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Bob Gentz - 2016 Jan Holmes Island County Coastal Volunteer of the Year

Bob Gentz

Text by Dan Pedersen. Photo by Jill Hein.

Bob Gentz admits he briefly considered bolting from the auditorium Saturday when his name flashed up on the screen at Sound Waters University.

But event chair Anne Baum caught his arm and said, “Congratulations, Bob. I’m going to walk you to the stage.”

A member of Sound Water Stewards, Gentz is the sixth county resident honored since 2011, when the Island County Marine Resources Committee and WSU Extension – Island County created the Jan Holmes Coastal Volunteer of the Year award. Today, Sound Water Stewards also co-sponsors the award as a third partner.

 “Bob is a get ‘er done person,” said former WSU extension director Don Meehan, who announced the honor and introduced Bret Holmes, stepson of Jan Holmes, for whom the award is named. “Bob has devoted nearly 10,000 hours of service to our county’s coastal beaches.” This is both sophisticated research and in-the-trenches work. “He’s not afraid to do the messy stuff. Not hindered by harsh elements, not even phased by a class of sixth-graders.”

Referring to Holmes, Beach Watcher and marine biologist who died in 2011, Meehan said, “Jan is our poster child for this award and was a poster child for me in the Beach Watcher program as well.”

As Gentz accepted the award he remarked, “Jan was really the inspiration for me and continues to provide motivation for many of us.” 

Holmes set the bar high for coastal volunteers. She joined the young Beach Watcher program in 1990 and, within a few years, earned her masters degree in marine biology. “Prior to that she was a flight attendant and an artist,” Meehan said. “It was just amazing what she did. She led the effort in shoreline intertidal monitoring. We know more about our Island County shoreline than probably any other county in all of Puget Sound. She cranked up the eelgrass monitoring team, a very technical group. She loved teaching and loved helping others. She accomplished a great deal.”

Gentz’s own list of accomplishments is also quite long and defies easy summary. 

He participates with teams collecting data on eelgrass health and how juvenile salmon use the shoreline. This information is used by the Island County Marine Resources Committee to plan and evaluate work such as a large beach restoration project currently under way at Cornet Bay. As a member of Sound Water Stewards, Gentz also helps monitor population trends and distribution of marine life on Island County beaches in accordance with scientific protocols. He assists Whidbey Watershed Stewards in smolt counts and spawning surveys, and volunteers with Whidbey Camano Land Trust, Whidbey Audubon and other groups.

His work adds to a large body of knowledge being developed by local volunteers that augments what state and federal agencies have been able to collect with their limited staff and thinly-spread resources.

Gentz also studies trends in seabird mortality as part of the COASST survey and is a member of the Central Puget Sound Marine Mammal Stranding Network.  He is treasurer of Goosefoot, focusing on enhancing the environmental and economic vitality of Bayview Corner, and has been treasurer of three local organizations --Whidbey Audubon for two years, Whidbey Island Fly Fishing Club for more than five years, and Whidbey Watershed Stewards for four years, where he has contributed project management for outdoor classroom construction projects.

Gentz joins five others who have also earned the annual coastal volunteer honor – Barbara Brock, Sammye Kempbell, Phyllis Kind, Jill Hein and Ken Urstad.


About the Jan Holmes Island County Coastal Volunteer of the Year Award

The Jan Holmes Island County Coastal Volunteer of the Year Award is named to honor the memory of Jan Holmes, an Island County resident and WSU Island County Beach Watcher who was an exemplary marine scientist, educator and champion for stewardship of the marine environment.

In recognition of the continuing need for volunteers to carry on this important cause, the Jan Holmes Island County Coastal Volunteer of the Year Award is presented annually to one individual engaged in service, science or outreach relating to the health of Island County’s marine environment and whose work adds to knowledge about and/or protection of county marine waters and coastal resources.

Nominations are open to anyone, regardless of organization or affiliation. The intent of the award is to encourage and recognize the achievements of volunteers who work to understand, protect and restore the marine waters and coastal resources of Island County.

The award is co-sponsored by the Island County Marine Resources Committee (MRC) and Washington State University (WSU) Island County Extension. A committee representing the two sponsoring organizations selects one winner. The award is presented during the opening ceremonies of Sound Waters, an annual one-day university held on the first Saturday in February.


