The South Sound Estuary Association reached a major milestone Thursday. The group opened the doors to a marine life discovery center in downtown Olympia, a place for the public to learn more about the mysteries of where the river meets the sea.
From the outside, the South Sound Estuarium at 608 Washington St. N.E. looks like a modest place. But step inside the 700-square-foot center packed with a dozen, estuary-themed exhibits and youre bound to see a marine creature youve never seen before, or learn something new about South Sound tideflats and beaches, river deltas, geology, habitat losses and habitat restoration.
The estuarium is a small, but significant step forward for a dedicated bunch of volunteers who envision a day when the Olympia waterfront is home to a full-time marine science center. The one that opened Thursday is a temporary home the non-profit group rented this summer from the Port of Olympia for $250. You can smell the nearby Budd Inlet tide flats at low tide. You can feel the cool marine breezes sweep across the port peninsula. But you cant see the water.
The public is invited to tour the center 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Thursday-Sunday through Aug. 25. The hours match those of the nearby Olympia Farmers Market, which is intentional. The suggested admission fee is quite modest: free for kids younger than 6, $1 for those 6-11 and $2 for everyone else.
This is an opportunity to share with the community where we want to go, said Lynn Schneider, president of the SSEA board of directors. Our goal is to connect people to Puget Sound educate them about how magical it is, how special it is.
The association has been building to this day for several years with a variety of environmental education programs.
They train beach naturalists to offer tours of South Sound beaches to see the marine critters exposed and visible at extreme low tides. They sponsor marine science lectures, an annual marine cruise and summer weekend night explorations of sea creatures from the Boston Harbor Marina pier. For a full list of activities and events, visit, www.sseacenter.org.
The long-range goal of the 185-member group is to build support, then build, a showcase of all things that fit under the marine education umbrella in South Sound.
The estuarium is a tangible way to get some visibility, said SSEA founding member Ken Guza, who defines an estuarium as a place people go to learn about estuaries. I cant find the word in my aging Websters dictionary, but an Internet search reveals a few such places in Alabama, North Carolina and South Carolina.
There have been several attempts over the years to create a maritime center here at the bottom end of Puget Sound. Oftentimes, theyve had more of a nautical history theme. None of them forged enough financial, political and public support to move forward.
A visitor to the South Sound Estuarium could easily spend an hour or more inside, especially if they read all the information posters. One describes estuaries at low tide supper time for shorebirds. Another describes estuaries at high tide meal time for shellfish and salmon.
There are two, 55-gallon aquariums filled with crab, starfish and, if you look closely you may find an inch-long nudibranch, a snail without a shell, but sporting orange-tipped, fleshy appendages.
The Kelp Krawlers Dive Club of Olympia donated a display of underwater life photographed by its scuba-diving members. The Pacific Shellfish Club donated you guessed it a display of seashells.
Theres an interactive display that highlights the Puget Sound food chain. At the top sit the orca whales, which need about 150 pounds of salmon daily to survive. At the bottom are phytoplankton. It takes about 150,000 of these microscopic creatures to feed 15,000 zooplankton, which feed 1,500 herring, which feed those 150 salmon.
Three are three microscopes to view miniscule marine life and a room with 40 minutes of video rolling on a big-screen television, including the amazing story of the Nisqually River estuary restoration project.
The temporary marine center relied heavily on public and private donations of exhibits, volunteers, equipment and money. He took about $10,000 to prepare for the grand opening, Guza said.
The center has parking behind the building off Washington Street. What remains to be seen is: Can a marine discovery center join the Hands on Children Museum and the LOTT Wet Science Center to make the north side of downtown Olympia, where freshwater meshes with saltwater, even more of a magnet for environmental education? ... ... ...
Greg Falxa, a bat researcher at Cascadia Research in Olympia, will host a bat walk 9 p.m., Friday, along the Capitol Lake shoreline. See and hear thousands of bats that arrive each summer night to feast on lake insects. Meet on the Deschutes Parkway sidewalk midway between the Fifth Avenue Dam and Marathon Park. Take my word for it, its an informative, entertaining way to launch a South Sound weekend.
John Dodge: 360-754-5444 firstname.lastname@example.org