Edmonds Treks: Marine Sanctuary brings beaches back to life

Edmonds beaches were once on the edge of industrial blight. (Illustration courtesy of the Edmonds-South Snohomish County Historical Society)

By Marlene Martzke

If you are the sort who enjoys connecting with nature in a busy urban environment, you can encounter a thriving marine ecosystem in Edmonds that is considered by many to be one of the healthiest in Puget Sound. But it wasn’t always so. The beaches at Edmonds once were teetering on the brink of industrial blight. Through the effort and vision of concerned citizens, they were brought back

How It Used to Be

According to the Edmonds Historical Society and Museum, as early as 1909 these beaches were lined with shingle mills that capitalized on the red cedar that used to proliferate the shoreline. Years of continuous industry that included an excelsior manufacturer as well as uncontrolled spear fishing had serious impact on the marine life and severely depleted the fish population. The UNOCAL Bulk Fuel Terminal operated a tank farm there from 1923 to 1991, at which time the Department of Ecology started the process of cleanup.

Some citizens in the 1970s noticed the degradation of the beaches. Longtime residents speak of the days when trash littered the shores and the water was murky and dirty. Several species of animals (some fish species and abalone) that locals used to see were disappearing. The citizens decided to band together and ask the Edmonds City Council to protect the Edmonds beaches and the council agreed. In 1980, the city council voted to designate Edmonds’ Underwater Park and Brackett’s Landing a sanctuary. Soon after, two more Edmonds beaches were designated. The beaches now look like they should: Many kinds (though not all) of critters are found in abundance and there are long stretches of clean beaches.


A starfish on the beach.

The Marine Sanctuary extends from Caspers Street to the north, down the shoreline to the southern tip of Marina Beach. It encompasses three beaches: Olympic Beach, Marina Beach and Brackett’s Landing, which houses a world-renowned underwater park — a veritable playground paradise for scuba divers.

Eel grass beds on Olympic Beach. (All photos by Marlene Martzke)

One of a handful of marine preserves in the South Central region of the Puget Sound, the sanctuary is the largest and the only one to maintain a strict “No-Take” stance on collection of creatures, shells, wood, and other organic or natural items. This is for the benefit of the wild creatures that make their home on the beach and/or in the water. When shells break down, they release calcium carbonate and other minerals back into the system for other creatures to use. Rocks and driftwood may offer refuge, protection or anchor points for organisms such as barnacles, mussels and bull kelp.

The plentiful sea life found at these beaches is a source of constant fascination for observation and study for beachcombers and divers alike. But not enough people know about the sanctuary. On every patrol, beach rangers have to inform people that they are in a legally protected place. As a sanctuary, everything on the sand and in the water is protected. The City of Edmonds has added some signs, but they are overlooked. Unfortunately, many visitors are so busy taking in the sweeping vistas, watching the ferry, corralling excited children, finding parking, looking at the passing trains, etc., that they never see the existing signage. Also, ranger patrol is seasonal, operating only in the busiest warmest months when people are most likely drawn to the water.

How It Is Now

If there wasn’t a sanctuary in place, the beaches of Edmonds would probably look like they did in the 1970s or much like the overdeveloped areas further south in Puget Sound, with construction right up to the waters edge, and little or no natural beach front. However, since designation as a Marine Sanctuary, the Edmonds’ shoreline has recovered to a large extent. The biologically diverse community of animals and plants contributes greatly to the quality of life for humans who visit these shores.

Sunset at Marina Beach.

People for ages have made use of the resources of the Sound, beginning with the Native Americans. Lots of beaches around the Sound are legal for crabbing, clamming and fishing. Human interests can coincide with the best interests of the Marine Sanctuary as long as the protection of the sanctuary comes first. People can enjoy wading, swimming, kayaking, walking, running and exploring the beaches. Special care must be taken when kayaking; it is not allowed next to the ferry or over the Underwater Park. No dogs are allowed within Sanctuary boundaries, however an off-leash “dog beach (immediately south of Marina Beach) is the outlet for water-loving dogs and owners.

Spread the Word

With the increasing threats to our oceans worldwide, every portion we can conserve will ultimately improve the quality of life on this planet. Awareness awakens an appreciation and in turn fosters stewardship in protecting a natural treasure and community cornerstone such as the Marine Sanctuary at Edmonds. One can only hope that the word will spread and the sanctuary will continue to be enjoyed by future generations for years to come.

© 2012 Marlene Martzke

Marlene Martzke is a blogger for The Northwest Trekker Bleker, which reports on places and people of the Pacific Northwest.



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