Sound Water Stewards are trained volunteers working in and around Island County for a healthy, sustainable marine environment through education, science and stewardship.

2020 SWS Training: Summer  (click here for Fall 2020)

The class of 2020 is using salmon as an indicator species in our learning. How did the presentation help you to understand salmon habitat or life cycle? Please think about this as you review the material. 

Marine Birds seen in our Region (Island, Snohomish, Skagit Counties)

Class Description: Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist Ruth Milner will discuss some of the more common marine birds that pass through or live in our region. This presentation will cover the characteristics that distinguish groups of marine birds, and offer some basic bird identification tips as well as insights into the life histories and adaptations for different groups of birds including shorebirds, seabirds and waterfowl. You are invited to bring your questions. 

Speaker: Ruth Milner is a Wildlife Biologist with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), covering San Juan, Island and Snohomish Counties and is based in LaConner. She works on a variety of species within her district, such as raptors, shorebirds, small mammals, mountain goats, black-tailed deer, amphibians and bats. For many years including 2020, she has taught a basic shore bird identification class at the Snow Goose and Birding Festival in Stanwood. Ruth holds a BS and MS in Wildlife Science from the University of Washington and has been with WDFW for over 30 years.

Pre-Class Recommended Reading/Viewing 

Ruth's Recommended Places to See Birds

  • Camano: English Boom, Utsalady Bay and Iverson Preserve county parks
  • Whidbey: Crockett Lake, Deer Lagoon, Dugualla Bay Preserve and beach, for details see Whidbey Audubon Society's Guide to 15 Special Spots 
  • We invite you to share what you find in the private Slack space for soundwaterstewards Class of 2020 (use the login you set up OR look for the invite sent from Kristina)

Additional Resources

  • Pigeon Guillemot Research Project - sponsored by Whidbey Audubon, this monitoring project involves volunteers, including several SWS members who catalog breeding sites Whidbey, Camano and other Puget Sound bluffs. The website has wonderful pictures, videos and instructional videos for learning how to monitor. 
  • Pacific Flyway Shorebird Survey - sponsored by Point Blue Conservation Science 
  • COASST - citizen scientists collecting data on beached birds and  marine debris. Several SWS members conduct surveys and contribute data. 
  • Pilchuck Audubon - serving Snohomish County and Camano Island. 
  • Skagit Audubon - Skagit County
  • Whidbey Audubon - Whidbey Island 

Mission, Purpose, Activities and Structure of Sound Water Stewards

Class Description: Linda Ade Ridder will present an overview of the organization, including the structure and model upon which the organization was built. She will address the three pillars of citizen science, education and outreach, and stewardship, share recent achievements, comment on the challenges of adapting past programs to new Covid-19 social distancing guidelines, and explain how you can learn more about SWS in "Box." 

Presenter: Linda Ade Ridder, Class of 2005, quickly became a leader in the organization. A past college professor and university department chair, she has a strong understanding of the importance of educational programs. In 2009 she joined the Sound Waters University team, led programming for SWU starting in 2011 through 2014 when she became SWU Event Co-Chair, then SWU Chair in 2015, after which she headed up the Change Committe to leave WSU Beach Watchers to become the independent 501(c)3 nonprofit we are today. Linda was elected to the Board in 2016.

Pre-Class Reading/Watching

Logging Hours, People, Groups, Activities: Navigating SWS Members-only Website

Class Description: Nicole Luce will walk everyone through how to find what you're looking for related to members and activities, including setting up or changing your password, uploading your picture, how to log hours and ways to learn more about SWS activities, partnerships and special events. 

Speaker: Nicole Luce, SWS Class of 1997, holds a degree in Forestry from Colorado State University and an Elementary Teaching degree from Eastern Oregon State. In 2007, she and her soul mate built a “simple, sustainable” earth-friendly woodland home that includes an 80 gallon water tank heated by rooftop solar tubes, energy panel that feeds energy back to the PSE power grid and a 1200 gallon cistern that gathers rainwater from their metal roof for toilets and garden use. Nicole is a published writer and photographer, avid camper, traveler and birder. In SWS, Nicole has done almost every activity there is, and she knows the data systems "SWS Info" and "Vol Info" inside and out. Nicole is the 2020 recipient of the Jan Holmes Volunteer of the Year Award from Island County Marine Resources Committee. 

