Nisqually Reach Aquatic Reserve

 Nisqually Reach Aquatic Reserve

About the Reserve

The Nisqually Reach Aquatic Reserve, located in south Puget Sound, extends from the Nisqually River Delta across Nisqually Reach and around Anderson Island and Ketron Island to the shores of McNeil Island. 
Designated in 2011, the Nisqually Reach Aquatic Reserve is part of a network of protected ecosystems in the Nisqually Reach area, including the Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge. The Nisqually Indian Tribe and the Nisqually Land Trust also manage adjacent lands for conservation and protection. Together, these connected lands add up to more than 17,920 acres that have been set aside to preserve and restore this area’s distinctive habitat qualities and the species they support.

Nisqually Reach Aquatic Reserve At-A-Glance

  • Designated in 2011
  • Size - 14,826 acres of state-owned aquatic land
  • Significant species - Juvenile salmon, Pacific sand lance, pigeon guillemots
  • Important habitats - Eelgrass beds, pocket estuaries, sandy beaches and spits
  • Management Plan (2011)
  • Commissioner's Order (2011)
Nisqually Reach Aquatic Reserve map
Click here or on the image above to launch the Aquatic Reserves Program Data Viewer.
A Look at Nisqually Reach Aquatic Reserve

Species and Habitats

The Nisqually Reach Aquatic Reserve encompasses a variety of habitat areas. High bluffs with sand and gravel beaches are prevalent features in the reserve. Small ‘pocket’ estuaries provide refuge and rearing areas for numerous juvenile fish and invertebrates. In the deep waters between the delta and Anderson Island lie great shifting sand dunes— formed by the dynamic confluence of sediment carried from the Nisqually River and the extreme tidal exchanges in the South Sound.
Shallow subtidal and lower intertidal areas support eelgrass and a large variety of seaweed. These habitats provide a home for a wide diversity of resident and migratory birds, fish, mammals, and invertebrate species including pigeon guillemots and red-throated loons, Chinook salmon and pile perch, harbor seals, and river otters, and Dungeness crabs and glassy sea squirts.
The Nisqually River, Delta, and Reach all play an important role in the life cycle of salmon and other fish species. When juvenile salmon migrate out of the river delta, they use the shorelines of the aquatic reserve as shelter and foraging grounds, as well as to adapt to saltwater before leaving the South Puget Sound. When they return, adult salmon spend time in the reserve before migrating upstream to spawn.

Citizen Science and Stewardship

A Citizen Stewardship Committee, led by the Nisqually Reach Nature Center, organizes pigeon guillemot surveys and forage fish monitoring in and around Nisqually Reach Aquatic Reserve. The committee also works to educate others about nearshore ecology, the Aquatic Reserve's condition, and planning issues that affect the reserve.
Citizen Science Reports

Science and Monitoring 

Explore science and monitoring projects conducted on the Nisqually Reach Aquatic Reserve in the Aquatic Reserves StoryMap Collection. In addition, the Aquatic Reserves Program Data Viewer is an interactive map with monitoring data collected by the Aquatic Reserves Program and Citizen Stewardship Committees. Click here to view the interactive map.
Nisqually River Delta Restoration
The Nisqually River Delta became the site of the largest estuary restoration project in Puget Sound when tidal inundation was returned to 750 acres of the delta by dike removal in 2009. The US Geologic Survey and the Nisqually Indian Tribe are conducting multidisciplinary monitoring of the ecosystem's response to these changes.
Larval Light Trap
In partnership with Nisqually Indian Tribe, Pacific Shellfish Institute, and Nisqually Reach Nature Center, the Aquatic Reserves Program conducts a light trap project just west of Nisqually Reach Aquatic Reserve. The monitoring is part of a large-scale effort throughout Puget Sound assessing larval Dungeness crab populations, led by the Pacific Northwest Crab Research Group (PCRG). The light trap attracts a variety of small organisms as shown in the images below, all taken using photomicroscopy.
AmphipodGraceful rock crab
Kelp crabPolychaete worm
Clockwise from top left: amphipod, Metacarcinus gracilis (graceful rock crab) megalopa, polychaete worm, Pugettia gracilis (kelp crab) megalopa
Links and Reports

Aquatic Reserve Management 

Implementation Committee
The Nisqually Reach Aquatic Reserve Implementation Committee is a stakeholder advisory group that provides guidance on management priorities and helps implement management actions. 

Proposed Boundary Expansion - 2019

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