When WSU Island County Beach Watchers decided to change venues for its Sound Waters educational event after 15 years there was concern there might be a decline in participants. Instead, well over 600 people attended this year’s “one day university.”
For its first 15 years the daylong educational event that focuses on marine stewardship on Whidbey and Camano islands was held at Coupeville High School. This year the organizers decided to move it nearly 30 miles south to South Whidbey High School in Langley.
The move was made to better accommodate ever-expanding attendance, and to hopefully attract more “off-islanders” to come by ferry because of the shorter drive to the event. But there was some concern that some island regulars might resist the change.
“We had attendees from as far away as Thurston and Pierce counties and saw increases from Skagit, King, Whatcom and San Juan counties,” said Tim Lawrence, director of WSU Island County Extension. “Still, two-thirds of the 600-plus that attended were from Island County.”
The annual “one day university” featured 65 presentations. For a $40 registration fee attendees could sign up for any three classes of their choosing, plus the keynote address. A variety of organizations and agencies provided displays on their conservation and stewardship efforts.
Lawrence said it is the quality of the information and speakers that keep people coming back year after year.
“Sound Waters has a reputation as a good event with good speakers,” said Lawrence, “and we’re always working to improve the presentations and address relevant topics.”
The Beach Watchers program is based on the Master Gardeners model. After completing more than 100 hours of expert training Beach Watchers graduates agree to contribute at least 50 hours a year for two years of volunteer time. Only a limited number of applicants are accepted for the training.
As state and federal budgets are reduced the Beach Watchers volunteer force is even more critical to efforts to restore the health of Puget Sound and its tributaries, according to Lawrence.
“The whole idea is to apply science-based knowledge and to gather useable data, something our governments lack the resources to do,” he said.
As an example Lawrence cited a comprehensive searchable database on island marine life based on scientific counts performed by the Beach Watchers volunteers.
“The database can be queried several different ways and covers 30 different species of shore and marine life over a 20 year time span based on observations at 38 locations in Island County,” said Lawrence. “In the event of a catastrophic event like an oil spill it would provide the most complete and accurate means of evaluating impacts and losses.”
“And it exists because of the expertise and efforts of our Beach Watchers volunteers.”