Grab a camera and help state track ‘king tides’

CAMANO ISLAND — Higher-than-normal tides brought people out to beaches in Snohomish and Island counties this week to watch the waves lap at seawalls and toss the driftwood.

Another winter high tide is expected this morning and officials at the state Department of Ecology encourage people to take along their cameras if they’re headed to the beach.

The Salish Sea sees its highest tides, often called king tides, during the winter when the gravitational pull of the sun and the moon are in synch. During king tides, scientists can see how rising sea levels, caused by changes in the climate, could affect the state’s coastline. Ecology officials hope to document sea levels with the help of photographers around the state.

“No matter if you think that climate change is natural or it’s caused by humans, the water is rising,” said volunteer photographer Suzi Wong Swint. “This has implications for our public infrastructure. Helping to document the high tides is good planning.”

Higher water levels could make river flooding more intense, shift beaches inland, increase erosion, endanger homes, roads and utilities, and threaten underground fresh water supplies located near salt water, Ecology spokesman Curt Hart said.

Wong Swint, who lives in Conway and spends a lot of time on Camano Island, works as an outreach and education specialist with the Snohomish County Public Works Department.

She became involved in the state’s king tides photo project last year when the state sent an email to her office looking for participation.

She also plans to photograph beaches in Skagit, Island and Snohomish counties during the next run of king tides in mid-January.

After her trips to the beach, Wong Swint uploads her pictures onto the Washington King Tide Initiative Flickr Group site online.

“I would encourage families to take this on as a project,” Wong Swint said. “It’s fun and educational.”

As a volunteer at Cama Beach State Park and a Cama Beach Foundation board member, Wong Swint is concerned about how high tides eventually could harm Cama Beach and long-standing beach neighborhoods on the island, she said.

One of those island neighborhoods, Maple Grove, is where Wong Swint photographed the tide Wednesday morning.

“The wind wasn’t blowing, so it wasn’t as dramatic as it can be at other times,” she said. “But it was a good place to document the tide because you can gauge it against the sea wall there. You want photos with fixed structures in them.”

In Everett, Glenn Coil took photos this week at Howarth Park and other places along the waterfront.

“I’ve enjoyed tracking weather and tidal extremes for a few years, so the request from the state for photos during high tides fit right into what I like to do,” Coil said. “It’s great that our newer technology helps get the word out and makes it easy to gather the documentation. I think this project should really help the state build on its knowledge.”

That’s the idea, Hart said. This is the third year the state has asked for pictures, and the photo collection is growing.

The king tides photo project began in Australia about three years ago. On the West Coast of North America, people in California, Oregon and British Columbia also are collecting photos of high winter tides, he said.

Sean Edwards works in surface water management for the county public works department. On Monday he took photos north of Stanwood to document the effect of the high tides on county Dike and Drainage Improvement District No. 7. The district has few people in it to help fund improvements, so Edwards is preparing to apply for money through a flood reduction grant program for the district, he said.

He also photographed the area between Stanwood and Camano Island where residents are concerned about saltwater encroachment into fresh water aquifers.

For Wong Swint, the king tide photo project is now part of her annual winter routine.

“I think of all those cabins and houses in low-lying areas,” she said.

“Someday it won’t be just sea spray on the windows. We’ll be seeing those high tides lapping at the doorsteps.”

Gale Fiege: 425-339-3427; gfiege@heraldnet.com.

Where to go

To learn more about the state Department of Ecology’s request for high tide photos, go to http://tinyurl.com/wahightide. There you can find a tide map and schedule and learn how to post photos on the Washington Tides Photo Initiative Flickr site, tinyurl.com/KingTidePix.

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