Ken Urstad - 2015 Jan Holmes Coastal Volunteer of the Year

Ken Urstad

Ken Urstad has been named the 2015 Jan Holmes Coastal Volunteer of the Year. Urstad has been involved in numerous projects, including over 3,000 volunteer hours with Beach Watchers. He has also been a member of the Island County MRC for nine years, and has just completed his 3rd three-year term on this advisory committee. He has represented recreational issues as well as served as a liaison for beach seining, eelgrass, and creosote removal projects.

Nominated by a fellow volunteer, Urstad was described as a hardworking volunteer who ensures he provides high quality, thorough work. “Ken Urstad has been and continues to be a tireless volunteer willing to give of his time, work effort, and spirit to contribute to the improvement of the environment in Island County and the Salish Sea.”

He was one of the first volunteers to participate and be trained by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries Biologists in the collection of important scientific data through beach seining. He has been involved in many seining projects in Harrington and Race Lagoons, Ala Spit, West Whidbey, Cypress Island Aquatic Reserve, as well as a 6-year ongoing project at Cornet Bay in Deception Pass State Park.


Ken Urstad

Urstad has not only volunteered his time, but has also provided his boat for use in eelgrass surveys, and has even made modifications to the boat to accommodate surveying equipment. He has also volunteered to maintain the seining equipment. Urstad was one of the founding members of the Jan Holmes’ Eel Grass team, and has worked with WA DNR through Beach Watchers to help locate creosote treated log debris on the shores of west Whidbey. In addition to his on-the-ground scientific work, Urstad also served on the Sound Waters Committee for 6 years, where he skillfully handled the logistics of recruiting organizations to exhibit at Sound Waters.

Urstad is an exemplary volunteer who has consistently served with passion and commitment. He has always shown a willingness to help out wherever there is a need. The variety of contributions he has made to supporting the health of Island County’s marine environment – from logistics to scientific study to sharing expertise and resources – truly embodies the spirit of this award. 


Jill Hein - 2014 Jan Holmes Coastal Volunteer of the Year

Jill Hein 2014 Coastal Volunteer of the Year

Jill Hein has been characterized as a powerful environmental advocate and educator, an untiring leader and visionary, a conduit for individuals, businesses, organizations and agencies and a mentor for hundreds of other volunteers who work to protect and restore our coastal marine waters.  “She represents the best in a local resident as a steward of the coastal environment; she takes personal responsibility, teaches others and does the work.  She is a champion for learning, sharing and translating knowledge into action.”

An Island County Beach Watcher since 2005 Hein has logged in more than 7000 volunteer hours.  In addition to her work as a Beach Watcher, Hein also volunteers with many other environmentally active groups on Whidbey Island including Whidbey Audubon Society, Coastal Observation, Pigeon Guillemot Research Survey team and Seabird Survey Team, the Orca Network and the Central Puget Sound Marine Stranding Network.  A skilled nature photographer, for many years, Hein’s photos of local orcas and gray whales have been featured in local and regional  newspapers.

Three specific projects exemplify Hein’s contributions as an innovator and inventor; the Eel Grass Monitoring Project, the "Problem with Plastics" brochure, the Monofilament Recovery and Recycling Program for Whidbey Island.

In 2006, as a new Beach Watcher, Hein asked the question, "Why can't we plant some eelgrass?" From this humble beginning a team of volunteers including eelgrass expert Sandy Wyllie-Echeverria and Beach Watchers Jan Holmes (for whom this award is named) and Phyllis Kind embarked upon one of the signature citizen science surveys on all of Whidbey Island, the Eelgrass Monitoring Project at Holmes Harbor. The ongoing collection and data analysis has added to scientific understanding of eelgrass recovery impacting forage fish and other marine species.

Plastic litter in ocean waters and on the beach is uniquely hazardous to sealife.  Because it is flexible plastic, litter can entangle all types of creatures from birds, to fish and turtles and even sea mammals; because it may take 100s of years to deteriorate, plastic debris causes harm for a very long time,  and because plastic does not disintegrate but instead simply breaks into smaller and smaller pieces that attract toxins in the water, plastic bits are often eaten be sea creatures with deadly results.  Beginning with a grant from the Department of Ecology in 2007, Hein started her research for the best available science on the impact of plastics in our marine environment and what can done to mitigate this environmental toxin. This research produced the "Problem with Plastics" brochure which has increased community awareness of this environmental threat.

