Community

Salish Sea Science

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Last spring, I trekked to the early-morning, calm shores of the Cherry Point Aquatic Reserve just south of Birch Bay, alongside 15 inquisitive students, retirees and families with children. I was amazed this many people showed up on a Saturday. We ventured together onto the cobble beach armed with clipboards, data sheets, field guides, and an appreciation for the Salish Sea. We sought to observe and record information on the vast diversity of plants and animals that make their homes in the intertidal zone—the area of the shoreline that’s underwater at high tide and exposed during low tides.

Most of these people had little to no experience in scientific data collection—so what drew them here on a weekend morning?

With numerous warning signs about the declining health of Puget Sound, and funding shortfalls in natural resource agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency and the State Department of Ecology, keeping a pulse on our local waters is increasingly up to the very people these agencies serve. This handful of volunteers, or citizen scientists, are stepping up to the task.

There are extensive gaps in our understanding of organisms living in the Salish Sea and how pollution affects them, especially on a planet facing the unpredictability of climate change and ocean acidification. If a major oil spill or other catastrophe struck Puget Sound tomorrow, we wouldn’t even have enough information to fully understand the extent of the damage, let alone fix it all.

In order to tackle the problems in the Salish Sea—like declining Chinook salmon and orca populations, or increasing levels of pollutants draining into it from roads after rain—we need to get a sense of the bigger patterns at play. Citizen scientists, like those volunteers last spring, can help collect information critical to protecting salmon, local fisheries, endangered orca whales, important scenic and recreational areas, and more.

To fix a problem, we must first define it.

Public funding for monitoring such patterns has always been extremely tight. And it’s only gotten tighter as the funding that exists is constantly at risk of drying up. On top of this, hiring freezes and longtime staff retiring without replacements keep agencies hard-pressed to do what they were set up to do.

The Puget Sound Partnership estimates that filling gaps in monitoring key indicators of the Salish Sea’s health, like migratory bird populations or the amount of smaller fish that Chinook salmon eat, could cost $12.5 million annually. Work done by citizen scientists could help bring down this shocking figure. Citizen scientists, being equal parts “citizen” and “scientist,” are participating in research that informs public policy.

And there’s good news: anyone can be a citizen scientist!

Being a citizen scientist doesn’t just mean someone is casually interested in science. They bring their status as a citizen—as a voter—to the scientific process, putting themselves at the heart of making the big changes needed to create resiliency in ourselves and in the environment we all rely on.

Two years ago, RE Sources for Sustainable Communities and the Whatcom MRC formed the North Sound Stewards, a program in which citizen scientists receive training to build a reliable stock of data on various plants and animals from local beaches and tidal zones. The goal is to inform Salish Sea recovery and protection efforts. For example, RE Sources is working with the Washington Department of Natural Resources to use citizen science data in updated management and oil spill response plans.

“We need to make sure our elected officials and the public have both the information and motivation to act. Who better to help provide these than a voter who has also helped watch over our precious ocean ecosystems?” said Chris Brown, Whatcom Marine Resource Committee (MRC) member and citizen scientist.

To learn more or to become a citizen scientist, visit re-sources.org/north-sound-stewards.

Eleanor Hines is the North Sound Baykeeper, Lead Scientist at RE Sources. She can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

Past Columns
Kids World

January 29, 2020

Fierce Urgency of Now

January 15, 2020

The Three Rs

December 18, 2019

Saying Goodbye

December 11, 2019

Cold and Alone

December 4, 2019

Big Money Politics

November 13, 2019

A Win for the Birds

July 24, 2019

Road to ‘Nowhere’

June 26, 2019

Game Changes

April 24, 2019

Cherry Point Amendments

January 16, 2019

Invest in the Future

September 26, 2018

A Desperate Call

August 29, 2018

Criminalizing Protest

July 18, 2018

Threshold Fund

June 13, 2018

Imprisoned Splendour

May 9, 2018

Pathways to Homeownership

April 25, 2018

Events
Today
Fiction 101 Short Story Contest

10:00am

Human Rights Film festival turns 20

6:30pm

Fame, the Musical

7:30pm|Lincoln Theatre

All the Great Books (Abridged)

