Friends Notes

Trail Tales Receives Lodging Tax Fund Grant

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Friends of Skagit Beaches received the good news on November 28, 2017 that their application to the city of Anacortes’ Lodging Tax Fund was selected by the city council to receive a $3000.00 grant. Board member, Betty Carteret, the project lead for the Friend’s Trail Tale project, submitted the grant application requesting funds to reprint map brochures and replace damaged interpretive signs on the Tommy Thompson Trail.The brochure and map, which are available for free at a number of locations around Anacortes, show the location of interpretive signs installed as part of the Trail Tales project. At the time the brochure was designed, it was decided to include other landmarks and tourist attractions around town to make it useful for tourism. That decision has made this brochure/map the first on the that volunteers at the Anacortes Visitor Information Center reach for when directing tourists to activities and locations around town. In addition to that, the Port of Anacortes has distributed the brochures in the Welcome bags they give to boaters staying at Cap Sante Marina.

Between 2011 and 2015, Friends installed 33 interpretive signs between March Point and Guemes Channel. The signs were funded by a grant from the Washington State Department of Ecology to highlight the history of the working waterfront and the Anacortes Baywide Cleanup program that has restored contaminated locations along the Fidalgo Bay shoreline such as Seafarers Park. Some of the signs have been damaged by vandalism or air bombardment by seagulls dropping tasty bivalve shells onto them from the heights to break them open. This damage had led to the premature deterioration of the high-pressure laminate making a couple of the signs in need of replacement. The signs were developed and installed in partnership with the City of Anacortes’ Parks and Recreation Department but are still considered the property of Friends of Skagit Beaches.The city’s Lodging Tax Fund receives portion of tax monies collected from guests staying in local hotels and is awarded to applicants who apply and meet the eligibility requirements. The guidelines specify that money must be spent on things that directly relate to attracting tourism or are required to maintain or operate a tourism-related facility by a non-profit. The Friends’ application fit that bill and the city awarded the $3000.00 to print 20,000 more map brochures and replace two signs. Since the Ecology grant for Trail Tales ended in 2015, Friends has not had the funds to cover this type of expense. Friends of Skagit Beaches greatly appreciates this grant from the city!It should also be noted that the city council committee that reviews applications also recommended that the Chamber of Commerce work with Betty Carteret and her sign development partner, Jan Hersey, to expand promotions of the interpretive trail as a tourism growth opportunity.

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Mussel Watch – Where Science and Volunteerism Meet

By Wayne Huseby, President of Friends of Skagit Beaches

 

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On a recent crisp and very dark December evening, three local volunteers met in the parking lot at the Fidalgo Bay Resort in Anacortes.  Pete Haase, Tom Flanagan, and I (Wayne Huseby) were preparing to participate in one of the largest and longest running citizen science projects in the state.  The program is called Mussel Watch.  Pete and I are members of the Fidalgo Bay Aquatic Reserve Citizens Stewardship Committee (FBARCSC) and Tom is a recent graduate (2017) of the Salish Sea Stewards program at Padilla Bay.  Both Pete and I participated in the biennual event two years ago so we knew what to expect.  For Tom, this was a new experience.

Some Background and History

The idea of using live bivalves like mussels and oysters to determine the concentration levels of various contaminants was pioneered by the fledgling Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) back in 1965.  At that time, the primary focus was determining where pesticides such as DDT were concentrated in the environment.  A later program (1976-1978) funded by the EPA expanded the list of pollutants studied to include trace elements, oil‑related compounds, and radionuclides.  In 1986, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) started what we now call the Mussel Watch Program.  It is the longest running continuous contaminant monitoring program of its kind in the United States.  The NOAA program expanded the 100 or so original EPA sample sites to several hundred sites by 2010. The additional sites increased the density of the areas covered, particularly in Alaska and California. Starting in 1992, the program expanded to include the infamous non-native zebra mussels in the Great Lakes.  Primarily due to budgetary constraints, the federal NOAA Mussel Watch program has been dormant since 2012.  However, since most states have adopted the program, including Washington, it continues to grow and expand.  Today, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) manages the program.

musselwatch1Why Mussels?

