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)

Alan Doyle
Past Columns
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

Yes on I-1631

April 11, 2018

Divide-and-Conquer

October 11, 2017

Schools and Planning for Growth

September 27, 2017

Electronic Home Monitoring

September 13, 2017

Events
Today
Skagit Valley Tulip Festival

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Essence of Bellingham Photo Competition

10:00am|Whatcom County

Unstable by Design

7:30pm|Sylvia Center for the Arts

Silent Sky

7:30pm|Anacortes Community Theatre

Tulip Festival Street Fair

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Spring Book Sale

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Bellingham Beer Week

12:00pm|Throughout Bellingham

Genre Legends, Hot Dogs

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Buffett Beach Bash

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The Coronation of Poppea

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Tulip Pedal Bike Ride

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Pancake Breakfast

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COB Earth Day Work Party

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Fun with the Fuzz

9:00am|Bellingham Police Department

Bellingham Bay Bocce Tournament

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Wild Things

9:30am|Stimpson Family Nature Reserve

Bellingham Farmers Market

10:00am|Depot Market Square

Kiwanis Kids Egg Hunt

10:00am|Maiben Park

Cedar Dust Trail Ride and Party

10:00am|Boundary Bay Brewery

Plant Sale and Easter Events

10:00am|BelleWood Acres

Community Easter Egg Hunt

11:30am|Bellingham at Orchard

Obrigado Wines Tasting

2:00pm|Seifert & Jones Wine Merchants

Jesse Otero Art Talk

4:00pm|i.e. gallery

Splinter Ideas, Halibut on the Moon

4:00pm|Village Books

Artist Workshop

6:00pm|Bellingham Public Library

Skagit Valley College Drag Show

7:00pm|Lincoln Theatre

Problem Child and Ten Miles Wide

8:00pm|Mount Baker Theatre

Blue collar comedy in Edison

8:00pm

Salsa Night

9:00pm|Cafe Rumba

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Tomorrow
Skagit Valley Tulip Festival

10:00am|Skagit Valley

Essence of Bellingham Photo Competition

10:00am|Whatcom County

Tulip Festival Street Fair

10:00am|Downtown Mount Vernon

Bellingham Beer Week

12:00pm|Throughout Bellingham

Plant Sale and Easter Events

10:00am|BelleWood Acres

Sedro-Woolley Community Breakfast

8:00am|American Legion Post #43

Rabbit Ride

8:30am|Fairhaven Bicycle

Wild Things

9:30am|Stimpson Family Nature Reserve

Egg Hunt and Easter Brunch

10:00am|Boundary Bay Brewery

Bellingham Handmade Market

11:00am|Goods Nursery and Produce

Langar in Lynden

11:00am| Guru Nanak Gursikh Gurdwara

Barkley Village Egg Hunts

11:00am|Barkley Village

Easter Brunch

11:00am|Ciao Thyme Commons

Nina Gerber and Chris Webster

2:00pm|Nancy's Farm

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Monday
Skagit Valley Tulip Festival

10:00am|Skagit Valley

Essence of Bellingham Photo Competition

10:00am|Whatcom County

Bellingham Beer Week

12:00pm|Throughout Bellingham

Wild Things

9:30am|Stimpson Family Nature Reserve

Earth Day Sustainable Food Fair

11:00am|Viking Union 565

Plant Diagnostic Clinics

4:30pm|Bellingham Public Library

Before the Flood

5:30pm|Pickford Film Center

Women's Backpacking Round Table Discussion

5:30pm|REI

Swing Dancing Classes

6:00pm|Presence Studio

Healthy Desserts

6:30pm|Community Food Co-op

Student Poetry & Art Showcase

6:30pm|Burlington Public Library

Poetrynight

7:00pm|Alternative Library

Salish Sea Early Music Festival

7:00pm|St. Paul's Episcopal Church

Wild & Scenic Film Festival

7:00pm|Mount Baker Theatre

Guffawingham

9:00pm|Firefly Lounge

see our complete calendar »

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