What's the Point?
Low-tide lessons at Point Whitehorn
What: What's the Point?
When: 9 am Sat., Jun. 15
Where: Point Whitehorn Marine Reserve
Wednesday, June 12, 2019
On a calm, gray day in March, I hiked the forested trail at Whatcom County Parks’ Point Whitehorn Marine Reserve, keen to see what the beach looked like after a recent herring spawn I had heard about.
Hopping across driftwood onto the cobble beach at the base of the stairs, I was delighted to see and hear crowds of scoters moving to and fro, clucking among themselves, occasionally diving. They were accompanied by gulls, a few grebes, cormorants and several seals reposing on a flat rock some way out from the beach.
Picking my way down the beach, I saw little white balls sticking to the seaweed left by the last tide. Herring eggs! That’s what the birds were after!
These eggs probably weren’t from the famous Cherry Point herring—they spawn in April and May, later than any other Salish Sea herring population. Still, it was wonderful to see herring eggs back on the Cherry Point beach, where they used to be so thick you could be up to your knees in eggs on seaweed.
Those special herring are why the Department of Natural Resources established the Cherry Point Aquatic Reserve almost 10 years ago. Their numbers had plummeted, and remained low even after a decade of fishing prohibition. One of the main goals of the Reserve was to protect the aquatic habitat and, if possible, create conditions that would result in population recovery.
Herring do still spawn in April and May—around Birch Point—but their numbers are not increasing. Nonetheless, Cherry Point water quality consistently rates as cleaner than more southerly areas of the Salish Sea where the shoreline is more urbanized. You might already know that three companies maintain shipping piers here: BP, Phillips66, and Petrogas. Under the terms of their leases with DNR, they are required to maintain strict standards of water-quality protection. Also, because the companies need large protective buffer spaces around them, most of the Cherry Point bluffs are in a quasi-natural, vegetated state. Except for the herring, Cherry Point seems to be sustaining its extremely diverse community of intertidal plants and animals.
Would you like to see those animals and seaweed? Do you want to hear the extraordinary life stories of crabs, barnacles, sea anemones, sea cucumbers and sea stars? Do you know how an anemone catches a small crab? Can you imagine how a sea star eats a mussel? What are those lines of white dots on our purple sea stars? How do you suppose crabs mate? The intertidal world is full of unexpected ways animals and plants transform as they grow, and the annual “What’s the Point?” is a day to find out all about that world.
At low tide on Sat., June 15, a group of naturalists will be on the beach at Point Whitehorn Marine Reserve, eager to share these life-cycle stories with you. At the low tide, all ages are welcome and all ages will find things to be amazed and to wonder at.
In the parking lot off Koehn Road (just south of Birch Bay), the Whatcom Conservation District will have a watershed model where you can test how pollution travels in rivers and groundwater. The Marine Mammal Stranding Network will be there with pelts to touch and fun facts about seals, sea lions, otters, orcas and other whales. The Audubon Society will help you learn to identify birds in the upland forest, and forest ecologist Nick Sky will talk about how the forest plants work as he guides you down the upland trail. Geologist Dave Tucker will lead a geology walk on the beach at noon, stimulating your imagination about how glaciers formed our boulder beach as they receded. I hear there might be a scavenger hunt for kids with a sweet prize at the end.
Low tide is -1.5’ at 10:52am. Activities and tours start at 9am and continue until 1pm. Hosts for this event are the Whatcom Land Trust, Cherry Point Aquatic Reserve Citizens Stewardship Committee, RE Sources, and the Marine Life Center. Other organizations and enthusiasts who will be there to inform and entertain you about their work with the Salish Sea include Surfrider, Whatcom Marine Resources Committee, BBWARM, Washington Department of Natural Resources and its Puget Sound Corps, North Cascades Audubon Society, and the North Sound Stewards.
Please bring your own water bottle and lunch if you want to picnic. Pack it in, pack it out! This is a no-dog beach, so leave your canine companions at home. We look forward to seeing you there!
Kim Clarkin is a member of Cherry Point Aquatic Reserve’s Citizens’ Stewardship Committee. Photo courtesy of Birch Bay resident Diane Hollands.
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