Monitoring Highlights


Ecosystem Benefits 

  • Clean air and water
  • Water supply
  • Wildlife habitat
  • Recreation
  • Fish and shellfish harvest
  • Aesthetic value and views

MSA Targets 

  • Forage fish
  • Marine mammals
  • Nearshore (sand, mud and gravel) communities
  • Pacific salmon
  • Rockfish/lingcod/greenling
  • Rocky intertidal communities
  • Rocky subtidal communities
  • Seabirds

Targets for San Juan County's Marine Stewardship Area (MSA) were chosen to collectively meet the following criteria:

  1. Encompass the range of biodiversity of the site (San Juan County Marine Stewardship Area) 
  2. Represent a range of biological organizations from species to ecological communities to ecological systems and other important natural resources
  3. Occur in a range of scales from local (<10 km2) to regional (> 10,000 km2)

MSA Targets are referenced:

  • MSA plan, pages 7-12 (target selection, description, viability analysis, findings)
  • Prioritized Monitoring Strategy, Section 1.2, page 4; incorporated into Appendix D, Criteria Lists - Ecosystem Benefit, Priority Area and/or Target

Indicators and Key Ecological Attributes (KEAs)

Chosen for MSA targets. Allow an assessment of ecosystem health, stability and biodiversity. Both indicators and KEAs can be chemical/physical processes  or characteristics, or a specific species or group of organisms. Species are chosen because they are:

  1. charismatic,
  2. commercially important,
  3. rare and at risk,
  4. respond negatively to environmental stress,
  5. or are abundant and characterize the habitat or community.

Indicators and KEAs are referenced:

  • Monitoring plan, Appendix C-2 in a table that links targets with KEAs and indicators and ratings.

MSA Benchmarks

Describe the changes the MRC wants to see in the viability of selected targets; include “priority benchmarks,” plus longer term objectives, and “findings” that fall outside of the MRC’s scope of work. 

Following are benchmarks linked to targets (Appendix C.2, MSA plan); numbers denote position in top 10 ranking of benchmarks.

Conservation Targets: rocky intertidal and rocky subtidal communities

  • R-6     Determine current viability/status of rocky intertidal target within the MSA.
  • R-7     Determine current viability/status of rocky subtidal target within the MSA.
  • R-       Better understand the role of kelp habitat and community dynamics. [strategies workshop 10/24]

Conservation Targets: multiple targets/system wide

  • R-1     Determine the cumulative impacts of docks and other over-water structures on habitats of interest.
  • R-2     Determine the current levels of PCBs, mercury, tributyl tin, flame retardants and other bioaccumulating contaminants in fish and shell fish in the San Juans that many have biological impacts, including to human health; identify which are priority causes for concern and establish appropriate threshold amounts. Determine local levels of consumption so that the threshold fur human health risks is adjusted for local consumption rates.
  • R-3     Identify significant local sources of priority contaminants listed above and establish specific timelines to reduce these inputs.
  • R-4     Determine current and sustainable levels of PAHs by looking at sediments, the water column, or clams.
  • R-5     Determine the current abundance of sand lance and smelt in the MSA.
  • R-8     Identify the current level of greenhouse gas emissions in San Juan County and a target and timeline for reduction.
  • R-9     Determine number and condition of physical marine cultural sites within the MSA.
  • R-10   Determine what level and frequency of fishing opportunities are needed to be considered viable (per SC-1).

Conservation Targets: rockfish, lingcod and greenling

  • R-       Follow up on Eisenhardt research: repeat dive survey of other four sites in 2007. Repeat fishing pressure assessment. [MRC meeting, Nov 2006]
  • R-       Research the population processes that control the abundances of rockfish, greenling and lingcod, and what role humans play in these processes. [Art Kendall technical review comments]
  • R-       Determine the size structure of the adult populations in 1975 (used as a baseline year for the indicator) to provide the basis for comparison with e3xisting size structures. [Todd Anderson technical review comments]
  • R-       Look at relative estimate of the density of recruits, using 30-m long transects, surveying a corridor of 2 meters wide x 2 meters high to count young-of-year rockfishes. [Todd Anderson technical review comments]

