Who Are Sound Water Stewards and What Do We Do

We are trained volunteers working in and around Island County for a healthy, sustainable Puget Sound environment through education, community outreach, stewardship, and citizen science.

We were founded in 1989 as Island County Beach Watchers – a program of Washington State University Extension. In January 2016, we became our own independent non-profit organization, led by a volunteer Board of Directors.

What We Do

A major focus of our program is the annual training program for new volunteers – 80 hours of expert training from top professionals, plus 20 hours of hands on training. Since 1990, we have trained over 600 volunteers.

Both new and old volunteers work on a variety of projects in keeping with our mission (some programs are entirely SWS-run, many are with aligned groups or researchers in the Puget Sound region)

  • Citizen Science – we are the ‘boots on the ground’ (and in the water and mud!) for many citizen science projects – following exact protocols to guarantee the accuracy and value to scientists of the collected data. read.more
  • Education & Outreach – from working with with families at the beach (to appreciate tidepools, or to learn to dig for clams), to teaching kids the wonders of their island habitats, to running a 600+ person university level symposium each year. read.more
  • Stewardship – trail maintenance, beach cleanups, pulling noxious weeds and planting appropriate read.more
  • Administration – as a volunteer-driven organization, we also work on all the things that organizations need – communications & PR, financial management, fund-raising, policy, project management, volunteer engagement and recognition, and social and networking events. read.more

The rest of this page provides an overview of our many activities – see the News page for newsletters describing current status on selected activities.

Citizen Science

  • Birds
    • We monitor pigeon guillemot burrows, behaviors, and populations at many sites around Whidbey Island in conjunction with the Pigeon Guillemot Research Group, a project Whidbey Audubon and Island County Marine Resources Committee. We also help maintain the website of observed data.
    • In support of the COASST program of the University of Washington, volunteers walk our beaches monthly on the lookout for beached birds, to help document changes in seabird populations.
    • We participate in a variety of other bird counting efforts – Christmas Bird Count, eBird, Breeding Bird Survey, Leque Island Bird Survey, …
  • Crabs
    • We monitor several sites on both Camano and Whidbey, taking measurements of crab populations, and ever on the lookout for the invasive European Green Crab – using protocols from, and reporting data to WA Sea Grant’s Crab Team.
  • Eelgrass
    • We take underwater video and aerial photography – to measure eelgrass beds. The work is supported by the Northwest Straits Commission, managed by the Island County Marine Resources Committee and collaborated with WA Department of Natural Resources. (read more)
  • Fish
    • Forage Fish Spawning Survey – we gather forage fish egg samples at local beaches, winnow the gathered material, and tally eggs. Managed by Island County Marine Resources Committee – in conjunction with WA Department of Fish and Wildlife. (read more)
    • Estuary Seining for salmon smolt – In 2005, we (as Beach Watchers) began “seining” for salmon smolt (netting the smolt, identifying the species, measuring, counting and returning unharmed) at various key shorelines around our islands, under the watchful eye of NOAA. In 2009 Cornet Bay became our major site, collecting data for pre- and post- restoration. After 8 years, enough data has been collected for their studies. The Marine Resources Committee (who now provides the needed NOAA permits) and the Island County Salmon Recovery team, are working on new sites for 2017, so stay tuned, don’t put away those waders, boots, gloves and jackets yet. (read more)
    • Smolt Count – each May we help monitor the smolts as they head downstream – in conjunction with Whidbey Watershed Stewards and WA Dept of Fish and Wildlife.
  • Kelp Survey – we use a kayak based protocol to monitor the health of kep beds during the summer when kelp is actively growing. Read more at nwstraits.org
  • Intertidal Fauna & Flora – extreme low tide days find us out on the beaches – monitoring the marine life to accumulate baseline data-over-time on invertebrates, seaweeds and beach conditions. (read more)
  • Shellfish
    • Collect shellfish samples, and ship to WA Dept of Health for biotoxin testing; the results help drive their Shellfish Safety map.
    • Freeland County Park – counting shellfish harvesters at exact low tide for WS Department of Fish and Wildlife – to help them determine harvest season for following year.
    • Mussel Watch (monitoring for toxins) – every other year – bag up Penn Cove mussels for deployment at monitoring sites throughout Puget Sound; we also deploy at one site in Island County. In conjunction with WA DFW and Puget Sound Ecosystem Monitoring Program. (read more)
  • Storm Surge Monitoring – documenting shoreline and beach conditions and storm surge impacts at various sites throughout Camano and Whidbey Islands – pre and post storm event. In conjunction with Island County Marine Resources Committee and USGS.
  • Water
    • Water Quality Monitoring @ Deception Pass State Park – volunteers are monitoring both physical and chemical parameters at Cranberry Lake and Pass Lake near Deception Pass. The physical parameters are monitored every two weeks. These parameters include dissolved oxygen, temperature and water transparency. Chemical parameters include total phosphorus, total nitrogen, turbidity, and chlorophyll A. They are sampled every 2 months. The goal of the sampling is to gain knowledge of current water quality in Cranberry and Pass Lakes that may affect harmful algal blooms.
    • Water Resources Advisory Committee – several volunteers serve on this Island County advisory team whose mission is to ensure that the water resources of Island County are managed and protected in such a way as to ensure sustainable use, while protecting habitat, environmental and human health.