Pres-Class Reading/Viewing:

Intertidal Species Identification Guides & Getting to The Water's Edge guidebook

Class Description: SWS Member Jeanie McElwain will walk through the tools you are receiving to support your training to become a Steward. This includes the EZ ID laminated species identification guide (plants and creatures) and the brand-new 2020 third-edition of Getting to the Water's Edge, affectionately known as GTWE, which has just been published after more than two years of research, writing, and editing -- a process in which Jeanie was intimately involved. 

Speaker: Jeanie McElwain, SWS class of 2003, is a naturalist and educator. With Dave Brubaker of Camano, Jeanie co-leads the SWS Intertidal Monitoring Program and the Species Identification Training Team, and serves on the Whidbey Steering Committee as well as the VET (Volunteer Education and Training) Committee. Additionally, Jeanie helped lead the Distribution Team for SWS newly published guide book Getting to the Waters Edge.

Pre-Class Reading/Viewing

  • About Jeanie, who is also a member of the SWS Board in addition to leading and being actively involved in a wide range of committees and projects
  • EZ ID online guide - though there are some errors in this old website on intertidal animals, seagrasses, and shore plants, it is still a fun place to explore and learn
  • Tide apps for mobile devide – App uses your device GPS to locate you and display the tides for your location – find them through the App Store
  • How to Read a Tide Table, with David Wolcott, NOAA oceanographer and REI member

Post-Class Activities

  • Review your copy of Getting to the Waters Edge after you pick it up
  • Check out the GTWE website - it will be listed here when it "goes live"

Swinomish Place-Based Science, Culture and Environmental Education: A Swinomish Approach to Environmental and Resource Issues

Class Description:

The Swinomish People have long standing traditions of protecting, honoring, and thanking Mother Earth for the gifts that nourish our people. The culture of the Tribe is intrinsically tied to the health of the environment that sustains the habitat for our important natural resources and the cultural practices they support. While some of our work is directed at addressing immediate and specific environmental or ecological concerns, our objectives focus on the long-view of sustaining the Swinomish culture. We use the place-based knowledge and indigenous science of our ancestors combined with scientific research to develop innovative ways to protect our resources not just for now but for the next seven generations. For Swinomish, it is not enough to simply work for the survival of a species or habitat: we strive to protect and preserve resources and their place in Swinomish culture.

This presentation will cover: what is place-based science, traditional ecological knowledge, and indigenous science; how that ancestral knowledge from our elders is collected, used and protected through data stewardship and sovereignty; using that knowledge that practices honorable community engagement within the tribe and with collaborators and allies; the connection of Swinomish culture to our lands, environment, and treaty-reserved rights; case study(s) of Tribally designed and lead placed based-science, research, and habitat restoration on the Swinomish Reservation; our environmental education efforts of bringing Swinomish specific indigenous science curriculum to the Tribal youth in the Community.

Speaker: Todd Mitchell, a Swinomish Tribal citizen, is the Environmental Director of the Swinomish Department of Environmental Protection with the Swinomish Tribal Community.  Mr. Mitchell’s work while employed by the Tribe has been focused on the protection and enhancement of the Tribe’s water resources and water-dependent natural resources. This work includes research activities in traditional ecological knowledge, tidelands, surface water, groundwater, wetlands, and salmon habitat, and development and implementation of restoration projects to advance Tribal natural resource goals.

Pre-Class Reading/Viewing:

Geology of Island County Shorelines 

Class Description: Learn how Island County bluffs and beaches were created, interact, and how natural processes impact marine and shore habitats. Find out how shoreline development affects beaches and what happens when armoring is added or removed. 

Speaker: Hugh Shipman is an expert in coastal erosion, geologic hazards, beach restoration, and the environmental impacts of shoreline modification. He worked as a Coastal Geologist with the Shorelands and Environmental Assistance program of the WA Dept of Ecology from 1989 until retirement in 2019. Hugh received a BA in Earth Sciences and Engineering from Dartmouth in 1981 and an MS in Geological Sciences from the University of Washington in 1986. He grew up near the coast of Maine and moved to the Salish Sea in 1983. For many years, Hugh has been a very popular speaker at local events with a clear passion for and knowledge of Whidbey and Camano shorelines. An adventurer and wanderer, upon retirement Hugh bicycled ocean to ocean starting in Maine and ending on Whidbey Island before biking home to Ballard. He is already planning his next trip, which you can follow on Tumblr

