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Seattle’s (Unofficial) Oil Spill Preparedness Week

Written by Mike Chang, Makah Tribe/TNC Hershman Marine Policy Fellow
Photographs & Images provided by Mike Chang, Clean Pacific, Pacific States/BC Oil Spill Task Force

It’s not every week that you have a whole week dedicated to oil spill preparedness, response, and prevention. This past week, from June 20-25, Seattle was fortunate to host the 2016 Pacific States/British Columbia Oil Spill Task Force annual meeting and the 2016 Clean Pacific Conference

The Nature Conservancy’s Oceans Team and the Makah Tribe’s Office of Marine Affairs have been actively engaged in influencing state and regional transboundary methods of oil spill prevention, preparedness, and response. Together, we have been working on improving the vessel traffic system in the Salish Sea to prevent oil spills affecting the Northwest’s precious marine resources. Last Tuesday, the Pacific States/B.C. Oil Spill Task Force brought state and provincial leaders, federal partners, industry leaders, and indigenous representatives from Hawaii, California, Oregon, Washington, Alaska, and British Columbia together to discuss regional updates and best achievable protection (BAP) against oil spills. Much of the day was focused on how to achieve BAP through existing policies, geographic response plans, and technological innovation. State and provincial leaders and industry leaders had frank discussions on how to invest in research and development to hopefully achieve innovative methods of improving oil transportation and preventing oil spills.

The Pacific States/B.C. Oil Spill Task Force segued into the Clean Pacific Conference, an annual meeting designed to bring stakeholders in spill prevention and response. This year’s conference brought governments, community leaders, and industries together to discuss lessons-learned from past spills, best practices in oil spill prevention and response, and a showcase of new products and solutions to keep the Pacific Ocean clean. Chad Bowechop, the director of the Makah Office of Marine Affairs and The Nature Conservancy’s key partner in oil spill prevention and response, participated in a panel discussion on local engagement for oil spill prevention and response. The key theme from the panel discussion was that communication and community engagement on oil spill prevention and response is crucial since each oil spill is unique and the response is tailored and influenced by the local community and their geographic response plan. 

Overall, it was a productive week of engaging in discussions and identifying how our region can continually improve our oil spill prevention, preparedness, and response strategies. 


Hello, Fellow Fellows

Written by Melissa Watkinson (2015-16 TNC Hershman Fellow), Mike Chang (2015-16 Makah/TNC Hershman Fellow), and Kara Cardinal (Marine Projects Manager)

It’s no secret that The Nature Conservancy has many partners across Washington State and the Pacific Northwest. One partnership that has furthered The Conservancy’s efforts in marine and coastal work, and builds on the legacy of Washington’s leadership in the development of sound policies for the conservation and use of ocean and coastal resources is with Washington Sea Grant’s Marc Hershman Marine Policy Fellowship program. The program matches outstanding, highly motivated marine science, law and policy graduate students with agency, NGO and tribal host offices, offering each fellow first-hand experience in crafting policies and enabling fellows to share their academic expertise with state decision-makers. The program is named after Marc Hershman, a leader in the study of ocean and coastal policy for 30 years, who passed away in February 2008. Dr. Hershman served in several marine leadership capacities and played a key role in efforts to develop more comprehensive and coherent policies for Washington’s coasts. The facilitation and support of the Marc Hershman Marine Policy Fellowship program is an outstanding example of the commitment to education and outreach by Washington Sea Grant.

The opportunity to host a Hershman fellow has strengthened The Conservancy’s ability to achieve its goals to conserve marine habitats and support healthy and sustainable communities and, at the same time, educate and empower the next generation of environmental leaders. This year the fellowship program has brought in its fourth generation of Hershman fellows to The Conservancy. Each fellow has worked closely with the marine team to tackle projects addressing marine conservation and stewardship, and has continued to work with the Conservancy on a variety of different capacities even after their fellowship term.

Hershman Fellows at TNC have strengthened and developed an exciting breadth and depth of projects with the marine team. The Conservancy’s first Hershman fellow is our very own marine projects manager, Kara Cardinal, where she led TNC’s MSP outreach efforts throughout the Washington Coast and helped the state develop the MSP data viewer. Katie Wrubel was the second fellow at TNC and was instrumental in helping Washington Coast tribes begin their tribal marine planning efforts. Katie is now working with the Makah Tribe as their Natural Resource Policy Analyst. Molly Bogeberg, the third fellow at TNC, worked closely with coastal communities in Grays Harbor and Pacific counties to bring habitat conservation as a priority within their Shoreline Master Programs. Molly finished her fellowship last September and continued working with TNC as the temporary marine projects manager. Melissa Watkinson is the newest TNC Hershman Fellow and she is engaging with partners and stakeholders to improve project proposals and future socio-economic policy responses in relation to environmental restoration for the Washington Coast Restoration Initiative.

