Edmonds Marsh study aims to determine what factors affect water quality

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Marsh study sites
The red dots indicate the photo stations along the boardwalk, downstream from the fish hatchery, and within the Point Edwards community where information to photographers and wildlife observers will be posted instructing how to submit photos and information to the study.

The City of Edmonds’ ongoing work to protect, preserve and enhance the Edmonds Marsh launched a new phase this year, focusing on providing data and other information to help evaluate of the ecological functions of the Marsh and its buffers.

Visitors this fall are likely to encounter field crews from Windward Environmental collecting data along several transects through the perimeter buffer and from an array of polygonal plots within the main body of the marsh. The study will continue through next spring.

“In addition to the transects and plots, we’re also collecting data from several installed wildlife cameras and data loggers,” said Windward Senior Environmental Scientist Jennifer Love. “These will provide a continuous stream of data on water quality parameters like turbidity and salinity, and of course the presence and patterns of wildlife usage.”

In July, Windward provided the Edmonds City Council with a formal presentation on their study. Stressing that the project is still in the early phases, Love and her colleague Ron Gouguet provided background on their work to date designed to adequately prepare for the filed study itself. This pre-field study work included a comprehensive literature review of existing buffer zone studies, an initial evaluation of the buffer zones surrounding the Edmonds Marsh, and a draft baseline management plan. The goal is to establish baseline data on the various factors that contribute to water quality improvement, and how the size and characteristic of marsh buffers affect these.

Marsh observation point
One of the existing observation points along the Marsh boardwalk that will be utilized as a photo station in the study.

“While width of the buffer zone is certainly important, a host of site-specific conditions can determine its effectiveness in enhancing habitat,” explained Love. “Water quality improvements depend on an array of factors including flow rate, whether the flow is deep or shallow, the presence of pesticide residues or other chemical factors, the presence and type of woody debris in the buffer (e.g., snags, nurse logs, etc.), degree of disturbance from adjacent activity and more.”

Data collection began in earnest in July as field crews gathered information from the various transects and plots, and the photo stations and data monitors came online. The July work marked the first of four data collection efforts over the one-year course of the study. Upcoming work is scheduled for October, January and April.

Senior Environmental Scientist Jennifer Love stands along one of the several transects through the Marsh buffer where data will be collected. The stake in the foreground marks the outer terminus of the transect.

“This October our crews will be working the transects through the buffer zones and the plots within the marsh,” explained Love. “They will be collecting information on vegetation coverage, species of plants, presence of large wood debris or snags and more, all with the goal of going beyond simply considering only the width of the buffer and looking at the full range of factors that determine its effectiveness in maintaining a healthy ecosystem.”

Love went on to discuss the critical importance of wildlife data to the study.

“Our wildlife cameras are motion-sensitive, and we’ve tried to install and aim them to get the best information they can provide on wildlife presence and activity, but they’re really no substitute for human photographers,” she explained. “We’re hoping for help from local photographers, bird enthusiasts and others who visit the marsh with a camera, so we’ve set up several photo monitoring stations at established viewpoints on the Marsh boardwalk and in the Point Edwards community.”

One of the existing observation points along the Marsh boardwalk that will be utilized as a photo station in the study.

Laminated signage will be installed at photo stations over the next several weeks that will include sample photos, a guide to the kind of photos that will be most helpful to the study, and directions for how to upload your photos to the study site, Love said.

The final report will be drafted in summer after the April data are collected and compiled.

— Story and photos by Larry Vogel

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