What happens when the tide returns to an ancient estuary after a 100-year hiatus? The ground sings.
“That first return of the tide, that is something incredible to see,” said Leah Kintner, Skagit River Watershed Ecosystem Recovery Coordinator at the Puget Sound Partnership.
About 50 people witnessed that first-tide in August, when the final phase of a years-long project to restore tidal processes to the Fir Island Estuary was realized.
Estuary habitat is critical to migrating salmon. For the Skagit River’s Chinook salmon, a threatened species protected under the Endangered Species Act, lack of estuary habitat at the mouth of the river has limited their recovery. The salt marsh and tidal channels that comprise the estuary provide food and shelter to young salmon as they transition from fresh to salt water. The healthier they can get in the estuary, the better their chances of surviving in Puget Sound and the Pacific Ocean.
The Fir Island Restoration project offers 126 acres of restored estuary where the Skagit River meets Puget Sound. The project not only benefits Skagit River Chinook salmon, but also helps protect adjacent farm land from saltwater intrusion and flooding.