half century of work protecting
local waters & habitats
What draws people to Washington? Almost any answer a local boater in passing might offer would involve the ocean. Whether it’s eating oysters from a local shellfish farm, riding a ferry across Elliott Bay, enjoying some sun on Lake Washington, or whale watching on the Strait of Juan de Fuca, these are only a few of the many vast experiences the Washington marine environs offer. The state’s 3,000 miles of shoreline is physically, culturally, and economically shaped by the water with around 80% of Washington residents living alongside it. Washington’s maritime sector employs 57,000 people and the state’s fishing fleets and shellfish farms produce some of the nation’s largest, most prized catches and cultured harvests. It’s not surprising that Washington residents rely heavily on these marine and watershed ecosystems to remain healthy and productive.
This is where Washington Sea Grant’s role emerges. Washington Sea Grant (WSG) is an organization that works to help state residents understand, conserve, and prosper from the area’s rich marine resources. Impressively, and rounding on 50 years, WSG has spearheaded leadership in research, outreach, and education to help restore and protect our healthy marine environment. Their work not only addresses the current challenges facing Washington’s waterways and shores, but seeks to take action for future use and enjoyment of the coastlines for generations to come.
Although WSG is a wide-reaching organization in the state, not everyone truly understands what WSG is and how it came to be. Established in 1968, WSG began as a federal experiment in local investment, building on the University of Washington’s academic strengths in marine science, engineering, and policy. In 1971, WSG became one of the first four programs designated nationally as a Sea Grant College. Today, WSG works with communities, managers, businesses, academic institutions, and the public to strengthen understanding and sustainable use of ocean and coastal resources.
Based at the University of Washington College of the Environment, WSG is part of a national network of 33 Sea Grant programs administered by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and funded by federal-university partnerships. Through research, outreach, education, and communication, WSG helps sustain economic development while encouraging ecosystem-based approaches to the state’s marine management.
The WSG mission is dedicated to improving the translation of research and scientific information into knowledge for use in the marine environment. As a state entity, WSG is involved in major initiatives targeting Puget Sound and Washington’s Pacific coast. Their staff consists of 25 communicators, educators, and field agents located in eight coastal counties whose expertise ranges from oceanography and fisheries to economics and urban planning. WSG works to collaborate at all levels including local, state, regional, national, and international. Their work involves identifying and addressing important marine issues, seeking to provide better tools for management of the marine environment and its resources, and initiating and supporting strategic partnerships within the marine community. The bread and butter of WSG is research, outreach, and education.
Research – Research is the cornerstone of WSG’s mission to help people better understand and address the challenges facing the ocean and coasts. WSG acts a catalyst for innovative marine research and education opportunities. As part of a national partnership funded and coordinated by NOAA, WSG sponsors research that combines scientific excellence with a focus on solving problems faced by ocean users and managers. Projects range from exploring the impacts of ocean acidification and harmful algal blooms to improving management of the nation’s largest fisheries.
Outreach – Community outreach is how WSG connects to provide scientific and technical information for use by coastal and marine communities. Their outreach programs link Washingtonians to research, information, and practical tools for sustainably using, managing, and enjoying ocean and coastal resources. Just some of their outreach topics include aquaculture, boating, fisheries, climate change, environmental threats, marine and coastal planning, and sustainable seafood.
Education – WSG helps learners of all ages understand how the ocean affects them and how they affect the ocean. Through fellowships, K-12 activities, training, and local events, WSG expands awareness of the environment, enhance enjoyment of marine and coastal resources, and empowers environmental action and information sharing. Most notably, WSG offers one of the most robust marine science fellowship programs in the nation which provides graduate, undergraduate, and postdoctoral students with real-world experience in marine science, policy, and resource management.
Reading WSG’s “By the Numbers” is impressive. From 2011 to 2015 WSG contributed $49.1 million in services and economic benefits to Washington and reached 493,000 coastal residents, boaters, fishermen, shellfish growers, small business owners, students, and others. Their work even saves lives. Almost 2,000 fishermen have been trained through WSG in marine safety, rescue, first aid, weather, and marine technology. Over 150,000 seabirds and albatross have been saved since the implementation of WSG streamer line adaptations and shellfish have directly benefited from WSG research and technological assistance.
WSG has supported 477 university students and fellows through grants and fellowship programs and engaged over 30,000 K-12 students in beach walks, school events, festivals, and information education programs. The numbers don’t lie, and to say WSG had conducted substantial and impactful work for the state is an understatement. Over the years, Sea Grant established itself as a fundamental asset to the Washington marine ecosystem and a vital link for marine education.
It would be impossible to fit all of WSG’s accomplishments into one article, but we’ve highlighted some key achievements.
Vessel Pumpouts – In 2016, the Washington Clean Vessel Act, a joint program of Washington State Parks, U.S. Fish and Wildlife and WSG, helped divert a record 10 million gallons of raw sewage from Puget Sound, Lake Washington, and other state waterways that previously would have been dumped into vulnerable waters. Instead it was collected for safe onshore treatment. This diversion was largely a result of training and outreach funded by U.S. Fish & Wildlife for the Pumpout Washington program, a branch of the Clean Vessel Act that provides outreach and education to boaters.
