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Apply now for spring training

By Dan Pedersen

Special to the News-Times

When teams of WSU Beach Watchers take to the Saratoga Passage shoreline with large beach seines in February, they will be showing up for work with an attitude. This is a job they don’t have to do and don’t get paid to do. They’ll be laughing and joking, most likely, about the early hour and the bone-chilling cold.

The beach-seining teams are highly trained volunteers. For the last three years they’ve been conducting serious research that is opening people’s eyes, finding days-old fish where many thought none existed. Nearby property owners often shake their heads in pride and disbelief at what was there all along on their beaches.

These volunteers are piecing together a picture of how salmon and other marine species use the Whidbey Island shoreline. For many, the time they invest in this work is about leaving something better to the next generation, their children and grandchildren.

The juvenile salmon study is one of many science and outreach projects of this local program founded in 1989 by Washington State University Extension. Beach Watchers has since trained some 400 members of the community, and starting March 3, it will train 25 more.

The organization is accepting applications right now for its 2008 class. Information about Beach Watchers and its projects is available at www.beachwatchers.wsu.edu or by calling coordinator Kristen Cooley at 1-360-679-7391.

To apply, download the application at www.beachwatchers.wsu.edu/island/about/training/. Class size is limited. Applications must be postmarked by Feb. 15. For trainees on Whidbey, classes will be held from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Mondays and Wednesdays, March 3 to April 30, most days at Race Road Fire Hall south of Coupeville. Dates and location of Camano Island training will be announced separately.

Beach Watchers receive more than 100 hours of university-level training and sign an agreement to give back 100 hours of community service over the next two years. They do it in ways tailored to the strengths and interests of each member.

• Educational events: Some help organize large educational events such as Sound Waters University, a one-day event that attracts more than 500 people every February to Coupeville middle and high schools for a day of classes on natural history and related topics.

• Rosario interpretive guides: Others work as beach naturalists in partnership with Washington State Parks. They provide interpretive assistance to the public as they enjoy the history and marine beauty of Rosario Beach in Deception Pass State Park. In 2006, these volunteers interacted with some 3,500 visitors, helping them understand the abundance of life in the tide pools and encouraging behavior that will foster reclamation of this too-often-abused intertidal habitat.

• Beach monitoring: Many Beach Watchers participate in monitoring the marine life on 35 different beaches in Island County. They accumulate baseline data over time on invertebrates, seaweeds, and beach conditions. This database is maintained and made available for research and environmental policy establishment purposes.

• Creosoted logs: Others help identify and remove creosoted logs from local beaches to reduce degradation of the marine habitat. In 2006, volunteers on both Camano and Whidbey walked many miles of beaches, identifying creosoted or treated wood and recording GPS locations for subsequent removal by Washington Department of Natural Resources.

These and other Beach Watcher projects are helping protect habitat, engage and inform the public, and assist scientists in reversing the decline in Puget Sound marine life. Much more help is needed, and Beach Watcher training is the place to start.

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