Rick Baker photo — Volunteers measure the length of different kelp species to see how fast they are growing. The volunteers measure the kelp harvesters are interested in.

Monitoring the Smith, Minor Islands Aquatic Reserve

In Puget Sound a few miles west of Oak Harbor are two islands and an aquatic reserve that need special permission to visit.

The Citizen Stewardship Committee, comprised of members from Whidbey Watershed Stewards and Whidbey Audubon Society, is one of the few with such access.

Without the group, there wouldn’t be any scientific data collected on the thriving ecosystem that is the Smith and Minor Islands Aquatic Reserve.

“Whidbey Watershed Stewards has a contract to conduct citizen science and communicate what we’re doing here,” Rick Baker, chair of the Citizen Stewardship Committee, said.

“Part of what we do is raise interest in the area, but a lot of people still don’t even know there is a marine reserve right here on Whidbey. It’s an incredibly rich ecosystem.”

The reserve is the only aquatic reserve that borders Whidbey Island, and it is also managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as a National Wildlife Refuge. It spans 36,300 acres of tidelands and seafloor habitat, an area that contains the largest kelp forest in the state.

The reserve surrounds both Smith and Minor islands, and human access is limited. Trespassing can result in a fine, said Baker.

The reserve is protected because the islands and the vast kelp bed provide “critical habitat” for avian wildlife and marine mammals, some of which are rare species.

However, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the state Department of Natural Resources, which oversees the state’s aquatic reserves, aren’t able to visit on a regular basis.

That’s where the Citizen Stewardship Committee steps in, providing the foot soldiers to track the state of the reserve’s ecosystem.

Whidbey Watershed Stewards’ contract to conduct citizen science on the reserve led to the formation of the group.

The committee, which Baker estimates has a dozen members, monitors the area’s vast array of wildlife and reports its findings to the DNR. If anyone is spotted on either island, it’s a good chance it’ll be one of the group’s citizen scientists with a pen and clipboard.

“In most cases, there aren’t a lot of expenses for the work we volunteers do, where with other research it often requires a lot of money to pay for a laboratory,” Baker said.

“We’re the cheap option, but we’ve done studies on human use of the shore and nearby waters, the environmental impacts of harvesting the kelp in the reserve, bird studies, you name it.”

Baker is presenting on the aquatic reserve and the Citizen Stewardship Committee’s work to Whidbey Audubon Society at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday.

The free discussion is open to the public and located at Unitarian Universalist Congregation north of Freeland.

During the presentation, Baker will make his “sales pitch” about the reserve and the citizen scientist group in an effort to add a few more members to the team.

There is also a chance to see a fraction of the aquatic reserve in a half-day field trip on Saturday, Nov. 11. Steve Ellis, vice president of Whidbey Audubon Society, will lead the trek along Whidbey’s western shore, a border for the aquatic reserve. Ellis is also a member of the Citizen Stewardship Committee.

The field trip group will meet at 9 a.m. at the end of Libbey Road in Coupeville; participants won’t go to the islands but explore the shoreline.

According to Baker and those who look over the aquatic reserve, piquing interest in the area is crucial as valuable federal grant money from the federal Environmental Protec-tion Agency has been cut. Work conducted on the reserve will likely become even more reliant on volunteer work.

“The Citizen Science Committee is on the defunded list, so they’ll have to recruit more volunteers from here on out,” Susan Prescott, Whidbey Audubon publicity chairwoman, said.

“I know the citizen science they do is important, and they plan to continue —- funding or not.”

Baker, Ellis and other volunteers are determined to keep up their research regardless of funding. It’s particularly important, Baker says, as “external things are changing in the region and around the world.” The work conducted on the reserve documents the state of the ecosystem, and the group says that data could be useful for scientists in the future.

Without them, that data wouldn’t be around.

Contributed photo — The aquatic reserve stretches from Whidbey’s western shores past Smith and Minor Islands.

More in Life

Photo by Maria Matson/Whidbey News Group.
                                <em>Cornet Bay Company owners Arnie and Joanne Deckwa stand with their new seafood line of sauces. In the background, painted on their RV is the company’s logo depicting Cornet Bay, the view across from their office.</em>
Walmart picks up Cornet Bay Co.’s sauces

Though it’s been producing and selling gourmet sauces, dressing, seasonings and dips… Continue reading

4-H Rally Day emphasizes diverse activities

The nation’s largest youth development and mentoring organization is looking for some… Continue reading

Museum debuts history tour

Fundraiser combines talks, walk and wine tasting

Captured beauty

Photo of Useless Bay selected for cover of Land Trust calendar

Suva sails away with awards at boat festival

Schooner ‘People’s Choice’ at Seattle wooden boat festival

Haunting of Coupeville: Events throughout the month offer thrills, chills

On Monday morning, Coupeville residents awoke to find their quaint, seaside town… Continue reading

Autumn flavors: Whidbey offers perfect fall ingredients for your table

A chill is in the air and farmers markets are overflowing with… Continue reading

Society shaking the family tree

Langley Archive and Research Center to help search for family history

Cider Fest rules!

Sept. 29 event features freshly-pressed juice, food, music, fun for kids

Photo by Maria Matson / Whidbey News-Times
                                <em>Whidbey Island resident Dick Evans will be signing and selling copies of his book, “Fazkils,” at the Clinton Community Hall on Saturday.</em>
In a new book, Hollywood actor, author reflects on his life, career

Richard “Dick” Evans is an actor, writer and director with a long… Continue reading

Virtuosos join forces at Djangofest

At 3 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 23, Grammy-winning classical guitarist Jason Vieaux will… Continue reading

Free jammin’ and campin’ at fairgrounds added to Djangofest

The Island County Fairgrounds Campground will be filled with music later this… Continue reading