Marine health observatories gathering to share findings

The San Juans have an active group of people taking a look at marine and nearshore environments around the islands.

The San Juan County Marine Resources Committee is highlighting these groups during a meeting on Orcas entitled “Community Science and Ecosystem Monitoring Sharing Session,” on Wednesday, Sept. 15 from 2 to 5:30 p.m. at the Eastsound Fire Station.

Two of the groups leading the way on this monitoring are Kwiáht and the WSU Beach Watchers. Three Marine Health Observatories have been established on San Juan, Orcas and Lopez Islands with another one pending community approval on Waldron. It’s a way for community members to monitor natural resources under the supervision of scientists. Their work develops data that, over time, paints a picture of the trends of local ecosystem health. Data from these community monitoring efforts will be combined with that from other monitoring projects as part of a comprehensive monitoring strategy for the San Juan County Marine Stewardship Area.

Shann Weston, WSU Beach Watcher Coordinator for the San Juan Islands program, is quick to point out that there is a distinct difference between “citizen” and “community” science. Citizen scientists work directly for a scientist and an agency performing monitoring activities defined by the scientists. Community science, as the name indicates, engages volunteers who are concerned about the long term livability of their ecosystem and work with the scientists to develop the monitoring strategies, and are engaged in the scientific inquiry, outreach and stewardship for the long term.

On Sept. 15, the groups from these islands will gather in Eastsound to share and discuss their work at Indian Island and Fishing Bay on Orcas Island, the Port of Friday Harbor on San Juan Island, Fisherman Bay on Lopez Island and a wonderful variety of projects on Waldron.

“This meeting provides an opportunity to discover what volunteers have learned about these ecosystems and learn about opportunities to get involved with this interesting and rewarding activity,” said Jeff Hanson, Outreach Coordinator for the San Juan County Marine Resources Committee. “Community science is an excellent way for people of all ages to learn about the marine ecosystem and join the cadre of volunteers who are tracking the health of the San Juan Islands.”