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Puget Sound Estuarium visitors at low tide with trained naturalist.
Trained Beach Naturalists show up at local beaches during low tide to interpret tidal life and the intertidal ecosystem for the public. Photo courtesy of Puget Sound Estuarium.

Coastal Perspectives in EE: Puget Sound Estuarium

By: Kara Nunnally, eeRESEARCH Library Associate, Duke University Nicholas School of the Environment

Puget Sound Estuarium is innovative in name and practice. I spoke with Paris McClusky, executive director, and Aeriel Wauhob, education coordinator, for Puget Sound Estuarium about their EE journeys and how they approach coastal resilience through education. “Estuarium? It’s a made-up word,” said Paris McClusky.

Puget Sound Estuarium (Estuarium) was founded in 2007 with a mission to “foster learning opportunities that inspire people of all ages to connect with, protect, and enjoy the unique estuary environment of Puget Sound.” The Estuarium is located in Washington’s capital city, Olympia, and is focused on the southern portion of Puget Sound called the South Sound basin. Because of its unique location and rich intertidal habitat, the Estuarium specializes in estuary education and estuarine ecology.

“Estuarium? It’s a made-up word.” – Paris McClusky

The Estuarium serves its name well: learning activities happen directly in the estuary, as well as in the learning facility where there are five saltwater and one freshwater aquarium exhibit. These exhibits foster dialogue with visitors about restoration and conservation efforts in the region and how they can get involved. In the estuary, there are numerous opportunities for children and adults from all walks of life to get up close and personal with the ecosystem. These experiences include bird watching tours, Sea Stroll tours of the area, Meet the Beach and Beach Naturalist Training, the Classroom Robotics at Budd Bay (CRABB) program, and the very popular Pier Peer program during which participants can peep intertidal species at night.

Visitors use lights to view night-time intertidal species in Pier Peer program.

The Estuarium partners with the regional K–12 school systems to provide annual field trips, after-school programming, summer camps, virtual education, and free curriculum kits for teachers. Each is designed to increase the community’s resilience to climate change through habitat restoration, to provide career development opportunities through exposure to and stewardship of conservation, and to teach basics of field science through water quality tests, plant/invertebrate identification, random sampling, and more. After-school environmental programming can help increase a student’s understanding of climate change and hands-on restoration can build environmental leadership and social responsibility. However, education that goes beyond individual behavior and empowers systemic change is a tenet of EE at the Estuarium.

School group at Boston Harbor Marina using robotics for data collection.

The Estuarium is evolving quickly to meet the needs of its community and the needs of its ecosystem in light of our current circumstances and climate change. “Reconnecting and understanding the natural world will help us understand how to support each other and learn together…we were made to be in nature,” said Wauhob. Time in nature instills solidarity, fosters connection for social and environmental change, and is more important now than ever.

“Reconnecting and understanding the natural world will help us understand how to support each other and learn together…we were made to be in nature.” – Aeriel Wauhob

Identity is the main driver for engaging in social and environmental action. To further meet the needs of the community, the Estuarium zoomed out beyond the science to include the diversity of the staff that influences the education and the human context that influences the ecosystem. About three years ago, the team broadened the organization’s vision to encompass the whole watershed in its education. To do so fully and fairly, the Estuarium could not overlook the regional culture and history in education and visitation experiences and therefore used culturally relevant EE practices. Exhibits in the Estuarium and the outdoor Sea Stroll tour share abundant narratives of Native American and African American communities to describe relationships with and impacts to the estuary, as well as changes to the environment over time, from all perspectives. These co-developed experiences share knowledge among and between communities, encourage holistic solutions to climate change, and address environmental justice. “It’s especially important for communities hardest hit by climate change to see options for mitigating climate change and connect with those who have taken direct action,” stated McClusky.

School group observing plankton in South Puget Sound.

Coastal resilience is dependent upon the whole community. Even though “estuarium” is made-up, the Puget Sound Estuarium is empowering its community to advocate for real change through its EE programming.

 

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