Aquatic Reserve Watch

Welcome to the Aquatic Reserve Watch page. Below you will find a quick link reference to data sheets on line, followed by the field protocol for the monitoring project, and finally the information resources for the incident reporting and other types of resources included in handouts that have been available at trainings and public events.

Quick Reference:

incident reporting

On line Field data card:

Field data card to print at home Field Card for Aquatic Reserve Watch 4.8.14

Field Guide and Protocol

The goal of the Aquatic Reserve Watch monitoring program is to assess the human usage of the Smith and Minor Island Aquatic Reserve, and the presence of birds and marine mammals and record disturbances to wildlife when they occur.  Volunteers are trained to observe and collect unbiased data on coastal marine resources which will provide important information to understand how people are using the newly established Aquatic Reserves and to help inform the management of the Aquatic Reserve by the Washington Dept. of Natural Resources (DNR). There is an incidental reporting form served on the Aquatic Reserve website for citizens to report occurrences and problems at the reserve.

The Smith and Minor Reserve was created by the WA State DNR in 2011. The Citizen Committee is implementing several goals of the Reserve’s management plan. The human use of the shore and nearby waters is one of the main gaps in information for the reserve. Aquatic Reserve Watch volunteers observe and record both consumptive and non-consumptive offshore and onshore activities in the Reserve which provides important information for estimating recreational and commercial value of this newly protected area. Examples of activities that volunteers record include consumptive activities such as fishing by boat or on shore, and non-consumptive activities such as swimming, dog walking or wildlife watching, as well as recording disturbances to wildlife.

Aquatic Reserve Watch volunteers record beach and ocean activities they see taking place from a stationary location. Volunteers are trained to identify 10 important marine bird species, and report bird and mammal sightings to their best ability. The protocol for the program is outlined below.

  1. Check the calendar and insert your intended time to survey and location. Go to Sign in with the email with the password smoltcount. Click on the date you want to do the monitoring, write in the time, and beach # and your name. You will also use the drop down box to select Aquatic Reserve Watch (sorry google insists that the other calendars like whidbeywatersheds and tasks are present on the calendar list). Notes for when we need surveys done will also be seen noted as a time – NEED. You can also contact, but please allow some response time, especially during summer.
  2. Survey the site once a week for 30 minutes.
  3. Begin the survey at least once each month between 9 a.m. and noon, once between noon and 3 p.m. and once between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m.  In the summer a later hour between 6pm and 9pm could be added.
  4. Survey at least once each month on a weekday and once on a weekend or holiday.
  5. Find a comfortable place to sit where you can see the entire beach.  You may want to bring a beach chair.
  6. Count the number of humans, dogs on leash, dogs off leash and boaters regardless of whether they are causing a disturbance. Describe activities that you see.
  7. Classify the boaters according to motor powered, under sail or hand powered.  Count only the boaters that appear to be in the reserve.  Most large ships (freighters, cruise ships and tugs) will not pass through the reserve area.
  8. Briefly note time and length of any disturbance; i.e., dogs chasing birds, walkers causing shorebirds to take flight.
  9. Note the behavior type caused by the disturbance (birds, flight/diving/running/fighting; mammals, return to water/diving/fighting or return to forest.
  10. Evaluate the response, on the field card circle:
    1. 1 if flew or dove and quickly returned.
    2. 2 if flew or dove but did not return quickly.
    3. Evaluate your confidence, on the field card circle:
      1. 1 if you are not sure or disturbance was causal.
      2. 2 if disturbance was likely.
      3. 3 if there was pursuit or a direct correlation.
      4. Count birds and list species by group (Shorebirds, ducks, gulls, raptors, loons/grebes, cormorants, geese), unknown bird/duck, or specific species:Harlequin Duck, Long-tailed Duck, Bufflehead, Common Loon, Horned Grebe, Double-crested Cormorant, Black Oystercatcher, Sanderling, Glaucous-winged Gull and Pigeon Guillemot.  Record the maximum number of each species.
      5. Note any wildlife interactions; i.e. Bald Eagle caused shorebirds to fly.
      6. Put any additional observations in the notes section.
      7. Take copies of the Reserve Brochure to give to interested parties on the beach. 
      8. After each session record the data from the sheet into the online form or send the reports via mail to Whidbey Watershed Stewards P.O. Box 617, Langley WA 98236. All the data forms, this protocol and links to the calendar can be found at or The monitoring form is found at this link:

Smith and Minor Island Aquatic Reserve Beaches

1. Ebey’s Landing – from the parking lot at Ebey’s landing look north. Discovery Pass needed in lot.

2. Fort Ebey State Park – from the gun placement parking lot, walk to edge of field to best aspect to see people on the beach either north or south. Discover Pass required for parking.

3. Fort Ebey State Park – Park at the small beach parking area, and observe from the beach north and south from there. Discover Pass required for parking.

4. W. Libby Rd end – small parking lot at end of road. Observe from stairway on bulkhead or beach north and south.

5. Hastie Lake – parking area by beach has boat ramp. Observe from boat ramp or beach nearby, north and south.

6. West Beach parking area – just south of west beach houses, there is a small parking lot adjacent to a derelict bulkhead. Observe from beach near bulkhead, most visitors will head south.

7. Joseph Whidbey State Park – Park at the gravel lot off West Beach Rd. just south of the Park entrance. Observe from the parking lot, most visitors will head north, and observe in that direction.


If you see something unusual – report it!

The citizen committee maintains an incident reporting log accessible at Incidents might include people harassing wildlife, pollution from aircraft or boats or harvesting activities that might be illegal. You do not need to log in, but we will need contact info. Just go to the site and describe what you’ve observed. We are not a regulatory agency and do not do enforcement, but are collecting information that can be used to identify problems.

Additional Resources and Information:

This information has been brought together by a Citizen Committee that has formed to learn more about the reserve and provide education about this unique marine environment, and is implementing a monitoring program called Aquatic Reserve Watch.  If you live near the reserve or walk on the beach you can become involved. You can also visit a special website developed for all the Aquatic Reserves at

If you find a seal or other marine mammal on the beach – do not approach it or touch it. Its mother has left it there and will return from fishing to retrieve her pup.  If you are worried about it’s condition, or if you find a dead or injured animal you can call the Central Puget Sound Marine Mammal Stranding Network at 1-866-ORCANET

If you see Orcas in the reserve, Orca Network would like to know about it.  You can visit their sighting page or email them with sightings at

If you see marine debris, especially anything with Japanese writing, it could be flotsam from the 2011 tsunami. While this is an extremely unlikely occurrence on Puget Sound beaches, you should not attempt to move the debris, and contact the marine debris hotline – 1-855-922-6278. It is especially important to report any large debris, or hazardous substances at

If you find an injured but living bird or other animal, the nearest wildlife rehab center is Sarvey Wildlife Center at, and you can call (360) 435-4817. Periodic monitoring of dead birds takes place in the reserve, and it’s helpful for the researchers if you leave those carcasses in place.

If you find distressed seastars washing up on the beach, there is a rapidly evolving disease called seastar wasting syndrome, and scientists are tracking the seastar deaths to discover what is killing them. You may find arms, or masses of dead seastars and you can report it to the effort at University of Santa Cruz, at:

If you are interested in learning more or you have questions contact us by emailing:


This project has been funded wholly or in part by the United States Environmental Protection Agency under assistance agreement PC 00J29801 to Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. The contents of this document do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Environmental Protection Agency, nor does mention of trade names or commercial products constitute endorsement or recommendation for use.