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Get a glimpse into another world
A world exists beneath the waves of Puget Sound, a world of colorful invertebrates, elusive fish and an intricate ecosystem that few Islanders have the pleasure to experience.
But on Saturday, the Sound will roll back a few feet, revealing the jewels of the saltwater to curious eyes and probing fingers young and old.
On Saturday, June 7, Islanders will converge on Point Robinson to explore nearshore flora and fauna. The park is the site of Vashon’s third annual Low Tide Celebration, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., and with an extreme -2.6 feet low tide at 2:15 p.m., attendees will have a chance to delve into a world usually protected from the cold air and beating sun.
“We’ll feel successful if we have 200 to 300 Islanders who have a really good time, and if while they’re having a good time they learn some things they didn’t know before, see some animals they didn’t see before — maybe a moon snail, a hermit crab, an octopus,” said Rayna Holtz, a member of the Vashon Audubon Club and one of the key organizers of Saturday’s festivities. “You never know what you’re going to see at low tide.”
Kelp crabs and kingfishers mingle with sea stars, star fish and anemones near the eelgrass, which sways lazily back and forth with each wave.
“There are things that live in the eelgrass — little tiny things that cling to it,” Holtz said. “It’s a whole ecosystem living in the eelgrass.”
An abundance of beach naturalists will share their expertise at Vashon’s celebration, a goal of which is to educate Islanders about the the ecological importance of the nearshore Puget Sound environment.
Vashon Island has half the shoreline in King County, Holtz said, including most of its natural non-bulkheaded shoreline.
“There are broad connections between what we do on the land and how that affects Puget Sound water quality,” she said. “There are going to be so many people who know so many interesting things getting together and sharing what they know. We are going to have wonderful opportunities to learn things we would otherwise never get to know.”
The low tide celebration comes at the same time that many are focused on the health of the inner-tidal zone, a world that’s been harmed over the years by bulkheads, pollution, construction and marine commerce. The newly created Puget Sound Partnership recently received a mandate to restore the Sound to health by 2020 from Gov. Christine Gregoire, along with ongoing funding for the next 12 years that will top $1 billion before the cleanup is complete.
Gregoire lamented the state of the Puget Sound in 2007.
“It looks beautiful on the surface, but beneath that surface, it is sick and in some places dying,” she said in a press release.
Many say the most critical piece in the delicate ecosystem is the nearshore, where the lower echelons of the food chain subsist.
Washington Scuba Alliance is sponsoring touch tanks at the celebration, so Islanders can understand what types of life inhabit the nearshore ecosystem. Some critters truly only come out of their shells underwater.
Anemones, which on the beach look like “lumps of jelly,” underwater extend their tentacles and look like flowers, Holtz said.
And sea snails extend a foot that is “silky and translucent,” that looks “moon-like and has a glow to it,” she said.
When exploring on the beach, there are some rules to live by.
People for Puget Sound, a nonprofit dedicated to teaching people about the local coastline and the creatures that live there, and one of the partner’s of Saturday’s celebration, has made a list of the do’s and don’ts.
Use wet hands when picking up a creature, because dryness is harsh to their bodies.
If you dig a hole in the sand, fill it in afterwards.
And when you roll over a rock to see what’s living underneath, gently place it back where it was afterwards.
“You just don’t think about it if you’re not one of the critters living under the rock,” Holtz said.
The low tide celebration will feature a welcome ceremony — people will paddle a canoe made by Mike Evans, from the Snohomish tribe, towards Point Robinson, and those on shore will welcome the boat in song.
“It’s a traditional thing that the people on the beach, when a canoe arrives, look to see whether it’s friend or foe, and if it’s a friend, they welcome them with, ‘Come ashore, come ashore,’ and give them food and shelter,” said Holtz.
A group of Islanders have been rehearsing a welcome song in English and Lushootseed, a Native American language from the Salish family, and will sing it as the canoe lands on the point at 11:30 a.m.
Islander Lesley Reed will weave traditional Native American tales at 12:30 p.m., Holtz said.
“She learned her stories from a Makaw woman; these stories are like possessions,” she said. “The way we tell stories, anyone can tell it, but the way they tell stories, she’s now the official holder of this woman’s stories who has passed hem on. It’s really something special for (Reed) to have permission to pass these stories on to both native and white people.”
Holtz had some common-sense suggestions for low-tide enthusiasts: bring a sweater since it might be windy and wear boots because the most interesting things are sometimes a few inches beneath the water or in the mud.
Boy Scouts of Vashon will be providing food as a fundraiser — hot dogs, chips, soda and coffee were the staples last year, Holtz said — but vegetarians might want to pack a lunch.