Friends of Skagit Beaches goes to Storming the Sound


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Michelle Marquardt and Barbara Lechner presented “Forage Fish – The Unsung Heroes of the Salish Sea” at Storming the Sound. Approximately 35 people attended the presentation.

After a brief introduction to Friends of Skagit Beaches and a forage fish video, the audience was asked to take themselves back to the age of the junior ecologists (5 – 9 year olds). With a little coaxing, the audience eagerly participated in the interactive part of the program – building a healthy beach for surf smelt spawning. The audience even joined in the forage fish song at the end of the program. After completion of the junior ecologist program, the audience was also told about how the surf smelt spawning surveys are done by citizen scientist volunteers.

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The junior ecologist program was adapted from the very popular forage fish interpretative station. Through an interesting slide presentation and engaging dialogue, students learn about forage fish – what they are, why they are important, who eats them, their vital role in the food chain, where they live and much more. The program ends with a forage fish song and activity booklets, which reinforce the lessons learned. The program was designed for, and presented to, junior ecologists, but it can easily be adapted to older students and even adult audiences.

Educational outreach is one of the missions of Friends of Skagit Beaches. If you would like more information about bringing this program to your classroom or organization, please contact Michelle and Barbara at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Finding a BIG World of Little Things

 Microscopic Analysis of Fidalgo Bay Aquatic Reserve Surf Smelt Eggs

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Providing opportunities for local citizens to learn about an Aquatic Reserve is one of the ways a Citizen Stewardship Committee (CSC) can spread the word about these remarkable habitats. Sometimes this comes in the form of community events that bring local residents to familiar beaches in order to let them know that the waters before them have a special designation: Aquatic Reserve. Other times, this means opening up a whole new microscopic world and deepening the connection that people have with the beaches in their own backyards.

Recently, several citizen scientists in Skagit County took advantage of a Washington State Department of Natural Resources Puget SoundCorps (PSC) led training to learn how to do microscopic analysis of forage fish survey samples (little jars with some fluid, some very fine beach sediment, and maybe, just maybe, some forage fish eggs!). Frankly, the volunteers were skeptical that they could ever learn the process and be able to do it, but they did!

In our volunteers own words:

Participant 1:

"After months of carefully collecting and sieving beach sand samples in the hunt for forage fish eggs in Fidalgo Bay, we had the opportunity to learn the next steps in the sampling process…About twenty of us crowded into the Microscope Lab at Padilla Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve (NERR) to learn how to determine the stage of development of the fish eggs we saw under the microscope … After several hours of looking at samples and comparing the eggs to our reference sheets, we were starting to feel more confident in our ability to stage forage fish eggs. We are waiting for the QA/QC to be completed by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) so we know how we did."

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Participant 2:

"There is so much beauty in an egg seen under a microscope. I didn’t expect to experience so much wonder and a lingering sense of awe from the small eggs of small fish. The process of learning to work with the microscopes, eggs and forceps is challenging and yet attainable. Thankfully, the eggs are toughened up a bit and easier to manipulate than one would guess. All citizen science projects bring interesting people together and it is inspiring to learn about fellow volunteer’s interests and experiences."

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Participant 3:

"What an exciting time to be monitoring for forage fish eggs. The addition of the microscope has been an added bonus to an already fun beach volunteer project. Learning to identify and stage the growth of these precious eggs is a great learning process and the fact that we have a great deal of teachable knowledge, as we are gather together, makes for a very enjoyable time. I'm thrilled to be a part of not only this project but several others. Keeping our beaches full of life, safe and hospitable is the name of the game and I love that I (along with other wonderful volunteers) are setting an example for all to see what is in our backyard."

Participant 4:

"The ‘big picture’ is experiencing, protecting and restoring a beautiful healthy shoreline in our community. The ‘small picture’ is microscopically searching for forage fish eggs in sand and gravel samples collected from these beaches. A whole new world of marine biology unfolds before your eyes as you search for and identify stages of surf smelt eggs. What makes the experience fun and rewarding is the sharing of discovery and purpose with fellow volunteers. Personally, I am anticipating seeing the complete cycle of egg development and hatching. Then, when I walk the beach, I will know the ‘complete picture’."

Learn more about the Aquatic Reserve 

Interested in learning more about what's happening locally? Send an email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


Trail Tales: An Idea becomes a Community Resource

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If you are a Friends of Skagit Beaches member or volunteer, you’ve probably heard of the Trail Tales project. Just in case you haven’t, I suggest you take a walk along the Tommy Thompson trail along the waterfront in Anacortes and you will quickly come across the interpretive signs that bring the history of the waterfront to life.

I have been fascinated by how this project came to fruition. How did the idea behind the Trail Tale signs become a tangible and valued tourist attraction? Betty Carteret was happy to sit down with me and share how this project came about.

Trail Tales is the story of how one person envisioned an idea and created a tangible legacy for her community. I want to share this story because too often we just don’t know what to do with great ideas. How did Betty, the woman with the vision of what Trail Tales could be, go from dreamer to doer?

Point 1: Coming from different parts of the world, we can bring fresh ideas to a new community.

Betty came to Anacortes in 2005. She grew up near Williamsburg, VA, a world-renowned hub of historical interpretation for the American Revolution. She says that living in a community that celebrated its history and made it the center of their local economy taught her how engaging and educational interpretive programs could be. Williamsburg, one of many east coast colonial historic sites, preserves the history of the town while educating visitors from around the world about life lived over 200 years ago. Whatever your own ancestry is, it is impossible to wander through Williamsburg and the surrounding historic sites without having a deeper connection to the past. In Anacortes, Betty could see beyond the marinas, boatyards, and businesses to the history of the community. She saw a story worth sharing with local residents and visitors to the area, a way to combine enjoyment of the shoreline with a learning experience.