7:00pm|Squalicum High School

Godspell

7:00pm| Burlington-Edison High School

My Fair Lady

7:00pm|Ferndale High School Auditorium

The Curious Savage

7:30pm|Claire vg Thomas Theatre

Typhoon of Tenderness

8:00pm|Sylvia Center for the Arts

Wild Things

9:30am|Interurban Trail

A Forest of Words Poetry Competition

10:00am|Whatcom County

Cultural Arts Festival

12:00pm|Bellingham Cruise Terminal

Valley Writers

1:00pm|South Whatcom Library

Fourth Friday Art Walk

5:00pm|Historic Fairhaven

The Hobbit

7:00pm|Bellingham Arts Academy for Youth

Cupid's Arrow, Fifty Shades of Velvet

7:30pm|Upfront Theatre

Sanford-Hill Piano Series

7:30pm|Performing Arts Center Concert Hall

Comedy Night at Chair 9

9:00pm|Chair 9

Tomorrow
Fiction 101 Short Story Contest

10:00am

Fame, the Musical

7:30pm|Lincoln Theatre

My Fair Lady

7:00pm|Ferndale High School Auditorium

Godspell

7:00pm| Burlington-Edison High School

All the Great Books (Abridged)

7:00pm|Squalicum High School

The Curious Savage

7:30pm|Claire vg Thomas Theatre

Typhoon of Tenderness

8:00pm|Sylvia Center for the Arts

A Forest of Words Poetry Competition

10:00am|Whatcom County

Cultural Arts Festival

12:00pm|Bellingham Cruise Terminal

The Hobbit

7:00pm|Bellingham Arts Academy for Youth

Cupid's Arrow, Fifty Shades of Velvet

7:30pm|Upfront Theatre

Children's Literature Conference

8:00am|Performing Arts Center

Pancake Breakfast

8:00am|Lynden Community Center

WNPS Field Trip

9:00am|Larrabee Park

NSEA Work Party

9:00am|Tenmile Creek

La Conner Daffodil Festival

10:00am

The Birds of Western North America

11:00am|Blaine Library

Washington Beer Open House

12:00pm

GEMS Fair

12:00pm|Western Washington University

Strait Art

1:00pm|Museum of Northwest Art

Corsini Wines Tasting

2:00pm|Seifert & Jones Wine Merchants

Eagles Here and Around the Globe

3:00pm|South Whatcom Library

La Conner Daffodil Festival Poster Reception

4:00pm|Lux Art Center

Leap reception

6:00pm|Fourth Corner Frames and Gallery

Wild Womxn Week

6:00pm

Ignite the Night Fundraising Gala

6:00pm|Settlemyer Hall

Leap

6:00pm|Cirque Lab

Jeffrey Elvis

7:00pm|Lynden Pioneer Museum

Manouche NW Concert Series

7:00pm|Walton Theatre

Contra Dance

7:00pm|Fairhaven Library

Wildpreneurs

7:00pm|Village Books

Off the Hill Concert Series

7:30pm|Whatcom Museum's Old City Hall

Sunday
Fiction 101 Short Story Contest

10:00am

Fame, the Musical

7:30pm|Lincoln Theatre

All the Great Books (Abridged)

7:00pm|Squalicum High School

The Curious Savage

7:30pm|Claire vg Thomas Theatre

A Forest of Words Poetry Competition

10:00am|Whatcom County

The Hobbit

7:00pm|Bellingham Arts Academy for Youth

La Conner Daffodil Festival

10:00am

Wild Womxn Week

6:00pm

Langar in Lynden

11:00am| Guru Nanak Gursikh Gurdwara

Vegan Bake Sale

11:00am|Kulshan Brewing Company

Whatcom Writes Reading

2:00pm|Village Books

Birding for Kids

2:30pm

Salish Sea Early Music Festival

3:00pm

An Evening of Flamenco

7:30pm|Firehouse Arts and Events Center

Depot Comedy Club One Year Anniversary

8:00pm|Aslan Depot

see our complete calendar »