World Oceans Month in Washington State with the Surfrider Foundation

By Neva Knott


Puget Sound. Image Courtesy of USGS.

I have lived near water my whole life.

I was born in Olympia, Washington, a city in the south sound area of Puget Sound. The Sound ambles inland, flowing in from the north. It’s insertion into the land mass splits Washington into the Olympic Peninsula and the rest of the state. It is a magical body of water that always smells of fresh salt and seaweed, a pleasant smell, one that is quite possibly part of my DNA. Even my undergraduate alma mater, The Evergreen State College, has a three-mile strip of beach along the Sound. There is something indescribably magical and primal about the place where the forest meets the water, along a rocky shore.


At the Evergreen Beach along Puget Sound. Photograph by Neva Knott.

I’ve also lived on Saipan, an incredibly small island in Micronesia, in Bangkok, Thailand along the dirty Chao Phraya River, in Oregon at the convergence of the Columbia and Willamette Rivers, and along the Deschutes River, and on Maui, another Pacific island. I return to Maui often, and as I look out at the water, I think of how the oceans connect us all–all beings across the globe.

Here in Washington, we have two marine ecosystems–the Pacific coastal shoreline and the Puget Sound. Both provide the connection of people to place, place to livelihood, lifestyle to culture. I have only recently moved back to Washington, after three decades in Oregon. As a tribute to World Oceans Month, I’ve taken on the challenge of learning more about environmental efforts toward the improvement of Washington’s unique marine ecosystems. This is the first of a series of posts to that end.


The Olympic Mountain Range from across Puget Sound. Photograph by Neva Knott.

I first turned my attention to Surfrider Foundation. This organization began in Malibu, California 25 years ago, and is now active in 18 countries. The Washington Chapter currently has six active advocacy campaigns, each focused on drawing together people, environmental/governmental agencies, and northwest Native American tribes to improve ocean conditions or to stop proposed harmful actions against our oceans. Here is a list of their current efforts:

Ban the Bag Tacoma, “The South Sound Chapter is working to ban single-use plastic bags in Tacoma. The chapter is planning to pass an ordinance similar to those passed in Seattle, Bellingham, and other Washington cities.” A similar ban has passed legislation in Olympia; as of July 1, 2014, no more single-use plastic bags at stores. The issue–plastics are the biggest pollution threat to oceans. According to Take Part, another ocean advocacy group, plastics comprise 90 percent of the trash found in oceans. Plastic does not biodegrade quickly; it is ingested by marine wildlife, causing an array of problems.

Larrabee State Park Water Quality, “The Northwest Straits Chapter in Bellingham has been testing Larrabee State Park’s Wild Cat Cove in partnership with Department of Ecology’s WA BEACH Program. This site is consistently high in enterococus levels and it has been getting progressively worse over the years. The goal is to find the source and clean it up.” The issue–enterococus is an infectious bacterium that lives in the human bowel. It does not belong in marine ecosystems.

Pass A City Council Resolution In Opposition to Coal Exports, “In an effort to provide a diverse set of opponents against the proposed coal terminals in Cherry Point and elsewhere in the Northwest the South Sound Chapter is working with the Tacoma City Council to pass a resolution in opposition. This campaign involves significant outreach to local citizens by the chapter in order to tell the City Council how coal is a product of the past and will hurt the progress the city has made over the years. This campaign began in July 2012 and will culminate when the Council decides whether or not to pass the resolution.” The issue–coal is a dirty business, and if you’ve been reading the news, the long-haul transport of it is unsafe. Ecosystems are irreparable damaged when coal dust flies off during transport and when coal carriers spill their loads.

Prevent Crude Oil Export in Gray’s Harbor, “There are three proposed crude oil export terminals for Gray’s Harbor. Surfrider is part of a group of stakeholders working on this issue and have been successful getting two permits delayed. We would like to see all three permits not only delayed but removed from consideration.” The issue–as we learned with the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, oil and ocean water don’t mix.

Save Cherry Point, “At Cherry Point in Bellingham Bay a company is looking to build a coal export terminal to ship coal to Asia. The issue: this project threatens local wetlands, water quality, air quality, and approximately eleven endangered species.”

Protect the Washington Coast, “Our goal is to enhance the conservation and restoration of marine habitats, biodiversity, and special places along Washington’s Pacific coast by: 1) Participating on county based Marine Resources Committees (local science-based groups promote marine resources stewardship and restoration). 2) Supporting the coordination of coastal MRCs and the development of a coastal partnership between stakeholders, agencies, and tribes. 3) Serving on the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary Advisory Council. 4) Advocating for the implementation of Coastal and Marine Spatial Planning. 5) Building relationships with decision makers, managers, stakeholders, and other community members on the coast to develop and advance a shared vision for healthy coastal and marine ecosystems.” The issue–our way of life here in the Pacific Northwest is tied to the quality of our marine ecosystems. Degradation of these ecosystems will cause degradation of the lifestyle we cherish.


 The Washington Coast. Photograph Courtesy of Department of Natural Resources.

I’m impressed by the pervasiveness of these campaigns. Surfrider has certainly identified the key issues here in the PNW, and is acting on them. What I really like about Surfrider is that their mission is a blend of environmental protection and recreation. Too often, in our region, these two user groups, or stakeholder groups, are at odds. Surfrider exemplifies that human use of natural spaces can coincide with protection of, and advocacy for, the environmental quality of them.

I’m most impressed by the Marine Spatial Planning program. It’s a State-run program in which Surfrider participates. MSP is steeped in citizen power. This matters greatly to me; one of the biggest take-aways of my graduate study in environmental science was that public comment does hold sway–all public comments must be documented and considered–in public land use planning. Here in Washington, the MSP gives the people the power over how our marine ecosystems are managed, used, and cared for. That’s democracy, for real.

So, no coal export, no crude oil export, no more plastic floating around. And no poop in the water. Instead, as citizens, we’ll honor the next generations by keeping our shorelines healthy. In so doing, we honor ourselves by keeping our shellfish beds and fisheries intact, by keeping our water clean and open for scuba diving and surfing, and our beaches clean for long walks on blustery or sunny days, because in the Pacific Northwest, that’s how we roll.


My Dog, Ted, along the Shoreline of Puget Sound. Photograph by Neva Knott.

And, if you’ve never seen the Pacific Northwest’s Pacific shores, or even if you have, watch this video from Surfrider about the Washington coast lifestyle and how Marine Spatial Planning works to save it–beautiful and informative:

Here at The Ecotone Exchange, we publish positive stories about the environment. What’s so positive here? Global, Communal, Local efforts:  World Oceans Month–it’s not just an environmental action holiday; it is, in fact, a Presidential Proclamation, one made by President Obama in 2013. The work of Surfrider Foundation, which is pretty kick-ass and demonstrates that people who play hard in nature also have reverence for those places and work as hard as they play to protect ecosystems. And, Washington State’s Marine Spatial Planning program, a citizen-based plan to keep natural places intact as working ecosystems and places for human enjoyment and livelihood.

While research for this post, I signed up for the Surfrider Newsletter, will be attending their upcoming meetings, and am going to get myself on a Marine Resources Committee and take part in Marine Spatial Planning. I also learned that June 21st is International Surfing Day, a day of raising awareness for oceans.

















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