VIEWPOINT | What brought you to Whidbey Island?

By ANNA TOLEDO

As a transplant from the east coast, it’s a question I hear often from neighbors, friends, and fellow islanders. My answer generally includes family, the slower pace of life and the natural beauty of the Pacific Northwest. But perhaps more interesting is not why I came, but why I stay.

I work with the Island County Marine Resources Committee, a group of volunteers appointed by our Island County commissioners to protect and restore local marine resources. The organization is one of seven marine resource committees around Puget Sound, established in the late 1990s as part of a locally-driven solution to protect marine habitats and species.

I am inspired by the level of expertise and drive these volunteers bring to the table. Our members have a wide range of backgrounds and experience – including research, teaching, project management, science, agriculture and business leadership – all united with a passion and purpose for protection, restoration, education and stewardship of the marine environment that surrounds us.

The marine resources committee serves as an advisory committee to the county commissioners, providing sound science to inform decision-makers. We are also engaged in monitoring, restoration, and outreach projects.

One of the major projects we have been involved in is the shoreline restoration at Cornet Bay in Deception Pass State Park. In 2006, the marine resource committee identified Cornet Bay as a priority restoration area, and initiated a multi-phase project with several partners to restore the shoreline to a natural beach condition. This has included removing creosote bulkheads and contaminated fill, and re-grading the beach to match the natural slope. This provides enhanced habitat for nearshore species, and allows easier access to the beach for enjoyment and recreation.

Monitoring is an important part of any restoration project. The marine resources committee monitors several aspects of the environment at Cornet Bay, and citizen scientist volunteers are at the core of our work. A group of volunteers tracks the condition of eelgrass, a vital component of marine ecosystems that serves as habitat and as a food source for many species. Another group of volunteers conducts beach seines to monitor the use of the nearshore by juvenile salmonids. Volunteers also survey the beach to check for presence of forage fish eggs. Forage fish, such as surf smelt and Pacific sand lance, are small creatures that play a big role in the marine ecosystem, as they are a food source for salmon, sea birds, and marine mammals.

Another key aspect of this restoration project is ongoing stewardship of the area. The organization is working with Northwest Straits Foundation and Skagit Fisheries Enhancement Group on planting and maintaining native plants at this restoration site.

Since moving to Whidbey, I have been struck by the importance of protecting and maintaining the natural beauty and ecological diversity of the marine environment that surrounds our unique island home, and my role as an individual to contribute to its preservation.

You can join in to enjoy this local shoreline restoration area, and help be a part of its ongoing beauty at monthly weeding parties this summer at Cornet Bay: July 26 and Aug. 23 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Find out more about this environmental stewardship opportunity, and other ways to get involved with the marine resources committee at our website: www.islandcountymrc.org or by contacting me, a.toledo@co.island.wa.us or 360-678-2349. Find other volunteer opportunities on the ECO-Net website at http://whid

bey-eco.net/ where a whole host of Whidbey Island organizations invite you to help us to protect water quality.