Soundings: David Jamison, area’s apostle of the estuary, was moved by the sea

jdodge@theolympian.comMay 18, 2014 

South Sound Estuary Association members have been on an emotional roller coaster ride in recent days.

The nonprofit group dedicated to estuary education is moving its marine science discovery center from temporary digs on Port of Olympia property to a space twice as large in downtown Olympia.

At the same time, SSEA folks are grieving the death of David Jamison, the group’s principal marine science adviser and longtime supporter of marine education activities in the greater Olympia area.

Jamison, a Boston Harbor resident, died May 5 at age 75 after a brief illness. The retired state Department of Natural Resources marine biologist dedicated his retirement years to both SSEA and marine environmental education programs, working with community youths and their families.

Whether he was exploring a beach at low tide or the water column beneath the docks of Boston Harbor Marina, Jamison was always there to share a lifetime of knowledge and passion for the marine life and habitats of Puget Sound. A first impression might have been of a big bear of a man with a gruff demeanor. But Jamison was really like a Pied Piper of the marine environment, exuding an enthusiasm for marine biology and the beaches, bays and estuaries around him.

“David was so generous with his time, talents, photos and information,” noted Patricia Pyle, a senior program specialist with the city of Olympia’s storm and surface water utility. “He was creative and thoughtful. His passing leaves a big void in our community.”

I had the pleasure of working with Jamison from May of 2006 to November of 2008 on a weekly marine life feature that appeared on a Monday page in The Olympian dedicated to the environment.

Without fail, Jamison each week would supply a color photograph of a marine organism, accompanied by several paragraphs detailing the species’ life history and niche in the marine ecosystem. I never dreamed there were so many critters at our fingertips in South Sound.

Board members Ken Guza and Diana Larsen-Mills said Jamison’s weekly feature in the newspaper, combined with the release of Olympia author Jim Lynch’s debut novel, “The Highest Tide,” and a visit they paid to the Morro Bay State Park Museum of Natural History in California, were the driving forces behind the birth of the South Sound Estuary Association in 2007.

“David’s selfless dedication to marine education has been a major source of inspiration to us,” Guza said. “He would periodically nudge us along, urging us to open a marine science center for the public. And the word estuarium was one that David promoted over several years. We caved in.”

I can’t find the word “estuarium” in my Webster’s desktop dictionary. Guz defines it as a place people go to learn about estuaries, which are the places where rivers meet the sea.

In July 2013, Jamison’s nudging paid dividends. SSEA opened a marine science discovery center in temporary space offered by the Port of Olympia at 608 Washington St. NE. The fledgling marine science center is crammed with exhibits, aquariums and a video room, but it’s only 800 square feet and housed in a building the port plans to tear down to make room for a parking lot.

The original summer stint extended into the fall and new year. It’s still open 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, hosting about 50 visitors each weekend.

Earlier this year, SSEA was approached by Sunrise Construction owner Gary Schneider about renting a 1,350-square-foot building at 309 State Ave. that he no longer needs for his business. The SSEA agreed and now must raise money to remodel the combined office and storage room.

A few days before he died, Jamison visited SSEA’s future home and expressed enthusiasm for the extra space, Guza said. He also offered ideas for new interactive exhibits and supported plans to increase the number of aquariums.

“We’ll do something inside the new estuarium to acknowledge David’s many contributions,” Guza said.

Jamison was such a big part of the South Sound Estuary Association. He trained volunteers for the group’s Beach Naturalist Program. He was a force behind the Pier Peer activities at Boston Harbor Marina. He helped design the forest-to-estuary exhibit at the Hands On Children’s Museum. He also created his own website for people to explore Puget Sound habitats and marine life. Check it out at

Shortly before he died, Jamison told his wife, Nancy, that he had done all he hoped to with his life, both as a professional scientist and a volunteer marine educator. His was a life lived fully.

To follow or get involved with the South Sound Estuary Association, go to

John Dodge: 360-754-5444

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