Estuarium celebrates the winter solstice

The long day’s journey into night completes its voyage in the Northern Hemisphere on Saturday with the arrival of the winter solstice.

On Dec. 21, the sun rises in South Sound at 7:54 a.m. and sets at 4:22 p.m. Daylight lasts 8 hours, 28 minutes and 27 seconds, making it the shortest day, and longest night, of the year.

Daylight recovery takes a while — we gain only one second of daytime Monday. But what the heck, at least we’re headed out of the darkness and back into the light. Within a couple of months, the morning and evening work commute won’t be enshrouded in darkness, a small victory on the road to spring.

There will be winter solstice celebrations throughout the Northern Hemisphere on Sunday, including here in Olympia. For the second year in a row, the South Sound Estuary Association will host “Turn of the Tides” from 11 a.m.-3 p.m Sunday. The free family celebration will feature plenty of hands-on activities to introduce children to the world where land meets the sea — the world of an estuary.

Home base for the winter solstice get-together is the South Sound Estuarium at 309 State Ave. NE, Olympia, plus the adjoining parking lot. Nine other partner groups and businesses will lend a hand to the festivities, which also will feature Chehalis tribal storyteller Curtis DuPuis, an oral historian of the Hazel Peet family, which is renowned for its traditional basket-making skills.

Other activities include sifting through beach sand in search of forage fish eggs, learning about microscopic phytoplankton, and weaving with branches and twigs from last week’s windstorm. Clam chowder supplied by Taylor Shellfish, coffee and hot chocolate will be available to satiate cold-weather appetites.

The Turn of the Tides is the capstone on an eventful year for the Olympia-based nonprofit that formed in 2007 to advocate for marine science education in South Sound. In August, the estuarium moved from a 700-square-foot space on Port of Olympia property on Washington Street to its new home, which has about twice as much space for exhibits, as well as three aquariums and a combination classroom and laboratory available for use by area school children and citizen scientists. Relying solely on volunteers, the estuarium is open to the public 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Admission is $3 for adults, $5 for families, and $1 for students 17 and younger.

The South Sound Estuary Association offers a variety of marine science discovery programs. The group’s trained beach naturalists made 2,377 contacts with the public during summer low tides at area beaches, offering their expertise about the marine world that is exposed with an outgoing tide. More than 1,000 students participated in beach interpretation activities, and families gathered Friday nights year round at Boston Harbor Marina for “Pier Peer,” which is a chance to see marine life at night.

The year was punctuated by loss as well. David Jamison, one of the South Sound Estuary Association founders and a well-respected marine scientist and environmental educator who had an uncanny knack of inspiring children, died of cancer in May, leaving a void in the nonprofit that can’t be filled.

“He was our visionary,” said estuary association board president Lynn Schneider. “My number one goal is to create a David Jamison memorial here at the estuarium.”

An insidious mass wasting disease that has been decimating sea star populations on the Pacific Coast claimed several of the sea stars that occupied aquarium tanks as the estuarium. Marine scientists have just recently identified the virus behind the lethal illness, which causes the sea stars to disinegrate and turn into a puddle of mush on the ocean floor, or in an aquarium.

Estuarium volunteers have recently reintroduced two sea stars to one of their aquariums. “We waited a few months and now we’re just hoping for the best,” Schneider said.

The South Sound Estuary Association has high hopes for 2015, including a desire to hire a paid executive director. They’ll need more donations like the $300 the group received in 2014 from the Faith Lutheran Church in Shelton. The church began a program called “Waves of Change — Spare Change Saves Lives.” Each month the congregation digs into their collective pockets, then donates to water-related causes twice a year.

The church chose well when they singled out the South Sound Estuary Association for a donation.

For more information about South Sound Estuary Association activities, visit sseacenter.org.