The Fidalgo Bay Aquatic Reserve, located in Fidalgo Bay just east of Anacortes in Skagit County, features expansive eelgrass beds and an array of saltwater marsh, beach, and tidal flat habitats. Adjacent to over four miles of shoreline, these nutrient-rich habitats are essential contributors to the reproductive, foraging, and rearing success for numerous fish and bird species.
About the Reserve
The Fidalgo Bay Aquatic Reserve is a highly diverse, productive, and unique ecosystem located in Fidalgo Bay, southeast of Anacortes in Skagit County. It encompasses approximately 686 acres of state-owned land and is adjacent to four miles of shoreline. The Reserve is bounded by the bay’s shorelines to the south, east, and west. The northern boundary is a line drawn across Fidalgo Bay from Crandall Spit. The majority of the Reserve is located within the city limits of Anacortes.
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Tommy Thompson Trail
Tommy Thompson Trail runs south from the industrial area of Anacortes at Q Avenue and 11th Street along Fidalgo Bay’s west shoreline and then across to Marches Point on the east side of Fidalgo Bay. The trail offers the best view of the Aquatic Reserve from the converted railway trestle that stretches across the bay to March Point.
For directions and more information click here.
More than 230 species of birds have been spotted in and around the Reserve. Shorelines along the Reserve and nearby provide nesting, breeding, feeding, and resting grounds for these species.
River otters and harbor seals use the Reserve as resting and foraging grounds. Eight seal haul outs (places seals use to get out of the water and rest) are located in and adjacent to the Reserve. Additionally, these areas are used by mother seals to rear their pups during the summer months.
Six species of salmonids (Chinook, Chum, Coho, Pink, Steelhead, and Cutthroat) are found throughout the Fidalgo Bay Aquatic Reserve. Juveniles are especially prevalent because they can use the sheltered habitat as a place to mature away from predators before swimming to the open ocean.
Three species of forage fish – sand lance, Pacific herring and surf smelt – use the Reserve’s beaches and eelgrass beds as spawning grounds. Forage fish are a very important food source for marine birds, salmon, and other large marine predators.
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 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.
Nearby Protected Areas
Four protected areas are close to the Fidalgo Bay Aquatic Reserve: the Padilla Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, Cypress Island Aquatic Reserve and Natural Resource Conservation Area (NRCA), and the Hat Island NRCA. Padilla Bay Reserve, located three miles east of Fidalgo Bay, encompasses 11,000 acres of aquatic habitats, 7,500 acres of which are eelgrass meadows, important nursery habitat for juvenile fish and crab, and important feeding area for birds. Hat Island NRCA is located within the Padilla Bay Reserve, protects 91 acres of forested uplands, and provides important bird habitat. Located six miles northwest of Fidalgo Bay, Cypress Island Aquatic Reserve and NRCA protect 11,011 acres of state owned uplands, wetlands, grasslands, tidelands, and bedlands of Cypress Island.
City of Anacortes
Fidalgo Bay Aquatic Reserve is within the Anacortes city limits and is located just south of the city’s heavily developed waterfront. From recreational boating to commercial fishing, the waterfront is full of people using the waters adjacent to the Reserve. In addition, runoff from the city’s impervious surfaces enters into Fidalgo Bay through several outfalls. Like most of the region, the population of Anacortes is expected to grow rapidly in the years to come.
Two oil refineries currently operate adjacent to the eastern boundary of the Reserve on March Point. The Shell Oil Puget Sound refinery, the second largest in the State, processes up to 145,000 barrels of crude oil per day. The Tesoro Anacortes refinery processes up to 120,000 barrels of crude oil per day.
Historical and Cultural Significance
Both the Swinomish and Samish Tribes own and manage lands adjacent to the Reserve. Historically the bay was used by both groups for hunting, fishing, and gathering. Both tribes are actively participating in the management of the Reserve and support a variety of restoration and monitoring projects in and around the Reserve. Additionally, this Reserve is usual and accustomed grounds for five federally recognized tribes including the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community.
Nitrogen from fertilizers, livestock, and pet and human waste enters the Reserve through streams, outfalls, and polluted stormwater runoff. The excess nitrogen causes an ecological phenomenon that eventually depletes the amount of dissolved oxygen to a level where oxygen-dependent creatures cannot survive.
Marine debris, both floating in the water and washed up on shore, also threaten all types of life in the Reserve. Oil spills are another threat to this productive marine ecosystem. The presence of vessels, both recreational and industrial, increases the risk of litter and chemical pollution in the Reserve.
Bulkheads and Docks
Many of the Reserve’s shorelines are developed. As a result, habitat available to forage fish and salmon for spawning, rearing, feeding, and migration has plummeted. Shoreline modification also starves the beach of new sediment that is crucial to maintain a healthy and diverse ecosystem.
Loss of Native Vegetation
Loss of native vegetation both along the shoreline and upland can greatly impact the health of the aquatic ecosystem. Along the shore, vegetation provides critical shading of the nearshore habitat during the summer’s hottest days, a home for the insects that make up the majority of juvenile salmon’s diets, and a natural erosion buffer that maintains the gradual feeding of sediment onto the beach.
Bulkheads and invasive species both threaten the presence of native vegetation along the shoreline. For a guide to how you can protect your property while promoting healthy shorelines, click here.