Pre-Class Reading/Watching

Additional Resources

  • Resource List of websites and books on NW Coastal Geology, Feeder Bluffs and more - created by Jeanie McElwain
  • 2013 Feeder Bluff Survey and 2017 Restoration Assessment for Island County  Marine Resources Committee
  • Dept of Ecology on Shorelines and Coastal Management
  • Ecology on Puget Sound Landslides including how to reduce your risks
  • Jefferson Land Trust zoom presentation on Shorelines of the Puget Sound Region with John Bethel, recorded June 3, 2020
  • King Conservation District webinar June 27, 2020, 9 am to 12:30 pm - Where the Water Begins for beach property owners interested in a stable natural shoreline, bluff property owners interested in reducing potential for erosion and landslides, or beach or bluff property owners interested in improving fish and wildlife habitat

Post-Class Options

  • Be creative. This is a time in our lives where we can explore new ways of sharing. Maybe a video or photo? There are no right or wrong answers to these questions. Perhaps they will just lead to more questions, your inquiring mind forming more paths of learning to follow. 
    1) Can you find a feeder bluff near you to visit or travel to one? 
    2) Why do you have or not have a bluff visit? 
    3) What does a feeder bluff do to help the beach? 
    4) If you can look at a bluff from the beach, what do you see?
    Upload your results to our private SWS Class of 2020 Slack Channel.

  • Sign up for a private beach and bluff tour with Paul Ben on South Whidbey or Trent Lowe on Camano - see SWS Slack Channel for details.

Coastal Geology, Bluffs and Shores: Q&A on Jul 2 and optional Field Trip

Class Description: In the absence of Hugh Shipman live, we have the good fortune to present Paul Ben McElwain to lead and Q&A and help increase your knowledge of our Islands' geology and shorelines. Bring your questions. 

Speaker: SWS Member Paul Ben McElwain, Class of 2017, brings an academic background in geology and physcial oceanography and has led many SWS beach tours. Within SWS, Paul Ben is looked to as the Technology advisor and problem solver, but it is often in the group interactions, facilitation and communication areas where he shines. He has served on the SWS Board and was President in 2019, has served on and led many committees.

For Reference 

Post-Class Activities

  • Paul Ben is offering small group bluff tours at Double Bluff South Whidbey publicly accessible beach. To participate, find details in the private SWS Class of 2020 Slack Channel.
  • On Camano, other SWS members are offering private tours. See SWS Private Slack Channel for details. 

Leque Estuary Restoration Project, Return to Tidal Marsh at Stillaguamish River in Stanwood

Class Description: Leque Island Restoration is one of many local estuary restoration projects that Loren Brokaw has overseen. This one occurs just south and west of the Highway 5323 Bridge between Camano and Stanwood. Camano Islanders have watched it progress for many years. Now the level walk and parking areas are complete and the signs are in. Loren will describe the goals and process of the project and talk about other restoration projects in the area, including Zi-sa-ba on nearby Stillaguamish Tribal land. 

Speaker: Loren Brokaw is the Restoration Projects Coordinator for Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) in the North Puget Sound region, which extends from the Washington/Canada border down to just South of Seattle. Loren manages habitat restoration projects on WDFW lands that involve restoration of natural processes to benefit fish, wildlife, and their habitats including a projects at Leque Island near Stanwood and Fir Island near Conway. Much of his work involves partnering with local organizations, planning and executing stakeholder outreach, and securing grant funding to achieve habitat restoration objectives. Loren was born and raised in Stanwood and his family has lived in the Stanwood Camano area for five generations.

Pre-Class Reading/Watching

Tides and Currents

Class Description: The movement of water around the Salish Sea and Planet Earth has fascinated people for as long as we have been around. Why does it do that? How do we predict where it will be in an hour, a day, a year from now? How does all this affect the behavior of salmon, seaweed, and nuclear power plants? And how does all this affect me when I visit the beach, paddle a kayak, take a ferry, or try to balance an egg?

Tides wait for no man, but that means they are predictable. How does a storm change those predictions? Should we use the dependability and energy of tides for power generation?

Using video, diagrams, discussions, and humor, this interactive presentation challenges assumptions, offers insights, and helps us understand the science behind what is taking place out in space and along our shores every hour of every day, processes that create our tides, determine our coastline, and touch our lives.

