Category Archives: Habitat

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.

Kid Friendly Marine Display at the Coupeville Wharf

There are some great new kid friendly displays at the Coupeville Wharf – highlighting how Penn Cove is a mixing bowl for marine life, and how humans have lived near Penn Cove for thousands of years.


 For lots more background and pictures, see any/all of Dan Pedersen’s blog, some of the in-progress photos, and these stories of how the marine skeletons of Rosie the Gray Whale, Salty the Sea Lion,  and Rudy the Dall’s Porpoise got to the ceiling of the display over the last dozen years.

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: or by contacting me at or 360-678-2349.

State of the Sound

measures the health of Puget Sound in many different ways and reports to the governor and community each year on the State of the Sound.

See this year’s report at

The accompanying Report to the Community starts off with this wonderful quote from Billy Frank Jr –

I don’t believe in magic.
I believe in the sun and the stars, the water, the tides, the floods, the owls, the hawks flying, the river running, the wind talking. They’re measurements. They tell us how healthy things are. How healthy we are. Because we and they are the same. That’s what I believe in. Those who learn to listen to the world that sustains them can hear the message brought forth by salmon.”

April 2015 Spotlight – The Whidbey Institute

Starting at Home – by Marnie Jones

“This much is clear to me. If I can’t change my own life in response to the greatest challenge now facing our human family, who can? And if I won’t make the effort to try, why should anyone else? So I’ve decided to start at home, and begin with myself. The question is no longer whether I must respond. The question is whether I can turn my response into an adventure.” —Kurt Hoelting, The Circumference of Home

When our neighbor Kurt Hoelting pulled out a map and drew a circle around this place, he found that a radius of 100 kilometers just took in the peaks of the wild Olympics and the snowy Cascades, brushed the southern end of the Puget Sound, and encompassed the San Juan Islands and the outlet of the Salish Sea to the north. Our campus, known as Chinook, is adjacent to Hoelting’s acreage. Like his home, ours sits in the center of this 100-kilometer circle—the heart of Cascadia and the center of the Salish Sea. Hoelting spent a year exploring this region by kayak, on foot, by bike, and on public transportation, and emerged with an even deeper understanding of his personal role in stewarding it all.

At the Whidbey Institute, we know that our tie to the land is vitally important and deeply personal. Here, at Chinook, we care for our spaces and see how they care for us. Through events like our upcoming April 19 Place-Making Day and a community  BioBlitz, planned for early August, we’re working to develop a community ecological learning group as we deepen our commitment to land-based programming.

BellWIIn the courtyard of Thomas Berry Hall is a bell with swimming salmon suspended by three ravens that reads, “Salmon are the seabright silver shuttles weaving our rain green world.”

BellWIcloseupThe Whidbey Institute lays at the headwaters of two creeks feeding the largest watershed on Whidbey Island, the Maxwelton Watershed, which drains into the salmon-bearing Maxwelton Creek. The bell signifies The Whidbey Institute’s bioregional perspective. We understand that the political, cultural, and geologic forces affecting Cascadia affect us all, and the Salish Sea physically connects our Whidbey Island home to a complex living ecosystem.

Some of our work on behalf of the planet is right here at home. On Thursdays throughout the growing season, volunteers gather at the Whidbey Institute’s Westgarden to cultivate vegetables and herbs using a variety of organic and biodynamic horticultural techniques. This working garden, part classroom and part pantry, supplies produce for the local food bank as well as for the onsite kitchen and for volunteers and staff members’ personal use. The garden is a place to learn and play for Waldorf Students, who share Chinook and attend school onsite. Chinook is also a popular destination for college students and others in pursuit of service learning opportunities. We have had a long standing service learning partnership with Edmonds Community College through their LEAF program, and now through the Center for Service Learning. These land-based projects have included ecological research, gardening, and land stewardship.

Our Westgarden Steward, Abigail Lazarowski, is also the Community Garden Leadership Training (CGLT) Co-Coordinator alongside Cary Peterson. Together, they head an inter-organizational effort to train future garden leaders, attracting talented young people from around the nation to serve on South Whidbey at the Good Cheer Food Bank, South Whidbey School District, and Whidbey Institute gardens. This program has ripples around the nation, as inspired young leaders nurture our students and then take their lessons home to regions as far away as the Atlantic coast.

