If you are familiar with Fisherman Bay, the body of water tucked between the outstretched arm of Fisherman Bay spit preserve and connecting peninsula, you probably have heard that it is polluted. Surfactants, pesticides and copper “approaching levels that can kill fish” (Russel Barsh, Director, Kwiaht) all plague this once lively inlet. But how did these things get in the Bay? Why aren’t they leaving? And most importantly: How can we remove them? We know Fisherman Bay used to house a greater amount of biodiversity than it does today. But what has happened between now and then to take it from habitable to inhabitable for so many native species?
For anyone unfamiliar with Lopez Village: Lopez Village is the portal for a lot of runoff (let’s say storm) water. Today, this water comes sheeting along the pavement and graveled surfaces, picking up brake dust and dousing our buildings, decks, and treated wood (copper) soap and cleaning products (surfactants) and yards (pesticides) and carrying them swiftly through pipes before depositing them in Weeks’ Wetland.
For starters, and somewhat obviously, driving less, being conscious of the content of our building materials (shout out to http://declareproducts.com/, a fantastic resource for making sure your building products are squeaky green-clean and toxin free) taking our cars to a car wash instead of washing them at home, and refraining from using commercial cleaning supplies and pesticides without doing our homework (even the ones that claim to toxin free often contain substances that aren’t conducive to life) are all things we can do to keep pollution out of the bay. But we don’t need to stop there. Preventative care of our waterways is important, but equally important is taking care of the plants and animals already negatively impacted by our bad habits.
Before Lopez Village was built, the space it occupies was very different. One of the earliest records of life on Lopez can be found in a series of journals and letters stemming from the adventures of a C.B.R. Kennerly, an explorer sent from the Smithsonian Institute to explore the region the San Juan Islands reside in around 1855. Kennerly described the current Lopez Village site at this time as an “inhospitable, murky marshland”- drastically different from the veritable sea of lawns and parking lots we know today! This wetland kept the water flowing from the basin surrounding Lopez Village clean, and provided important habitat for many native species. Today, however, policy makers struggle to create spaces where not only the human entities, but also the non-human entities in the Village, receive the water they need to thrive. This is a modern global problem, and something that communities have faced for a long time in their struggle for resilience, or the ability to absorb disturbance and still retain basic function and structure (Salt, Walker, 2006).
Two large disturbances to the waterways within what we know as the Village today to the environment besides the constant influx of contaminants we humans generate are the large amount of paved and graveled surface, and the corrugated pipes and greenery-free ditches next to the roads. These two design features carry pollutants harmful to fish and marine organisms down to Fisherman Bay without giving them the chance to be absorbed by plants, many of which could potentially transform contaminants into the substances they need to grow and thrive – and this is where we have an opportunity to help clean up the contaminants already in the water on it’s way to the Bay.
Enter the bioswale: a landscaping feature engineered and designed to remove pollutants using plants that like the things found in surfactants and pesticides, as well as copper. Kwiaht, in partnership with the high school biology students at Lopez School, is planning on investigating which native Lopezian plants are more aptly suited to accomplish this task this coming fall.
Salt, Walker, (2006) Resiliency Thinking: Sustaining Ecosystems and People in a Changing World. Island Press: 171.