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Friends of the San Juans


Friends of the San Juans (FRIENDS) was founded in 1979 to support San Juan County's efforts to manage growth and protect natural environments. Since then, FRIENDS' activities have expanded to include: marine research and habitat restoration; shoreline stewardship and conservation; land use and environmental compliance; and, endangered species protection.

Beginning in 2001, FRIENDS began identifying and mapping San Juan Countys nearshore ecosystems, including: surf smelt and sand lance spawning beaches, herring spawning sites, nearshore eelgrass beds, feederbluffs, and shoreline modifications. Using state survey protocols, FRIENDS has collected and provided best available science on San Juan Countys shoreline habitat to over 175 local, state, federal, tribal and NGO scientists and land managers. FRIENDS uses results from nearshore assessments to identify restoration priorities and implement habitat improvement projects. FRIENDS is also applying the results of the forage fish and eelgrass habitat surveys and other best available science to prioritize shoreline properties for conservation protection through land acquisition, easements and improved management.

FRIENDS reaches out to private shoreline landowners, boaters, teachers, land managers and realtors about nearshore habitats and shoreline protection techniques through expert lectures, workshops and trainings, feature newsletter articles, and media outreach. FRIENDS is dedicated to applying science to improved stewardship of public and private lands in San Juan County.

FRIENDS believes that protection of the regions critical resources requires partnerships between decision-makers, business leaders, service groups, conservationists, tribes and individual property owners. FRIENDS programs involve the people who live, work and recreate around the islands. With San Juan Countys ever-changing population of residents and visitors, expanded science and updated regulations, communication with land managers and property owners is essential.

Mission: To protect the land, water, sea, and livability of the San Juan Islands through science, education, stewardship and advocacy.

Adaptation work: 

Intact coastal forests, bluffs, beaches and wetlands provide a critical first line of defense against flooding and erosion rates exaggerated by sea level rise. Recent storm events on the Eastern and Gulf Coasts have demonstrated that maintaining natural, living shoreline systems, often referred to as green infrastructure, is one of the best protections against increased rates of flooding and erosion associated with rising seas. Local residents are also taking steps to improve the resilience and adaptability of our community. 

To help inform local climate adaptation efforts, FRIENDS and Coastal Geologic Services recently completed a two-year Environmental Protection Agency-funded study that identified areas in the county most vulnerable to increasing erosion and flooding. It also identifies significant opportunities to increase our county’s resiliency; FRIENDS is exploring many of these with public and private landowners. Results will help develop innovative management solutions that protect both property investments and natural systems. Reports are available at

Below are three examples where public and private landowners are planning, protecting, and restoring shorelines for people and fish, for today and tomorrow.


In San Juan County, significant public infrastructure, such as roads, ports, stormwater outfalls and utilities, are located in areas already vulnerable to coastal erosion and flooding. By planning ahead to decrease vulnerability to a changing climate, we can find solutions that preserve precious public funds and habitat at the same time. On Shaw Island, FRIENDS, coastal geologists, Public Works Department engineers and area property owners are researching options for repairing an outdated and failing road causeway. The road provides the only access to a small neighborhood and is located on top of a historic lagoon; it is also at risk from rising sea levels. Project partners are examining how best to improve shoreline habitat for fish and wildlife and ensure safe access for residents into the future.


On Brown Island, shoreline landowners Mariluz Villa and Tom Reynolds have spearheaded efforts in their neighborhood to remove an unnecessary rock bulkhead and restore the beach and bluff located in front of their home. Removal of the armoring at this site, as well as restoration of native vegetation, will reconnect a degraded sediment supply and improve habitat conditions for forage fish and juvenile salmon. It will also improve the shoreline’s aesthetics and increase the amount of dry beach area available for their family to enjoy, for today and into the future.


FRIENDS and the San Juan Preservation Trust are working together with interested landowners to craft conservation easements that protect shoreline portions of multiple, adjacent properties. By protecting the coastal processes that form and maintain green infrastructure, these long-term efforts will improve our islands’ adaptability to the impacts associated


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