In addition to garden stewardship and trainings which address ecosystem work close to home, the Whidbey Institute holds Signature Programs which leverage the energy of area change-makers to help address regional, national, and global environmental issues. The Cascadian Climate Collaborative, founded in 2013 by a leadership team which includes Kurt Hoelting, exists to help strengthen the climate movement by linking diverse groups of climate leaders, engaging with tough ethical and emotional questions, and encouraging wider participation. Strategic gatherings of climate leaders from our bioregion serve to build a more powerful and resilient climate movement:strengthening our connections by bringing climate leaders together in common conversation, deepening our commitments by addressing the difficult moral, emotional, and spiritual questions at the core of the work, and broadening our collaborations by bringing new constituencies into the movement. The public is welcome at our upcoming April 18 talk, “Getting Real about Our Climate Future“.

Like the Cascadian Climate Collaborative, Salish Sea Bioneers exists to bring change-makers together and strengthen our shared competence in addressing pressing social, moral, and ecological challenges. Bioneers is a national organization, founded 26 years ago, which seeks nature-inspired solutions to our most pressing environmental and social challenges. For five years, we’ve held Whidbey Island Bioneers Conferences at the Whidbey Institute to bring this work to our region. In 2014, we rebranded as the Salish Sea Bioneers to honor our growing focus on bioregional collaboration and movement-building. We are excited to collaborate with the myriad bioregional efforts that are underway to make our communities models of what is possible when we learn to work with, rather than against, nature. In this collaborative spirit, we recently launched a series of Salish Sea Bioneers Community gatherings, which take place monthly at Seattle Impact Hub. This learning community has already gathered together Seattle-area citizens to learn with leaders in community solar, compassionate communication, and community rights with Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund’s Democracy School. By popular demand, we’ll be hosting a follow-up Democracy School meeting on April 8 with members of Seattle’s chapter to continue exploring community rights.

Whether we’re working in the fertile soil of the Westgarden at Chinook, gathering with regional climate leaders, or learning in the National Bioneers community about issues and solutions affecting us all on a global scale, one thing is certain: if we are going to take adequate care of the planet which so fully cares for each of us, we must begin with ourselves and start at home. We’re deeply grateful to ECO Net and the many individuals and organizations in our community who have taken this lesson to heart, and who live by example into our promising future.

DeerWIThe Whidbey Institute’s 100 acre campus includes miles of trails, which are open to the public from dawn to dusk daily. As this is a wildlife preserve, we ask that dogs be left at home. We also invite the public to our weekly Westgarden volunteer work parties, which take place from 9 to 12 each Thursday and which will extend to 4 pm as the harvest season draws nearer.

To learn more about the Chinook land or the programs of the Whidbey Institute, visit or email

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

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.


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 and become a member today.

May 2014 Spotlight – Pacific Rim Institute

Golden paintbrush 1

Golden paintbrush on our prairie

The Pacific Rim Institute for Environmental Stewardship (PRI) is honored to be a member of the Whidbey Eco Network. This network is a testimony to the benefits of joining into partnerships serving the common good. Being part of this great network allows the staff at PRI to have a greater understanding of what other groups are accomplishing on the island, find opportunities to collaborate with others and have a sense of community.

This year Whidbey Eco Net has taken on the theme: “Whidbey Waters Are in Your Hands”.

That’s a pretty bold statement – that the health, safety, and availability of water on Whidbey Island is specifically tied to each of our actions. From the integrity of our septic tank to the straw that flies away from our fast food drink, our actions are impacting the health of our waters.


At the Pacific Rim Institute, we engage this philosophy in a number of ways. PRI is a Christian nonprofit that equips people and communities to live sustainably and care for Creation. Each year, college and high school students come from across the country to engage in practical and inspiring field education. Instead of learning about marine mammals in the classroom they come to Whidbey and bring life to the words of their textbooks. They develop a rich belief that they are connected to the land and the water and that their actions will impact the health of the whole network.

On our own campus, we are actively restoring a prairie jewel. Northwest lowland prairie is the most rapidly disappearing ecosystem in Washington State, and we have a precious 4.5 acre remnant on our 175 acre property. We hope to eventually restore native prairie to 100 or more acres of abandoned agricultural land. This open space is a critical recharge area for Whidbey’s sole-source aquifer. Restoring this land and keeping it from further development is our way of protecting our natural resources, including our Island’s fresh water.

UW Plot 22 may 2011. Joseph Sheldon WEB

Come see the prairie in bloom

If you would like to visit our prairie while it is blooming, join us for our Prairie Open House from May 8 – 10, 2014. Free naturalist tours daily at 10am, 4pm and 7pm. Special Penn Cove Water Festival Prairie Tour will be on Saturday at 2:15pm and representatives of the Samish Tribe will be joining us to share the special Native American perspective on the significance of prairies to their ways of life.

Whidbey waters ARE in our hands. The Whidbey Eco Network has a wealth of information and resources among its members. If you have questions look no further than You’ll find events, resources, and contacts for all members.

For more information about Pacific Rim Institure – please see