Conservation Target: nearshore sand, mud and gravel communities

  • R-       Compile or collect better data on soft sediment environments. [Jennifer Ruesink technical review comments]
  • R-       Determine how much the biological key attributes have changed (how much wetland loss? how much harder is it to find native clams? how much loss of Zostera japonica and gain of Spartina anglica?). [Jennifer Ruesink technical review comments]
  • R-       Determine how much shoreline modification has already happened, and the current rate of conversion. [Jennifer Ruesink technical review comments]
  • R-       Determine how many ships pass through San Juan County annually and rates of different sizes of spills. [Getting at oil spill threat, Jennifer Ruesink technical review comments]

Conservation Target: Pacific Salmon

  • R-       Determine fragmentation of habitat as measured by the amount of piers, docks, groins, breakwaters per mile of shoreline as an indicator for the attribute, “Condition of habitat present in the San Juan Islands, where condition: migration corridor. [Kurt Fresh technical review comments]
  • R-       Numbers of bulkheads in divergence zones as an indicator for the attribute “Condition of habitat present in that San Juan Islands.” [Kurt Fresh technical review comments]
  • R-       Determine salinity measurements as an indicator for the attribute “Distribution of Fraser Water in the SJI.” [NOTE: This would be a hard index to make meaningful. The intent would be to reflect the long term changes in salinity in the SJIs which refers to both amount and distribution. Perhaps there is a data record at FHL. I would use some sort of deviation from the mean to construct an indicator. Kurt Fresh technical review comments]

MSA Benchmarks are referenced:

  • MSA plan - page 17; Appendix C.1, Long term benchmarks & findings; Appendix C.2, Priority Research Objectives – linking benchmarks to targets
  • Monitoring plan – Section 7.3, page 75, Benchmarks and strategies (management actions) presented by target

Ecosystem Threats

Cause the impairment or destruction of a target; for threat definitions see pages 13-16 of the Marine Stewardship Area Plan.

  • Large oil spills
  • Climate change
  • Shoreline modification due to docks, shoreline armoring, boat ramps, jetties, etc.
  • Non-local sources of salmon decline
  • Invasive species
  • Persistent organic pollutants from current industrial and historical sources
  • Polluted stormwater runoff
  • Septic systems and wastewater discharge
  • Predation by marine mammals
  • Historical harvest of rockfish, lingcod and greenling until 1999
  • Disturbance by other wildlife
  • Fishing/harvesting activities
  • Derelict fishing gear
  • Small chronic fuel and oil spills
  • Human disturbance on shore
  • Sediment loading resulting from upland construction activities, logging, clearing and livestock
  • Human disturbance on water
  • Removal of riparian terrestrial vegetation along shore
  • Boat wakes
  • Local freshwater diversions and withdrawals
  • Harmful algal blooms
  • Boating activities
  • Loss of eelgrass

Ecosystem Threats are referenced:

  • MSA plan, III.B Threat Assessment, pages 12-16 (ranking of threats, definitions, threats affecting socio-cultural targets)
  • Monitoring plan, Section 5, pages 54-73 (list of threats with existing and proposed monitoring for each)
  • Prioritized Monitoring Strategy, Section 1.3, page 5; Appendix D, Criteria Lists (includes threats or stressors that are specified in San Juan County planning efforts)

Recommendations for Implementation of a Monitoring Program from the MRC

  1. Establish current status and detect changes over time and the level of threat of specific toxic chemicals and nutrients in coastal water, streams, stormwater and wastewater outflow areas, discharges from desalinization plants, contaminants present in intertidal and subtidal sediments (baseline for oil spills), physical modification of shorelines, and increased sediment loading from construction.
  2. Establish current status and detect changes in health over time by monitoring rocky intertidal and subtidal communities and their component species (e.g. sea urchins, sea cucumbers, kelp), and soft sediment intertidal and subtidal communities and their component species (e.g. clams, worms, sand lance). This monitoring is not currently being conducted by state or federal agencies, and needs to include the presence of nonindigenous (invasive, exotic) species, overall biodiversity, changes in trophic structure (food webs), and response to environmental change (e.g. warming, acidification).
  3. Determine population health and viability by partnering with state agencies that are monitoring groundfish in voluntary no-take (and comparison) areas established by the county, eelgrass in embayments and near/under over-water structures within the MSA, forage fish in nearshore habitats, juvenile salmon in nearshore habitats, salmonids in streams, and marine mammals in local habitats (including interactions with humans).
  4. Determine environmental change and level of threats by partnering with state agencies to expand the number of sites that are being monitored for physical, chemical and biological characteristics (e.g. JEMS).
  5. Determine population health and viability from monitoring conducted by federal and state agencies – orcas (killer whales), abalone, adult salmon, forage fish in offshore habitats, floating kelp beds, many marine and coastal birds, and groundfish in Marine Preserves and certain non-preserve areas.
  6. Determine levels of threat from data sources obtained by state or federal monitoring programs (specifics TBA)

