Friends of the San Juans

Skyla, Kasatka, Tahlequah

by Friends of the San Juans on May 12, 2021 No comments

Poem and photos by Faith Jayaram, junior at Spring Street International School

I traveled far to save you,

High on childish naïveté.

I suppose at the time

I believed myself a heroine;


Reality, though, is cruel,

And real life is death

By the dozens,

Starved, poisoned, struck.


I no longer believe in fate,

Or rather I do not believe

In my capacity

To save.


Yet I dream of your birth,

And I dream of your death.


I’m sorry, Skyla.

I’m sorry, Kasatka.

I’m sorry, Tahlequah.


I dreamed of you too,

But I

Was too late.


My stomach aches

When you swallow paint and

Cement, churning like

Chunks of sediment;


My lungs convulse

When you suffocate in

Chemical-rich space,

One part water, two chlorine.


You exhale, and I


Breathe again,

Breathe you in,


Feel you in my chest,

Feel the waves crash


Against my black and white



I don’t know whose

Blood runs in my veins,

But our ancestors are

The same.


I promise I will tell the world

Our names.

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Friends of the San JuansSkyla, Kasatka, Tahlequah

You know that students hold the power to create change – they are counting on us.

by Friends of the San Juans on April 30, 2021 No comments

You know that students hold the power to create change — they are an electrified force. At Friends, Katie Fleming, our Community Engagement Director, embraces that energy. Katie is in her essence, electric! She lights up the classroom talking with students. She illuminates student potential on field trips to Olympia, as a conductor between local legislators and students. You can see the spark in her eyes as she embraces the future with hope, cultivating the energy of our youth and guiding them to create environmental projects and outreach campaigns. Your donation is the live wire to connect the students who will impact and influence environmental policy based upon science and their passion.

We have all witnessed youth advocacy for endangered species, reducing plastic use, and climate action. In some way, these young people have had the benefit of mentors like Katie. Mentoring youth is a powerful and productive way to ensure stewardship — Friends is one of the only local nonprofits guiding direct action for local students.

You can support, transform and inspire students who will find solutions to critical environmental needs. There are two ways to give in the coming weeks:

GiveBIGDonate here on May 4 and 5 (or you can give early now) to support our San Juan County-wide education and mentoring programs.

GiveOrcas –  Donate here on May 3-17 to target your support for Orcas Island students who will change the world.  (This link will go live on Monday, May 3.)

Thank you for helping us ensure that local students have the resources and mentoring they need to create a values-based, sustainable future!

Learn more about our youth mentorship program, get student testimonials, and see videos of us in action here.

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Friends of the San JuansYou know that students hold the power to create change – they are counting on us.

Read our April Highwater Marks E-Newsletter

by Friends of the San Juans on April 11, 2021 No comments

Check out the April issue of our e-newsletter – Highwater Marks! You’ll hear about our recent victory in court that will help protect the Southern Resident Killer Whales, learn how to report herring spawning in the San Juans this spring, discover more about how to address the growing plastic pollution problem – and more! Read it here.

The photo above shows herring spawn off of Bainbridge Island in March 2020. Photo by Brian Whitlock.

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Friends of the San JuansRead our April Highwater Marks E-Newsletter

Words from the Next Generation: Turning Off the Faucet of Plastic

by Friends of the San Juans on April 9, 2021 No comments

Our modern lives are inevitably tied to plastic. The so-called Everlasting Polymer is the epitome of convenience, so it was love at first sight for our consumerist culture. Plastic pollution is a major threat to biosphere health, and the problem is constantly worsening. Single-use plastics comprise about 50% of the 8 million tons of plastic entering the oceans each year (, and quantities of this waste can be found all over the world, from the bottom of the Mariana Trench to our own San Juan Islands.

The demands to clean up our seas of waste have multiplied in recent years as we finally realize the cost of our convenient lives. But we cannot hope that simply cleaning up our mess will make a dent in the issue unless we address it at the source. To explain this, I often use the analogy of trying to mop up a floor when a faucet is still pouring water onto it. We need to turn off the faucet of plastic production and use.

