Check out our interactive map and get the big picture of where we’re making a difference across our shorelines
The Flora and Fauna of Island County’s Beaches
In the early days of our organization, it became clear that people were curious about what marine flora and fauna they could find on their local beaches. So, over 20 years ago, volunteers in collaboration with scientists developed the Intertidal Monitoring Project. Since then, annually, we have explored Island County’s beaches using detailed protocols to note the varied species found in the low tide zones of our beaches.
This citizen science project has helped provide local agencies with long-term baseline data of the species found on our shores. Not only is this is a valued project it also is an invaluable educational tool. Every year we host a new class of volunteers who get the opportunity to go on the beach and assist with the collection of this data. It is a great way for volunteers to connect directly with the species we work to protect.
We currently monitor 12 sites on Camano and 11 on Whidbey, and 1 on Fidalgo Island. During extreme daytime low tides in spring and summer, you will find us out there recording data on the substrate, slope, and the absence or presence of key species on the beach. Additionally, returning to the same site each year, we place quadrats at specified locations where we collect data on all marine species found.
The data collected is now being stored in the Shoreline Monitoring Database. This database is managed by Jason Toft at the University of Washington.
Cavalero County Park & Boat Launch
Water temperature measured over 75 degrees F (24 C) and air temps just over 93 degrees F air temperature (34 C) when we started monitoring on June 28, 2021. We looked at substrate and species, and carefully documented 9 quadrats near the water’s edge within the lowest 40 feet of the 190 foot line.
Stewards who conducted Intertidal Monitoring on the hottest day of the century
Camano Island State Park
Beach monitoring at CISP began in 2006 with a request from the WSDOT to investigate the impact on sea life resulting from the construction of a new boat launch ramp and docks. Three profile lines were set up, one on either side of the two docks and a third (the control) set up a couple of hundred feet north of the boat launch. After 5 years of monitoring, the two lines alongside the dock were discontinued and the data was given to WSDOT. The control line became the permanent monitoring line.
Number of years WSDOT requested monitoring around a new boat launch and docks.
Coupeville Town Park
Midway into Penn Cove, between the Wharf and Penn Cove Shellfish, this beach is sand, cobble, gravel & boulder, and covered almost entirely with mussels interspersed with yellowed acorn barnacles (Balanus glandula). Here intertidal monitors also find some large patches of rockweed in the rocks and below waterline at very low tides, colorful mottled seastars and forests of buried worms waving their delicate brown plumes in the currents.
Acres of mussels covering the area surrounding the site.
SWS conducts numerous activities at this site, below Libbey Beach County Park, including intertidal monitoring for invertebrates and seaweed, and numerous trainings in geology, seaweeds, and intertidal species. It is located at the edge of the Smith and Minor Islands Aquatic Reserve and is a popular site for seaweed harvesting. It is also one of the richest publicly-accessible marine environments in Island County.
Acres in Smith & Minor Islands Aquatic Reserve
Tillicum Beach has a rocky cobble beach with huge logs to navigate around to reach the water. It’s a nice setting for a beach picnic as there are picnic tables on Island County property adjacent to beach. While there are not many creatures in the upper intertidal area, species diversity and populations increase as you proceed below the line of fresh water aquifer outflow. At the lowest tide, the seagrass is still submerged.
Best date in July to see sea grass beds.
The shallow, largely sand beach just east of the six-lane boat ramp is monitored each year for invertebrates, seaweeds and especially eelgrass. This is our easiest beach to monitor since it’s just yards away from parking, the boat launch, and clean restrooms. It is an especially good place for telling the public about our SWS intertidal monitoring program, too.
Feet of shoreline restored at Cornet Bay since 2021
Below the seawall, this beach stretches a long way when tides are low. It is a well-know feeding ground for the gray whales and island-folk flock to the Saratoga Passage viewpoints when the word spreads that they are feeding. The whales feast on ghost shrimp, which are abound here, and most adults and older children can sink to above their knees here when they step onto ghost shrimp burrows territory. This can also make monitoring challenging! This site is also great for showcasing what we are doing here to the public.
Amount of both young sunflower stars and graceful crabs mating in 2018
After a pause in 2020 due to Covid-19, monitors here in 2021 were awed at the change in two years. Where we once measured over clear sand, we now measured over a thriving newly growing eelgrass bed with eelgrass stretching for acres across the nearby sands. Sound Water Stewards have teamed with the Island County Marine Resources Council to monitor eelgrass since 2009 by boat, plane, and on-site methods.
Major ways to preserve eelgrass: (Protect, Expand naturally, Plant new).
With a -3.4ft tide in 2021, we identified 88 invertebrates and 22 seaweed species. Coordinating with Deception Pass State Park, we also have volunteers explaining to the public what we do here.
Invertebrate species identified from 2017-2021
Here, we survey along the profile line and quadrant squares. There’s a description documented of the substrate and any organisms found along the profile line. Then that information is inserted in the profile data sheet. A sighting is then taken of the elevation of height from sea level at set distances. This is also recorded on the profile line.
This year, due to Covid-19, the quadrants had pictures taken of them. Our ID volunteer then surveyed the beach for different organisms.
Feet measured by our profile line.
We survey, annually, the same beach profile from a known starting point to the low tide of that day. We then identify the substrate, animals and seaweed that we find along the profile and survey 9 quadrants. The quadrate locations are based on the low tide on the day of the survey.