Jill Hein

Jan Holmes Island County Coastal Volunteer of the Year

Jill Hein has been characterized as a powerful environmental advocate and educator, an untiring leader and visionary, a conduit for individuals, businesses, organizations and agencies and a mentor for hundreds of other volunteers who work to protect and restore our coastal marine waters.  “She represents the best in a local resident as a steward of the coastal environment; she takes personal responsibility, teaches others and does the work.  She is a champion for learning, sharing and translating knowledge into action.”

An Island County Beach Watcher since 2005 Hein has logged in more than 7000 volunteer hours.  In addition to her work as a Beach Watcher, Hein also volunteers with many other environmentally active groups on Whidbey Island including Whidbey Audubon Society, Coastal Observation, Pigeon Guillemot Research Survey team and Seabird Survey Team, the Orca Network and the Central Puget Sound Marine Stranding Network.  A skilled nature photographer, for many years, Hein’s photos of local orcas and gray whales have been featured in local and regional  newspapers.

Three specific projects exemplify Hein’s contributions as an innovator and inventor; the Eel Grass Monitoring Project, the “Problem with Plastics” brochure, the Monofilament Recovery and Recycling Program for Whidbey Island.

In 2006, as a new Beach Watcher, Hein asked the question, “Why can’t we plant some eelgrass?” From this humble beginning a team of volunteers including eelgrass expert Sandy Wyllie-Echeverria and Beach Watchers Jan Holmes (for whom this award is named) and Phyllis Kind embarked upon one of the signature citizen science surveys on all of Whidbey Island, the Eelgrass Monitoring Project at Holmes Harbor. The ongoing collection and data analysis has added to scientific understanding of eelgrass recovery impacting forage fish and other marine species.

Plastic litter in ocean waters and on the beach is uniquely hazardous to sealife.  Because it is flexible plastic, litter can entangle all types of creatures from birds, to fish and turtles and even sea mammals; because it may take 100s of years to deteriorate, plastic debris causes harm for a very long time,  and because plastic does not disintegrate but instead simply breaks into smaller and smaller pieces that attract toxins in the water, plastic bits are often eaten be sea creatures with deadly results.  Beginning with a grant from the Department of Ecology in 2007, Hein started her research for the best available science on the impact of plastics in our marine environment and what can done to mitigate this environmental toxin. This research produced the “Problem with Plastics” brochure which has increased community awareness of this environmental threat.

Another deadly type of marine debris is monofilament (single-strand, high-density, nylon “fishing” line) which is particularly long-lived and easily ensnares many types of marine life – killing, maiming or handicapping them. The Monofilament Recovery and Recycling Program is designed to educate the public about the problems caused by monofilament line left in the environment and to encourage recycling. Bringing this program from Florida to Island County, Hein designed and constructed 20 recycling tubes, installed the tubes at local fishing beaches and has recycled 53 pounds of abandoned fishing line to date.  Hein continues to monitor the tubes by emptying and cleaning the tubes and recycling the fishing line.

Using her gift as an educator, Hein has mentored hundreds of volunteers and citizens. Hein has taught classes for the Beach Watcher Training program, reached out to the greater Island County community by working at numerous information booths at festivals and fairs like Musselfest, Penn Cove Water Festival and the Island County Fair. She has dedicated hundreds of hours teaching others as a naturalist aboard the vessel Mystic Sea sharing her knowledge of whales with children and adults of all ages. She has educated other educators assisting them in their quest and passion to leave the world a better place by sharing their knowledge and skills with other learners.