TIDAL LIFE: Whidbey is some place; keep up the good work

OK, let’s get through the business part quickly and on to the fun stuff.

If you winterize your hot tub, boat, RV or what have you this month, first think carefully about where to drain any chemically treated water. The number-one consideration is where the water will go after it leaves your property.

Say no to tipping it over the bank into the sound, no to the ditch beside the road that leads to lake, stream or local outfall, no to the storm drain.

Obviously, some chemical-laden water — radiator coolant for example — needs to be taken to the recycling center. Less toxic fluids, like the hot-tub water, can be drained into a dry well or onto the lawn, where it can percolate down through the blessed, filtering, endlessly forgiving soil. Don’t dump it in the veggie garden; your stomach might not be so tolerant.

There. Sermon’s over. Now, take a look around.

How about this place? Is Whidbey cool or what? The weather this fall has been spectacular. Gorgeous sunrises and sunsets light up our mornings and evenings. Birds display their silhouettes against bright blue skies. Or gray. Yeah, sometimes gray.

At the beach one morning I was lazing in the sunshine (bundled in a hefty jacket) watching kingfishers, herons and a couple of loons. An otter peeked above the surface now and then. An occasional eagle fly-by panicked the seagulls.

Maybe I was hungry, but in the lull between choruses, I noticed that the seemingly silent harbor actually sounded like a giant bowl of Rice Krispies — snapping, crackling and popping to beat the band. I walked to the water’s edge to see what was up.

In the shallows all along the shore were billions (there’s a word we’ve heard a lot lately) of tiny fish all taking itty bitty bites of air. Each semi-transparent body was no more than two inches tip to tail, each mouth the size of a gnat, but get enough of them together and what a racket. Yep, this is Some Place.

And, there’s great news.

Freeland Park beach is open to swimming again. Due to the joint efforts of county and community, the conditions that led to the swimming closure have improved. Though shellfish harvest is still closed, the progress is a testament to how much can be accomplished in a short time when people are well-informed about the effect of their actions. Simple attention to the details of septic tank maintenance, pet waste removal and agricultural management are making a difference to this small corner of Puget Sound.

We islanders do good work.

Speaking of work — those who read the first of these columns back in July will remember that I started writing Tidal Life after the discovery that eelgrass seemed to be disappearing from Holmes Harbor.

Over the past year a group of Beach Watchers volunteers took on the challenge of investigating the health of eelgrass, or zostera marina, an underwater flowering plant that has become a leading indicator of environmental change. Mentored by University of Washington scientists and state conservation personnel, they initiated a program to map and monitor eelgrass beds throughout Island County.

The group researched how such a program could be structured. They investigated what equipment and training volunteers would need to make the study effective and useful to scientists and regulatory agencies.

With planning help and funding from the Island County Marine Resources Committee, the Northwest Straits Commission and other agencies, they outfitted two small boats for underwater video photography. Then they took those boats out and took pictures of the bottom of Puget Sound. By the end of August they had provided video footage of eelgrass beds in Cornet Bay to the MRC, which will use the data as a baseline during their upcoming shoreline restoration project.

Next, the group set out a grid in Holmes Harbor. There they will track plant distribution and growth rates within the grid from year to year, and provide data to scientists studying the responses of this sensitive species.

By all reports, the members of the eelgrass project had a great time, learned a lot and though they took turns getting muddy and wet, no one actually fell in. You can read about the exploits of the eelgrass team on its blog, Watching the Eelgrass Grow, www.watchingeelgrass.blogspot.com and you can get involved with this project for next year by becoming a Beach Watcher.

The eelgrass team is looking for help with fieldwork — both boat-based video mapping and tramping through the mud to collect samples. Also sought are those with computer, data processing, public outreach and education, marine electronics or small-boat handling skills.

Think about lending a hand. It’s one more great opportunity to get out there and roll around in the joy of living in this exhilarating place.

For more information:

Beach Watcher training starts in April. Contact Beach Watchers Coordinator Sarah Martin at (360) 679-7391 for application and full details.

WSU Beach Watchers — Click here.

Holmes Harbor Shellfish Protection District — Click here.

Submerged Vegetation Monitoring Project — Click here.

Questions or comments for Tidal Life? E-mail me at tidallife@whidbey.com.