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What most know as KVI beach is also a unique and important habitat
Now that spring has finally sprung on our little Island, the Vashon Beach Naturalists have been active with a new season of volunteer training and beach events. Recently, the group took a trip out to KVI Beach to learn about the varied habitats there. As familiar as KVI is to many Islanders, it is in fact quite special. For years, King County has been trying to conserve the beach and lagoon at KVI, also known as Point Heyer, by preserving properties to the north. In early April, just a day before my daughter was born, I took a walk on the beach just north of KVI and studied the constantly eroding bluffs that dominate the shoreline.
These “feeder” bluffs are a key piece in preserving the habitats found at KVI because they are an integral part of the Point Heyer drift cell. A drift cell is a coastal area that contains a source for sediment, wave action that transports this sediment and a place where the sediment is deposited. This movement of sediment is the main process by which healthy intertidal habitats in Puget Sound are maintained. In the Point Heyer drift cell, the bluffs and shoreline from KVI to S.W. Soper Road (about 2.2 miles to the north) are the source of sediment that is brought south by the current and waves and deposited on KVI beach.
To learn more about the importance of KVI and the county’s project, I recently sat down with Greg Rabourn, Vashon-Maury Island’s Basin Steward with the King County Department of Natural Resources and Parks. According to Greg, KVI has the only remaining barrier lagoon and the largest salt marsh in the county, and that’s a pretty big incentive for conservation. Moreover, many federally endangered species such as steelhead and chinook salmon are found in the intertidal area off the beach, while their prey — forage fish such as sand smelt and sand lance — spawn there, and flat fishes — grouper and sole — use the area as a nursery. And of course the salt marsh is a haven for birds; Vashon Audubon members have recorded many migrant species there.
According to Greg, because the Point Heyer shoreline is largely “unarmored,” meaning very few human structures negatively affect the natural structure of the beach, more than 90 percent of the sediment sources remain intact. By contrast, he said, more than 70 percent of King County’s shoreline is armored. Without these sources of sediment, the beach and lagoon at KVI would eventually cease to exist. In addition, the natural sediment drift leads to broad shallow shelves that provide habitat for large meadows of eelgrass. An eelgrass meadow is like a little critter city amidst the intertidal zone, providing food and home to many species.
To date, under the auspices of the state’s Salmon Recovery Plan, the county has acquired seven of the 50 properties within the Point Heyer drift cell, preserving more than 31 acres and 1,334 feet of shoreline. In the last year, Greg helped in the purchase of the most recent three parcels, now collectively called the Point Heyer Natural Area. Preventing the fragmentation and alteration of the Point Heyer shoreline is an investment in the long-term health of KVI Beach and Puget Sound. Conserving this area with its important salt marsh preserves the rich habitat used by endangered species. As Greg put it, “To protect at-risk species, we must protect the ecological processes that sustain these species.”
— Adria Magrath is a biologist, teacher and nature photographer, as well as a Vashon Beach Naturalist.
Naturalists bring the beach to you
Experience Vashon’s intertidal life at noon to 2 p.m. Saturday, June 4, at Lisabeula Park. Vashon Beach Naturalists, with help from junior naturalists from the Homestead School, will roam the tideline in search of beach life and bring trays of seawater with specimens for people to view. Chairs will be set up for those who are less mobile; however, the event is open to everyone.