Recommendations for Implementation are referenced:

Monitoring Specifics from the MRC

  1. Plankton – continue the Pelagic Ecosystems monitoring (Research Apprenticeship, UW FHL) through the year and expand the number of sites visited from 2-3 to 5-10.
  2. Aquatic Vegetation (seagrasses, kelp, and other marine algae) – in addition to monitoring stem density, characterize population sub-structuring and site-specific clonal diversity patterns to understand the impact of natural and anthropogenic disturbance events on the health and resilience of seagrass flora.
  3. Salt Marshes – map and monitor using aerial photography plus extensive groundtruthing.
  4. Rocky Intertidal Communities - maintain the UW FHL rocky intertidal sampling at Reuben Tarte, Cattle Point and Cantilever Point sites. Add sites at Cedar Rock and Pt. George on Shaw Island, and Argyle Lagoon and False Bay on San Juan Island. SJC could partner with FHL and the NPS to establish or maintain sites at American Camp and English Camp. Establish new intertidal monitoring sites on all the major islands, including rocky shores and soft sediment beaches or mudflats.
  5. Soft Substrate Subtidal Communities (nearshore sand, mud and gravel) - maintain the UW FHL sampling at Pt. Caution/Collins Cove sites. Add sites at Cedar Rock and Pt. George on Shaw Island, and near Argyle Lagoon and outside False Bay on San Juan Island. Establish subtidal monitoring sites at rocky shores and soft sediment habitats of all major islands, especially outside protected marine areas where monitoring sites don’t currently exist. Complete a broad-scale survey and basemap of subtidal habitats within the MSA to establish species presence and map habitat types in conjunction with other monitoring efforts such as mapping rockfish habitat.
  6. Rockfish, Lingcod and Greenling – broaden the range of sites and continue assessments of abundance and length distribution in regulatory, voluntary and open areas on a regular basis to test hypotheses about the efficacy of harvest controls. Conduct a one-time assessment of all suitable rockfish habitat in the San Juans.
  7. Surf Smelt and Pacific Sand Lance – periodic monitoring (every 5 years?) of documented spawning sites, and exploratory surveys of potential spawn habitat. Assess larval and adult distribution and abundance.
  8. Pacific Herring – annual spawning site surveys of documented sites and additional surveys of potential sites.
  9. Marine Birds – conduct surveys every three to five years using protocols developed by MESA and WDFW for PSAMP. Yearly monitoring of black oystercatchers and pelagic cormorants, which are indicator species as identified by the Marine Stewardship Area Plan.
  10. Desalinization Plant Outflows – field monitoring including impacts of effluent on fish movement and sampling of effluent water to be tested for salinity, chlorine and copper at the minimum.
  11. Sediments – collect and archive frozen sediment samples to document hydrocarbons and other contaminants prior to an oil spill or other contamination.
  12. Oil Spills – see Sediments above.
  13. Shoreline Vegetation – use existing vertical and oblique aerial photo data sets for different time periods to monitor change over time in shoreline vegetation type, cover and overhang.
  14. Docks, Marinas and Other Structures – a retrospective survey of existing docks, with data on distribution and abundance of eelgrass or other selected organisms under and at distances from docks; data on dock age, size, design and orientation; data on water depth; data on boats and boat use via interviews.
  15. Non-Indigenous Species (NIS) – determine the spread of established NIS via field sampling and/or aerial photo analysis where possible.

Specifics are referenced:

Monitoring Coordination Process

In addition, the following gaps and needs were identified during 2010 and 2011 through Monitoring Group meetings, the interview process, and Community Monitoring Roundtables.

  1. More spatially diverse data on local precipitation inputs and on flows throughout the year to   accompany water quality and water quantity monitoring.
  2. Add details from the adaptive management and monitoring plan that is currently being developed by the WRIA2 Lead Entity for Salmon Recovery, Salmon Recovery staff from the Puget Sound Partnership, and the Puget Sound Recovery Implementation Technical Team (RITT).
  3. An accepted process of setting and reviewing quality assurance and quality control (QAQC).
  4. Funding to maintain volunteer coordination at current levels and increase volunteer coordination to the levels needed to carry out prioritized monitoring efforts.
  5. Coordination and information sharing among these efforts and with monitoring at all levels.
  6. Incorporation of monitoring results into the MSA Monitoring Plan, into local land use decisions, and into the implementation of other local plans.

