WSG News Blog

Summertime on the Salish Sea

September 18, 2023

A WSG fellow connects with the Puget Sound community over marine conservation at a low tide event hosted by NOAA Science Camp

By Katalin Plummer, WSG Science Communications Fellow

WSG educational specialist Maile Sullivan at a low tide event. Photo credit: Elise Adams

Summertime in the Seattle area is nothing like the eastern Oregon summers of my childhood. To me, summer means day after stifling day with temperatures of over 100°F across the desert steppes, but with Puget Sound moderating the temperature, getting outside here for summer fun is easy. There are tons of fun and free outdoor activities in the area, including tide pooling trips with beach naturalists from the Seattle Aquarium’s Beach Naturalist program and education specialists from both Washington Sea Grant (WSG) and NOAA. As a marine biologist, I can’t resist an intertidal adventure, so I headed down to Des Moines Beach Park for the low tide to connect with colleagues and, of course, get outside.

I am still new to the Seattle area, so I hadn’t yet visited this particular park, and this was the perfect chance. I arrived at the park in the early afternoon and was greeted with a lovely sea breeze rolling off the Sound. Beach naturalists were out on the sand flat, chatting with tide poolers and pointing out moon snail egg cases, sand dollars, and other flora and fauna. Meanwhile, folks from WSG and NOAA were back at the park, enjoying the weather and engaging passers-by in informal sustainable seafood and science education. 

WSG team members Maile Sullivan (left) and Elise Adams (right) hosting the WSG–NOAA booth. Photo credit: Elise Adams

Maile Sullivan, WSG education specialist, told me about the organic evolution of this partnership between NOAA, WSG and the Seattle Aquarium. It all started with NOAA Science Camp, an annual program that WSG coordinates to provide middle and high school students with hands-on science experiences led by real NOAA scientists. Students have a chance to explore the ins and outs of marine science education, and their participation in the camp helps them to understand their role in the future of our green and blue spaces. The Science Camp team sees the students’ curiosity pique as they learn more about what they can do to make a difference, and many students vow to make the changes that they can, like recycling more or taking shorter showers.

In 2021, the COVID-19 pandemic made meeting in person difficult, so Science Camp was moved online. While the camp was still a success, the Science Camp team was itching to get outside and interact with people—particularly students interested in marine and environmental science—in a safe, responsible way. Sullivan and her team had the idea to join their Seattle Aquarium colleagues on a few of their beach naturalist events and support their community education efforts by offering kid-friendly aquaculture games, easy-to-understand literature, and engaging conversation.

This year, NOAA Science Camp returned to more typical in-person programming. But Sullivan and her colleague Casey Ralston, education coordinator for NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center, didn’t see why they couldn’t continue supporting the Aquarium’s beach naturalists at their low tide events. After all, getting outside and engaging in community outreach is what these two and their teams are passionate about. 

WSG team members interacting with the public at a low tide event. Photo credit: Elise Adams

This year, the inter-organizational outreach team worked with the Seattle Aquarium Beach Naturalists to choose three low-tide events. Elise Adams, graduate student assistant to Sullivan, wears many hats with WSG, one of which was to orchestrate this series of educational events and coordinate with the Seattle Aquarium team to evenly spread WSG efforts throughout the Puget Sound region. Adams aimed to maximize her team’s interaction with different audiences by choosing Richmond Beach, Golden Gardens, and, of course, Des Moines Beach as events. She then reached out to NOAA scientists, many of whom had collaborated with Adams’ and Sullivan’s team for Science Camp activities, to invite them to the low tide events. Together, they brought some of the benefits of Science Camp in bite-sized pieces to the wider public—some students even got to participate in an intertidal scavenger hunt and win WSG prizes at the Golden Gardens event!

The Des Moines Beach event was the last of the season, a bittersweet reminder that my first Seattle summer was coming to an end. I’ve been so grateful to be a part of WSG this summer and see incredible people spread awareness about marine conservation in Puget Sound and connect with the marine scientists of tomorrow’s Salish Sea. I may just have to stick around to see it!

The author is grateful to Elise Adams for her valuable contribution to this article.


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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