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Friends Notes

Keep up to date with news from Friends of Skagit Beaches

Salish Sea Steward Class of 2018

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The Salish Sea Stewards Class of 2018 completed their training on Tuesday, May 22. Twenty-five eager and engaged community members completed the ten-week course, which included hands-on training in forage fish spawning monitoring, intertidal monitoring, and crabber outreach. Many regional experts gave their time to the class, presenting on a variety of important topics, such as ocean acidification, the importance of citizen science, and tribal treaty rights. The training included field time at Bowman Bay, the shoreline of Fidalgo Bay and the mudflats of Padilla Bay.

 

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 The new Salish Sea Stewards have committed to give back to the Salish Sea 50 hours of their time over the next year. Programs needing volunteers were highlighted throughout the trainings and class participants have already signed up for many that interest them. Many have already started volunteering at intertidal monitoring, heron monitoring, and education events for school children. When these Salish Stewards complete their volunteering in twelve months, the Salish Sea will have benefitted from a whopping 1,250 hours of dedicated volunteer energy!

FBAR CSC Pilot Project: Marine Bird Surveys

A New Project

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After many years of questioning what bird species use Fidalgo Bay Aquatic Reserve, the members of the Fidalgo Bay Citizen Stewardship Committee decided it was time to put this question to action. This question could not be answered previously because bird species have never been consistently surveyed within the aquatic reserve. There have been a few studies quantifying marine bird species abundance in the Salish Sea, the most comprehensive being the Marine Ecosystems Analysis Puget Sound Project conducted in 1978/1979 . The most recent survey of the bay to our knowledge was conducted by ornithologist John Bower of Western Washington University, “Changes in Marine Bird Abundance in the Salish Sea: 1975 to 2007”. Using these two reports as our guide, the committee got to work organizing surveys to quantify the diversity, distribution, and abundance of marine bird species within Fidalgo Bay Aquatic Reserve.

Organizing a Citizen Science Project

A key factor in the success of planning these surveys was the guidance we received from the Cherry Point Aquatic Reserve Citizen Stewardship Committee, who have been completing bird surveys up north for six years now in close partnership with the North Cascades Audubon Society. Lucky for us, the Skagit Audubon Society also has an incredible group of birders that were eager to help this project take off.

cowles gpsWe also had the privilege of receiving instruction with volunteer training and protocol development by Washington Fish and Wildlife seabird biologist, Caanan Cowles (pictured to the left). Caanan also happened to work for John Bower back in the early 2000s when he last conducted bird surveys in Fidalgo Bay, so he helped us determine the four site locations for our survey as well. The surveys run from September to May for the overwintering season, and this year’s survey was our pilot year to work out the details in the protocol as well as organize a solid group of citizen science volunteers. We held a training in February at the Fidalgo Bay RV Park that had 19 participants, and around 6 volunteers attend the surveys each month.

Why Monitor Birds?

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Birds are often used as an “indicator species” to detect the overall health of the ecosystem. Here in the Salish Sea, marine birds are predators, often dependent upon forage fish as their main food source. Fidalgo Bay Aquatic Reserve was created because it is a hotspot for forage fish spawning due to the expansive eelgrass beds, another common food source for migrating birds. Surveying marine birds gives us yet another element in the Fidalgo Bay food web to follow over time in order to detect any changes within the reserve.

Gathering Baseline Data

By gathering data over a long period of time, we will be able to monitor trends in the population dynamics of the bird species that depend on Fidalgo Bay. This data will help us be prepared for detection of abnormal conditions and whether these changes are due to natural variation or anthropogenic causes such as an oil spill. Volunteer positions for the bird surveys include a spotter, counter, and a scribe. Although we do need an experienced birder for the counter position, all are welcome and encouraged to join our surveys and learn more about the birds of Fidalgo Bay Aquatic Reserve!

If you are interested in receiving updates for the 2018/2019 monitoring season with monthly surveys from September to May, please email Erica Bleke at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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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!