EDMONDS — Hours after sunset Tuesday, the Olympic Beach shoreline was flooded with light.
Over 150 spectators at the annual Starlight Beach Walk scattered across the sandy and rocky edges of the park in search of marine life, with aid from headlamps, flashlights and occasionally the Edmonds-Kingston ferry as it moved toward land. At the lowest point, the tide was minus 1.3 feet, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Throughout the evening, staff and volunteers from the city of Edmonds and Snohomish County Beach Watchers pointed out chiton, hermit crabs and other aquatic species in the intertidal zone. One visitor found a squid that fit in a bucket.
Guides at the event said the experience was meant to be educational, sparking curiosity in all ages who want to learn about the creatures typically only seen at low tide.
“I found a red rock crab and all of a sudden I was surrounded by 10 kids and their parents,” said Jonathan Robinson, program coordinator for the Beach Watchers. “That is my favorite part — seeing that enthusiasm for the natural world.”
Among the rocks under the ferry terminal, children and adults alike scrambled on the rugged landscape, peeking in the crevices. The usual sound of waves gently hitting the shore was accompanied by excited chatter.
Sabrina Shaw was searching for a sea slug. But the environmental studies teacher at Sky Valley Education Center happily pointed out a green sea star suctioned on the face of a rock and a line of pink anemones tucked between two boulders.
She shone a light directly at the water where a pinkish glitter sparkled under the surface. Those were shrimp eyes, she explained.
For Shaw, the night walk allows her to appreciate marine life that is “always here,” but not always visible, she said.
Beach Watchers volunteer Nancy York-Erwin is from Chicago, so when she moved to Washington, she wanted to familiarize herself with Puget Sound marine species.
“I didn’t know if I could really learn if I didn’t take a class,” she said. “There’s so much to know.”
The Beach Watchers program, through Washington State University Snohomish County Extension, encourages volunteers to learn about the Salish Sea and serve as environmental stewards. Participants are required to complete training, ranging from 30 to 80 hours, on Puget Sound intertidal ecology before volunteering.
After training, volunteers are expected to share what they’ve learned with beach visitors at events — like the Starlight Beach Walk.
Toward the end of the night, Robinson identified a sculpin for a young spectator, under the light of his headlamp.
The fish eats worms and maybe crabs, he explained, and then gets eaten by larger fish like salmon.
Interacting with kids, especially, is a full circle moment for Robinson.
“As they grow up and learn more, it’s a very formative experience,” he said. “I mean, I grew up in on the Oregon coast. That’s why I do what I do.”
Beach Watchers plan to host more beach walks this summer. If you’re interested, visit the Beach Watchers’ website.