Speaker: Jack Hartt was born and raised near the shores of the Salish Sea in Seattle. He frequently played hooky from Ballard High School to go down to the beach. He graduated from college with a degree in Forest Science and park management. Jack Hartt spent the next 40 years working for Washington State Parks. He was manager of Deception Pass State Park for 14. Now retired, he is involved in Skagit Land Trust, Anacortes Community Forest Lands and Transition Fidalgo. Recently, along with SWS member Maribeth Crandell, Jack co-authored a Hiking Close to Home, a guidebook to hikes and trails of Whidbey, Fidalgo & Guemes Islands. 

Pre-Class Reading/Viewing: 

Post-Class Activity:

Plankton of the Salish Sea: the basis of the food chain

Class Description: Though we all love the colorful sea stars and frolicking otters, it’s the tiny world below that keeps our Salish Sea ticking. Learn about the hidden majority of life that flourishes in our local waters and beyond. In this talk, we will explore the secret world of plankton and look at how these microscopic organisms play vital roles in ecosystems of the Salish Sea.  

Speaker: Chandler Colahan is the education specialist at Padilla Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve in Bayview, WA. She has been an environmental and marine educator for more than twenty years. Chandler has a BA degree in Ocean Science, Education, and Creative Expression from Western Washington University, Fairhaven College. She also spent many years researching plankton and jellyfish at Shannon Point Marine Center. When she is not exploring the mudflats with students, you can often find Chandler exploring the waters of the Salish Sea looking for wildlife. 

Pre-Class Reading/Viewing: 

(Non-SWS) Citizen Science Opportunities:

  • Playing with Data engaging the community in the collection and analysis of environmental information

  • Secchi Disk, a global seafarer citizen science study of collecting essential data about phytoplankton (learn to make your own Secchi Disk)

Marine Biology, Intertidal Life, Intertidal Beach Monitoring

Class Description: In the morning session Dr. Brubaker will lead you through some basics of marine biology. He will introduce you to marine zonation and the physical/chemical and biological factors that work together to produce the distribution of marine animals and plants in the intertidal zone. Dr. Brubaker will walk you through the common groups of animals and plants within the intertidal zone, how they are classified and named, and how to use the laminated EZ-ID species identification guides (plant and animal) to identify them. In the afternoon session Dr. Brubaker will outline the protocol SWS uses to annually monitor selected beaches on Camano and Whidbey Islands. This intertidal monitoring project is a Citizen Science project originating from SWS and has been a major teaching and research effort for over 20 years. 

Speaker: SWS Member Dr. Dave Brubaker is Professor Emeritus, Seattle University. Dr. Brubaker retired from Seattle University in June 2006 after a 26-year career of teaching and educational program design. As an Associate Professor of Biology, he taught courses including General Biology for majors, Limnology, Marine Invertebrate Zoology, Marine Biology, and General Ecology. He also co-founded and Directed of the Environmental Studies Program. While at Seattle University he was active in promoting sustainable building design and other sustainable practices and operations. Since 2008 he has been an active volunteer for the WSU Island County Beach Waters, now Sound Water Stewards of Island County. He has served on the SWS Board of Directors and is currently co-chair of the Citizen Science Committee and the Co-coordinator for Intertidal Beach Monitoring on Camano Island.

Pre-Class Reading/Viewing: 

  • https://www.eopugetsound.org/articles/marine-invertebrates-puget-sound
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marine_invertebrates
  • About Dave Brubaker from 2015 ballot when he became a board member
  • Get the book: Seashore Life of the Northern Pacific Coast: An illustrated Guide to Northern California, Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia, by Eugene N. Kozloff, University of Washington Press, 1993. This is a wonderful resource. Dave recommends you have it on your bookshelf. (Sno-Isle Library has it.)
  • Explore the EZ-ID online guide and the laminated guides you received. Fun ways to get to know the plants and animals in the intertidal zone. Review your notes from Jeanie McEwain’s presentation, especially the use of the EZ-ID species ID cards.
  • Intertidal ID Guide, Fidalgo Island from The Salish Sea School. This is a simpler guide to the plants and animals in the intertidal zone than the EZ-ID laminated species ID cards you are given for this training. The pictures are of superb quality and species-specific identifying features nicely pointed out. You may want to print for yourself.
  • Review your notes from Jack Hartt’s presentation on Tides and Currents. Pay close attention to the part describing the basic beach tidal zones. 
  • Print out a copy of Dr. Dave Brubaker's presentation notes which follow the power point presentation.

