education, and collaboration with governmental and non-governmental organizations. Contact our Americorps Aquatic Reserves Monitoring & Stewardship Coordinator to find out how you can help a CSC.

Take Action

Be a part of changing the world

Get involved: Protect your Aquatic Reserves!

State agencies lean heavily on volunteers to maintain and study the reserves. Here are two ways to connect with other people who love their Aquatic Reserves:

  • Hit the beaches and become a citizen scientist! Led by marine scientists, the North Sound Stewards program trains you to collect incredibly valuable data on sea stars, forage fish (food for salmon and other larger fish), intertidal species, and more to gather data that provides a baseline of data that inform policy, restoration efforts, cleanups, and other projects to protect these species’ habitats and longevity. Learn more and apply to be a North Sound Steward here.

Become a citizen scientist today

  • Citizen Stewardship Committees (CSCs), the volunteer teams who steward each Reserve, meet once a month and work to protect and implement management actions through environmental monitoring, citizen education, and collaboration with governmental and non-governmental organizations. Contact our Americorps Aquatic Reserves Monitoring & Stewardship Coordinator to find out how you can help a CSC. The Cherry Point CSC meets the first Wednesday of the month from 3 – 5 PM in the Main Room at RE Sources, 2309 Meridian St, Bellingham. The Fidalgo Bay CSC also meets the first Wednesday of the month from 10 – 11:30 AM at Chandler Square, 1300 O Ave, Anacortes.

Get in touch with our team!

Eleanor Hines, North Sound Baykeeper
Phone: (360) 733-8307 ext. 213 
Email: EleanorH@re-sources.org

Heather Conkerton, Aquatic Reserves Monitoring & Stewardship Coordinator – Americorps
Email: AquaticReserves@re-sources.org

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Cherry Point Science Forum

The Cherry Point Science Forum is hosted annually by the Cherry Point Aquatic Reserve Citizen Stewardship Committee to educate community members about environmental issues that affect their local Aquatic Reserve. Each year revolves around a theme. Follow us on Facebook or sign up for our newsletter for details the next forum!

2021 Cherry Point Science Forum: Theme and speakers coming soon!

Ninth annual forum on Saturday, October 30th, from 10:00 AM – 12:30 PM

This year’s forum will include speakers presenting on marine mammals and the implications of the summer heat wave along with longer term patterns of environmental and ecological change in our coastal marine ecosystems.

More info + RSVP

2020 Cherry Point Science Forum: Balance in our local food chain

Eight annual forum on Saturday, November 7th
Online  |  10:00 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.

How does the food web stay in balance in our corner of the Salish Sea, and what threats to that balance do we face? Join the Cherry Point Aquatic Reserve Citizen Stewardship Committee for the 8th annual Cherry Point Science Forum. This year’s focus will be on food web interactions and how delicate the balance is between predator and prey.


  • “The Role of Marine Birds in the Cherry Point Food Web,” with Dr. John Bower of Western Washington University on marine bird monitoring, including at Cherry Point and looking at comparisons between current and past monitoring
    Dr. Bower will use Cherry Point Aquatic Reserve Bird Survey data to profile species of birds that commonly utilize food resources in the Cherry Point area. Participants will learn about historical and more recent marine bird abundance changes in the Cherry Point area, and we’ll examine the ecological relationships between Cherry Point birds and aquatic food resources, including forage fish, forage fish spawn, aquatic plants, benthic organisms, and plankton.
    About the speaker: John Bower has spent 40 years studying the natural world. Getting his start as a birdwatcher, his research includes acoustic communication in bowhead whales and song sparrows, foraging competition between hummingbird species on a remote Chilean island, and the population ecology of Pacific Northwest marine birds. John has taught a wide variety of courses at Fairhaven, including “Environmental Photography,” “The Music and Science of Natural Sound,” “The Human-Animal Connection,” “Evolutionary Medicine,” and “The Folk Music Experience.” John is currently the Dean of WWU’s Fairhaven College of Interdisciplinary Studies and recommends that your children and grandchildren consider attending Fairhaven – it is a great college!
    Poll questions: One thing I would love is if people attending have questions they would like me to know about before I give my talk. Always helpful!
  • “The Hooligans of the Nooksack River,” with Dr. Rachel Arnold of Northwest Indian College on finfish of the Nooksack River. Dr. Arnold will talk about population structure and biology of the Hooligans (Spirinchus thaleichthys) of the Nooksack River, WA.
    About the speaker: Dr. Rachel Arnold is the Associate Director of the Salish Sea Research Center at Northwest Indian College. She oversees a variety of genomic research programs, including population dynamics of the Longfin Smelt and community dynamics of microeukaryotes in Bellingham Bay, WA. She also teaches Genetics and Evolution at the college and engages students in a variety of culturally-relevant genomics projects.

