Category Archives: Beaches

Freeland Shellfish Season 2017 – Open Jan 1 to May15

By Maribeth Crandell
Island County Environmental Health Specialist

Freeland County Park was closed to shellfish harvesting for nine years due to water quality concerns. However, efforts to clean up water at the site led to reopening the shellfish harvest there for six weeks in the spring of 2015 and for ten weeks in the spring of 2016. This year the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife have extended the harvest season from January 1 to May 15 in 2017.

Shellfish are filter feeders so if there is pollution in the water, there will be pollution in the shellfish. In the last decade the Island County Department of Environmental Health went door to door speaking to watershed residents about their septic systems and how they can affect water quality. Most people voluntarily had their systems inspected. The County offered financial assistance for those that needed help with repair or replacement. The Conservation District held workshops on storm water runoff and with the help of volunteers, installed a rain garden at the edge of the parking lot to filter pollutants coming off the pavement. The Island County Parks Department installed four new pet waste bag dispensers in and around the park. Water quality improved but continues to be a challenge.

Freeland County Park is at the south end of Holmes Harbor, a narrow six mile long bay. In summer the wind comes from the north and blows layers of sea grasses, called wrack, up on the beach. Sometimes the wrack is two feet thick. It catches any pollution coming from the shore and holds on to it in a warm protected nursery for growing bacteria. Automotive fluids, pet waste, livestock manure and septic system leaks collect in the wrack and stay close to shore all summer impacting water quality at the park.

In late fall the wind changes direction and blows primarily from the south which gradually clears the beach of wrack. Water quality improves through the winter. So this year the State Department of Health approved an extended shellfish harvest season beginning January 1st.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife determines the harvest season based on the population of shellfish at any given site. In the past two years, volunteers have been taking a low tide count of shellfish harvesters during the harvest season at Freeland County Park. Flyovers are also used to help count shellfish harvesters. At the end of the season WDFW staff took an inventory of the number and species of shellfish at the site. They found enough abundance to extend the season to four and half months. In May the wind changes direction and the wrack starts to build up on the beach again resulting in diminishing water quality. So the season will be closed for the summer.

Water has been sampled at the park weekly through the summer by Island County Environmental Health. Signs posted by the boat launch alert the public to swimming and shellfish concerns.

A clickable map on the State Department of Health website indicates safe shellfish harvesting sites. It’s updated daily. You can check this map from your phone or computer before you reach for bucket and shovel.
     https://fortress.wa.gov/doh/eh/maps/biotoxin/biotoxin.html

VIEWPOINT – Jun 2016 – Anna Toledo – Marine Resources Committee

What brought you to Whidbey Island — by Anna Toledo

As a transplant from the east coast, it’s a question I hear often from neighbors, friends, and fellow Islanders. My answer generally centers around family, a slower pace of life, and the natural beauty of the Pacific Northwest. But perhaps more interesting is not why I came, but why I stay.

I work with the Island County Marine Resources Committee (MRC), a group of volunteers appointed by our Island County Commissioners to protect and restore local marine resources. The Island County MRC is one of seven MRCs around Puget Sound, established in the late 90’s as part of a locally-driven solution to protect marine habitats and species.

I am inspired by the level of expertise and drive these volunteers bring to the table. Our members have a wide range of backgrounds and experience – including research, teaching, project management, science, agriculture, and business leadership – all united with a passion and purpose for protection, restoration, education, and stewardship of the marine environment that surrounds us.

The MRC serves as an advisory committee to the County Commissioners, providing sound science to inform decision-makers. We are also engaged in monitoring, restoration, and outreach projects.

One of the major projects we have been involved in is the shoreline restoration at Cornet Bay in Deception Pass State Park. In 2006, the MRC identified Cornet Bay as a priority restoration area, and initiated a multi-phase project with several partners to restore the shoreline to a natural beach condition. This has included removing creosoted bulkhead and contaminated fill, and re-grading the beach to match the natural slope. This provides enhanced habitat for nearshore species, and allows easier access to the beach for enjoyment and recreation.

Monitoring is an important part of any restoration project. The MRC monitors several aspects of the environment at Cornet Bay, and citizen scientist volunteers are at the core of our work. A group of volunteers tracks the condition of eelgrass, a vital component of marine ecosystems that serves as habitat and as a food source for many species. Another group of volunteers conducts beach seines to monitor the use of the nearshore by juvenile salmonids. Volunteers also survey the beach to check for presence of forage fish eggs. Forage fish, such as surf smelt and Pacific sand lance, are small creatures that play a big role in the marine ecosystem, as they are a food source for salmon, sea birds, and marine mammals.

Another key aspect of this restoration project is ongoing stewardship of the area. The MRC is working with Northwest Straits Foundation and Skagit Fisheries Enhancement Group on planting and maintaining native plants at this restoration site.

Since moving to Whidbey, I have been struck by the importance of protecting and maintaining the natural beauty and ecological diversity of the marine environment that surrounds our unique island home, and my role as an individual to contribute to its preservation.

