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Enhance your tidal visits with the Beach Watchers

 

Last updated 7/13/2022 at 12:01pm

Neely Stratton

Visitors to Mukilteo Beach on June 15

Exploring the Mukilteo beach at low tide can be an adventure. But if you want to enhance your experience, take advantage of educational opportunities offered by volunteers from the Washington State University Beach Watchers program.

This summer brings multiple chances to just that, including at Mukilteo Lighthouse Park from 10 a.m. to noon July 13 and July 28, as well as from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Aug. 13.

The Snohomish County Beach Watchers program, started in 2006, is the last remaining beach watchers’ program in the state. Its purpose? To educate, research, and provide stewardship of the Salish Sea and the Puget Sound.

At its high point at least a dozen counties had programs, but many have since been disbanded or transitioned to nonprofit organizations.

“The purpose of the Beach Watchers program is to educate and inspire people about the amazing critters on the beach,” said Jonathan Robinson, program director of the WSU Beach Watchers program.

There are about 100 volunteers in the county program. Of those, about 50 are active as beach naturalists during summer to interact with the public and offer education on all things related to the beach environment.

“Volunteers spread out and engage people as they are down there,” Robinson said. “It is a great opportunity to educate people as they are out on the beach.”

Fred Benedetti of Mill Creek has been a volunteer since 2006, when the program first started. He is passionate about sharing his knowledge of the animal life that live on the beaches.

“The emphasis is on taking care of the beach and the animals that live there,” he said. “This is a really fragile area. Things can change at the drop of a hat. Animals have to adapt to that, so we teach respect.”

Beach Naturalists volunteer their time to visit with people at Mukilteo Beach, Olympic Beach in Edmonds, and Kayak Point in Marysville.

New volunteers are always welcome. Preparation and includes as many as 80 hours of training in spring to prepare them for educating beach visitors.

“There are three umbrellas to this program, including education, research, and stewardship,” said Robinson. “The Beach Naturalists are the most well-known, iconic program.”

Volunteers with the Beach Watchers program aren’t only involved with teaching visitors about Snohomish County beaches and marine life. Other programs include taking water samples, distributing free dog-waste kits, and offering a robust youth education program that includes visiting schools and teaching students about Puget Sound.

“It’s a wonderment to watch what children can gain and what they already know about the beaches,” said Benedetti. “Children are the linchpin of what we are doing here.”

Visitors interested in joining the Beach Naturalist volunteers at Mukilteo to learn about the beach are encouraged to meet them by the volleyball courts or simply find them on the beach at the appointed times. Everyone is welcome.

Robinson advises visitors to dress to be outside in whatever kind of weather might present itself, and to wear sturdy shoes that can get wet. Plan to be outside for an hour or two exploring the cobbled beach at Mukilteo.

Many animals can be found under the rocks, and volunteers will help guide visitors to look for chitons, sea anemones, crabs, and an abundance of other marine life during the exploration. Seals can often be seen from the water as visitors explore. Whales and orcas might also be spotted.

Benedetti reiterates that it is important that anything moved or adjusted be returned to its original place to protect animals. During an especially low tide, visitors might have the opportunity to explore the eelgrass beds endemic to Mukilteo.

Photo by Neely Stratton

Marine life under the rocks

“There’s no room for every animal here,” Benedetti said. “They fight for the room to exist. That’s why they are so fragile.”

Robinson said organisms people see at the beaches are highly adapted to these environments. He hopes that visitors that take advantage of the Beach Naturalist program in Snohomish County develop a sense of stewardship for the beach and the marine life.

“We are caretakers of the beach and can affect the health of the animals,” Robinson said. “You never know what you are going to see. It is a very dynamic and active habitat. It is part of the fun and mystery of the beach.”

For more information about the WSU Beach Watchers program, or to find out about volunteering: https://bit.ly/3R5KxwY.

 

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