Orca

L47, mother of three surviving orcas and grandmother of two, is shown breaching in 2020. L47 hasn’t been seen in about seven months and is presumed dead.

A National Fish and Wildlife Foundation grant package for Southern Resident orca recovery includes funding for two projects that affect Fidalgo Island and the endangered orcas that spend part of each year in waters here.

The awards include about $108,500 for the Skagit River System Cooperative to design options for reconnecting salmon habitat at the south end of the Swinomish Channel through the McGlinn Island Jetty and about $74,400 for Friends of Skagit Beaches to expand its stormwater monitoring program.

These are two of seven projects awarded grants this year through the foundation’s Killer Whale Research and Conservation program, which is supported with funding from federal wildlife agencies, SeaWorld Entertainment and BNSF Railway.

Each of the seven projects addresses one of three primary impacts to the Southern Resident orcas that rely on Salish Sea habitat and salmon to eat, according to the $971,000 grant package announcement. Those primary impacts are limited food availability, water pollution and underwater noise from boat traffic.

Skagit River chinook salmon restoration is of particular focus, according to the announcement. The Puget Sound salmon, which are listed as threatened, are the endangered Southern Resident orca population’s preferred food source.

At the Skagit Watershed Council’s June meeting, Devin Smith of the Skagit River System Cooperative said the potential to restore fish passage around the McGlinn Island Jetty is complicated but could help young chinook migrating out of the Skagit River watershed to sea.

The potential project has been discussed for at least 15 years. This summer, the Puget Sound Partnership named the project a priority for regional habitat restoration, and in September the state Recreation and Conservation Office awarded state grant funding to support scoping and feasibility studies for the project.

According to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation grant description, the cooperative will use the foundation funding to evaluate ways the McGlinn Island Jetty could be modified to improve habitat for young salmon between the Skagit River and Swinomish Channel without affecting the movement of sediment in the area.

Friends of Skagit Beaches, meanwhile, will use a National Fish and Wildlife Foundation award to expand the Anacortes Stormwater Monitoring Project established in 2020 to other local communities.

So far, volunteers have worked with Anacortes Stormwater Monitoring Program Manager Diane Hennbert to monitor stormwater outfalls on Fidalgo Island. The data collected has shown water quality concerns primarily on the northeastern tip of the island.

Friends of Skagit Beaches President Tim Gohrke said the grant will enable the nonprofit to seek similar agreements with other cities in Skagit County as well as to add e-coli bacteria testing at all monitoring sites to ensure beaches are safe for people and pets.

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