Low tide fest offers a window into another world

Whelk eggs cover rocks at the beach. - Courtesy photo
Whelk eggs cover rocks at the beach.
— image credit: Courtesy photo

Imagine gazing at a nudibranch with nearly miniscule fluorescent dots on its feet-like serrata or an anemone that collects shell fragments that adhere like a pearl necklace around its soft, vulnerable body.

Or maybe you’d be treated to the sight of a brown pelican making a dramatic nose-dive for a mid-day meal or a pigeon-guillemot lifting off from its cliff-side nest.

Such are the possibilities that await Islanders who venture to Point Robinson on Monday for the fourth annual low tide festival, a celebration of Vashon’s rich shoreline life and a way to learn the names and habits of those remarkable denizens of the beach.

“There’s always a surprise,” Rayna Holtz, one of the organizers, said with a smile.

This year’s festival, like those in the past, will take place on one of the first low tides of late spring, when Puget Sound — in this instance — ebbs to a dramatic -3.8 feet at noon. Conveniently, Holtz noted, that fantastically low tide occurs on Memorial Day, when many Islanders might just be home, looking for a lovely way to spend the day.

Much awaits those who venture to Point Robinson — from bird walks to beach walks to an exploration of native traditional ecology.

Naturalists, in fluorescent green vests, will be roaming the beach. An especially sandy swath will be set aside for castle-building. And shish kabob sticks marking the location of marine animals will be protruding from the sand, giving visitors an easy way to find some of Vashon’s marine treasures.

Paul Motoyoshi will be serving both vegetarian and non-vegetarian fare, with the proceeds from his sales going towards next year’s low tide festival.

A beach sculpture of found objects will be built.

And in a push to help people learn not only what lives in our intertidal zones but the need to protect them, visitors will be asked to sign a colorful “best beach behavior pledge,” promising to leave animals in place, to not pick up rocks larger than their head and to avoid tromping through tidepools.

The hope, said Daoud Miller, a community educator for People For Puget Sound, is to help people “make meaningful and respectful connections” with the Sound’s rich but fragile ecology — a connection that will enable them to both appreciate its wonder and work for its protection.

“The diversity of life on our marine shorelines is remarkable,” he said. “There’s far greater diversity here ... than you can find in most places in the world. ... But it’s fragile and needs our care.”

The festival was started four years ago, in part, Holtz noted, to celebrate the creation of the Maury Island Aquatic Reserve, a state-sanctioned conservation area that surrounds all of Maury Island.

“All of us who were excited about the beach decided you can’t just designate something an aquatic reserve and expect people will understand what’s remarkable about it,” Holtz said.

By undertaking a yearly festival focused on Vashon’s marine ecology, she said, Islanders then become the shoreline’s emissaries, helping to carry the message about what makes the Island’s cobble shorelines special.

“It’s really our reserve,” she said. “We’re the ones who are protecting it daily.”

Holtz remembers when her eyes were first opened to the diversity of life on Vashon’s beaches — a remarkable discovery for her that took place 20 years ago, when beach naturalists Bob Fuerstenberg, Kathy Sider and Sandi Noel started conducting regular beach walks by the north-end ferry terminal.

“It’s like the invisible suddenly becomes visible,” Holtz recalled. “It’s the remarkable experience of revelation.”

The lowtide festival, she said, is particularly powerful, because it combines the beauty of the outdoors with the experience of community.

“It’s like a whole web of wonderful intersections,” she said.

Low tide celebration schedule

The Vashon-Maury Island Lowtide Celebration takes place Monday, May 25, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., with a special bird walk with Sue Trevathan that starts from the upper parking lot at 8 a.m.

Other highlights include:

10:30 a.m. — beach walk with Bob Fuerstenberg and Kathy Sider

11 a.m. — beach walk with Sandi Noel

11:30 a.m. — beach walk with Barbara Gustafson

1 p.m. — human ecology talk with Patrick Christie

1:30 p.m. — bird walk with Gary Shugart

1:30 p.m. — native plant walk with Helen Meeker

2 p.m. — native tradition ecology talk with Odin Lonning and Ann Stateler

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