Monitoring Group Members

Contributed to the development of the Prioritized Monitoring Strategy, April 2010 through June 2011.

MRC Members

  • Laura Arnold
  • Barbara Bentley
  • Gregg Deitzman
  • David Loyd
  • Kit Rawson
  • Ken Sebens
  • Jim Slocomb
  • Richard Strathmann
  • Tina Whitman

Additional Input

  • Susan Key (Editor), MRC Ecosystem Monitoring Coordinator
  • Russel Barsh, Kwiaht Director
  • Jack Bell, Friday Harbor Labs, University of Washington
  • Phil Green, Yellow Island Steward, The Nature Conservancy Preserve
  • Gary Greene, Tombolo Institute
  • Joe Gaydos, SeaDoc Society
  • Ed Hale, Stormwater Utility Steering Committee member, Utility Manager, SJC Public Works
  • Shireene Hale, Senior Planner, SJC Community Development & Planning
  • Jeff Hanson, San Juan Econet Coordinator
  • Vicki Heater, Water Resource Management Committee, SJC Health & Community Services
  • Mary Knackstedt, SJC Marine Resources Committee Coordinator
  • Robin Kodner, Beam Reach
  • Kari Koski, Soundwatch Coordinator, The Whale Museum
  • Fiona Norris, Education Director, San Juan Nature Institute
  • Brian Rader, Coordinator, SJC Pollution Prevention Program
  • Barbara Rosenkotter, Lead Entity Coordinator, SJC Chapter for Salmon Recovery
  • Tom Sage, PE, Stormwater Engineer, SJC Public Works
  • Shann Weston, Beach Watchers Coordinator, WSU San Juan County Extension
  • Sandy Wyllie-Echeverria, Friday Harbor Labs, University of Washington
  • Tina Wyllie-Echeverria, Friday Harbor Labs, University of Washington

Guidance Statements

From the monitoring coordination process April 2010 – June 2011.

  1. Build on what has and/or is occurring in the local monitoring arena, and “add value” to these programs.
  2. Incorporate “terrestrial” monitoring efforts, especially the impacts of managing runoff. It is a “short run to the sea” in the Islands, and what people do on the land impacts key nearshore and marine areas.
  3. Monitoring needs to “tell a story” about the health of our Islands ecosystem, and to lead to behavior change; to link personal choices, property management, and land use decisions to ecosystem health and the ecosystem services that support us (soil, water, vegetation, wildlife).
  4. Community participation is vitally important. People collecting data develop an understanding of our ecosystem, and of how their choices impact ecosystem health. Friends and neighbors talk to each other about what is going on and how to make it better.
  5. Support needs to go to monitoring that addresses local issues, that indicates what is happening locally, and that provides guidance to those who live and work here.
  6. Find the money to support a locally prioritized monitoring effort with a strong community volunteer component. Partnerships stand a better chance of getting funded.

Guidance Statements are referenced:

Next Steps for the MRC

Actions the MRC can take over the next three years to move local ecosystem monitoring forward. Those that require group effort and process are indicated by (Group). Those that can be accomplished by a coordinator are indicated by (Coordinator). Next steps that could be accomplished by a graduate student assisting a coordinator are indicated by (Coordinator/GS). Those that need work by both a coordinator and the group are indicated by (Coordinator/Group). Those that can be accomplished by the SJC Marine Resources Committee are indicated by (MRC/Coordinator).

