By Lee Badovinus, Whidbey, Class of 2018
If you’ve been following environmental news, you know the planet is in peril. You might be among the many wondering what you can do to help protect our precious natural resources right here in Island County. With a mindset of doing what they can, where they are, with what they have, Island County residents can take a deep dive into understanding our local environment and what we can do to protect it through Sound Water Stewards’ Volunteer Education and Training (VET) classes. As one student stated, “I’m intensely interested in preserving as much of the natural environment as possible, and to do that I need to understand it.”
With that intent, the students attend a series of classes over 14 weeks in the spring and the fall. The spring classes cover foundational components of our varied ecosystems: bluff geology, forests, wetlands, native plants, marine ecosystems, estuaries, marine biology, plankton, tides & currents, eelgrass, forage fish, whales, and other marine mammals. In the fall, the curricular path focuses on human impacts on the environment and what we can do to mitigate them: hydrogeology, invasive plants, bluff erosion, changing climate, storm surge and sea level rise, ocean acidification, plastics, waste and recycling, tribal environmental culture and treaty rights. The topics are presented in class and through over four dozen smaller-group field trips (see field trip article below) led by scientists renowned in their field of expertise.
Students make a two-year commitment to volunteer 100 hours towards Sound Water Stewards education, stewardship, and citizen science projects. Throughout the training, the students shadow or participate with Sound Water Stewards members volunteering in these activities to find what interests them and become educated and trained volunteers in that arena. The overall environmental awareness gained through the training enables students to not only support, but to live Sound Water Stewards’ mission of working towards “a healthy, sustainable marine environment” envisioned by “diverse natural ecosystems and sustainable human communities.”
At the end of the spring and fall class sessions, the students graduate to become fully qualified Sound Water Stewards. As every new and seasoned Steward understands, sharing what they’ve learned is essential. Their knowledge gained in the classes, on the beaches, on the trails and in pursuing continuing education becomes a significant part of inspired, informed conversations with friends, neighbors and relatives. In their efforts to preserve the natural world within and around the Salish Sea, they’re inspired by the ethos that people will take care of what they know and love.