Splash Into Fun & Learning

The South Sound Estuary Center

By Sarah Bradley

An estuary refers to the body of brackish water where freshwater from rivers and streams meet the sea. The conditions of an Estuary, found in bays, inlets, and lagoons, provide a rich and fertile habitat for plankton and plants which in turn provide food for a wide range of wildlife.

The South Sound Estuary center is open on weekends from 11 a.m.— 4 p.m. Entry is free, though donations to the center are accepted, and greatly appreciated. When you arrive, you’re greeted by one of the center’s volunteers. The individuals that volunteer their time to the estuarium work educating themselves and others about the marine biodiversity of the Puget Sound.

The overarching goal of the estuarium is to to increase understanding and appreciation for the South Puget Sound area. The center also connects people with resources and educates the public about changes they can make that will positively impact the Puget Sound ecosystem.

The estuary center has been a part of the Olympia community since 2007. Previously, they were located near the farmer’s market. This space was not ideal for providing care for the aquarium tanks and the creatures that they house. The center relocated to a larger building at 309 State Ave. a little over a year ago.

The center hosts events throughout the year, such as the “pier peer” series which occurs on Friday nights at Boston Harbor. This event gives you the chance to peer beneath the water’s surface and observe the wildlife living down there— you will see jellyfish, predatory sea slugs, harbor seals chasing squids. A full calendar of events can be found on the center’s website.

Most of the creatures you will find at the estuarium have been donated by the Department of Fish and Wildlife. Some have been donated from private collections. Among the center’s four large aquarium tanks, you will find a variety of sea-stars, kelp crabs, anemones, urchins, clams, and fish going about their lives. There are also preserved creatures in jars, like squid and octopus, that you can pick up and inspect with a magnifying glass or under a microscope.

There  are also volunteer and internship opportunities at the estuarium. Many volunteers have been Evergreen students. Current manager and lead educator Troy Mead started as a volunteer when they learned about the center at an Evergreen internships and opportunities fair. To learn morea bout volunteering you can go to the center during their open hours or contact the center through email.

The south sound estuary center is a fun, interactive, and colorful space. There is a lot to see and touch (You can stroke the coat of a harbor seal while reading information about the creature). The South Sound Estuary Center is fun and easily accessed community resource to learn more about the wildlife we live so close to.