By Jackson Blalock, Hershman Marine Policy Fellow
Clear, brisk weather greeted members of the Wahkiakum High School football team as they gathered in Cathlamet before an early November game. I sat with other interested spectators as their science teacher took over the coach’s role, and players began discussing fieldwork surveying local fish populations rather than strategies for overcoming their opponents on the football field.
Along with several other students, they went on to describe experiences planting riparian vegetation, assessing in-stream water quality and examining the ecological history of the Columbia River estuary on kayak field trips. These hands-on educational activities and green jobs trainings have been part of Wahkiakum High School’s curriculum for the past five years, supported by the Wahkiakum County Marine Resources Committee.
I was excited to learn from these enthusiastic high-school students as they joined crabbers, local politicians, surfers, tribal representatives, educators and other concerned coastal residents for the 2017 Coastal Marine Resources Committee Summit. We discussed issues and opportunities facing Washington’s outer coast and how to address these while planning for increased social, economic and environmental impact.
So… What is an MRC?
Marine Resources Committee (MRCs) are citizen-based organizations in Washington that work to preserve coastal communities’ cultural and economic ties to marine resources through education, ecological restoration, advocacy and research. MRCs have been in existence since 2008 and are funded through the state Department of Fish and Wildlife. If you have been part of a beach cleanup or seen schoolkids birdwatching along local estuaries, you may have been exposed to the work of MRCs.
MRCs also provide a vital non-regulatory connection between local issues and state-level policies. At this year’s MRC Summit, the Coastal MRCs — Wahkiakum County MRC, Pacific County MRC, Grays Harbor County MRC and North Pacific Coast MRC — weighed in on conversations and presentations covering a broad array of topics such as:
- Washington state’s recently-released Marine Spatial Plan
- Sea level rise projections, and how to use them (presented by University of Washington’s Climate Impacts Group and Washington Sea Grant)
- Recommendations from the ”Washington State Coast Resilience Assessment Final Report,” which proposes increased funding and support for MRCs as a key leveraging action to boost coastal resilience (presented by the Ruckelshaus Center).
Coastal concerns affect us all
With most of the state’s population concentrated around the Puget Sound, many Washington residents may not give due attention to the coast. However, estuaries such as Willapa Bay and Grays Harbor are important sources of farmed oysters, clams and mussels — marine resources that support Washington’s economy and are important to our cultural identity. Willapa Bay’s innovative shellfish growers have even initiated some of the world’s first adaptation measures against ocean acidification, while other residents are engaged in active planning for sea-level-rise adaptation.
MRCs are made up of local community members, with on-the-ground understandings of these issues and first-hand involvement in their solutions, as well. Through planning, policy, community outreach and collaboration with industries, MRCs have made a great impact on the resources and livelihoods of Washington’s outer coast and will remain a dynamic element in furthering sustainable communities. The Nature Conservancy and Wahkiakum County MRC planned and organized the 2017 MRC Summit in order to support these visionary efforts. The Nature Conservancy strives to support MRCs through events such as the summit as well as through partnerships to develop effective coastal hazards projections, Washington’s Marine Spatial Plan and other resources.
I applaud each and every volunteer with these groups and look forward to their future projects. MRCs are poised to combine grassroots engagement with large-scale change — and in doing so may be able to effectively address some of the tough scenarios of the coming century.