Category Archives: Highlight

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.

Highlight – Whidbey Earth and Ocean Month

April is Whidbey Earth & Ocean Month – see whidbeyearthday.org for full information. ECO Network members are sponsoring several of the events. (download poster) . Many Earth and Ocean Month events have been included in our calendar.

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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.

December 2014 Spotlight – Gardening at South Whidbey Tilth

The word “tilth” is defined as the quality of cultivated soil. South Whidbey Tilth Association is a diverse network of people working cooperatively within our organization and in the community. Our commitment is to advocate, study and teach agricultural practices consistent with stewardship of the natural world. We promote and demonstrate principles and practices of sustainable agriculture, as well as cultivate a variety of opportunities for local market gardeners and farmers.

TilthMarketDay

The South Whidbey Tilth Sustainability Campus is a community space to demonstrate and practice sustainable agriculture and to support one another’s work to steward the natural world. On over 11 acres, the campus includes a seasonal farmers’ market, community gardens, children’s garden, worm bins, a children’s play house, the forest understory recovery project, a Garry oak meadow, a landscape designed to reduce invasive plants along the State Route 525, and more.

Lesedi Farm on the Tilth campus

Lesedi Farm on the Tilth campus

Organic soil building is at the heart of what grows healthy plants. Soil with good tilth has a rich, spongy humus that holds moisture. Humus is formed by the decomposition of leaves and other plant material and by soil microorganisms. Soil loses its tilth when the soil is compressed or toxic chemicals are added, causing water, nutrients and soil to run off into waterways and into Puget Sound.

Water Conservation in the Garden workshop instructor Marc Wilson begins an installation in the community garden.

Water Conservation in the Garden workshop instructor Marc Wilson begins an installation in the community garden.

A water metering and irrigation system is being installed in the Tilth Community Garden plots and landscaped areas to monitor the water use from the well. The gardened areas include timers and manifolds for drip irrigation or soaker hoses, allowing water used to go directly into the soil around plants. Funding for the related educational component came through a mini-grant from Puget Sounds Starts Here, via ECO-Net, administered through Science, Education and Adventure (SEA). A Whidbey Island Garden Tour grant funded the materials.

Besides individual garden plots leased annually to individuals and families, the campus hosts special gardens, as well.

Dorcas Young shows off the interior of her high tunnel hoop house during the 2014 Whidbey Island Farm Tour.

Dorcas Young shows off the interior of her high tunnel hoop house during the 2014 Whidbey Island Farm Tour.

Lesedi Farm, an incubator farm uses a quarter acre on Tilth’s Sustainability Campus. Farmer Dorcas Young worked with the Whidbey Island Conservation District to construct a high tunnel hoop house to grow the African crops of her native Botswana. She sells produce fresh and prepared at Whidbey Island Farmers’ Markets. Water-saving irrigation is already installed on the Lesedi parcel.

The Whidbey Veterans Service Corps (WVSC), a project of the Whidbey Island Veterans Resource Center (VRC), has interested military veterans preparing, planting and harvesting two garden plots in the South Whidbey Tilth Community Garden during the growing season. The VSC mission is to provide opportunities, especially to younger vets returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, to apply military service skills and mission teamwork abilities to service projects for one another, their families and their community by growing some of their own vegetables, as well as providing surplus vegetables for other veterans, their families and the Good Cheer Food Bank.

Calyx students proudly show off their potato harvest

Calyx students proudly show off their potato harvest

The Children’s Garden is cultivated one day each week by the Calyx Community Arts School, where children plant, water and harvest their own food. Their chickens are cooped around the perimeter of the garden plot to keep weeds down, catch insects and provide eggs for lunchtime.

Watch for Tilth’s gardening class series this spring. Learn more at the South Whidbey Tilth website, www.southwhidbeytilth.org.

September 2014 Spotlight – Whidbey Camano Land Trust

The Whidbey Camano Land Trust (Land Trust) finds great value as a member of the Whidbey Eco Network. This network is a testimony to the benefits of joining into partnership serving the common good, and the Land Trust truly believes that partnerships make it possible!  As a member of Whidbey Eco Network, the Land Trust has an increased understanding of what like-minded groups are accomplishing on the Island, and is able to collaborate with these organizations to cultivate a healthier environment and community for today and future generations.