Assessing Information Needs

  1. Continue asking key user groups what would be helpful information learned through monitoring. (Coordinator/GS)
  2. Continue tracking data use. Who is using what? (Coordinator/GS)

Identified Gaps and Needs

  1. Coordinate the development of a methodology, including the process of identifying indicators or ‘eloquent species,’ for assessing key biological communities. Partners include at a minimum the Friday Harbor Labs, Kwiaht, the REEF program, SeaDoc Society, and WSU Beach Watchers. Modeled after the Indian Island Marine Health Observatory, or Waldron template, this would include surveys by volunteers, plankton and camera tows, and REEF surveys further offshore. An additional model is the Rapid Shoreline Assessment protocol conducted through People for Puget Sound several years ago. (Coordinator)
  2. Work with other regional MRCs to petition the NW Straits Commission and Puget Sound Partnership to provide support for a community monitoring QAQC process. (MRC/Coordinator)
  3. Continue to refine and prioritize data needs and gaps. (Group)

Prioritizing Monitoring Efforts

  1. Identify the specifics of monitoring that is required of SJC, who is doing what, overlaps, gaps, needs, partners, and funding potential. (Group with coordinator)
  2. Identify how monitoring needs called out in planning efforts interrelate, who is doing what, overlaps, gaps, needs, partners, funding potential. (Coordinator/Group)
  3. Identify which organization (with partners) is best suited for specific monitoring priorities. (Group)
  4. Develop a local prioritization process that has buy-in from both monitoring groups and user groups. This may include a ranking matrix, a flow chart, a series of questions, or a combination. (Group)
  5. Add the Adaptive Management and Monitoring salmon recovery elements to this strategy as they become available. (Coordinator)
  6. Continue to incorporate terrestrial information into the MSA monitoring plan. (Coordinator/GS)

Supporting Effective Existing Monitoring Efforts

  1. Work with community monitoring groups (e.g. Kwiaht, WSU Beach Watchers, SJC Land Bank, SJ Preservation Trust, SJ Nature Institute) to help integrate these efforts into the Prioritized Monitoring Strategy.(Coordinator/GS)
  2. Identify how to “add value” to existing monitoring programs and incorporate these ideas into program implementation and funding applications. (Group)
  3. Coordinate with the federal and state agencies developing monitoring and assessment protocols to bring those tools to San Juan County. (Coordinator)

Establishing Monitoring Networks

  1. Enlist the support of existing and potential monitoring partners. (Coordinator/Group)
  2. Encourage academic institutions (U.W., Huxley College, Western, Skagit Valley College, WSU, and University of Victoria) to incorporate San Juan Islands’ monitoring needs into masters and PhD thesis programs. (Coordinator)
  3. Facilitate useful partnerships, coordinate with all levels of monitoring groups, and work towards streamlining monitoring efforts. (Coordinator/Group)
  4. Coordinate this strategy with the implementation of local action agendas, management plans, and outreach/educational efforts. (Coordinator/Group)

Providing Access to Monitoring Information

  1. Summarize prioritized monitoring efforts and results for MRC’s website. Make sure that links are posted on key websites - SJC, Labs, local libraries, NGOs, state, feds. (Coordinator/GS)
  2. Publish monitoring results “fact sheets” in local newspapers, web news, key websites. (Coordinator)
  3. Give presentations of key monitoring information to decision makers and community groups. (Coordinator)
  4. Monitoring Workshop – partner with Islands Trust on a transboundary workshop, possibly in conjunction with the annual Marine Managers or Salmon Recovery workshops. (MRC/Coordinator)
  5. Include a “monitoring update” component in the local annual Stewardship Fair, County Fair, and other events. (Coordinator)
  6. Update the draft Marine Stewardship Area Monitoring Plan Excel table that to date includes primarily marine monitoring projects conducted in the San Juan Islands. (Coordinator/GS)
  7. Partner with other MRC’s in the Puget Sound Region and work with the NW Straits Commission and Puget Sound Partnership to fund needed monitoring infrastructure. (MRC/Coordinator)

Finding Funding Support

  1. Develop a timeline for upcoming grant opportunities that include prioritized monitoring components. (Coordinator/Group)
  2. Communicate with potential funders, and assist partners in coordination of applications. (Coordinator)
  3. Find funding for the training and coordination of volunteers involved in local community monitoring efforts. (Coordinator/Group)
  4. Coordinate at all levels to identify common needs and partner in funding requests. (MRC/Coordinator)

Specifics are referenced:

Local Planning Processes that include monitoring

  • Marine Stewardship Area Management and Monitoring Plans
  • San Juan Chapter (WRIA 2) of the Puget Sound Chinook Salmon Recovery Plan
  • Shoreline Master Plan updates (San Juan County; Town of Friday Harbor)
  • SJC Action Agenda (Puget Sound Action Plan); local Implementation Committee efforts
  • SJC Critical Areas Ordinance update
  • Stormwater Monitoring Plan
  • Water Resources Management Plan and Characterization Report for WRIA 2