Sucia Island Marine State Park

Oct 14, 2018 - National Geographic Sea Bird

There’s no better way to begin an adventure than standing on deck, feeling brisk sea spray misting up from the ocean. In order to get to know our vessel, our surroundings, and the guiding philosophies of our expedition, we spent the morning cruising north from Seattle into the picturesque San Juan Islands—ancestral home of many of the Coast Salish people and “discovered” by the Spanish in 1791. Their abundant wildlife populations, plus the maintained trail systems on many of the unpopulated islands, make the San Juans an ideal location for a day of hiking or kayaking.

In the morning, we passed by Spieden Island, a rather bizarre tangent in the natural history of the region. This island, which has been privately owned for decades, was used as a game-hunting retreat in the 1970s and ’80s. Exotic species such as European fallow deer, mouflon sheep, and more can often be seen on the rocky shores—a remnant of the imported populations maintained for sport many years ago. Those on deck kept a keen eye out for the novelty creatures as we made our way toward our destination, Sucia Island.

In the afternoon, we divided into small groups for exploration by land and sea. Sucia Island Marine State Park has a long history of harboring those looking for “discreet shelter.” Its isolated caves and rocky shores have served everyone from Coast Salish seal hunters to prohibition smugglers. Deeming it safe, but ripe for investigation, we set out around the island. Hikes brought us deep into the coastal ecology of this rather insular temperate region, while kayaks and expedition landing crafts allowed us a more intimate experience with harbor seals, river otters, American oystercatchers, and harlequin ducks. Many vivid Pacific Northwestern cultural experiences are ahead, but this afternoon allowed us to savor moments of silence on the high-tide line and ground ourselves for the explorations to come. 

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About the Author

Ian Strachan

Naturalist/Certified Photo Instructor

One steady constant in Ian’s life has been the ocean. Born by the rocky shores of mid-coast Maine, his family repatriated to far north Queensland in Australia early on in his life where he became a dual-citizen and sparked his passion for exploring new environments. Living only an hour away from the Great Barrier Reef served to direct, if not focus, the exhilaration of discovery and set him on his current path. Returning to native soil for education, Ian was fascinated by altogether too many subjects, leaving him with a bachelor’s degree from Wheaton College in Psychobiology, focusing on animal behavior and perception, and with minors in Astronomy, History, and Environmental Science.

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