ANACORTES — The shimmering waters of Fidalgo Bay have a history of being subject to pollution. But a story of restoration is emerging, and it’s no simple task to ensure that trend continues.
The Fidalgo Bay Aquatic Reserve Citizen Stewardship Committee, a group of locals that calls itself “the eyes on the bay,” is doing just that for the bay that is bordered by the city of Anacortes, a section of Highway 20 and March Point.
The group’s goal is to ensure that efforts to restore the bay’s natural wonders are successful.
“The big picture is this was an industrial area and the roads are right there ... the bay has been contaminated for years,” committee member Morty Cohen said. “What we look at is how can we move forward and prevent more of that pollution from happening?”
The committee formed in 2012 to support the state Department of Natural Resources in managing the Fidalgo Bay Aquatic Reserve, which was designated as a reserve in 2008 and is one of seven in the state.
The committee’s mission is three-fold: To help with citizen science projects on the bay, share the bay’s story and importance with the community, and provide input for area development that could impact the bay.
“It’s not just that somebody drew a line and said ‘OK, this area is important,” committee member Jan Hersey said. “What we do is about telling people how it’s important and understanding the connections (they have to it).”
While soaking in some sun on a beach along the bay, a handful of longtime committee members recently recalled how their work has progressed. Cohen pointed out a Caspian tern as it flew above the water’s edge.
“Despite all this (historic) pollution, there’s an amazing amount of wildlife that feed and live here. It’s incredible,” he said.
The committee’s first project was focused on drawing attention to the fact that Fidalgo Bay is an aquatic reserve. As a result of its efforts, signs were placed on roadways around the bay to tell visitors the waters within their view are protected.
That marked the committee’s first experience coordinating with multiple government agencies, including Natural Resources and the state Department of Transportation, Hersey said.
The committee has coordinated with nonprofit organizations and local governments on educational events such as Fidalgo Bay Day, and has worked with school groups including the Anacortes High School Green Club to engage local students in studying and helping to protect the bay.
“Outreach and education is really as much a part of what we’re doing as the on-the-ground science,” Hersey said.
The committee also coordinates with government agencies to help with monitoring efforts on Fidalgo Bay beaches, including tallying signs of forage fish eggs on restored beaches.
“We’re looking at the life of the beach, what’s here, so we can assess what’s changing — what’s improving and what’s getting worse,” Hersey said.
The group does the monitoring May through August each year.
Committee member Wayne Huseby said it has been exciting to see the state Department of Ecology do restoration work at several sites where pulp mills and other industries once operated along the bay’s shorelines.
While those areas are slowly being reshaped by the ebb and flow of the bay, the committee is turning its attention to other threats to water quality and wildlife. This year, it is increasing its focus on stormwater, which is funneled into the bay from Anacortes, Highway 20 and surrounding areas, Huseby said.
The group plans to work with the city, area students and state agencies to address the issue from multiple angles.
“The quality of the bay and all of the waters depends on what’s flowing into them,” Hersey said.
The group recently took note of the Department of Transportation’s roundabout project planned for Sharpes Corner on Highway 20.
It wants to make sure the project includes measures to clean up rainwater draining off the highway before it reaches the bay.
The committee has previously commented on proposed projects, including on permits for the March Point oil refineries, cleanup sites and marina expansion.
“We’ll comment about how it might affect Fidalgo Bay and the wildlife that uses it,” Cohen said.
While the committee has many roles, the heart of its effort is to encourage others to learn about, love and look out for the bay.
“We’ve been really effective at bringing together other organizations to pay attention to what’s going on in the bay,” Haase said. “To be aware of their role and what they can do to protect it. It’s a very special place.”