Padilla Bay newsletter

Our e-newsletter is published quarterly with current events, articles, and program information.

Surveying kelp by kayak along a Salish Sea shoreline.

Puget Sound Kelp Conservation and Recovery Plan

Vibrant kelp forests are vital to the health of the Salish Sea. They provide critical refuge, feeding, and nursery grounds for forage fish, rockfish, and salmon. They fuel food webs that support healthy bird and marine mammal populations — including Southern Resident killer whales. But new and longstanding stress has led to decreasing kelp populations in many places. We need to coordinate our actions to reverse these downward trends.

Starting in 2016, a group of agencies and organizations began a project to review local science and policy relating to kelp forests in order to develop a recovery plan. The Northwest Straits Initiative collaborated with NOAA Fisheries, the Washington Department of Natural Resources, Puget Sound Restoration Fund, Marine Agronomics, and many other entities and individuals to create a road map for kelp recovery.

The Puget Sound Kelp Conservation and Recovery Plan is a non-regulatory document that provides a research and management framework for coordinated action to better understand kelp population dynamics and drivers of declines. It will also help strengthen the implementation and enforcement of protective measures.

A public comment period early this year provided great feedback from over 30 organizations and individuals. We’re now incorporating comments and will release the completed plan soon. This plan is an important step in our continued work to protect kelp and we could not be happier with the enthusiasm we’ve seen for everyone's favorite brown macro algae! Check the Northwest Straits site for plan details later this month. To get plan updates, please email

Padilla Bay's New Coastal Training Program coordinator, Sara Brostrom

Padilla Bay's new Coastal Training Program coordinator

Padilla Bay is pleased to welcome Sara Brostrom — our new Coastal Training Program (CTP) Coordinator. Sara started on May 1 and is jumping right into the program. She has taken over coordination of our Salish Sea Stewards volunteer training program (now virtual) and is ramping up to lead the CTP as it adapts to the COVID-19 world of virtual professional development.

Sara grew up near the Salish Sea in Lacey, Wash., exploring the shores of Budd Inlet and camping and hiking with her family in the many beautiful ecosystems of Washington. For Sara, these formative experiences sparked an early interest in environmental science. 

Sara has worked as a science educator in a range of settings, including public K-12 classrooms, university lecture halls, a museum, and an outdoor school. Following a desire to transition to the environmental field, Sara entered the School of Marine and Environmental Affairs at the University of Washington. Upon finishing her work at UW, Sara spent a year at Ecology as the Washington Sea Grant Hershman Fellowship where she worked on projects related to sea level rise and was lucky enough to participate in the Coastal Training Program.

She is excited for the opportunity to blend her experiences in education and environmental science as the Coastal Training Program Coordinator. Sara can’t wait to explore the Skagit Valley and the surrounding area with her husband, Kevin, and 10-month old daughter, Rosemary.

Rachel Best has joined the Padilla Bay team as secretary and receptionist.

Help us welcome Rachel Best to Padilla Bay's front office

When you call the Padilla Bay interpretive center or stop to visit the exhibits and aquariums, you'll find a new face behind the counter. Rachel Best joined the staff in May as our new office coordinator and administrative assistant for the Reserve.

Rachel Best is a native Washingtonian, born in Seattle and raised in Tacoma (the City of Destiny!). Her family enjoyed the great outdoors: fishing salmon out of Neah Bay, clamming Penn Cove and Moclips by moonlight, hiking and camping Mt Baker and Rainier.

Rachel previously worked at Ecology’s Northwest Regional Office in Bellevue with the Water Quality and Hazardous Waste/Toxics Reductions programs, so she's well prepared for the administrative side of her new job. Since moving north, she's been active in local coastal initiatives, volunteering on the Skagit County Marine Resources Committee and the Skagit Conservation District’s Clean Streams project. She is a Salish Sea Steward volunteer, and headed that group's advisory team.

Rachel also has a Bachelor of Music in oboe and English horn performance from Western Washington University, and performs locally, including over 20 years with the Cascade Symphony Orchestra and with a Greek folk band called the Makedonians (Opa!).

When not working at Padilla Bay or volunteering, you'll find Rachel working with textiles creating quilts, learning new recipes, and gardening (vigilant blackberry management) with her husband Hank at her home in Snohomish.

Rachel is excited for this opportunity to work with the environmental scientists and educators at the PBNERR, and we're just as excited to welcome her to the team.

Waves glowing bright blue from bioluminescent plankton.

Glowing like aquatic fairy dust 

by Chandler Colahan

About, about, in reel and rout                             

The death fires danced at night

The water, like a witch’s oils,

Burnt green and blue and white.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

Summer brings one of the most magical natural wonders in the world to Padilla Bay. As water temperatures warm and plankton become plentiful, a food chain reaction is set in motion. Large numbers of a tiny single celled organism called Noctiluca can be found floating around the Salish Sea when conditions are just right.  These microscopic plankton, commonly known as sea sparkle, are a type of dinoflagellate. By day, blooms of Noctiluca (from Latin meaning night light) appear red in color and can make the water look like tomato soup. (Red tides caused by Noctiluca are not harmful to humans.) But it’s at night when these blooms really shine!

If Noctiluca are disturbed in the water, they can produce and emit a non-thermal light called bioluminescence.  This occurs when a light-emitting molecule and an enzyme react with oxygen within the cell. The process can be compared to the reaction of fuel, oxygen, and a lit match. The resulting combustion creates a flash of blue-green light.                                          

Many marine species and certain terrestrial species have the ability to produce bioluminescence, including jellyfish, fireflies, and even some fungi. Scientists believe organisms use bioluminescence for many different reasons. Some organisms use it to attract mates or prey. Others use it for defense. It is an important tool for all kinds of communication. The beautiful glowing displays are a true miracle of nature. There is no guarantee when Noctiluca blooms will occur, but your best chance to see it is on a clear, calm moonless summer night.  Run your hand through the water, look for the glittering light, and prepare to be amazed! 

Relative humidity at the Padilla Bay weather station dropped from 90% to 23% over a three-hour period on April 11, 2020.

April's dry storm

The word "storm" may conjure up images of dark clouds and drenching rains, but Padilla Bay's April 2020 storm was something unusual. April was a strange month for many reasons, but something you may not have noticed was how dry it was compared to our normal showery spring. Until the second half of the month, we had an exceptionally dry April. (Hopefully you don’t have bad allergies, or you  really enjoy watering your freshly-planted garden every day!) On Saturday, April 11, Padilla Bay's weather station recorded an interesting low humidity event: a “dry storm."

The days with the lowest humidity in Western Washington are typically associated with cold, dry weather systems that happen during winter months.This April event was interesting because it was neither cold nor winter. High atmospheric pressure pushed low humidity air into the area from the east side of the Cascade mountain range. As explained by local atmospheric scientist Cliff Mass from the University of Washington, as this dry eastern air mass moved west and over the mountains, the (already dry) air “gets compressed and dries out even more as it sinks and flows down the slopes into Western Washington." The graph here shows that relative humidity dropped from around 90% to a low of 23% in a three hour period; pretty amazing, considering Padilla Bay is on the water.

Also interesting is that relative humidity on April 11 was a tie for the lowest RH recorded at Padilla Bay since 2006! Thankfully, we had an increase in rainfall during the second half of April, and due to a very wet January, we are still currently near or above average for precipitation and snowpack in Western Washington.

Are you interested in education and volunteer opportunities tracking precipitation in your area? Check out the Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network website for more details of how to get involved. Also, you can track local weather and water quality conditions in Padilla Bay through our monitoring network data page.