         Admiralty Inlet Preserve by Mark Sheehan

Admiralty Inlet Preserve – photo by Mark Sheehan

The Land Trust is a nonprofit nature conservancy organization founded by a group of citizens who wanted to save the great beauty and nature of Whidbey and Camano Islands — including working farms, natural habitats for fish and wildlife, undeveloped shoreline, trail and beach access, and scenic vistas. They saw great changes happening and knew that, without decisive action, these extraordinary Islands would be lost forever.

The Land Trust actively involves the community to protect, restore and appreciate the important natural habitats and resource lands that support the diversity of life on our islands and in the waters of Puget Sound.

EngleFarm-protected-in-2012

Engle Farm – protected in 2012

Over the last 30 years, the Land Trust has protected 76 properties totaling over 7,800 acres on Whidbey and Camano Islands. Partnering with landowners, farm families, and the broader community, the Land Trust has expanded state parks, county open spaces and protected working farms and forests, shorelines and lakes, and many natural habitats. With the support of their more than 1,100 member-households, the Land Trust has also restored wetlands, estuaries, forests and prairies improving water quality and habitat for fish and wildlife.

It’s easy to fall in love with Whidbey and Camano Islands. These Islands are truly magical — providing refuge for wildlife and places for people to enjoy the outdoors. The Land Trust believes that love of our Islands is enhanced through positive experiences on the land, and provides opportunities through stewardship work parties, educational tours and special events, for people of all ages and backgrounds to connect with the land.

Hammons Preserve - Work Party Success

Hammons Preserve – Work Party Success

If you enjoy the beautiful, natural surroundings of Whidbey and Camano Islands and want to protect these irreplaceable features for current and future generations, please visit www.wclt.org and become a member today.

April 2014 Spotlight – The Whidbey Institute

Clean water and healthy forests are deeply interdependent. At Chinook, we carefully steward both. We are honored to be the Whidbey ECO Network’s April Featured Spotlight Organization, and glad of the opportunity to share our perspective on how all of us can protect our Whidbey waters.

Two watersheds meet at Chinook, with a raindrop falling on the north side of Old Pietila Road traveling to Miller Lake, and another falling on the south side traveling to Quade Creek. We have a third wetland area just north of the Westgarden, where we practice organic gardening methods to provide food for our programs, chef,  staff, and  community Good Cheer Food Bank. Our natural gardening methods, which include vermiculture, mulching, and raised beds, have minimal impact on the watershed and help prevent topsoil loss.

We take our stewardship of this 100 acre forest seriously, and appreciate the positive impact of forest health on local waters. Partnerships with the Whidbey Camano Land Trust and surrounding neighbors allow us to better protect the wild spaces in our care. Our Wetland Loop Interpretive Trail provides visitors with a self-guided tour of a wetland habitat, introducing them to principles of wetland health and some of the native species that call this place home.

The Whidbey Institute’s Forest Stewardship Plan, prepared in 2006,  provides guidelines for forest and watershed protection. Most of our 100 acre forest is in a conservation easement with WCLT, to preserve water purity, protect habitat for wildlife and native plants, and provide educational opportunities.

This document states that it is our intention:

  • To serve as a sustainable habitat for diverse species of native wildlife.
  • To protect the upper watersheds of two tributaries of salmon-bearing Maxwelton Creek.
  • To provide a rich educational setting for program participants and the general public to learn the principles of forest ecology and responsible human relationship to the earth.
  • To offer a place of serenity and renewal in a natural setting for all guests of the Institute as well as for the surrounding community.

In 2014, the Whidbey ECO Network’s message is “Whidbey Waters are in Your Hands.” Our hope for our neighbors and community members is that you can join us in preserving habitat; using low-impact, low-erosion gardening techniques; leaving native wetland vegetation in place; and conserving forest tracts.

To learn more about what we’re doing at Chinook or what YOU can do to protect our watersheds, email land@whidbeyinstitute.org. We also invite you to come by to walk our Wetland Loop. Interpretive trail guides are available in our offices!

You may preview the trail guide – by clicking on the ‘Learning from the Land’ block at whidbeyinstitute.org/secrets-to-tell/

Swamp lantern photo by Scott Darby, heron photo by Marnie Jones.