Submitted by Kwiaht.
Emma Thoron is this year’s winner of the Robyn Lowe youth steward fellowship for Indian Island. The nonprofit conservation laboratory Kwiaht makes this $3,000 work-study award to an Orcas Island student each year.
A senior at Orcas Island High School headed to Reed College in the fall, Thoron says, “I’ve absolutely loved growing up in such a beautiful spot. My favorite memories include hiking up Turtleback, camping on Sucia island, and exploring Indian Island in elementary school. Indian Island has inspired my love of nature and the Salish Sea.”
Thoron has been involved in the Island Reproductive Health Initiative, Next Generation, the high school newspaper Viking Voice and the cross country track team and 4-H. She served on the Associated Student Body executive council, and is a National Honor Society member.
Thoron will be responsible for helping greet and guide visitors over the course of 30 summer minus tides when Indian Island is accessible by foot, working with Kwiaht’s Orcas Island coordinator Michelle Cartier and adult volunteers. Outreach includes history and ecology, as well as explaining how visitors can respect wildlife and “Leave No Trace” of their visit.
“I value the learning opportunities, beauty, and ecosystem importance of this little island, which connects us to the past, to Native Americans and to settlers,” Emma says. “I’m honored and excited to be given an opportunity to help protect the island and the animals that rely on it.”
Kwiaht director Russel Barsh says that face-to-face contact is indispensable for protecting sensitive wildflower meadows, nesting birds and intertidal marine life from excessive wear and tear at one of Orcas Island’s most popular nature attractions. Barsh expects close to 4,500 visitors this summer. “That’s an average of 36 visitors per hour on barely two acres of fragile habitat.”
Safety is also an issue. Scrapes and cuts on barnacle-encrusted rocks are commonplace, and a surprising number of visitors are unaware that summer tides can quickly rise several feet above the narrow sand spit connecting Indian Island to Eastsound.
The Robyn Lowe Fund was established by Kwiaht in 2017 to honor an exceptional Indian Island volunteer. “When the tide went out,” Barsh recalls, “Robyn was at the island, binoculars in hand, briefing visitors and keeping a keen eye on nesting birds.” Thoron follows in the footsteps of last year’s Robyn Lowe fellows, Alyssa Johns, and Raeann Boero, who was the first Robyn Lowe fellow in 2017.
Kwiaht gratefully acknowledges the financial support of the San Juan County Lodging Tax and the Orcas Island Community Foundation for this year’s Robin Lowe steward. Kwiaht’s Indian Island program as a whole depends entirely on the generosity of individual Orcas Island donors, without whom it would be impossible to continue to provide docent services and monitoring of the island’s diverse wildlife, a service to the community since 2009.