Another deadly type of marine debris is monofilament (single-strand, high-density, nylon “fishing” line) which is particularly long-lived and easily ensnares many types of marine life – killing, maiming or handicapping them. The Monofilament Recovery and Recycling Program is designed to educate the public about the problems caused by monofilament line left in the environment and to encourage recycling. Bringing this program from Florida to Island County, Hein designed and constructed 20 recycling tubes, installed the tubes at local fishing beaches and has recycled 53 pounds of abandoned fishing line to date.  Hein continues to monitor the tubes by emptying and cleaning the tubes and recycling the fishing line. 

Using her gift as an educator, Hein has mentored hundreds of volunteers and citizens. Hein has taught classes for the Beach Watcher Training program, reached out to the greater Island County community by working at numerous information booths at festivals and fairs like Musselfest, Penn Cove Water Festival and the Island County Fair. She has dedicated hundreds of hours teaching others as a naturalist aboard the vessel Mystic Sea sharing her knowledge of whales with children and adults of all ages. She has educated other educators assisting them in their quest and passion to leave the world a better place by sharing their knowledge and skills with other learners.


Phyllis Kind - 2013 Jan Holmes Coastal Volunteer of the Year

Phyllis Kind, Ph.D. was presented this award before a packed house of 530 attendees during opening ceremonies of the one-day Sound Waters University. Nominated by a fellow volunteer, Dr. Kind was described as having “an unquenchable curiosity for the natural world and the passion and energy of a college graduate student” who tirelessly volunteered for no less than seven local Washington non-profit organizations.


As a WSU Beach Watcher, Kind has monitored beaches at Maxwelton and South Lagoon Point, made educational presentations and provided support to many affiliated organizations,  In 2012, Dr., Kind stepped in to continue an eel grass monitoring project initiated by Jan Holmes in collaboration with Sandy Wyllie-Echeverria of Friday Harbor Labs, to gather a fifth year of data and prepare the study publication. This study, a collaboration of Beach Watchers and the MRC, is an example of how citizen science projects contribute to ongoing research on the health of our coastal waters.

“Her efforts resulted in the designation of two local Stewardship Areas – Saratoga Passage and Admiralty Inlet, which ensured protection to safeguard the waters, marine life, plant life and surrounding shores and beaches” said long time MRC member Dick Toft.  He noted that that during the eight years she served on the MRC, Dr. Kind was instrumental in the building public support for our local Marine Protected Areas.

At the same time, Dr. Kind served as Vice-Chair and Chair of the Northwest Straits Commission as they implemented a project to address the ongoing damage posed by derelict fishing gear in Puget Sound to fish, sea mammals, diving birds and shell fish populations.

As a member and leader of the Whidbey Audubon Society, Dr. Kind spearheaded monitoring  and data collection of bird species and counts at Deer Lagoon, Dugualla Bay, the Greenbank Farm and Trillium Community Forest.  Statistics from these long running studies have been used by numerous organizations to secure grant funding, preserve and protect habitat and advocate for conservation policy.
As co-leader of the Pigeon Guillemot Research Group since 2004, Dr. Kind, and Frances Wood, designed, administered, organized and implemented this survey of a population of sea birds that nest in burrows in the bluffs of Whidbey Island.  Each year the Pigeon Guillemot Survey project trains 30-40 citizen scientist volunteers who observe, record and submit data collected from 26 Pigeon Guillemot colony nesting sites around Whidbey Island. The Washington State Department of Ecology recently identified data collected from these surveys as one of several factors to assess the effects of the sinking of the fishing vessel Deep Sea on the habitat and water quality conditions in Penn Cove.

Scientific in her approach, enthusiastic in her manner, eager to make a contribution and always willing to share her time, skills, knowledge and know how, Dr. Kind continues to make a significant impact with the organizations and people she engages.  Her legacy of unselfish service and leadership with so many local organizations combined with her significant contributions to citizen science research make Dr. Phyllis Kind a most deserving candidate for this honorable award.

MRC Renames Coastal Volunteer Award for Jan Holmes

Every year, hundreds of volunteers contribute thousands of hours of service, science and outreach in support of Island County's marine environment. They do so as members of various organizations and, in some cases, as citizens unaffiliated with any group. In September 2010, the MRC and WSU Beach Watchers partnered to establish an award to recognize this contribution of volunteer service and leadership. They created the annual Island County Coastal Volunteer of the Year Award, open to any citizen of Island County regardless of affiliation.