Because mussels are filter feeders, extracting tiny bits of food, along with the pollutants out of the surrounding water, their tissues can be studied in a laboratory to determine the level of pollutants in the surrounding environment.  They are capable of concentrating contaminants up to 100,000 times ambient levels found in the surrounding water.  In effect, their tissues act as an amplifier making the job of detecting and measuring contaminants much easier.

Value of the Data

The value of the Mussel Watch data sets can’t be overstated.  The data has been used to assess the effects of natural disasters, including Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and environmental disasters, such as the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010.  In Washington State, the datasets are being used to support various scientific studies and initiatives.  An example is the Stormwater Action Monitoring (SAM) program, a collaborative effort funded by over 90 western Washington municipalities, ports, and governmental agencies to reduce pollution, improve water quality, and reduce flooding.  In addition, the data has and will be used to evaluate the effectiveness of both nearshore and upland remediation and mitigation projects.

Need for Citizen Scientist Volunteers

musselwatch3Beginning in the early 2000’s, NOAA began to involve volunteer citizen scientists to assist with the large scale mussel deployment and collection/retrieval process.  They recognized that it was the only practical and cost effective way to collect, deploy, and retrieve mussels from hundreds of sites in a very short time frame.  In 2007, the Snohomish County Marine Resources Committee (MRC) worked with NOAA, state, and county agencies to use local volunteers versus paid professionals to collect mussel samples from several sites in the county.  The idea was a success and was subsequently used in the Washington State 2009/2010 Mussel Watch Pilot Project, a collaborative effort involving federal, state, county, and tribal organizations.   The result of the pilot was a significant reduction in the labor required of professional staff to perform field operations, saving the state thousands of dollars.

Unlike the original NOAA program whereby live mussels were collected from the study sites, the current WDFW protocol calls for deploying farm raised mussels from Penn Cove in wired cages at the 0.0 tide line.  The shift to using cages began with the WDFW Mussel Watch Expansion Project in 2012.  The caged protocol was deemed more sustainable and would allow for more sites to be surveyed.  Volunteers are also used to help with the preparation of the mussel cage “kits” at Penn Cove.   Tom Flanagan was one of those volunteers.   Here are some of Tom’s observations and thoughts on that experience:

“The project was structured to last over 5 days with morning and afternoon shifts for each day.  I opted for afternoon shifts on a Sunday and Tuesday from 1:00 to 4:30 pm.  We all met at the parking lot of the Coupeville library on a cold, windy and wet Sunday afternoon whereupon we all piled into a van and were driven to the Penn Cove shellfish farms facility on the water. We were divided up into crews of 2 for each stage of the process.  My crew was sorting the mussels.  The mussels were contained in what appeared to be a ~60 gal drum that was cut in half.  My partner and I would scoop out a colander full of mussels and go through the process of sizing them as well as making sure they were viable.  We had clever little gauges for determining the correct size range.  We then moved the good critters to a bowl that was further scrutinized by the next crew who checked our initial sort placing the good product into groups of 10 mussels.  Subsequent crews prepared net stockings placing the 10 mussels in each sock.  The socks were then placed in a cooler with ice to be transported to one of the study sites.  We ended up filling 450 socks all together!

The work was somewhat tedious but not difficult or uncomfortable Jennifer Lanksbury, Mussel Watch lead for WDFW was very encouraging and appreciative of our work.  Although the project was scheduled to finish on Wednesday, we were able to wrap up on Tuesday.  I would most certainly participate in this project again (even with the 1.5hr roundtrip). I would encourage other Salish Sea Stewards who are particularly interested in doing field work to check out the WDFW website for volunteer opportunities”. – Tom Flanagan – SSS Class of 2017

 

Deploying the Mussel Cages

Pete Haase had made prior arrangements with one of the Washington Conservation Corps teams to pick up a Mussel Watch “kit” from Penn Cove and deliver it to Padilla Bay that afternoon.  Since these are live mussels, it was important that they be deployed as quickly as possible once leaving the Penn Cove facility, no more than 12 hours per protocol.  With “kit”, flashlights, GPS, camera, and datasheets in hand, Pete, Tom, and I set off for the end of Weaverling Spit where the cage was to be deployed.  We were provided with the GPS coordinates to locate the cage.

