Since 1990, Washington State University Island County Extension Director Don Meehan has been encouraging his neighbors to “get into” Puget Sound. That’s when Meehan, with a $16,000 state Department of Ecology Clean Water Fund grant, launched the WSU Island County Beach Watcher Program. The program applies the principles of the successful Master Gardener program to the county’s marine and fresh water ecology.

Sixteen volunteers were selected to become the first class of Beach Watchers. They received 100 hours of expert training in a variety of subjects relating to marine biology and watershed ecology in trade for a pledge to return 100 volunteer hours to the program.

Beach Watchers volunteers at work.

Today, thanks to Meehan’s continuing efforts, Beach Watchers has expanded to become a seven-county program with 566 trained volunteers.

Beach Watchers volunteers engage in a myriad of activities in their communities ranging from supporting scientific research by counting spring juvenile salmon populations and monitoring the health of the intertidal zones of local beaches, to supporting environmental studies in local schools and educating the public about the fragility of local beaches and intertidal zones. They test water quality, monitor shellfish for signs of paralytic shellfish poisoning and maintain a Web site about the Puget Sound marine environment as a resource for the general public.

Beach Watcher tools.

In 2004, thanks to federal funding championed by U.S. Sen. Patty Murray and Rep. Rick Larsen, WSU Beach Watchers expanded from its Island County roots to establish programs in Clallam, Jefferson, San Juan, Skagit, Snohomish and Whatcom counties.

For a related article see, http://www.wsutoday.wsu.edu/completestory.asp?StoryID=1379.