Luckily, different technologies, both new and old, are slowly moving to replace plastic. In recent years, discussion about actions individuals can take to reduce their plastic use has been circulating. Individual action is certainly a meaningful and measurable way to make a difference, but it is just one of many spheres of influence for change. Community and legislative action are the stepping stones between individual change and cultural/political change.

This article coincides with several events on both the community and legislative action levels involving plastic. In the Washington State Legislature, Bill SB5022 has passed both the house and senate and is on its way to Governor Inslee’s desk! This bill takes great steps to improve recycling and reduce plastic pollution. Companion legislative action involving single-use plastics may be considered by San Juan County soon. And the annual Great Islands Cleanup is set to take place on Saturday, April 24th—a chance for the community to work together to care for these islands that matter so much to us.

All these actions are as important for change as personally reducing plastic use is. In order to comprehensively address our plastic problem, we must approach it from multiple levels: the individual, community, and legislative levels. In other words, it takes a village to turn off the faucet.

by Kaia Olson, high school sophomore from Spokane 

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Friends of the San JuansWords from the Next Generation: Turning Off the Faucet of Plastic

Friends of the San Juans and Southern Resident Killer Whales Achieve Victory in Court

by Friends of the San Juans on April 8, 2021 No comments

This week, Whatcom County Superior Court Judge David Freeman delivered a court victory both to Friends of the San Juans and to the endangered Southern Resident Killer Whales. “We’re very excited about this ruling,” said Brent Lyles, Friends’ Executive Director, “and it’s been a long time coming!” The issue started in early 2019, when the Phillips 66 Refinery applied to Whatcom County for permits to install a new 300,000-barrel storage tank for crude oil and an 80,000-barrel storage tank for fuel oil.

In reviewing the project application, Lovel Pratt, Friends’ Marine Protection and Policy Director, noted that Phillips 66 had failed to provide important information. More storage tanks usually mean more tankers, and Phillips 66 didn’t quantify the amount or types of vessel traffic associated with this project. That prevented Whatcom County from assessing the potential impacts of project-related vessel traffic on the Salish Sea ecosystem, including impacts to the region’s critically endangered Southern Resident Killer Whales. Friends submitted comments; however, the revised Mitigated Determination of Non-Significance didn’t adequately address the project’s potential impacts to the orcas.

Friends of the San Juans appealed Whatcom County’s decision, and in November 2019 the Hearing Examiner’s decision modified the required mitigations to help ensure that this project will not likely result in significant adverse impacts to Southern Resident Killer Whales. Phillips 66 chose to file an appeal, naming both Friends of the San Juans and Whatcom County as co-respondents. In June 2020, the matter went before Whatcom County Superior Court, and this week we finally received a win for the Southern Residents. According to Judge Freeman, “the Court concludes that the hearings examiner did not exceed his authority in modifying the conditions in his final order” noting that “the record is significant with respect to environmental impacts of increased vessel traffic on resident killer whales.”

“Project applications that would increase vessel traffic in critical orca habitat should always be required to thoroughly address potential impacts,” said Brent Lyles. “Whenever possible, we need to reduce and not increase vessel noise and presence impacts, the risk of ship strikes, and oil-spill risks for this beloved and endangered population. This decision is an historic victory for the Southern Resident Killer Whales and the Salish Sea ecosystem.”

Learn more and read the judge’s decision.

Thank you to the Northwest Fund for the Environment and the Bullitt Foundation for supporting this legal work.

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Friends of the San JuansFriends of the San Juans and Southern Resident Killer Whales Achieve Victory in Court

Spring into Action this Great Island Cleanup, April 24th!

by Friends of the San Juans on April 7, 2021 No comments

Help make the San Juan Islands “Plastic Free by the Sea”! This year’s Great Islands Clean-up is on Saturday, April 24, 2021. Join the county-wide greening event and collect litter from public beaches and roadways. There will be litter clean-up events happening on Orcas, San Juan, Lopez and Shaw Islands this year.

