Partner Profile: Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife—September 2006

COASST started with 12 brave proto-volunteers on just a handful of beaches on the south coast of Washington in 1999. Over the last six years, we’ve grown to more than 200 beaches in four states. However, Washington State remains central, with more than 85% of all COASST beaches.

Since its inception, COASST has worked hand-in-hand with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), the State agency tasked with promoting "sound stewardship of fish and wildlife" in the evergreen state. Among the many WDFW scientists who work with COASST, Scott Pearson, a member of our advisory board, has been a special ally.

Scott Pearson

Scott Pearson, of WDFW, one of COASST’s long-time supporters. (Courtesy of S. Pearson)

Scott joined WDFW in 2005 as a research scientist in the Wildlife Research Division, the arm of WDFW specifically interested in seabirds. As part of his job, Scott manages an extensive set of research and monitoring projects, from Streaked Horned Larks (not a seabird) to Snowy Plovers to Marbled Murrelets, and from habitat selection to diet. Scott and Julia Parrish have been collaborating on colony studies of Washington’s seabirds, focusing on factors affecting breeding populations of Common Murres, Tufted Puffins and Rhinoceros Auklets.

But even the Herculean amount of research Scott manages doesn’t begin to provide the comprehensive geographic coverage of COASST. "Changes in seabird mortality detected by COASST volunteers alerts my agency, Washington’s wildlife managers, to potential threats to seabird populations." Scott values the "many eyes on the beach" COASSTers provide.

And large-scale, long-term monitoring is exactly what agencies like WDFW need to begin to piece together the changes happening around us. "I am very concerned about climate forcing," Pearson says. "Some changes in the nearshore marine environment are already occurring, with very significant effects on plankton, fish, seabirds and marine mammals. For example, last season’s die-off of Common Murres and Brandt’s Cormorants, which was detected by COASST volunteers, apparently resulted from changes in the typical pattern of winter downwelling and the transition to spring upwelling." Pearson worries that "this type of event may become more common." COASST data "will play a vital role in tracking changes in seabird mortality, whether they are caused by upwelling anomalies or other types of oceanographic events, or even human activity."

In Scott’s mind, participation in "extremely well-run citizen science programs like COASST" is important because "volunteers who spend time learning about seabirds, who regularly walk our beaches, and who see changes in seabird mortality, are likely to care more about the marine and coastal environment and are likely to take an active role in seeking solutions to the threats facing those environments."

We thank Scott, and WDFW, for the active role they have taken in promoting COASST, and in helping to sustain our efforts financially. Without agency partners who provide funding, and use our data, COASST would not be the success story Scott is so fond of touting.