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30th Anniversary Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference To Convene In Seattle

Elaine Thompson / File
AP Photo
In this July 31, 2015, file photo, an orca or killer whale breaches in view of Mount Baker, some 60 miles distant, in the Salish Sea in the San Juan Islands, Wash.

More than 1,300 scientists, policy makers and other interested parties are attending next week’s Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference in Seattle.

The meeting happens every two years and alternates between the U.S. and Canada.  This year, the 30th anniversary since the first one took place in 1988, there’s an emphasis on ecosystem recovery across the international border.

The biology and resources of the Salish Sea don’t abide by political borders, so those working to protect the ecosystem often look for ways to get past them too.

But it’s harder than you’d think, says Ginny Broadhurst. She’s Executive Director of the Salish Sea Instituteat Western Washington University and one of the planners of the conference.

“It really is the one place where scientists can share data and have access to data and talk to each other easily,” Broadhurst said. “You know, crossing the border can be significant for agency people. It can be hard also to have access to data.”

But when they do share, it can inspire positive changes. Broadhurst cites how past presentations of her work with the Northwest Straits Commission to recover derelict fishing gear informed and inspired similar programs in British Columbia.

“So those kinds of things happen. We learn from each other and we help leverage that information for additional research, additional work,” she said. 

This conference places an unique emphasis on that kind of sharing, says Terrie Klinger, Director of the University of Washington’s School of Marine and Environmental Affairs.

“It’s very strikingly trans-boundary,” Klinger said. “Virtually every session has participants from British Columbia and from Washington State, you know, sharing the information across the border.”

She says this conference also attracts high level representation of tribes and First Nations, which is somewhat unusual.

“And I think it really strengthens the outcomes,” she said.

Klinger has worked extensively on ocean acidification science and policy solutions. She says ground-breaking initiatives to address the problem have come out of past Salish Sea Ecosystem conferences.

Ocean acidification is once again among the issues brought on by climate change that loom large on this year’s agenda. Other big themes among the dozens of presentations include potential impacts of increased shipping traffic through the Salish Sea and corresponding risks of oil spills, as well as increased efforts to recover the dwindling population of Southern Resident Orca whales.

The conference features keynotes Wednesday morning from former Interior Secretary Sally Jewell and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee.

Attendees will also enjoy some specially prepared seafood samples during a poster session on Thursday from the head chef at Seattle’s famous Tom Douglas Restaurants group. Ginny Broadhurst says he wanted to be a strong partner to the conference, because they depend directly on the bounty the sea provides.

“And he talked about how important it is to him that the Salish Sea is in good health and that they also have a place in doing their part in protecting the Salish Sea and talking about it and acknowledging that the quality of their food is so important to their business,” she said.

In the run up to the conference, a special menu atSeatown Bar and Etta’s features dishes that come from the Salish Sea. It also has a full page of background information on the Salish Sea Conference and provides a hashtag for guests wanting to learn more.

Anyone who wants to follow conference highlights next week can use #SSEC2018 on Twitter.

Bellamy Pailthorp covers the environment for KNKX with an emphasis on climate justice, human health and food sovereignty. She enjoys reporting about how we will power our future while maintaining healthy cultures and livable cities. Story tips can be sent to