Education & Outreach

  • Birds – lead birding field trips and classes – in conjunction with Audubon.
  • Digging for Dinner – each summer we teach families to safely, effectively, and sustainably dig for clams on our island beaches.
  • EZID website – we maintain this web-based resource for learning about intertidal animals, seagrasses, seaweeds and shore plants. And there’s an addictive game version as well.
  • Facebook – we post articles and videos of interest
  • Fairs and Festivals – we bring interactive activities and informative displays to many public events – Penn Cove Water Festival, Snow Goose Festival, Ways of Whales, and -many- more.
  • Fauna and Flora – we serve as docents, naturalists, teachers, …
    • Coupeville Wharf marine display
    • Low Tide Beach Walks – Camano and Whidbey
    • Nature Discovery Days – two days each May – in conjunction with the Friends of Camano Island Parks (read more)
    • Outdoor Classroom – in conjunction with Whidbey Watershed Stewards.
    • Rosario Tidepools – in conjunction with WA State Parks
    • and forest and native plant walks at several of our 10 state parks on Camano and Whidbey.
  • Island History – we guide lighthouse tours at Fort Casey, and serve as docents at Ebey House
  • Marine Mammals
    • we organize a Gray Whale Cruise each spring, and serve as naturalists on summer whale cruises
    • with Central Puget Sound Marine Mammal Stranding Network – we assess/monitor live marine mammals hauled out on the beach, measure and record dead marine mammals found, and report all findings to NOAA and WDFW stranding databases.
    • with Orca Network
      • serve as Langley Whale Center docents
      • help organize the Ways of Whales seminar each January
  • Monthly Member Seminars – updates on current issues and environmental topics
  • Monthly Public Seminars – on Camano Island we host 4th Wednesday evening seminars on topics of environmental importance.
  • Sound Waters University – we organize an annual 600+person ‘one day university for all’ – held each year on Whidbey Island. (read more)
  • State Parks – in addition to serving as naturalists, we help staff welcoming centers.
  • Website – you are reading it :-)
  • Whidbey ECO Net – team with other Whidbey groups with a focus on education, communications and outreach.
  • WSU Extension Educ&Outreach programs – we help support Noxious Weeds outreach, Shore Stewards, Waste Wise, Whidbey Gardening Workshop, and Snohomish Sound Living seminar.

Stewardship

  • Beach Cleanup – on our own or with community scheduled cleanups supported by Island County Public Health and WA Department of Ecology.
  • Monofilament Fishing Line Recycling – since 2008, we have been installing special containers at popular fishing beaches to collect monofilament fishing line – to ensure it is not entangling fish, fowl, or marine mammals and to ensure that it is recycled properly. (read more)
  • Trail maintenance, pulling noxious weeds, planting native plants – with Nature Conservancy, Whidbey Camano Land Trust, Whidbey Watershed Stewards, …

Administration

The Sound Water Stewards organization is led by a 9 person volunteer Board of Directors, and supported by two part-time coordinators (one for Camano Island, and one for Whidbey Island)

There are volunteer teams to coordinate each of:

  • Citizen Science projects
  • Communications – internal & external – including our quarterly newsletter
  • Community Education and Outreach
  • Financial Planning & Fundraising
  • Social/Networking Events – from monthly breakfasts to annual holiday parties, and fun field trips!
  • Member Engagement and Support
  • New Volunteer Training – to organize the annual training for new volunteers. read more about training

In addition, our volunteers serve on administrative teams for -many- other environmental organizations on Camano and Whidbey.