Cherry point Aquatic Reserve

Cherry Point Aquatic Reserve is a rich, diverse and dynamic stretch of shoreline. Near natural beaches lie below active bluffs, eelgrass beds form meadows over soft seafloors, and kelp beds float off cobble and boulder-covered beaches. These nutrient-rich habitats provide diverse food and dwellings in abundance for birds, fish, and marine invertebrates and marine mammals as they live in and migrate through the area.

About the Reserve

The Cherry Point Aquatic Reserve is a unique aquatic ecosystem located in the Strait of Georgia in northern Puget Sound on the western shores of Whatcom County, Washington. To the north lies the southern edge of Birch Bay State Park and to the south is the northern boundary of the Lummi Indian Nation Reservation. The Reserve encompasses 227 acres of state-owned land. There are two publically accessible beaches – Birch Bay State Park and Point Whitehorn Marine Reserve, a county park – and a public road – Gulf Road – that looks over the Reserve.

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Birch Bay State Park Boat Ramp

Located off of Birch Bay Drive at the south end of the Birch Bay State Park beach, this boat ramp provides vessel and shore access to the Cherry Point Aquatic Reserve.

For directions and more information click here.


Point Whitehorn Marine Reserve

Located just south of Point Whitehorn proper, this county park includes shore access to the Cherry Point Aquatic Reserve.

For directions and more information click here.


Gulf Road Viewpoint

Located between Cherry Point proper and Intalco industrial facility, this stretch of county road provides stunning views of the Aquatic Reserve looking west. To access this area, turn left on Gulf Road from Alder, Lonseth, or Henry roads.


Cherry Point is considered a “significant bird area” because shorelines along the Reserve provide nesting, breeding, feeding, and resting grounds for many different species. These species include the Great Blue Heron, which nest north of the Reserve in one of the largest heron rookeries in the state.

Marine Mammals

Marine mammals including Orca whales, Dall’s porpoise, Steller sea lions, California sea lions, and harbor seals are all known to frequent the Reserve.


Five species of salmon (Chum, Coho, Pink, Chinook, and Sockeye), Steelhead trout, and Bull trout use Cherry Point as rearing habitat, a place for young fish to feed and adjust to salt water before heading out to the ocean.

Forage Fish

Forage fish are the small schooling fish that make up the majority of marine birds, salmon, and other large marine predators’ diets. Three species of forage fish spawn in the Reserve: Pacific herring use submerged marine vegetation, such as eelgrass and a variety of seaweeds in the shallower waters just offshore, surf smelt use upper intertidal areas during the summer months, and northern anchovy use the open water.

Marine Invertebrates

Invertebrates such as marine worms, snails, clams, crabs, shrimp, and countless others call the Reserve home. These critters provide vital links in the Reserve’s food chain by becoming food for the local bird, fish, and mammal populations.

Submerged Aquatic Vegetation

Eelgrass and macroalgae provide various habitat functions for many species. These functions include rearing and foraging habitat for juvenile salmon, crab, and other fish, spawning substrate for Pacific herring, shelter for an abundance of prey species, and shade in the summer, cooling the water during low tides and hot days.

Deep Water Nearshore

Deep offshore water depths make the Reserve’s shoreline both a significant contributor to the unique ecosystem and a valuable port location.

Adjacent State and County Parks

Birch Bay State Park lies along the Reserve’s northern border. A small county-owned park, Pt. Whitehorn Marine Reserve, is located just east of Pt. Whitehorn. These areas provide the only two public access points to the Reserve from land.

Industrial Presence

The Cherry Point shoreline is the location of the two largest refineries in Washington and is responsible for over half of the state’s crude oil and petroleum operations. The three marine terminals/piers serving the industrial facilities are older than the Aquatic Reserve and are not included in it. However, they are subject to DNR lease and monitoring requirements. An aluminum smelter is also located in the uplands above the reserve.

Historic and Cultural Significance

Historically, the shoreline at Cherry Point was the seasonal home of many Lummi villages and other tribes. Traditional cultural properties including stations have been used since time immemorial for hunting, fishing, and gathering. This Reserve is also an important part of the treaty-protected usual and accustomed grounds for five federally recognized tribes including the Lummi.


Marine debris, both floating in the water and washed up on shore, threatens all types of life in the Reserve. Potential oil spills, litter, and chemical pollution from industrial facilities and vessels passing through or adjacent to the Reserve also threaten the health of this productive marine ecosystem. Check out the local chapter of the Surfrider Foundation to help prevent pollution of our local beaches.

Shoreline Modification

Hard shoreline armoring used to protect homes adjacent to the Aquatic Reserve is an ecological concern. These activities reduce the amount of suitable habitat for forage fish spawning, and nesting for birds; interrupt natural sediment input and distribution; and eliminate riparian insects and vegetation along the shoreline, this vegetation provides critical shading of the nearshore habitat during the summer. Click here to learn how to protect property while promoting healthy shorelines.


Climate Change

Sea level rise, ocean acidification, increased storms, and coastal flooding will severely impact the Reserve. These impacts will include greater erosion, submersion of marine vegetation including eelgrass and seaweed; loss of bird nesting and forage fish habitat; and water no longer supportive of calcium-bodied life, a base of the marine food chain.

Invasive Species

Due to the large amount of vessel traffic, especially from international waters, ballast water containing invasive species is a concern. Additionally, invasive species already present at the Reserve pose a threat to native species as their presence forces competition for habitat and food.

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