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Cherry Point Aquatic Reserve

Join the Citizen Stewardship Committee for the Cherry Point Aquatic Reserve!

Please email Maddie Foutch at if you are interested in joining or learning more!

Cherry Point Aquatic Reserve is an extraordinary stretch of shoreline where both people and ecosystems thrive. Pristine beaches lay below active bluffs running northwest to southeast, eelgrass beds form meadows over soft seafloors, and kelp beds are anchored along rocky coast. These nutrient-rich habitats provide diverse foods and dwellings in abundance for birds, fish, and marine mammals as they live in and migrate through the area.


Photo from DNR

This reserve encompasses 296 acres in the Strait of Georgia, on the western shores of Whatcom County. It is bordered on the north by Birch Bay State Park and on the south by the Lummi Indian Nation Reservation.

Diverse habitat and species

  • Three species of forage fish—Pacific herring, surf smelt and northern anchovy—come to reproduce in the eelgrass beds of the warm shallows. Forage fish are a very important food source for marine birds, salmon, and other large marine predators. Pacific herring and eelgrass are both considered good ‘indicator’ species of an ecosystem’s overall health.
  • Cherry Point has some of the most productive habitat in the world.
  • Five species of salmon (Chum, Coho, Pink, Chinook, and Sockeye) use Cherry Point’s eelgrass as a place to feed and adjust to salt water before heading out to the ocean. Three of these species are listed as endangered.
  • Rich groundfish fisheries center around the floating kelps, eelgrass beds, and other submerged vegetation. Juvenile groundfish find protection in nearshore habitat before moving toward deeper waters as adults.
  • A designated ‘significant bird area’, many varieties of bird species nest, breed, feed, and rest within the Reserve. One of these species is the Great Blue Heron, which nests north of the reserve in one of the largest Great Blue Heron rookeries in the Pacific Northwest. Other key bird species found in the reserve include the Marbled Murrelet, Common Loon, Bald Eagle, and Peregrine Falcon.

Important surrounding features

  • Offshore water depths of 70 feet make the Reserve’s shoreline both a valuable port location and a significant contributor to the unique ecosystem.
  • Birch Bay State Park lies along the reserve’s northern border.
  • Cherry Point is the location of the two largest refineries in Washington, and is responsible for over half of the state’s crude oil and petroleum operations. An aluminum smelter is also located in the reserve.

Historical and cultural significance

  • The Lummi Nation manages lands adjacent to the Reserve. Their input is invaluable as DNR and the Aquatic Reserve committee seek to promote conservation initiatives in accordance with tribal law and cultural protection objectives.

Threats to the Reserve

  • Polluted stormwater runoff from fertilizers, livestock, pet and human waste, and oil from the streets flow directly into the Sound and threaten its health.
  • Construction along shoreline disturbs wildlife and reduces habitat for the diverse species in the Reserves.
  • Disturbances like vessel traffic threaten to interrupt species as they feed, mate, spawn, and rest.
  • Digging for shellfish recreationally is permitted in the reserve. When done improperly, however, a few shellfish harvesters can change the ecosystem drastically. WA Dept. of Fish and Wildlife requires that diggers refill their holes because tidal and wave action are not doing so themselves, resulting in lasting alterations to the habitat.
  • The boat traffic at Cherry Point, linked to the crude oil refineries, is substantial. While a detailed study of vessel traffic at Cherry Point is currently being worked on, DNR predicts that vessel traffic at Cherry Point is set to increase over the next 10-20 years.
  • Invasive species threaten native species by competing with them for habitat and food.
  • Climate change impacts will reduce shoreline, increase water temperatures, and perpetuate water acidification.


    Partner Organization: RE Sources for Sustainable Communities (

    For more information about the reserve or how to get involved email Maddie Foutch at