Since the cage was to be deployed at the 0.0 tide, we needed to be at the deployment location at least 10-15 minutes before the tide.   The once the tide reached 0.0, the first thing we did was install the auger (anchor) that would ensure the cage remained in its deployed position (we will be back in 3 months to retrieve the mussels!).   Since Weaverling Spit is fairly sandy, the task was not too difficult but you have to know which way to turn the auger!  Once the anchor was installed, the four (4) mussel socks,  each with 10 mussels inside, were suspended inside the cage near the top using zip ties.  Tom proved to be a master at that task!  The reason for the suspension is to prevent predation.  At this point, the top of the cage was installed with more zip ties and 3 rebar stakes were used to further anchor the cage.  Finally, we took some photographs of the installation and entered all the pertinent information on the datasheet.   The deployment went well and we expect to find and retrieve the cage in early March.  We hope! – Wayne Huseby

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Monofilament Line Recycling

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Plastic waste polluting or marine environments is a major issue that is damaging habitat and wildlife in Skagit County and around the world.  One of the sources, monofilament fishing line, is a focus area that CVP volunteers are helping to address.  Recycling tubes such as the one shown installed at Heart Lake in Anacortes have been placed at 22 popular fishing locations in our area from Bowman Bay to the Marblemount Fish Hatchery.

The project started by the Skagit Beach Watcher volunteer, Don Coleman, is being carried forward under the leadership of CVP volunteers Dick Kent and Glenda Alm – thanks for taking over the lead!  Friends continues to provide funding to covers costs of the hardware and labeling of the equipment.

A team of CVP volunteers has signed up to be a steward for each of the installation sites to empty and properly recycle the monofilament line deposited in the tubes.  Unfortunately, we often find other garbage in them that has to be sorted out from the plastic waste.  But at least the fishing line and other garbage aren’t being tossed into our lakes and saltwater estuaries!

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Fidalgo Bay Aquatic Reserve Citizen’s Stewardship Committee in Action

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An Afternoon to Remember -  by Pete Haase

Friday June 2, 2017 was an afternoon many of us will remember for a long time.  Nineteen youngsters and some parents from the mixed 1 – 2 – 3 grade class taught by Abigail Ross at Anacortes Island View Elementary hopped out of a bus at 12:30 at the Fidalgo Bay Resort on a promise that they could go do surveys for surf smelt eggs.  A dozen of us big guy volunteers stood there as ready as we felt possible, wondering what we were in for.

This story starts in January.  Jack Middleton and I were up at the Bald Eagle Festival in Rockport on a Saturday doing a presentation and an outside demonstration about Forage Fish, the kind of thing that’s part of our Fidalgo Bay Aquatic Reserve Citizen Stewardship Committee (FBARCSC) education mission.  A lady leaned over the edge of the deck at the Interpretive Center there and asked – “Say, can you do that for a class of kids?”  Jack jumps right up and says – “Sure.  That is a great idea!”   The lady was Abigail.

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Forage Fish Interpretive Station Thrills Young Students . . . and Adults

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Forage Fish station at Bowman

Friends of Skagit Beaches volunteers, Barbara Lechner and Michelle Marquardt, have developed a very popular interactive forage fish interpretive station and now expanded that into a program for Junior Ecologists (ages 5 – 9).  Through the use of slides, props and participation, children have a fun experience learning about forage fish - what forage fish are, why forage fish are so important, who eats forage fish, and what makes a healthy beach for Surf Smelt egg spawning.  The program is concluded with a forage fish song sing-a-long and coloring pages reinforcing the information. This type of interactive learning helps students develop a personal connection to our marine environment, which we believe helps to foster a life-long commitment to environmental stewardship.

On May 31, the program was presented to a class at Island View Elementary to prepare them to search for surf smelt eggs on the beach (see more about this in the article below.)

And it’s not just for kids . . . Throughout the summer and early fall the Forage Fish Interpretation station will be going out on the beach during forage fish egg surveys (weather permitting).  Watch for us out on the shores of Fidalgo Bay and Bowman Bay.

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