WSG News Blog

Reflections from the Shoalwater Bay Indian Tribe Partnership Gathering

February 15, 2024

By Chandler Countryman, Washington Sea Grant Resilience and Adaptation Specialist

Last week, Washington Sea Grant took part in the Shoalwater Bay Indian Tribe Partnership Gathering presented by the Office of Secretary, U.S. Department of Transportation, Thriving Communities and Main Street America.

The Shoalwater Bay Indian Tribe’s Tsunami Vertical Evacuation Tower

More than 50 participants gathered in Tokeland, Washington to gain a deeper understanding of the Shoalwater Bay Indian Tribe’s upland relocation efforts. The Tribe has done a tremendous amount of work since 2009 to relocate their community away from the low-lying coastal shores (a location that the Tribe is deeply connected to and has historically called home) due to ongoing challenges related to coastal hazards, especially intense coastal erosion and coastal storms. The area is losing 100-124 feet of land per year – the fastest rate of erosion on the West Coast, and a rate that has already led to the loss of many locally important assets including but not limited to more than 50 homes, a cemetery, a lighthouse, a clam cannery, and about 2 miles of land. It is estimated that with 2 feet of sea level rise – the amount the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration projects to happen by the end of this century – Tokeland will be entirely underwater. Unsurprisingly, one of the major beaches in the area is called Washaway Beach.

Views of the Pacific Ocean from the Shoalwater Bay Indian Tribe’s Evacuation Multipurpose Building

The relocation and expansion of the Tribe’s community up the hill and out of harm’s way is a massive undertaking that requires the participation of many federal, state, and local partners to work alongside the Tribe to get it done. These partners came together last week to hear from the Tribe about their various climate resilience efforts, identify gaps in support around their upland expansion project, and map out how partners can best assist the Tribe as they move forward with this work. Partners hopped in vans and on ATVs to tour the upland expansion area, the Tsunami Vertical Evacuation Tower, housing development sites, an evacuation multipurpose building, oyster operations, the tribal museum, and the Army Corps of Engineers berm that is currently protecting much of the shoreline. These were wonderful examples of ways that the Shoalwater Bay Indian Tribe has adapted to change throughout time, reflecting their incredible ability to endure and highlighting their aptitude for resilience.

Over this three day gathering, the Tribe and partners shared many delicious meals together and even more valuable conversations around current and future collaborations, resulting in partnership mapping and action-oriented planning. This event was incredibly special as it is rare to have so many partnering entities at the table simultaneously. We were so happy and grateful to be a part of these conversations and to have been invited by the Shoalwater Bay Indian Tribe. 


Washington Sea Grant, based at the University of Washington, helps people and marine life thrive through research, technical expertise and education supporting the responsible use and conservation of coastal ecosystems. The National Sea Grant College Program is part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Department of Commerce.

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