Nisqually Reach Aquatic Reserve

The convergence of South Puget Sound waters, Nisqually Reach, and the Nisqually River forms a varied and highly productive network of brackish marshes, streamside habitats, and tidal flats. Along the coast, stretches of minimally disturbed beaches nestle below healthy bluffs overlooking the Reach. The Nisqually Reach Aquatic Reserve encompasses the full array of these biologically diverse uplands, wetlands, and adjacent openwater and deepwater habitats. A biological gem, the Reserve attracts multitudes of fish, marine mammals, and migrating, nesting, and foraging birds.

About the Reserve

The Nisqually Reach Aquatic Reserve (NRAR) is a highly diverse, productive, and unique ecosystem located in the Nisqually Delta in southern Puget Sound. The NRAR encompasses approximately 14,826 acres of state-owned DNR managed tidelands and bedlands. Reserve Boundary: the shoreline boundary of Tolmie State Park to the outer boundary of the WDFW managed tidelands on the southwestern shoreline of McNeil Island; southeastward to the Fort Lewis shoreline south of the town of Steilacoom; southward (through Cormorant Passage) to the outer boundary of the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge. The Reserve boundary parallels the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge boundary westward, paralleling the Thurston County shoreline, and then back to the southeastern shoreline boundary of Tolmie State Park. The entire shorelines of both Anderson and Ketron Islands are encompassed within the boundaries of the Reserve.

Click on a point to display more info!


Eagle Island State Marine Park

Located between McNeil and Anderson Islands, this 10-acre marine park features 2,600 feet of saltwater shoreline. At low tide it is a popular hangout for harbor seals! Only accessible by boat, this location is fully surrounded by the Nisqually Reach Aquatic Reserve.

For directions and more information click here.


Anderson Island Ferry Dock

Located on the north side of Anderson Island, this dock overlooks the Nisqually Reach Aquatic Reserve.

For more information about the Ferry to Anderson island click here.


Jacob’s Point Park

Located on Anderson Island, Jacobs Point Park has 82 beautiful acres of beach, woods, and wetlands. The park provides shoreline access to the Nisqually Reach Aquatic Reserve.

For directions and more information click here.


Andy’s Marine Park

Located on Anderson Island, Andy’s Marine Park provides shoreline access to the Nisqually Reach Aquatic Reserve.

For directions and more information click here.


Tolmie State Park

Located eight miles north east of Olympia, Tolmie State Park is a 105-acre marine day-use park with 1,800 feet of saltwater shoreline and an underwater park that provide access to the Nisqually Reach Aquatic Reserve.

For directions and more information click here.


Luhr Beach and the Nisqually Reach Nature Center

Located just outside of the Reserve’s southern boundary, this beach, boat ramp, and Nature Center overlook Nisqually Reach Aquatic Reserve.

For directions and more information click here.


More than 220 species of birds have been spotted in and around the Reserve. Shorelines along the Reserve provide nesting, breeding, feeding, and resting grounds for these species. This essential habitat in Nisqually Reach and Delta led to their recognition as Audubon Important Bird Areas.

Marine Mammals

River otters, harbor seals, Orca whales, harbor porpoises, and California sea lions visit the Reserve. Additionally, Eagle Island in the Reserve contains the most important harbor seal haul out and breeding location in South Puget Sound.


Six species of salmonids (Chum, Coho, Pink, Steelhead, Chinook, and Cutthroat) are found in Nisqually Reach. Juveniles are especially prevalent because they use the sheltered habitat found in small bays and estuaries as a place to mature away from predators before swimming to the open ocean.


Forage Fish

Two species of forage fish, sand lance and surf smelt, use the beaches along the edge of the Reserve as spawning grounds. Forage fish are a very important food source for marine birds, salmon, and other large marine predators.

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 macro algae 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.

Adjacent Protected Areas

Three protected areas are adjacent to the Aquatic Reserve: the Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually Wildlife Refuge, Tolmie State Park, and McNeil Island Wildlife Area. The Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge contains the Nisqually estuary, supports over 275 bird species, and is used by steelhead trout and several salmon species as rearing and migratory habitat. Tolmie State Park protects 1,800 feet of saltwater shoreline and an underwater park, habitats utilized by a wide range of intertidal species. McNeil Island protects 56,341 feet of saltwater shoreline and, due to its isolated and undeveloped nature, provides a safe haven for many species that utilize the Reserve.

Heavy Recreational Use

Nisqually Reach Aquatic Reserve is heavily used for recreational purposes including boating, fishing, and hunting. There are six marinas within or adjacent to the Reserve: one at Ketron, one at Mallard Cove, and four on Anderson Island. Additionally, several boat ramps exist in and adjacent to the Reserve.

Anderson-Ketron Disposal Site

Located within the Reserve at a depth of 130m is a dredged material disposal site. This site is used to dispose of clean, unused dredged materials from a variety of projects. This site is managed cooperatively by the Army Corps of Engineers, Environmental Protection Agency, State Department of Ecology, and State Department of Natural Resources.

Historical and Cultural Significance

For years, the Nisqually Tribe and Squaxin Island Tribe have lived in Nisqually Reach and the surrounding areas. These historical areas included lands on both Anderson and Ketron Islands. This Reserve is also an important part of the treaty protected usual and accustomed fishing grounds for these tribes.


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

Construction of bulkheads and other types of hard shoreline armoring, groins, and docks reduce the amount of suitable habitat for rearing juvenile salmon, forage fish spawning, and nesting for birds. Shoreline modification also starves the beach of new sediment that is crucial to maintain a healthy and diverse ecosystem. To learn how to protect property while promoting healthy shorelines, click here.

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 near shore 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.

Our Partners