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Friends Notes

Keep up to date with news from Friends of Skagit Beaches

Citizen Science: Native Oysters

img 0623Jennifer Selvig and Wayne Huseby went out to the end of Weaverling Spit to retrieve half of the "shell stacks" that they had deployed in late May. 

The "shell stacks", made up of 11 Pacific oyster shells, provide an appropriate substrate for native oyster larvae to deposit themselves. The stacks will be sent to the labs in Olympia to be viewed under a microscope for evidence of native oyster "spat". The remaining half of the stacks will be collected in late May of 2019 or one year from initial deployment. A new set of "shell stacks" will be deployed at that time.

A great way for citizen scientists to help with important research on this once abundant mollusk!

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.