Starting in 2014, the partnership between the Conservancy and the Makah Tribe led to new Marine Policy Fellowship with the Makah Tribe in an effort to further joint efforts on vessel traffic safety and climate resilience. Laura Nelson, the first fellow with the Makah Tribe, worked out of Washington TNC’s Seattle office to collaborate between both entities and is currently working a marine policy contractor with the Makah Tribe. This year, Michael Chang is fulfilling this role with Makah and TNC. Laura and Michael led efforts with the Makah Tribe on issues of vessel traffic safety and oil spill preparedness, adaptation to climate change and ocean acidification and protecting treaty-rights at risk.

The Sea Grant College Program is celebrating its 50th year anniversary this year, and this month they are focused on highlighting all of their current and past sea grant fellows while also recruiting its next class of Hershman fellows. The partnership TNC has built with Washington Sea Grant and the Hershman Fellowship, and the relationships that four generations of fellows sustain, is a testament to the quality of people that TNC attracts, and is a wonderful example of the power of achieving success through strong partnerships. 


Vessel Traffic in the Salish Sea: Preparing for the Future

Written by Michael Chang
Story Map by Michael Chang (2015-2016 Hershman Marine Policy Fellow, Makah Tribe/The Nature Conservancy), Erica Simek Sloniker (GIS & Visual Communications), and Laura Nelson (2014-2015 Hershman Marine Policy Fellow, Makah Tribe/The Nature Conservancy)

The Salish Sea, a body of water between British Columbia and Washington State that includes the Strait of Georgia, the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and Puget Sound, is a region that supports the livelihoods of millions of people. Communities, tribes, and First Nations are intimately dependent on these waters for food, culture, recreation, and industry.

Every year, about 10,000 cargo ships carry hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil through the Salish Sea, creating a constant risk of oil spills in the region that could harm community and tribal livelihoods. However, an intricate network of experts from the Coast Guard, U.S. tribes, Canadian First Nations, state & federal agencies, regional non-profits, and local communities have prevented a major oil spill from occurring in over 20 years.

Recently, there have been several new proposals and developments for oil terminals that will increase the oil shipping volume by twofold. To ensure that the Salish Sea can adapt to the doubling of vessels and oil, the Makah Tribe and TNC have partnered together to organize a trans-boundary vessel safety summit in order to improve the U.S. and Canadian coordination for oil response, prevention, and preparedness.

The Nature Conservancy and Makah have created an interactive story map detailing the vessel safety system and what needs to be done to accommodate the expected increase in vessel traffic.

See the full, interactive story map on vessel traffic on oil spill preparedness and response in the Salish Sea region. 

Cargo, Conversation & Conservation


Adapting to the new image of nature

Written and Photographed by by Melissa Laird, Associate Director of Philanthropy and Laura Nelson, Marc Hershman Marine Policy Fellow

If you close your eyes and think of Puget Sound, what do you see? Beaches, wildlife, boats?

Last week, as we looked out the windows of our Seattle office in the heart of Pike Place Market, we saw more commercial vessels navigating through one of our state’s natural icons than ever before. While the crowded waterway that day might have been an anomaly for the current time, this could be an increasingly familiar scene in the near future.

There are several proposed port expansions that would add volume to the roughly 10,000 deep draft vessels already annually plying the waters of the Salish Sea. These ships will also be carrying cargoes like oil and coal; not things we want ending up in the water. There are many existing safety measures already in place in the Sound and groups like the Coast Guard work hard to protect it from oil spills. However, there is still work to be done to ensure the system is ready to handle the proposed increases or to make it more robust even if those expansions do not end up getting built. 

The Nature Conservancy, along with several partners like the Makah Tribe, is working to facilitate discussions between federal, state, provincial, tribal, and first nation groups in the United States and Canada to improve coordination, communication, and capacity in oil spill prevention and planning efforts. We need to keep oil out of the water if we want to protect the marine habitat we treasure and that orcas and salmon call home.

How do we continue to protect that pristine image that you see when you close your eyes? Having an open dialogue with partners and working together on solutions is a good first step. And we’re committed to being part of this conversation.

Learn more about our work on Puget Sound.