You can join in to enjoy this local shoreline restoration area, and help be a part of its ongoing beauty at monthly weeding parties this summer at Cornet Bay: July 26th and August 23rd from 10:00am – 1:00pm. Find out more about this environmental stewardship opportunity, and other ways to get involved with the MRC at our website: www.islandcountymrc.org or by contacting me at a.toledo@co.island.wa.us or 360-678-2349.

January 2015 Spotlight – WSU Island County Beach Watchers

UPDATE: Beach Watchers will become an independent non-profit organization effective January 1, 2016. Their new name is Sound Water Stewards of Island County.

Island County Beach Watchers are trained volunteers dedicated to protecting and preserving the marine environment of Puget Sound and the greater Salish Sea through citizen science/research, education, outreach and stewardship. Beach Watchers is a program of Washington State University Extension, connecting the resources of the University with the unique marine-focused needs and opportunities of local communities.

As Beach Watchers enters its 25th year, more than 500 local residents have completed training and dedicate thousands of hours annually to enhance marine awareness, research and stewardship in Island County.

  • bw-logo
    Beach Watchers have worked for 25 years to understand, value and protect Island County's priceless marine environment.
  • Learning to measure beach gradients
    Each year, the new class learns about intertidal monitoring. Here they are learning to measure beach gradients
  • intertidal monitoring at coupeville – 2
    Tracking what's found in the intertidal zone
  • monomfilament recycling tube
    A recycling tube for capturing monofilament fishing line before it entangles wildlife.
  • fishing line ready to be recycled
    Fishing line ready to be recycled.
  • Dragging plastic fishing net off the beach
    Dragging plastic fishing net off the beach
  • microplastics on the beach
    Surveying microplastics that appear on our beaches
  • sound waters logo
    BW's plan and put on Sound Waters - a one day university for all - on all things Puget Sound - always the first Saturday of February
  • surveying eelgrass up close
    'Fun in the Mud' eelgrass team - counting eelgrass shoots
  • eelgrass-boat-1
    BW's getting ready to survey eelgrass beds using underwater video
  • rearticulated porpoise at coupeville wharf
    Rudy, a Dall's porpoise - at the Coupeville Wharf
  • seining
    Seining to count and measure juvenile salmon.
  • langley whale center
    BW's volunteer as docents at the new Langley Whale Center.
  • teaching kids at maxwellton
    Teaching kids about the intertidal zone
  • Digging for dinner
    Teaching families the best (and sustainable) ways to dig for clams
  • pigeon guillemots
    BW's participate in the Pigeon Guillemot Survey
  • necropsy
    BW's assist with necropsies to determine trends and record findings with NOAA
  • crabber hats
    BW's wear funny hats - to help get the message out to crabbers to use biodegradable escape cord - and ensure more crabs for all in future years.

While Beach Watchers spans all of Island County – this article highlights Whidbey Island activities (Camano Island BW’s are associated with the Snohomish-Camano ECONet). We work both independently and in collaboration with many other organizations.

  • Beach Watcher led activities
    • Coupeville Wharf – education and environmental displays
    • Crabber education
    • Digging for Dinner – teaching others to clam
    • Flora/fauna surveys (for 15 years) of the intertidal zone at more than 30 beaches – the results are now being used by UW researchers. Try your hand at the EZ-ID game
    • Monofilament fishing line recycling
    • Plastics surveying and education
    • Sound Waters – a one-day university for all – on all things Puget Sound – held on the first Saturday in February – we expect over 500 people to join us on February 7th at South Whidbey High School for our 20th year. No prior knowledge is required to attend – just an interest in learning about and taking care of this amazing place that we call home.
  • Working with Whidbey Econet Members
    • Deception Pass State Park – tidepool docents
    • Island County Marine Resources Committee – eel grass monitoring, pigeon guillemot study, seining
    • Island County Shore Stewards – sharing knowledge, education, best practices for shoreline living
    • Orca Network – docents at the Langley Whale Center
    • Whidbey Audubon – Christmas bird count
    • Whidbey EcoNet – website
    • Whidbey Watershed Stewards – teaching at the outdoor classroom, wetlands restoration, smolt counts
    • WSU Waste Wise – reduce / reuse / recycle!
  • Working with other Puget Sound organizations
    • COASST – monitoring beaches to collect seabird data for marine conservation
    • Marine Mammal Stranding Network – data collection on’stranded’ mammals, necropsies
    • WA State Parks – interpretive talks at Admiralty Head Lighthouse and Fort Casey

Beach Watchers training is an exceptional opportunity to receive more than 100 hours of university level instruction from experts in diverse fields. The training is a mix of indoor instruction, guided field trips, and learning-while-doing on summer projects. Class topics include watersheds & groundwater, marine biology & oceanography, salmon & near shore habitats, climate change, forestry, waste reduction, recycling, sustainable living, native plants & animals, intertidal beach monitoring, coastal geology, and more.

Each graduate is expected to give back 100 volunteer hours – deciding the particular ways they want to be involved. On average, each graduate contributes over 500 hours back to the local community and has fun while doing so!

If you are interested in becoming a Beach Watcher – applications for the 2015 training must be postmarked by Feb 20. See beachwatchers.wsu.edu/island/about/training.