Look out for tires this year too! Have you ever noticed a mossy, weedy tire while walking along a roads or beaches? There is a chemical compound in tires that washes off in the rain and is linked to killing salmon – bringing in a cast-off tire along with your litter to the dump is a simple way that we can make an immediate impact.

Follow the steps below to join us:

  • Step 1 – Register and review the safety guidelines at
  • Step 2 – Have fun as you Spring into Action! Keep track of your volunteer hours and miles of beach/road cleaned.
  • Step 3 – Drive through your dump on or around April 24th to drop off your litter and report your service.

Please remember to have your totals of volunteer hours and miles of beach/road cleaned for the attendant so we can measure our Great Islands Cleanup impact. This information helps us bring in future litter cleanup funding to our county from the State! If you find debris that is too heavy to safely lift or have additional questions, please contact your island coordinator below:

San Juan: Katie Fleming ([email protected])

Orcas: Pete Moe ([email protected] / 376-4089)

Shaw: Jennifer Woodbridge ([email protected])

Lopez: Nikyta Palmisani ([email protected]) – Roads

James Skeet Townley ([email protected] / 509-860-3972) – Beach

Make sure to share photos of your day! Send photos to [email protected] and tag #GICU2021 on social media.

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Friends of the San JuansSpring into Action this Great Island Cleanup, April 24th!

Tell Washington State to say YES to Southern Resident Killer Whales & NO to industries that could cause oil spills!

by Friends of the San Juans on March 29, 2021 No comments

Sign this petition to tell Washington State’s Department of Ecology to require the industries that could cause a major oil spill to comply with state regulations, and to identify and fund the reconnaissance and deterrence operations that will be needed to protect Southern Resident Killer Whales from a major oil spill. Tell Ecology to not let industries’ lack of compliance with state law result in a major oil spill that is devastating to the Southern Resident Killer Whales.

It is critical that the Southern Residents be kept away from an oil spill. The National Marine Fisheries Service states, “Their small population size and social structure…puts them at risk for a catastrophic event, such as an oil spill, that could impact the entire population.”

Washington Governor Jay Inslee’s Executive Order 18-02 also states that “the potential for a catastrophic oil spill continues to threaten Southern Residents and the entire ecosystem of Puget Sound.”

The population’s vulnerability to oil spills is further magnified because the population includes so few females that are of reproductive age. The oil spill response planning and securing the necessary personnel and equipment for the reconnaissance and deterrence phases of the wildlife response operations are therefore critical to keeping the Southern Residents away from an oil spill and preventing their extinction.

Join 20 organizations in asking the Washington State Department of Ecology to require oil spill contingency plans to include the required wildlife response protections for the critically endangered Southern Residents.

Sign the petition today! Thank you for taking action to help protect Southern Residents and their ecosystem!

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Friends of the San JuansTell Washington State to say YES to Southern Resident Killer Whales & NO to industries that could cause oil spills!

Read our March Highwater Marks E-Newsletter

by Friends of the San Juans on March 15, 2021 No comments

Check out the March issue of our e-newsletter – Highwater Marks! You’ll learn about our new virtual reality education program, get the link for our petition that asks the WA Department of Ecology to require oil spill contingency plans that include the required wildlife response protections for the critically endangered Southern Residents, hear how shifting baselines are related to environmental action – and more! Read it here.

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Friends of the San JuansRead our March Highwater Marks E-Newsletter

Overcoming Shifting Baselines

by Friends of the San Juans on March 12, 2021 No comments

A few years ago, I was combing the beach of Barlow Bay on Lopez Island when I found a whelk shell that had washed out of a midden. This shell was easily ten times larger than the others I had often found dotting the beach, and I have never seen another whelk shell like it. In fact, if that shell hadn’t eroded out of the midden, I would have never known the size that whelks grew to historically, only having seen the smaller shells that I considered normal. My experience was an example of Shifting Baseline Syndrome.

