Friends Notes

Keep up to date with news from Friends of Skagit Beaches

Salish Sea Steward Class of 2018

class of 2018

23mikeo 002

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.

 

sss2018cs

 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

fbar bird monitoring sites

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?

volunteers survey


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.

fbar pic one 2018

Friends of Skagit Beaches goes to Storming the Sound

 

storming the sound 2018 a small

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.

storming the sound 2018 bsmall

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

73cmprs copy

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."

eggsp2jpgarticle copy

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."

76scopewrkcmprs copy

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.

 

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

Continue reading