Hand-out for Class

  • In Word or in PDF form - Class of 2020: you received this on paper with GTWE

Post-Class Activities:

  • Use the EZ-ID online guide on the SWS website to review the some of the common animals and plants. Especially use the “game” to test how much you remember from the presentation. 
  • Dave Brubaker will organize several small group (2-3 people) excursions to Camano Island State Park. Dave will take you to the rocky beach just north of the boat launch. The days (low tide days) and times will be given on the day of the presentation. You are welcome to attend one or more of these excursions. Learning to find and identify intertidal animals and plants is fun but always needs some assistance. It is a learning process. (Find details on Slack when they are available.) 
  • We hope to resume Intertidal Monitoring in 2021 after this year's Covid-19 cancellation. Students from the 2020 class will then have the opportunity to participate in a monitoring team. 
  • Read the published research paper by Jason Toft, with David and Linda Brubaker as co-authors, entitled "A Framework to Analyze Citizen Science Data for Volunteers, Managers, and Scientists," about the usefulness of volunteer-led citizen science research projects  https://theoryandpractice.citizenscienceassociation.org/article/10.5334/cstp.100/

All about the Forests of Island County 

Class Description: We will explore forests of Island County by asking several questions. How do the forests alter land environments in ways that can ultimately affect marine systems? How and why are these forests unique compared to other forests worldwide? How and why are these forests changing, even though we can’t see those changes from one year (or decade) to the next? By examining these questions, we will address a variety of specific topics, including nutrient cycling, soil erosion, climate influences on vegetation and disturbances, light tolerance, old growth. 

Speaker: SWS Member Dr. Linda Brubaker is Emeritus Professor at the School of Environmental and Forest Science, University of Washington. She received her PhD in Zoology in 1973 from the University of Michigan and has taught courses in forest biology, dendrology and forest ecology and mentored graduate students from 1973 to 2006. Her research used pollen, charcoal and tree-rings to understand how climate and fire affect forests across a range of timescales. She was fortunate to conduct research in Alaska, far northeastern Siberia and the Cascade and Olympic Ranges of Washington. The results of this work have been published in nearly 100 scientific papers and numerous book chapters. Since retiring, she enjoys hiking, gardening, reading and playing with grandkids. 

Pre-Class Reading/Viewing: 

  • Attenuation of Light: Douglas-fir, western hemlock, and western redcedar are the most important species in Island County forests. Use the pictures below to help you find these species where you live or in a state park in Island County. If possible, bring a 6” twig with leaves back home. Look down the twigs from the end (or lay them down on a table) and convince yourself that Douglas-fir leaves make the twig look bushy (leaves on all directions around the twig). Western hemlock and western redcedar leaves are held flat (most leaves on opposite sides of the twig). These simple differences help explain why Douglas-fir only grows in the sun and thus invades areas after disturbances and why western hemlock and western redcedar typically grow in the shade and can be found as small trees in forests. We will discuss the figures to the right to help understand how leaf differences contribute to the ecological differences between species. Hint: leaves can carry out very high rates of photosynthesis in full sunlight to partial shade, but almost no photosynthesis in full shade.
  • see PDF on attenuation of light
  • see PDF on WA forest ecology

Post-Class Activity:

Linda and Dave Brubaker


Class Description: Water is vital for all life. Its versatility and adaptability to flow through our environment, supplies drinking water, irrigation & manufacturing, recreational opportunities, and vital habitat for numerous plants and animals. A watershed is an area of land that drains rain water or snow into one location such as a stream, lake, or wetland. In this class we will be diving into the landscape of Island County to better understand how watersheds sustain life in more ways than one.

Speaker: Gwendolyn Hannam joined the Whidbey Island Conservation District in Spring of 2019 and has over 10 years’ experience as an environmental biologist, including 5 years as a Lead Biologist Scientist in the Water Management Section for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Utilizing her BSc in Oceanography (University of Washington) and MSc Taxonomy and Biodiversity of Plants (University of Edinburgh, Scotland), most of her career has been based around water quality, land use and development, endangered species, water resource management, and environmental critical areas. Gwendolyn’s desire to serve her community in a non-regulatory role has brought her an opportunity to contribute her expertise and knowledge to the District as a Natural Resource Planner. 

