Friends Notes

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Trail Tales Receives Lodging Tax Fund Grant

trail tale signs
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

 

musselwatch2

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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Marine Debris Project by the Puget SoundCorps

by Hillary Foster

This past year I, as a member of the Puget SoundCorps (PSC) through Washington Conservation Corps/AmeriCorps and WA Department of Natural Resources Aquatic Reserves Program, have started a new, long-term monitoring project regarding marine debris. The PSC has adopted the protocols for the NOAA Marine Debris Monitoring and Assessment Program. This project serves as a basis for nationwide monitoring and assessment of marine debris. It seeks to answer questions such as how big is the marine debris problem, how is it changing over time, and which debris types are most common.

Puget SoundCorps members Matt Morassutti, Hillary Foster, and Nathan Boyer-Rechlin with volunteers Rachel Best and Tom Flanagan getting ready for the standing-stock survey at Padilla Bay.

The data we will be collecting will help to determine types and concentration of debris present by material category, examine spatial distribution and variety of debris, and investigate temporal trends in debris types and concentrations.There are two study sites- an accumulation site in Fidalgo Bay and standing-stock site in Padilla Bay. Each site is 100 meters long and sampled monthly.

This project encourages volunteer involvement and we have had several volunteers come out and helped us to do these surveys, including Tom Flanagan and Rachel Best. The accumulation site seeks to identify debris material types and weight and their rate of deposition and flux onto the shoreline. The standing-stock site is a quick assessment of the total load of debris and is used to determine the density of debris present. Debris density reflects the long-term balance between debris inputs and removal and is important to understanding the overall impact of debris. All together this project aims to help in increasing our knowledge of the marine debris problem while working with community volunteers.

So far, we have completed 4 surveys since May 2017. We will be taking a month break from surveying while we transition from one PSC crew to the other but hope to start back up in October or November. Because so few surveys have been completed at this point and time, analyses of the data are not yet available. If interested in volunteering in future events, please e-mail Jamie Kilgo at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Volunteer Tom Flanagan assisting Puget SoundCorps members Matt Morassutti, Kat Wells, and Jaime Liljegren collect trash from the accumulation site at Fidalgo Bay.

 

 

Volunteers Rachel Best and Tom Flanagan with PSC member Matt Morassutti documenting a glass fragment in the standing stock site at Padilla Bay.

Photos by Kaitln Elsinger/Anacortes American

And you can see the Go Anacortes article by Kaitlin Elsinger here

Discovery Passports are a Hit!

By Betty Carteret

Friends of Skagit Beaches again sponsored the Discovery Passport activity at the 2017 Fidalgo Bay Day event on August 12th. This year was bigger and better than ever. We distributed 203 passports, which was double the total from last year. Kids (of all ages) had a great time grabbing their passport and heading out to visit the Passport Stations where they were challenged to answer a question about that station. This year we had 14 stations to visit and in order to collect a prize participants needed to visit at least 8. It was so much fun that most of the “Passporters” visited them all.


 It’s sooo hard to decide which prize to pick.

Our theme this year at the Information Table (Station 1) was reducing marine plastic debris going into our waterways and oceans. With that in mind, some of the prizes were reusable plastic shopping bags and produce bags (like the one in the above photo on Dad’s arm).

Participating organizations all agreed that being one of passport stations brought more enthusiasm to their interactions with visitors to their displays.

Again this year we offered a coloring contest to select a winner for next year’s passport cover design. We received 14 entries – that's double last year’s number. So, with the increasing number of participants and the joy of all the smiles and laughter, we’ll be back again at Fidalgo Bay Day with our 2018 Discovery Passports. If you’re interested in volunteering to help with next year’s passport activity, contact us a This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


 Early arrivals admiring the passport cover art!


Station 1 – Marine Plastic Debris Station: “I bet this poster has the answer to my challenge question”


Station 4 – Shannon Point Marine Center’s Touch Tank was probably the busiest station with lots of critters to see and feel.


Station 5: Deception Pass Foundation’s Gracie the Whale skeleton is really big and really cool!

FBARCSC, STEM, and the Next Generation of Citizen Scientists

By Wayne Huseby

It all started with a simple email in late February from my good friend Vicki Stowe asking if our group, the Fidalgo Bay Aquatic Reserve Citizen Stewardship Committee (FBARCSC), would consider hosting a “STEM Sampler” workshop. Vicki is a wife, mother, and a passionate champion for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) education in our local schools. Besides leading efforts to raise thousands of dollars for STEM programs, Vicki volunteers her time to organize and manage STEM activities for our kids. One of those programs is called “STEM Sampler”. The goal of the program is to engage each Middle School student in a hands-on, workshop oriented activity that exposes them to STEM subjects that they would otherwise not have time for in their regular school schedule. The hope is to stimulate some students to consider taking STEM courses that could lead to a rewarding and fulfilling career.

In late March, Vicki, Pete Haase (FBARCSC President), and I met for coffee to discuss a possible workshop. We decided that engaging students in one of our citizen science-based forage fish surveys (surf smelt eggs) would be a perfect fit. It would demonstrating how STEM can lead to new knowledge about a very important species of our marine ecosystems. One of the primary missions of the FBARCSC is to engage the community and provide educational programs about the Fidalgo Bay Aquatic Reserve (FBAR). We had no idea how we were going to do it, but agreed to host a workshop in mid-June.

