Observations on the Salish Sea - Susanne Pavyluk

Salish Sea



What are the most significant environmental threats facing the Salish Sea? 

The most obvious environmental threat to the Salish Sea in my mind is increasing coal and oil ship traffic. This might be the most obvious to me because in recent years it is what our community has loudly protested about. Increased ship traffic is problematic in the Salish Sea for a number of reasons. The few that stand out to me are noise impacts on the species living here, the increased probability of ships physically striking the endangered and many keystone species living here and the possibility of devastating spills which increases as traffic does.

What are your experiences with the Salish Sea? 

I was born and raised in Whatcom County and was fortunate enough to grow up exploring the islands and waterways here.

The Salish Sea has helped me to develop a sense of self and identity that is built around feeling at home and confident in my natural environment.

Learning to identify the native plant species that grow here from the time I was a tiny child and an understanding about which islands we are looking at from the wheelhouse of a boat by looking at a map, are all just little pieces of how I experience this place. The Salish Sea is laden with a rich Coast Salish culture and history which I’ve spent my life learning about as someone who doesn’t share in that cultural history, but also feeling a part of it because for as long as I can remember I have shared this place with Coast Salish people. This part of the Pacific Northwest is a pocket unlike any other I have experienced. I believe that there is a strong sense of place and community that connects the people who live here to each other and the environment in which we live. 

How has your understanding of the Salish Sea evolved over the years? 

Because I have lived here all my life, my understanding has evolved immensely just by gaining the ability to cognitively understand the complexities of the social and environmental ecosystems. I think what has mostly evolved is my appreciation for this place. Transitioning through the phases of my life - childhood, adolescence, being a Western Student (Go Vikings!), adulthood and now raising my own family here, I am able to better reflect on what this place means to me personally and what it has meant to generations of my family.

It is less about knowing facts and reading news (while that is all still important) and more about grasping the inherent value of this place to its people.

What does everyone need to know to be better stewards of the Salish Sea?

I think that people will have to gain an understanding of the importance of this place to the many different kinds of people who call it home. I always hear people say that this is “a beautiful place to live” which is true but it is more than that. Its a place with rich social, cultural and biological diversity. Approaching the unknown with respectful curiosity rather than confrontation may help everyone to be better stewards of the Salish Sea.