Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Salish Sea Marine Sanctuary & Coastal Trail: Let's Help Make it Happen

If you've been fortunate enough to see our Southern Resident orca (killer) whales roaming the Salish Sea in northwest Washington or southwest British Columbia, you know they inspire awe—and, for many, a fierce desire to protect these highly intelligent mammals.  

For a man leading a seemingly daunting task of establishing a new marine sanctuary, Douglas Tolchin seems anything but daunted.  While speaking at the Water Symposium in Seattle recently, this tall, silver-haired yet boyish man inspired the crowd with his optimism and enthusiasm for the proposed Salish Sea Marine Sanctuary & Coastal Trail

What defines the Salish Sea? Geographically, it's the 7,000-square-mile body of water that includes the Georgia  Strait in B.C., the Strait of Juan de Fuca that straddles the U.S.-Canadian border, and Puget Sound in Washington. 

The Coast Salish people were the first to formally recognize the Salish Sea name, incorporating it into their collective culture in 2008. The U.S. and Canadian governments adopted the name in 2009 and 2010, respectively. 

As a native-born Seattleite who has spent many happy days playing on Puget Sound beaches and kayaking its waters, I'm all for this vision to restore wildlife populations throughout the Salish Sea to more than 50 percent of historic levelsas soon as possible.

Southern Resident orca whale. October 2012 Puget Sound. Photo by Alisa Lemire Brooks.
 In the last 150 years, human activities have taken their toll on this formerly pristine and still ecologically valuable inland sea rich in wildlife, some now threatened. Industrial pollution, shoreline alterations, seabed dredging, and much more have compromised the health of the Salish Sea. 

It's time to make things right.

Tolchin founded the Salish Sea Marine Sanctuary & Coastal Trail effort, but he envisions a widespread involvement. "For the Sanctuary to reach most or all of its full potential, it is imperative that this be a widespread grassroots people-up and also indigenous-led movement.  I foresee Coast Salish First Nations and Peoples substantially leading and shepherding the Sanctuary's vision and implementation through time.  Hopefully with the active and energetic help of a million or more newcomers, the sooner the better."

Harbor seal, Cattle Pass, San Juan Islands.
Marine Sanctuaries in the U.S. are exceptional bodies of water where elevated standards of conduct protect and restore water quality, wildlife populations, cultural resources, and habitats. Here on the West Coast of the U.S, over 50 percent of the California shoreline and wildlife habitat is protected by a system of four Marine Sanctuaries. In the Pacific Northwest, we currently have the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary off the Olympic Peninsula in the Pacific Ocean.

Mt. Baker hovers over the Salish Sea near Bellingham, Washington.
According to Tolchin, the Salish Sea Marine Sanctuary represents a people-up paradigm shift from the prior effort to establish the Northwest Strait Marine Sanctuary back in the 1990s. The current effort is holistic and comprehensive in nature. 

"It will directly and substantially benefit virtually everyone living throughout the entire Salish Sea watershed, in myriad ways.  It is emerging from unprecedented unified vision and action between people of Coast Salish First Nations, British Columbia and Washington State...together."

View across the U.S.-Canadian border to Vancouver Island.

In addition to increased wildlife protection, a bicycling and hiking trail encircling the Salish Sea is envisioned as part of the effort.

"We're having a lot of fun creating and designing the Salish Sea Marine Sanctuary & Coastal Trail. We're involving children, musicians, artists, scientists, students, teachers, business people, videographers, storytellers... pretty much everyone and anyone who loves animals, clean water, clean air, healthy food and a better future," says Tolchin.

To help make this happen, start by Liking the Salish Sea Marine Sanctuary & Coastal Trail page on FaceBook, where you can see upcoming events and updates.  Then check out their website, which details more about their vision.

San Juan Islands, Washington
It's time to join the party!

We'd love to hear your ideas about this proposal and your Salish Sea experiences. Jump in with a comment below. 

Thanks for visiting and sharing Pacific Northwest Seasons.



Rabbits' Guy said...

It sounds like a long and uphill struggle.

But, it is not working very well to try to save/improve
"PugetSound"/"Salish Sea" by the current Political governmental methods alone.

So got to start this grass-roots people-driven effort somewhere!

jill said...

Yes Rabbits Guy! Frustrated that People for Puget Sound had to dissolve for lack of funding, etc. And Puget Sound Partnership doesn't seem to have much teeth. Grassroots! Every time the orcas come down to Seattle, they thrill everyone and hopefully make more activists.

JT said...

Great post, thanks for posting!