Detection and Response to Invasive Green Crab Species – Staff and volunteers from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which manages Dungeness Spit National Wildlife Refuge (NWR), captured a total of 13 European green crabs over two weeks in April as part of WSG’s Crab Team early detection program. These numbers indicate that the invasive crabs are more abundant at Dungeness Spit than at the two other known locations in Washington’s inland waters. Dungeness Spit NWR, in coordination with the Washington Department of Fish And Wildlife and the WSG Crab Team staff, immediately responded to the initial detection with a rapid response trapping effort and is currently working on a plan with local stakeholders for ongoing response and removal efforts for the area.
Appointed Weather-Ready Nation Ambassador – In March 2017, WSG was formally recognized as a Weather-Ready Nation Ambassador by NOAA for its work in preparing coastal communities for hazardous weather. NOAA’s Weather-Ready Nation initiative seeks to improve the nation’s responsiveness and resilience to extreme weather, water, and climate events. Weather-Ready Nation Ambassadors are partner agencies, organizations, and businesses that share a commitment with NOAA to collaborate on outreach about extreme-weather preparedness and to serve as examples themselves by implementing resilience best practices. WSG is at the forefront of helping coastal communities and governments prepare for flooding, erosion, and other challenges associated with climate change.
WSG Boating Specialist Aaron Barnett attributes the program’s key to success as having “boots in the mud.” By physically getting outside, working, and being one-on-one with people in the community, awareness and impact is spread much farther. Barnett claims that these actions led to “65 new vessel pumpouts in the last year contributing to over 44 million gallons of sewage diverted into internal waters since 2010. Tens of thousands of boaters have been reached as a direct result of Washington Sea Grant’s initiatives.”
arnett is an excellent example of someone who is a perfect fit for WSG. A former Coast Guardsman, he joined Sea Grant in 2009 while he was a student at the School of Marine Affairs program at the University of Washington. His role began as a technical advisor for the new Clean Vessel Act pumpout campaign as he specialized in pumping systems to marine, aerospace, and even nuclear waste problems. One of the products Barnett provided was a pumpout system that he personally designed and installed across the West Coast from California to Alaska with most in Washington. He helped keep millions of gallons of raw sewage from being directly pumped into Washington’s waters. “I was drawn to Sea Grant because of the purposeful work and ability to get out into the community and be hands-on with the real issues,” says Barnett.
Getting involved early is how WSG, in partnership with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other agencies, were able to detect and take immediate action to the invasive European green crab species. This crab looks unassuming, but they silently invade coastal communities far out of their native range through ocean currents and ship ballast water. Green crab devour marine organisms and vegetation leading to extreme losses in eelgrass and shellfish that would be devastating for Puget Sound. They have not been found in Washington’s inland waters, but WSG were the first discover green crab in Sooke Harbour Inlet near Victoria, B.C. Since this year’s monitoring kicked off in April, the Crab Team has kept 22 sites under surveillance, with three more sites intended for monitoring before the summer is complete. This carefully targeted monitoring effort to catch infestations before they become a problem is crucial towards keeping these animals out of the Washington marine ecosystem.
“If we don’t know where they are, then they have a much longer time frame to multiply and spread,” says project lead Jeff Adams, WSG’s marine ecologist. The Crab Team hopes to raise awareness, build support, and perhaps even attract more resources and prompt stronger regulations for invasive species prevention. This type of collaboration is the heart of what Washington Sea Grant’s work accomplishes.
WSG experts provide scientific and technical assistance to resolve complex marine issues with focus on win-win solutions. By leveraging support, WSG brings academic, government, tribal, industry, and citizen scientists together to conserve and support coastal ecosystems.
There are countless ways to get more information or volunteer through WSG. Their communications office maintains a publications database; produces and distributes informational brochures, pamphlets and books; creates public exhibits; and responds to media inquiries about WSG activities and research. For more information, go to the online press room (wsg.washington.edu). For press releases, story tip sheets, and mini-features about various Sea Grant projects around the nation, visit the National Sea Grant Media Center (seagrant.noaa.gov). You can also subscribe to WSG’s newsletter Sea Star in either print or email format from their website. There are WSG-sponsored volunteer opportunities that can be accessed through their online calendar, including beach cleanups in July and August and Bellingham SeaFeast on September 22 and 23 of this year. Research or workshop mailing lists can be accessed through the “Contact Us” tab on their website.
For Washington boaters, WSG is a true asset. For almost 50 years now, Sea Grant has facilitated sustainable fisheries and aquaculture, promoted healthy coastal ecosystems, improved resilience in communities and economies, and strengthened ocean literacy and workforce development. Their work deserves a tip of a hat if not a standing ovation for all they have accomplished for local communities and the state. With the help of Washington Sea Grant, the future looks bright for Washington’s much loved shores and cruising grounds now and for generations to come.