What were we thinking! These were Middle Schoolers!

Vicki is a very persuasive woman.

Once we realized what we had done, Pete and I solicited the assistance of Erica Bleke, Aquatic Reserves Program, Washington Department of Natural Resources, to help us plan and organize how we would actually pull off the workshop. Erica had been a teacher so she had some experience working with kids, especially in a field environment. Thank goodness for that! Over the next several weeks, Pete, Erica, and I met a few times to work out a plan knowing full well that things would probably not go as planned. They didn’t!

This year’s STEM Sampler , the third annual, had 23 workshops for students to choose from over the two day event. Each “workshop location” conducted four (4) workshops, two workshops each day for two days, each lasting approximately two hours, one in the morning and one in the early afternoon. For “offsite” workshops like ours, students were bused to/from the Middle School. I must admit, it was a terrifying sight when that first busload of students arrived at the Fidalgo Bay Resort and we all realized it was “showtime”! We survived.

Despite some horrendous mid-June weather, our team of experienced volunteers did a fabulous job of explaining the what, how, and why of a forage fish surveys. Fortunately, the target, surf smelt eggs, were fairly abundant during our surveys so most students stayed engaged (not all!). The highlight for many students was putting their respective team’s sample of eggs under a microscope which was displayed on a large TV screen. The “oohs and aahs” from the students when they realized that some of the eggs actually had little embryonic fish inside of them with tiny eyeballs was telling! For many, it was the first time they had ever seen something like that. Discovering nature can be an exciting thing!

Although it was a lot of work to plan and organize the workshop, the expectation is that FBARCSC will likely be persuaded to participate again next year. As I said, Vicki is very persuasive. Besides, we can apply lessons learned and make it even better next year! The kids we had on the beach those two days back in June will soon be entering into adulthood. Having an opportunity to work with them and possibly influence a career choice is extremely rewarding. Even if none of them ever pursues a STEM career, our hope is that they all came away with a greater appreciation of our natural world.

Hosting a successful STEM Sampler would not have been possible without our dedicated volunteers. Following are some thoughts that a couple of them shared with me about their experiences:

“What was most impressive to me about the STEM Sampler was the level of involvement and community collaboration that went on in order to provide this unique opportunity. From my perspective, it is vital to get community members, especially local students, into Fidalgo Bay Aquatic Reserve to learn about what the Reserve is and why its protection is critical to the overall health of the Salish Sea."
There are only eight Aquatic Reserves in the entire state of Washington and it’s a pretty fantastic thing for Anacortes students to have one in their backyard. To see students realize that their local beaches are not just a great place to walk, but are actually teeming with life that supports the greater Salish Sea ecosystem was a great thing to be a part of.
We’re more powerful together when we work as a team in order to raise awareness of our local resources and provide opportunities to get out to enjoy them. It was inspiring to see so many different agencies, non-profits, and organizations come together to help provide this type of hands-on, minds-on science opportunity for local students and I’m looking forward to doing my part to make sure it happens more often!” – Erica Bleke, Aquatic Reserves Program, Washington Department of Natural Resources

“The second day of the STEM Forage Fish program shaped up to be a beautiful morning, especially after a week of early-summer rain and wind. I volunteered for the program only two weeks into my new job, and had no idea what to expect. I checked in and was quickly introduced to the rest of the volunteers. By the end of the day, I was gobsmacked by the variety of organizations that were represented in the room. It began to dawn on me how replete my new home is with kind, collaborative, science-minded people. I worked with two different groups of kids, the first one was a very rambunctious group of younger boys, and the second had some kind and unassuming older girls. By the end of each of their programs, both groups were excited and proud to see the smelt eggs they had collected up on the screen! One boy liked it so much that he actually came back a second day”. - Keighley Lane, Intern, Pacific Biodiversity Institute

“As I had not done field work in a couple of years, assisting with the STEM workshop was very enlightening. It was an opportunity for me to learn, as well as pass along any knowledge that I might have to potential budding ecologists. The day was unfortunately, a bit blustery and cold, but conditions were ripe for learning. Each team was shown how to create a transect, collect samples, clean those samples, and then process the samples under a microscope. The most fascinating part was ‘seeing’ what had been collected, using the microscope. I think the science of what we were doing did not become real until the students were given the opportunity to view what was collected in this fashion. I believe we were all fascinated when we detected the various species by seeing ‘eyes’ in egg sacs. Various oohs and ahhs from the audience made this apparent. Though that could have been coming from the adults!

All in all, I believe the students had a good time this day. I think had the day been a bit warmer and not as rainy, they may have been a bit more engaged. I confess to being cold and a little distracted myself. However, I am extremely grateful for all the collected experts from this area that had far more knowledge than I did, as I personally, learned a lot. I’m happy that I was able to attend and assist in any way that I could." - Heather Conkerton, Intern, Pacific Biodiversity Institute

The FBARCSC is a small group making a big difference in our community and region. We are seeking new committee members who are interested in ways to promote, protect and restore the Fidalgo Bay Aquatic Reserve.It is not necessary to have a marine environmental background, only a strong desire for preserving the health of our fragile marine ecosystems. There are a many ways you can participate, be it citizen science, public outreach, or regulatory watchdog. Whatever your skills or interests, if stewardship of our marine environment is important to you, we would like to talk. For more information, contact us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or visit us at our website - Puget Sound Aquatic Reserves