Cultivating Bird-Friendly Estuaries

Working towards a sustainable future for marine birds and coastal communities.

For people who are passionate about seabirds, shorebirds and other waterbirds, places like Grays Harbor and Willapa Bay are near and dear to our hearts. These coastal estuaries are sites of regional and hemispheric importance for shorebirds and waterfowl, supporting ten Important Bird Areas, two National Wildlife Refuges and two Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network (WHSRN) sites. These estuaries support birds and other marine wildlife in extraordinary numbers and provide essential resources for the fishing, crab, and shellfish industries. They are also home to tribal communities with deep cultural ties to coastal resources.

The beaches, dunes, tide flats and marshes of Grays Harbor and Willapa Bay offer high quality foraging and roosting habitats for two dozen species of shorebirds, including large numbers of Western Sandpipers, Dunlin, and Short-billed Dowitchers. One species of conservation concern, the Red Knot, is especially reliant on these particular estuaries. Virtually the entire Pacific population (Calidris canutus roselaari) stops in Willapa Bay or Grays Harbor during spring migration. The Western Snowy Plover, a state and federally-listed species, breeds at just three locales in Washington state, all of which are in or around Willapa Bay.

Coastal community well-being and vitality are intricately linked to the health of marine natural resources. We are committed to safeguarding these vital estuary habitats for birds, and working together with local communities to advance solutions that benefit birds and rural economies. Priority strategies include:


  • Establish baseline information on habitat condition, avian species status and distribution, and ecological relationships in Willapa Bay and Grays Harbor;
  • Convene coastal stakeholders to identify and pursue shared ecological research priorities.


  • Promote the inclusion of birds and bird habitat values in ongoing local and coast-wide conservation assessments, management and planning.


  • Cultivate an informed constituency and build community support to 1) raise awareness and inclusion of avian values in coastal management, 2) build constituency for birding ecotourism, 3) mobilize community-based conservation, and 4) support climate-smart management activities.

Taking Action

On Policy

Intertidal pesticide use. Burrowing shrimp, which commonly occur in intertidal habitats, can render mudflats unsuitable for commercial oyster production when they occur at high densities. As a result, species like the ghost shrimp have been subject to pesticide control by the aquaculture industry in Willapa Bay and Grays Harbor for over half a century. Although Audubon appreciates the challenges that this species poses to the oyster industry, we do not support a long-term reliance on pesticides to control their occurrence. We also seek to emphasize that burrowing shrimp are a natural part of intertidal systems and are a food source for birds and fish. 

Pesticide use in tidal mudflats reduces invertebrate food supplies and exposes birds and other fish and wildlife to toxic chemicals. To address this issue, Audubon is working to promote an ecosystem-level approach to addressing management issues related to burrowing shrimp populations. We are:

  • Providing scientific input on the potential impacts of pesticides on shorebirds and their prey base, including recommendations on how to reduce or avoid these impacts.
  • Engaging in dialogue about management actions and science needs that advance our understanding of ecosystem condition in Willapa Bay and help problem-solve issues related to burrowing shrimp and oyster aquaculture.

Comment Period Open

Oyster growers from the Willapa Grays Harbor Oyster Growers Association (WGHOGA) have requested a new permit to use imidacloprid to control burrowing shrimp in Willapa Bay and Grays Harbor.

The Department of Ecology has assessed the potential environmental impacts from the use of the pesticide on tidelands and has prepared a Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement. Public comments on the DSEIS are being accepted through November 1, 2017. 

Read Audubon's full comment letter here

More InfoBurrowing Shrimp Control - Imidacloprid, DOE website

Oil spills and vessel traffic. In the last ten years Grays Harbor has seen a 200% increase in vessel traffic, putting marine birds at risk of displacement due to physical disturbance, vessel wakes and direct harm due to contaminant exposure and oil spills. Audubon Washington, along with chapters and individuals across the Audubon network, have weighed in on environmental impact studies for oil storage terminal expansion at the Port of Grays Harbor. Based on what we’ve seen, the environmental risks posed by these projects far outweigh any economic benefits for the Grays Harbor community. For birds, these risks include potential exposure to petrochemicals and other industrial chemicals, changes in movement and foraging areas resulting from increased vessel traffic, and loss of habitat and food resources due to wetland habitat degradation. 

On Engagement

Conservation success in Grays Harbor and Willapa Bay will require the full power of the Audubon network in Washington and, in particular, the dedicated actions of trained Coastal Ambassadors. The Audubon Coastal Ambassador program is a network of coastal advocates focused on protecting Willapa Bay and Grays Harbor birds and habitats from ongoing and emerging threats such as pesticides, oil, shipping, and climate change, and building community support for bird conservation. Participants receive training and peer networking opportunities designed to empower them to speak out for birds. Our first workshops are scheduled for October 2017.

In the News

Disbelief over state plan to spray neurotoxin into oyster beds
After outcry from public, state permit canceled for neurotoxic pesticide on oyster beds
Coastal communities rely on full funding for NOAA


Puget Sound Science

Puget Sound Science

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Oil Transport

Oil Transport

An increasing threat through our communities and along our waterways.

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