Smith and Minor Islands Aquatic Reserve

The Smith & Minor Islands Aquatic Reserve features expansive kelp beds and nutrient rich waters, surrounding the Smith and Minor Islands National Wildlife Refuge. Located off the west shores of Whidbey Island, the pristine ecosystem attracts multitudes of migrating, nesting, and foraging birds, fish, and marine mammals.

About the Reserve

The Smith & Minor Islands Aquatic Reserve is a highly diverse, productive, and unique ecosystem located off the west side of Whidbey Island in Island County. It encompasses approximately 36,308 acres of state-owned land and is adjacent to several miles of pristine shoreline. The Reserve’s boundary includes the western coast of Whidbey Island from Joseph Whidbey State Park to just south of Fort Ebey State Park. The boundary extends seawards to a depth of 200 feet, encompassing Smith and Minor Islands.

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Joseph Whidbey State Park

Located northwest of Oak Harbor, this state park includes 3,100 feet of saltwater shoreline accessing the Aquatic Reserve.

For directions and more information click here.


West Beach Road

Located just south of Joseph Whidbey State Park, this small public beach provides shoreline access to the Aquatic Reserve as well as sweeping westward views of the Olympic Mountains, the Aquatic Reserve, and the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

For directions and more information click here.


Hastie Lake Road Boat Launch

Located just west of the intersection of Hastie Lake Road and West Beach Road, this boat launch provides water access to the Aquatic Reserve.

For directions and more information click here.


Libbey Beach County Park (Partridge Point)

Located west of Coupeville and north of Fort Ebey State Park, this small county park offers shoreline access to the Reserve and spectacular views of the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

For directions and more information click here.


Fort Ebey State Park

Located west of Coupeville, this state park offers three miles of shoreline access to the Aquatic Reserve.

For directions and more information click here.


Ebey’s Landing

Located south of Fort Ebey State Park, this beach offers shoreline access and spectacular views of the Reserve.

For directions and more information click here.


Many seabirds use Smith and Minor Islands and the surrounding Reserve waters as nesting and foraging habitat. The islands are a National Wildlife Refuge that serves as a breeding ground and winter sanctuary for birds.

Marine Mammals

Harbor seals, elephant seals, and stellar sea lions use Smith and Minor Islands to haul out of the water and rest. Both species of seals also use the islands as a pup-rearing site. Whales, including orca, grey, and minke whales, also frequent the waters of the Reserve.

Juvenile Fish

The Reserve is used extensively by fish as an area to rear their young safely away from open water predators. Juvenile species that frequent the Reserve include salmon, rockfish, and sole.

Forage Fish

Forage fish constitute the majority of the diets of seabirds, salmon, and other fish. Several species utilize the Reserve as habitat. One species, Surf smelt, can even be found spawning along the Reserve’s shores.

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

An enormous bull kelp forest and over 50 other types of seaweeds provide numerous habitat functions for hundreds of species. These functions include rearing and foraging habitat for juvenile salmon, crab and other fish, 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 or encompassed by the Smith & Minor Islands Aquatic Reserve: the Smith and Minor Island National Wildlife Refuge, Joseph Whidbey State Park, and Fort Ebey State Park. Smith and Minor Islands are part of the San Juan Island National Wildlife Refuge System, closed to the public and used extensively by bird populations as resting and nesting habitat. The state parks provide seabird nesting and rearing habitat, ecologically preserved coastal upland connectivity, and environmental education opportunities.

Protection Island Aquatic Reserve

Eight miles southwest of the Smith & Minor Island Aquatic Reserve, the Department of Natural Resources has designated an Aquatic Reserve around Protection Island. This site contains a diverse assembly of species and habitats and the proximity to Smith and Minor Islands provides some level of habitat connectivity for several species that are found at both locations including foraging seabirds, marine mammals, and salmon.


Historical and Cultural Significance

In the past, two Coast Salish Lushootseed-speaking groups occupied western Whidbey, Smith and Minor Islands and the surrounding area. Now this Reserve is usual and accustomed fishing grounds for five federally recognized tribes.

Smith Island was a part of the traditional lighthouse system for nearly 100 years before the lighthouse fell into the sea as the island eroded from underneath it. The Island was also the location of a WWII radio beacon. Smith Island currently has a NOAA weather station with weather data available here.


Marine debris, both floating in the water and washed up on shore, threaten all types of life in the Reserve. Potential oil spills from vessels traveling near or through the Reserve also threatens this marine ecosystem. Vessel traffic also increases the risk of litter and chemical pollution in the Reserve.

Shoreline Modification

Construction of hard shoreline armoring and overwater structures threaten habitat for forage fish spawning, nesting for birds, and eliminates the vegetation along the shoreline that provides critical shading of the nearshore habitat during the summer’s hottest days. Click here for information on how to protect your property while protecting the shoreline.

Climate Change

As the effects of climate change – including sea level rise, ocean acidification, increased storms, and coastal flooding – occur to the extent climate scientists predict, the Reserve will be severely impacted by greater erosion, loss of bird nesting and seal haul out/ pupping habitat, and water that is too acidic for shellfish to grow and thrive.

Invasive Species

Large amounts of vessel traffic, especially from international waters, carries species not native to Washington’s waters. These invasive species that are already present at the Reserve pose a threat to native species because their presence forces competition for habitat and food.

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