Shifting Baseline Syndrome is how our accepted thresholds for environmental change are steadily being lowered. With each passing generation, the baseline shifts because the new generation perceives their present environmental conditions as “normal.” Consequently, the perceived degree of environmental change is minimized. For example, a particular species may be prolific during one generation’s lifetime, though by the time the species goes extinct, several passing generations have seen its population gradually declining, so the loss is not considered extreme in the eyes of each generation. The “baseline” shift between generations prevents the magnitude of the changes from being perceived.

Clearly, shifting baselines have serious implications in our fight against global environmental issues. Can we expect ourselves to “wake up” from our inaction if the alarm never rings loud enough? What will it take for us to understand the impact of our present actions?

I believe we can still overcome the barrier to action that Shifting Baseline Syndrome presents. First, we must recognize the problem—our generational shortsightedness. Then, we must practice awareness, recognizing how our individual actions are environmentally consequential in the long term. Finally, among other solutions such as ongoing research and education, we must renew our connection with the environment and with each other. I would argue that storytelling has a significant role in this last step. Data and facts can certainly be powerful, but sometimes it takes a story to evoke emotion and inspire change. Older and younger generations can bridge the gap between each other’s perceptions by passing on writing, photographs, and memories. By sharing our experiences, we can create a collective “memory bank” that will extend our perceptual window and provide a clearer view of change in the world over a longer timeframe. Establishing a fixed baseline will help us restore and sustain the stability of our natural world, reconnecting ourselves to the planet.

As I write, the large whelk shell sits on my shelf next to the smaller, more common ones I often find, providing me with a constant reminder. Baselines have shifted, and we must work to shift them back.

Written by Kaia Olson (high school sophomore)

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Friends of the San JuansOvercoming Shifting Baselines

Friends’ New Immersive Virtual Reality Education Program

by Friends of the San Juans on March 12, 2021 No comments

“I had never seen salmon in their natural habitat so vividly, so it surprised me how much personality they had. The way the fish moved was just so majestic.”

We have successfully launched our exciting new youth program! Over the past month, Friends staff have been online and in person with Lopez High School’s Marine Science class and Spring Street International School’s Environmental Systems class, taking students underwater along our shorelines and up the Skagit River with spawning salmon — using virtual reality!

The goal of the program is to provide students with a next-to-real life virtual experience of swimming inside critical nearshore habitats. Along the way, they learn about marine food webs and about career possibilities in marine conservation. With this program, Friends gives students the tools and resources to help them be civically engaged and stewards of our precious marine environments.

One high school student from Spring Street said, “I found the whole experience very cool. I felt like I was swimming underwater with the fish. This is an experience I had never experienced in real life, but now I feel that I have.”

Click here to see Shorelines and Salmon: Friends of the San Juans’ Immersive Education 360VR!

A screenshot of salmon from the video.

For the ultimate immersive experience, we recommend using virtual reality headsets to view the video, like the Oculus Quest units that students use in the classroom. The next best option is an inexpensive cardboard viewer you can use at home, like Google cardboard headsets that use your smart phone to transform the 360˚ YouTube video into a virtual reality video. If you don’t have access to a headset, though, just open up the link on your smart phone and use the YouTube app to view it from there. Don’t forget to move your phone around while you watch!

A student using the Oculus Quest headset in the classroom for the full, immersive VR experience.

This flexible program offers a 3-5 day curriculum package that can include:

  • A field trip to a nearby beach for forage fish sampling (with Covid safety protocols in place);
  • Presentations on our marine food web and its connection to healthy shorelines;
  • A primer on virtual reality technology and a VR classroom experience with our virtual reality film by Friends Marine Science Coordinator Jess Newley; and
  • An action day where students are given tools for civic engagement and local stewardship projects.

We look forward to expanding this program to the broader Salish Sea region next year.

If you are a teacher or know of a student group or club that may be interested in the Immersive VR Education Program, please email Jess at [email protected].

Friends of the San Juans thanks the Keta Legacy Foundation and the Wheeler Foundation for their support of this program and all those who helped us launch it through the Give Big event last Spring!

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Friends of the San JuansFriends’ New Immersive Virtual Reality Education Program