Pre-Class Reading/Viewing: 

  • Island County Watersheds map
  • Matt Zupich, Natural Resource Planner presentation on Watersheds to SWS-Whidbey in 2017
  • As long as humans have walked the planet, wetlands have been a part of our lives. Some turned to these saturated lands for resources while others saw them as something fearful or undesirable. A new documentary by Water Rocks! explores the biologically productive, and diverse, nature of wetlands and the vital role they play to life on Earth. The film highlights several Iowans who are involved in wetland restoration or construction in Iowa. It explores the wealth of biodiversity in wetlands, their importance for migratory birds and their water quality improvement benefits. Through video and images, this film is witness to the beauty of wetlands. View at: Water Rocks 

  • National Geographic Resource Library: Watershed Entry with Vocabulary and Related Resources Links
  • NOAA: What is a Watershed with USGS links to Hydrologic Unit Maps and Aquifer Basics
  • USGS Water Cycle for Adults and Advanced Students with Links
  • Landscope on Washington’s natural geography and watersheds with links to Ecology.
  • WSU Watershed Stewardship
  • Better Ground - local conservation districts providing free advice and sharing knowledge to help property owners conserve and improve their ground
  • Conservation Districts sponsor Orca Recovery Day each October

Post Class Activity:

    After the class, take a walk around your neighborhood to see if you can sleuth out where the surface water comes from and where it's going. Do you know where your water originates from? Where does your drinking water come from? Where does the excess water go and where does it meet marine waters?
    Alternatively (as is safe and allowed): On Whidbey, take a walk around Deer Lagoon, Cranberry Lake, Hidden Beach, Cornet Bay, South Whidbey State Park; On Camano take a walk around Triangle Cove, Cama Beach State Park, Elger Bay, Camano Island State Park, South Wetlands Trail.


    Once you have sleuthed your walk, compare your findings to a topographic map! How does what you observed on your walk, compare to what is on the map? Quite frequently, what we see on the ground doesn't quite match up with the estimations of maps. This is why it's extremely important to know your watershed

    How can you help protect your local watershed? In addition to the well known tips: conserve water, take shorter showers, don't pour toxic household chemicals down the drain; etc..., perhaps consider what actions we may take outside the home, which may be influencing the quality of water within your watershed.

Forage Fish: Little Fish, Big Impact

Class Description: Forage fish are a critical keystone species in the marine food web. They specialize in eating plankton and then are eaten by other marine and shore species. Forage fish are crucial to a healthy marine ecosystem. Learn about their life cycles and the ways their spawning habitat can be negatively or positively impacted. 

Speaker: Phillip Dionne has been with the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife's Habitat Science Team since 2011. His current research interests are monitoring and assessing the distribution, abundance, and characteristics of forage fish stocks and habitat, and assessing new methods to research and monitor those stocks. Prior to researching forage fish, Phil used mark – recapture, and acoustic telemetry to assess abundance of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) listed shortnose sturgeon in Maine, and green sturgeon in Washington and Oregon.

Pre-Class Reading/Viewing: 

  • Forage Fish Matter video from Sound Action featuring Phillip Dionne
  • The Living Ocean herring spawn video, shot on Hood Canal by John Gusman - Each year in early spring, tens of thousands of tons of herring migrate from offshore to nearshore habitats to spawn en masse in one of nature’s most spectacular events. Nearshore waters flow chalky white with herring milt and eggs, drifting for miles along the coastline.
  • Forage Fish of the Salish Sea video produced by Friends of Skagit Beaches
  • Island County Marine Resources Committee Forage Fish Survey 
  • Encyclopedia of Puget Sound pages on Forage Fish 

Learn More: 

Importance of Estuaries within an Ecosystem

Class Description: Estuaries are the areas where fresh and saltwater mix as a river flows into the sea. Rivers and streams carry nutrients downstream to support a complex ecosystem filled with a wide range of habitats and species. Estuaries are generally protected lowlands, vitally important as nursery grounds for many species including juvenile salmon. Salmon are hatched upstream and spend a critical stage of their development adapting from fresh to salt water and feeding in the near shore environment before spending their adulthood at sea. Juvenile salmon experience the highest growth rates of their lives while in estuaries and nearshore waters.  A detritus-based food web provides rich and abundant prey. Nutrient-rich estuaries are crucial to their growth and the complex food web produced from water plants such as eelgrass serve as the base of the salmon food web.