To identify the winner, a joint committee of the MRC and WSU Beach Watchers review nominations submitted by the Jan Holmes photopublic. One individual is chosen and the award is presented in February before an audience of some 600 people attending the annual Sound Waters University.

No one better embodied the spirit of such service in Island County than Jan Holmes, a long-time WSU Beach Watcher and early member of the MRC. Her death in December of 2011 was a great loss to members, friends and volunteers in both organizations. In recognition of her leadership, the MRC voted unanimously in January 2012 to rename the award in her honor, The Jan Holmes Island County Coastal Volunteer of the Year.

Holmes and her husband, Steve, moved to Whidbey Island after completing careers in the airline industry. In 1990, Holmes received training as a WSU Beach Watcher. She found such joy and wonder in the nearshore environment that she went back to school at Western Washington University and obtained a degree in marine science. She became a leader in the Beach Watcher organization, inspiring fellow volunteers, adults and children with her infectious enthusiasm as a teacher and mentor.

As a scientist Holmes set high standards, developing rigorous protocols for the Beach Watchers intertidal monitoring program and later creating an innovative eelgrass research project that has revolutionized the gathering of eelgrass data by citizen volunteers at a fraction of the traditional cost. She collaborated closely with the MRC while attracting talented volunteers to the project.

In 2010, Holmes was honored for her community service with the prestigious Cox Conserves Heroes Award for Western Washington, in competition with volunteers from other areas of the state. The award is given by KIRO TV and The Trust for Public Land.

Sammye Kempbell - 2012 Jan Holmes Coastal Volunteer of the Year

Sammye Kempbell of Coupeville is the 2011 Jan Holmes Island County Coastal Volunteer of the Year. She became a Sammye Kempbell WSU Beach Watcher in 2003 and has logged more than 4,000 hours of volunteer time making 41,000 contacts with members of the public, providing beach naturalist interpretive services to school children and speaking about the shoreline at summer festivals, conferences and directly with tourists.

A tragic irony of the shoreline is how easily well-meaning people can wreak destruction unknowingly if not guided in their explorations. At Rosario Beach in Deception Pass State Park, a small pocket of rocky tidepools constitutes an extraordinary nearshore treasure. Low tides expose fragile sea life to the threat of devastating damage from thousands of visitors. On one particularly tragic day, just a single visit to this beach by busloads of school children resulted in severe damage.

Sammye KempbellKempbell made it her mission to solve this problem by educating the beach-going public, investing thousands of hours in meeting tour groups and other visitors, welcoming them and explaining the fragility of the shoreline. In 2011, she collaborated with state park staff, the Deception Pass Park Foundation, WSU Island County Beach Watchers and Lighthouse Environmental Programs to launch a formal beach naturalist program. She recruited and trained volunteers, sought funding and organized partnerships with other organizations. The program in 2011 developed a team of 24 trained naturalists who provided interpretive services at 104 low tides at Rosario during the heavily-visited summer months.


Barbara Brock - 2011 Coastal Volunteer of the Year

Barbara Brock

Barbara Brock of Camano Island is our 2010 Island County Coastal Volunteer of the Year. She is pictured at Iverson Spit Reserve, where she had just finished installing an MRC interpretive sign with a work party of volunteers from Friends of Camano Island Parks. Carol Triplett snapped the photo.

The selection committee chose Barbara Brock for her extensive volunteer service as a WSU Beach Watcher and for her work with other local groups engaged in environmental stewardship. She is a member of the Water Resources Advisory Committee (WRAC) and has served on the Salmon Technical Advisory Committee, a WRAC subcommittee.

Brock was a member of the first class of WSU Beach Watchers trained on Camano Island in 2002 and helped develop the Shore Stewards program that later expanded to Whidbey Island and throughout Puget Sound. She headed the volunteer team carrying out juvenile salmon seining research on Camano Island during the period of active seining studies there and currently does some salmon recovery work on Kristoferson Creek, where she also keeps an eye on the beavers. She helped develop the county's Camano Island Non-Point Pollution Plan and currently sits on the Shore Stewards Advisory Committee and on the board of Friends of Camano Island Parks.

The MRC collaborated closely with Brock in developing the text and graphics for several shoreline interpretive signs we have installed at English Boom County Park, Iverson Spit Reserve, Camano Island State Park and Cama Beach State Park.



Island County MRC | Island County Dept. of Natural Resources | PO Box 5000 | Coupeville, WA 98239-5000 | main (360)679.7350