Fostering Responsible Stewardship of the Salish Sea

Salish Sea Institute Blog image

Image: Redfish School of Change, 2017

The Salish Sea Institute at Western Washington University (SSI) was launched in 2015 when a diverse group of concerned citizens realized an immediate need for direct, specific communication and cooperative action to restore and protect the health of the unique Salish Sea ecosystem. (Learn more about the Salish Sea.)

SSI’s mission is to foster responsible stewardship of the Salish Sea, to inform and inspire the people who are willing to work to preserve it for the benefit of current and future generations. Working with faculty at Western Washington University and a community of advisors, the Institute has developed a place-based curriculum, that will allow students to explore the environment, history and communities of the Salish Sea.

The Salish Sea Institute addresses the need for ongoing and respectful dialogue and action by providing a structure for scholarly collaboration across boundaries of culture and political geography.

Another goal of the Salish Sea Institute is to promote trans-boundary communication and initiatives.  The Salish Sea Institute administers the Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference which brings together scientists, First Nations, Tribal leaders, students, policy makers and individuals on both sides of the border to share research findings and policy solutions to protect and restore the Salish Sea ecosystem.

Ginny Broadhurst was appointed Director of the Salish Sea Institute in 2017. Born in New Jersey, Ginny’s passion for the Salish Sea first developed when she came out west to Seattle after completing her college degree in New Hampshire. She immediately felt more “at home” here than she did in New Jersey and credits that not only to the place but also to how people connect to the place: “they haven’t surrendered their stewardship ethic”. Unlike other places Ginny has lived, Washingtonians didn’t appear to sit back and expect someone else (i.e.: the government) to step in and tend to the environment.

“People in this region seem to better understand their role as stewards.”

SSI story image

Ginny’s educational background in environmental science, with a specific focus on stewardship, led her to a position where she can better effect change by translating the complexities of science and environmental issues into actions that are reasonable, make sense and give people the information that they need to make better choices. Through the SSI, Ginny encourages and facilitates decision makers and people in their everyday lives who aren’t otherwise exposed to the wealth of information available to those in the environmental field, to work together to come up with sustainable solutions. Often, her job is to create a bridge between science, policy and people. Her specialty is outreach: connecting people to other people who have the same interests and concerns about the Salish Sea.

“As long as it is good science, and the right information, you can affect change. Whether that means teaching students, or helping decision makers to ‘put their thinker on’.”

In creating the Salish Sea Institute, WWU realized an opportunity for a unique program that could function both on and off campus. In her role as director, Ginny is able to reach out to leaders, changemakers and influencers, as well as the general public in a much broader way than most University staff and can bring insight and information back to the campus. Learning at the SSI happens on a broader scale than most university programs and has far-reaching impact. Networking and outreach is Ginny’s biggest role.

Recently, the SSI held a workshop for researchers of underwater noise and lawyers from both sides of the border to discuss the underwater noise issue in the Salish Sea and how the US ‘Endangered Species Act’ and the CDN ‘Species At Risk Act’ could be better implemented to address the implications of underwater noise on Southern Resident Orca recovery. These are laws that exist, but must be implemented to do what they were bound to do, and SSI is bringing the people together to make that happen.

“Lawyers don’t always have the best science at their fingertips and scientists are not specialists in law, so bringing them together can make change happen.”

The workshop, though it consisted of a small group of people, “threaded the needle” towards a directive and set the stage for future collaboration between professionals.

SSI story image 2

“Erasing the border” is the number one goal of the Salish Sea Institute—building collegial relationships between people so that they can continue to work together on their specific initiatives. And there are many. The biennial Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference, “Shared Knowledge for the Future” is organized and hosted by the SSI, and will be held on April 19-22, 2020 at the Vancouver, BC Convention Centre.

Some of the programs and initiatives that the Salish Sea Institute offers are:

Hope for the Salish Sea 
Recognizing that it takes solutions and hopefulness to recover and restore the Salish Sea, our intention is to share positive news, accomplishments, science and opportunities for solutions related to environmental recovery. 

Huxley Speaker Series
The Huxley College Speaker Series brings guest lecturers to WWU to address topics of environmental concern. Videos available online.

Salish Sea Studies Minor
The program prepares students to work collaboratively across international borders and academic disciplines, to understand tribal treaties and sovereignty, and to improve the health of the Salish Sea for future generations.

Redfish School of Change
A partnership between the School of Environmental Studies at the University of Victoria, Huxley College of the Environment and the Center for Canadian-American Studies at Western Washington University, and GreenLearning Canada formed to make this unique program possible.

Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference
The purpose of the Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference is to assemble scientists, First Nations and tribal government representatives, resource managers, community and business leaders, policy makers, educators, and students to present the latest scientific research and to guide future actions for protecting and restoring the Salish Sea ecosystem.

The Salish Sea name recognizes the Coast Salish peoples who were the sea’s first stewards and who have lived here since time immemorial. Over seven million people now live, work, and play in the Salish Sea watershed. We benefit from the area’s rich natural resources and deep culture.

The Salish Sea is experiencing detrimental impacts of human development and climate change, such as ocean acidification and increased storm and flooding events. The sea is suffering significant loss of marine fish and wildlife populations due to habitat loss and a myriad of pollutants. By the year 2025, the Salish Sea regional population is expected to be over nine million people. Regional collaboration and collective action are needed to combat these impacts and ensure that the Salish Sea and its inhabitants thrive into the future.