Other species that make up a healthy estuary in Island County/Salish Sea include algae, wetland and marine plants, crustaceans, many other invertebrates, fish, birds and marine mammals. Elaine Chan teaches interactive presentations for children and adults at special events at state parks. She will demonstrate a typical presentation which would normally engage the students as helpers and share lots of props. Elaine will model an educational activity for learners of all ages, called Estuary Soup, which was first created by Susan Wood (Aug 6 presenter) of Padilla Bay Estuarine Research Center and has been adapted by educators around the globe. 

Speaker: Elaine Chan grew up on Miami Beach loving everything associated with the ocean. A childhood of fishing, diving and boating preceded her Princeton undergraduate degree in Biology, Master of Science in Fisheries from the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science and her marine science career with the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Elaine began her Federal service as a marine biologist specializing in the impact of marine oil spills and collected a law degree from Georgetown University along the way to becoming an environmental lawyer for the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

Now retired on Camano Island, she joined the SWS Class of 2015 and still enjoys teaching undergraduate Oceanography and Environmental Science and introducing children and adult learners to the wonders of the sea around us. Elaine is a Broker, REALTOR® with ReMax Associate Brokers helping friends buy, sell and invest in real estate when she is not volunteering, kayaking, crabbing or camping.

Training in this topic allows you to: Lead or assist with Estuary Soup educational activity at Nature Discovery Days on Camano or other events at State Parks for children and adults.

Pre-Class Reading/Viewing Options:  

Crab Lifecycle, Derelict Gear, Fishing Regs & Preserving the Resource

Class Description: Don Velasquez will provide an overview of the biology, ecology, and complex nature of the Puget Sound Dungeness crab (Metacarcinus magister) fishery. He will describe current harvest practices and explain how rules and regulations are used to manage the resource throughout Puget Sound.

In addition, he will present data from several current research projects that have been developed to improve understanding of the population dynamics of the species and facilitate the conservation and management of the resource. Students will complete the class with an understanding of crab biology, proper gear rigging and how fishery seasons are structured. Class participants will also learn about the work being done to reduce the prevalence of derelict crab gear in Puget Sound.

Speaker: Don Velasquez, WA Dept of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), based in Bothell, WA. Don began his WDFW career working with the Clam and Oyster Enhancement Project at Point Whitney facility on Hood Canal. Since 1995 he has been working primarily with crab and shrimp fisheries in Puget Sound. Don holds degrees from Oregon State University (BS Biology, 1986) and University of Washington (MS Fisheries, 1992).

Pre-Class Reading/Viewing: 

Post-Class Activity:

  • Take your EZ ID laminated guide to an intertidal zone of a local rocky beach, and see how many species of crab you can identify.

Marine Mammals

Class Description: In this class, Jill Hein, SWS member (class of 2005), Orca Network board member and whale watch naturalist, will help you to identify the marine mammals likely to be seen in the Salish Sea. Jill has been involved with the marine mammal community since 2004. Identify whales by their body shape and ‘blow’ and their migration patterns. Learn about local seals, sea lions, and porpoise/dolphins. Volunteer opportunities will be described and shared: Orca Network’s Sighting Network, Central Puget Sound Marine Mammal Stranding network, educational events, and becoming a docent at the Langley Whale Center.

Speaker: SWS Member, Class of 2005 Jill Hein became involved with the marine mammal community upon moving to Whidbey Island full time in 2004. She became a Beach Watcher/Sound Water Steward in 2005, and has now recorded over 12,000 volunteer hours. From 2006 through the present, Jill is a certified naturalist, volunteers as a naturalist on whale watch boats, is a member of the Central Puget Sound Marine Mammal Stranding Network, helps with educational events at fairs and many workshops etc, contributes to research (mostly through photography) with humpback whales, gray whales and our local orcas, both Southern Residents and Biggs killer whales, and she takes phenomenal nature pictures. She’s been an Orca Network Board Member for 10 years and is still on a quest to see as many different whales of the world - current count is at 13! Jill was named the Jan Holmes Volunteer of the Year Award in 2014 by Island County Marine Resources Committee.