Point 2: You never know where an idea may lead you.

Another piece of Betty’s experiences also fed into the idea behind Trail Tales. In researching interpretive programs, she came across the United Nations Voices project. This multimedia project used billboards, voices, print and cellular phones to engage the public in a campaign to better understand the plight of underrepresented communities. Betty saw how different mediums could be used to engage people with learning. This informed her decision to create both a physical interpretive experience on the shoreline with a website for those who prefer and online experience.

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Betty on the trail

Point 3: Ideas are like seeds – they need roots before they sprout.

Friends of Skagit Beaches arose out of a need for members of the Skagit County Beach Watchers program to raise funds to support their volunteer work. Betty was part of that founding process and served as the first president of the board for this small non-profit. Friends had limited funds but a mission that drew many like-minded individuals to the table. As Friends grew and expanded its presence in Skagit County, they looked for impactful projects to support.

For Betty, the shorelines of Skagit County were, in her words, not seen – at least not with the historical perspective she brought from her old hometown. She saw the legacy of the past for both the First Nation tribes and colonizing settlers fading even as the Department of Ecology (Ecology) completed a major waterfront clean-up that redefined the waterfront of Anacortes.

These seemingly unrelated ideas didn’t come together until Betty attended an informational meeting for the Washington Department of Ecology Public Participation Grant program in 2010. What would it take, she wondered, to create a series of interpretive signs that engaged the public in the stories of the waterfront? Betty explored the idea with Ecology and they loved the idea. It was innovative and was seen by Ecology as a positive way to engage the public in understanding and participating in the decision process of their important shoreline cleanup program called the Anacortes Baywide Cleanup. Ecology had never received a grant application that proposed to use interpretive methods, including signs, walks, website, and films, as a way to promote public participation.

Point 4: Collaboration can make the original idea stronger.

Betty continued to develop this idea within the parameters of the grant with Ecology. She knew that it was going to be important to Ecology for the public to not only see the history of the waterfront but also understand why the clean-up had been necessary. The story of the clean-up, a cautionary tale of how historic industries had no idea that their working practices were harming the natural environment, showed how we can clean up the toxic by-products, restore natural processes and habitats along the shoreline, and rejuvenate the marine environment. The City of Anacortes Parks & Recreation Department and Museum, the Samish Indian Nation, and Port of Anacortes all came forward as partners to help make the Trail Tales interpretive sign project a reality.

At the dedication of the second phase of signage around the Cap Sante Marina and Seafarers Park, Arianne Fernandez, Ecology’s project manager for the Anacortes Baywide Cleanup, said that in her opinion, the Trail Tales project and waterfront signage was the best investment the Public Participation Grant Program had ever made. She further stated that “[the public] is going to forget why [Ecology] spent 10s of millions of dollars on this community . . . and look how beautiful it is now (Seafarers Park). You’re going to forget in a couple of years and this (interpretive signs) doesn’t allow you to forget why it was important. For us (Ecology) it’s unique and it’s critical . . . and we’re bringing you in to show other projects how it’s done.”

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Docent Training

Point 5: Seeds of ideas can grow into amazing experiences.

Former Friends’ Board member and Anacortes City Council member, Erica Pickett, said “Betty thinks big. The rest of us would have asked for a couple of thousand dollars and put up one sign but she went for an entire interpretive trail with dozens of signs, interpretive walks, and a website.” The Trail Tales grant has spurred Friends to a whole new level of engagement and activity in our community and left a legacy along the shoreline that will benefit the community for decades to come.

The City of Anacortes just granted the Trail Tales project a lodging tax fund grant to reprint the map brochure and repair damaged signs, acknowledging the positive impact the project has had on tourism. The Trail Tales brochure is often the first one reached for at the visitor center and allows visitors to explore Anacortes and engage in a historical journey that is still being played out in the city today. There are links embedded in the sign brochure that take the viewer to a website filled with videos and information that bring the waterfront to life.

I’ve walked the Tommy Thompson trail many times and I’ve enjoyed reading about Fidalgo Bay – looking at what there is today while also studying the pictures from a not so distant past. Betty is right when she says that when an Anacortes resident understands the history of this waterfront it will make that person’s experience living here richer. As someone who has only been here for the past few years, I think the experience reaches farther afield. Whether you have come from another place in this world or lived here your whole life; whether your ancestors were the settlers or indigenous tribes – the interpretive signs depict a universal cycle of development that some will celebrate and others will mourn. Either way, it is important to grapple with that. This is the power of interpretive education – all those experiences get to co-exist along with the ways in which certain agencies and non-profits, individuals and groups, have been working to restore the fundamental health of the nearshore environment.

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Fidalgo Bay - in a not so distant past...

Visit the Trail Tales website or next time you're in town, stop in at the Visitors’ Center and pick up a Trail Tales map to begin your exploration of the Anacortes shoreline.

What ideas have you been carrying around with you and what's one small thing you can do to help them find fertile soil? Drop us a line, maybe we can help!

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.

gull dropping shell by julie hallBetween 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.

Mussel Watch – Where Science and Volunteerism Meet

By Wayne Huseby, President of Friends of Skagit Beaches



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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