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Only a few short days after the San Juan County Fair last month local marine and cultural resources experts joined with members of IOSA (Islands Oil Spill Association), MSRC (Marine Spill Response Corporation), the US Coastguard and WA State Department of Ecology to discuss the protection of our County’s coastlines in the event of a large oil spill.
The Department of Ecology is tasked with creating plans to protect important natural habitats, sites of cultural importance and places of economic importance should an oil spill occur that could threaten these areas. These plans are called Geographic Response Plans. In Washington State, there are 42 regions with GRPs. In San Juan County there are currently 70 GRPs scattered throughout the 400 Islands and rocks that make up our archipelago. Figuring out where to protect, and how sites will be protected is a vital part of the preparation for a large oil spill.
The efforts of this diverse group included an afternoon workshop and two and a half days of fieldwork to survey the existing GRP sites and to identify new ones. San Juan County Public Works provided the survey boat and skippered the team around the islands. This allowed the team to survey 30-35 sites per day confirming where protections currently are, or should be.
These plans will protect areas such as False Bay and Westcott Bay on San Juan Island, Echo Bay at Sucia Island, Deer Harbor on Orcas and Fisherman’s Bay on Lopez. Treasured sites such as Watmough Bay and Stewart Island have plans, but new sites on Waldron Island and off Decatur and Blakely Islands were also identified due to their importance to juvenile Chinook salmon.
Knowing where to protect is dependent on local knowledge and expertise. Working hand in hand with IOSA, MSRC, Ecology and the Coastguard ensures that the most important coastlines for our forage fish, juvenile salmon and nearshore marine habitats in the county have a chance of being protected.
Submitted by Frances Robertson, San Juan County Marine Program Coordinator
The efforts of San Juan County’s Environmental Resources Division are guided by local advisory committees, as well as working in partnership with local non-profits and other organizations such as the National Parks and the Conservation District to understand and protect areas of the County that are important to endangered juvenile Chinook salmon, forage fish habitat, eelgrass, kelp beds, rockfish habitats and the endangered Southern Resident orca.