New home could turn tide for South Sound Estuarium

Estuarium hosts Turn of the Tides Festival as it searches for new location

Staff writerDecember 21, 2013 

The South Sound Estuarium is seeking an affordable, permanent home in downtown Olympia where it can foster public knowledge about marine life.

Now located near the Olympia Farmers Market, the educational facility features sea stars and other aquatic life clinging to glass panels in saltwater aquariums. The estuarium’s current lease with the Port of Olympia began in July and was extended through March.

The nonprofit South Sound Estuary Association’s board of directors is busy searching for a new location with below-market rent.

“Our goal is to educate people,” said Lynn Schneider, a board member. “We really need some support from a local building owner.”

Three part-time employees run the current 700-square-foot site at 608 Washington St. NE. Schools, churches and local scout groups regularly book tours for children.

Program coordinator Leihla Scharlau, a marine biologist, delivers science lessons on such topics as the aquatic food chain and invasive species.

Up to 40 students have packed the estuarium during these tours, which is something the board will consider when looking for a new building.

“We really could use more space,” said Scharlau, who started the association’s popular Beach Naturalist Program. About 50 people sign up for the spring program each year to train on nearby beaches and improve knowledge of Puget Sound flora and fauna. Scharlau also teaches a weekly enrichment class at Griffin School on life in an estuary, which is where saltwater and fresh water mix.

On Saturday, the estuarium hosted a Turn of the Tides Festival to celebrate the winter solstice. The event included an oyster stew lunch, Native American storyteller Harvest Moon, and arts and crafts for children.

Among the festival organizers was the Nisqually Reach Nature Center, which brought sea stars and crabs for attendees to touch. A barnacle adorned the shell of one Dungeness crab in the “touch tank,” and nature center director Daniel Hull reminded children that the crab was full of tasty meat.

Hull praised the Olympia estuarium for educating people about the Puget Sound’s role in aquatic life – and human life.

“Healthy habitats mean healthy food sources,” said Hull, who was joined at the festival by board member Yvonne Shevalier. “We have a really big asset in Puget Sound.”

Hull noted that marine scientists enjoy this time of year because of the opportunity to study the dynamics of aquatic life during low tides.

Saturday’s winter solstice marked the shortest day and longest night of the year. Dec. 21 is also the official start of winter. The amount of daylight will increase until peaking on June 21, the summer solstice.

The South Sound Estuarium is open to the public 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. On weekdays, the facility is available by appointment for group tours. To learn more, call 360-888-0565 or visit http://sseacenter.wordpress.com.

Andy Hobbs: 360-704-6869
ahobbs@theolympian.com

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