Pre-Class Reading/Viewing: 

Post Class Activities:

  • Share reactions with the class on Slack. 
  • Visit the Coupeville Wharf to see Rosie, the gray whale skeleton along with beautifully designed interactive displays of marine mammals and Salish Sea species.
  • When the building re-opens after Covid restrictions, visit the Cama Beach State Park Welcome Center on Camano Island and look up to find a sea lion skeleton hanging from the ceiling. Stewards cleaned and re-assembled the vertebrae and bones before it was hung. 
  • Happywhale engages citizen scientists to identify individual marine mammals, for fun and for science - on your own citizen science.

Eelgrass & Estuaries

Class Description: Estuaries are some of the most productive places on earth, and the Salish Sea is no exception. Eelgrass, one of its most important producers, fringes much of its shoreline. Nearby Padilla Bay is home to about 25% of all the eelgrass in Washington’s inland waters – over 8000 acres! Susan will explore the ecology of this valuable plant and share the current status and research at Padilla Bay NERR.

Speaker: Susan Wood is the Education Coordinator at the Padilla Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, where she’s been teaching people of all ages about estuaries since 1988. She has a BA in Environmental Studies from St. Olaf College in Minnesota and Master’s degree in Environmental Education from Slippery Rock University in Pennsylvania. For the past ten years, she has been delving into climate change communication, and recently completed an NSF funded climate change communication program through the New England Aquarium, the National Network for Ocean and Climate Change Interpretation (NNOCCI)

Susan enjoys gardening, making music, and walking trails and beaches near her home on Fidalgo Island.

Pre-Class Reading/Viewing:

Post-Class Activity:

  • Find eelgrass on a lower tide on the beach of your choice. Stare into it and see what you can find. If you can, bring a magnifying glass to see the beauty of the grass. Write about it on Slack. [Almost every beach on our two islands has eelgrass nearby.] 

Erosion, Stormwater, Rain Gardens, Bluff Stability

Class Description: Derek will be presenting on the effect stormwater runoff has on Camano Island and the services the Snohomish Conservation District provides to help mitigate those issues. He will be talking about onsite mitigation solutions including rain gardens and rainwater harvesting. He will also be talking about bluff stability and steps Island residents can take to protect themselves and their neighbors from destabilization events.

Speaker: Derek Hann is a Professional Engineer for the Snohomish Conservation District. He works with all the District teams, and specializes in Green Stormwater Infrastructure working most closely with the Community Conservation Team. He has designed nearly a thousand rain gardens and rainwater harvesting systems within Snohomish County and Camano, as well as many other systems for other Conservation Districts in the Puget Sound region. Derek has 14 years of engineering experience, and 10 years with the District. Derek graduated with a degree in Civil Engineering from the University of Idaho.

Pre-Class Reading/Viewing: 

Salmon Ecosystem & Habitat Recovery

Class Description: Tamara Neuffer will talk with us about Stillaguamish Tribe's salmon recovery programs involving Stillaguamish River habitat restoration, hatchery program, along with salmon importance to the environment and to the culture. She will also describe her work with schools and how Sound Water Stewards have assisted "on the beach" educational activities in the past. 

Speaker: Tamara Neuffer is the Outreach and Education Coordinator for the Stillaguamish Tribe Natural Resources Department and graduated with honors from Huxley College of the Environment, Western Washington University. Her focus is teaching hands-on interactive salmon habitat protection, water quality and climate change lessons in local schools. She organizes and leads field trips, hatchery tours and stewardship events with local schools and organizations. She delivers public presentations and workshops on the cultural and ecological importance of native plants and trees, the life cycle and habitat of Pacific Salmon and local impacts of Climate Change. She is the festival coordinator for the annual Stillaguamish Tribe Festival of the River and Pow Wow and the Stillaguamish-Arlington Eagle Festival. She works with Stillaguamish tribal youth on fishing and hunting treaty rights and natural resources education.

Pre-Class Reading/Viewing:

Post-Class Activity:

  • If you haven't already, do something creative this week to answer the question, "The class of 2020 is using salmon as an indicator species in our learning. How did the presentation help you to understand salmon habitat or life cycle?" Consider an essay, poem, picture, video you made, or find something in a book, magazine or online. Please post your reflection in #thesalmonchannel in Slack.

Marine Ecosystem Related News, Projects, Websites, Video

Dear Class of 2020 - This page is for your suggestions - please send them to Camano Coordinator.