Share and see details on Facebook

See previous year’s science topics and recordings


Videos of some past forum presentations are on our YouTube channel.

Forum Title: Strengthen your knowledge of the well-being and importance of habitat and wildlife in the Salish Sea & Cherry Point


Intertidal Habitat

Speaker(s): Megan N. Dethier, PhD – Research professor at the University of Washington

Bird Populations

Speaker(s): John Bower, PhD – Professor at Fairhaven College

Forum Title: Examine risks posed to the Salish Sea by projected increases in vessel and rail transportation, and learn about Cherry Point herring and their role in the ecosystem


Vessel and Railway Risk Assessment

Speaker(s): Todd Hass – Puget Sound Partnership

John Veentjer – Puget Sound Harbor Safety Committee

David Byers – Washington Department of Ecology

Cherry Point Aquatic Reserve: A Special Place

Speaker(s): Roberta Davenport – Washington Department of Natural Resources

Forage Fish & Cherry Point Herring

Speaker(s): Kurt Stick – Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife

Tessa Francis – Puget Sound Institute at the University of Washington, Tacoma

Forum Title: None


Geologic structure, processes and sediment transport

Speaker(s): Eric Grossman – USGS Western Fisheries Research Center

Eelgrass, kelp and their biologic processes

Speaker(s): Thomas Mumford – University of Washington

Marine birds: ecology, citizen science, and conservation

Speaker(s): Julia Parrish – University of Washington

Documenting sea star wasting disease

Speaker(s): Melissa Miner – UC Santa Cruz

Forum Title: How Climate Change Impacts the Reserve


Sea Star Wasting Syndrome and How Citizen Science Helps Identify Climate Change Impacts

Speaker(s): Melissa Miner – Multi-Agency Rocky Intertidal Network (MARINe)

Eleanor Hines – North Sound Bay Keeper and Lead Scientist, RE Sources for Sustainable Communities

Ocean Acidification in Nearshore Habitats

Speaker(s): Micah Horwich – Washington State Department of Natural Resources, Aquatic Resources Division

The Ecology, Knowledge Gaps, and Issues Surrounding Forage Fish

Speaker(s): Evelyn Brown – Lummi nation Natural Resources Department

Warming Climates in the Pacific Northwest: Are We Experiencing a New Normal?

Speaker(s): Nick Bond – University of Washington, Joint Institute for the Study of Atmosphere and Ocean

Forum Title: Emerging Science in Marine Health


Effects of Oil Spills and Every Day Fossil Fuel Use on Fish Populations – fossil fuel damage and detriments to nearshore spawning of forage fish

Speaker(s): John Incardona, PhD – Research Toxicologist with NOAA

Microplastics in the Puget Sound – method development to field research on microplastics

Speaker(s): Julie Masura – University of Washington Senior Research Scientist

Floating Kelp: Highlights of Findings  – citizen science data collection and findings

Speaker(s): Helen Berry – Department of Natural Resources

Eleanor Hines – North Sound Bay Keeper and Lead Scientist, RE Sources for Sustainable Communities

Sea Level Rise in Washington State – new assessment

Speaker(s): Ian Miller – Coastal Hazard Specialist

Forum Title: none


Cherry Point’s Unique Role and Place in the Salish Sea

Speaker(s): Eleanor Hines – North Sound Bay Keeper and Lead Scientist, RE Sources for Sustainable Communities

Ocean Acidification in the Salish Sea

Speaker(s): Brooke Love, PhD – Oceanographer, Western Washington University

Monitoring Seabirds across Puget Sound using Community Science

Speaker(s): Jenn Lang – Conservation Science Coordinator, Seattle Audubon, The Puget Sound Seabird Survey

Forum Title: Climate Challenges in the Salish Sea


Communicating Clearly and Effectively about Climate Change Causes and Effects

Speaker(s): Susan Wood – Education Coordinator, Padilla Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve

Crabs, Climate, and Community Concern: Volunteer Invasive Species Monitoring in a Changing Salish Sea

Speaker(s): P. Sean McDonald, Senior Lecturer in the Program of the Environment at University of Washington

Forage Fish and their Role in the Southern Salish Sea

Speaker(s): Todd Sandell, PhD – Senior Forage Fish Biologist, Puget Sound Marine Fish Science Unit

Puget Sound Kelp in a Changing Climate: Trends, Stressors, and Recovery Efforts

Speaker(s): Max Calloway, Kelp Biologist, Puget Sound Restoration Fund