PENINSULA WOMAN: Educator learns as she teaches volunteers about marine life

By Diane Urbani de la Paz
For Peninsula Woman

Volunteer opportunities

■ SATURDAY, APRIL 23, IS both Washington Coast Cleanup Day and the first Klallam Earth Day beach cleanup, so those who love the ocean have a panoply of opportunities to beautify their beaches.

To find out about the cleanups along the Strait of Juan de Fuca from Dungeness Bay to Clallam Bay, visit www.KlallamEarthDay.com. To find a Pacific beach needing cleanup volunteers, visit www.CoastSavers.org or phone Jacqueline Laverdure at 360-457-6622, ext. 21.

■ If sea otters, submersibles, seabirds, weather, currents and Marine Protected Areas intrigue you, you may want to look into volunteering at the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary's Olympic Coast Discovery Center.

This spring's training starts Thursday, April 7, with an event welcoming new volunteers; then seminars will be held each Thursday from April 26 through May 19. These training sessions take place in the Olympic Coast Sanctuary classroom on the second floor of The Landing mall, 115 E. Railroad Ave., near Downriggers restaurant. They also include field trips to Neah Bay's Makah Cultural and Research Center and to the Salt Creek County Park tidepools west of Port Angeles.

Discovery Center volunteers meet with visitors and introduce them to local marine mammals, maritime heritage, ocean issues and the diversity of ocean life. Janet Lamont, manager of the center, provides training and continuing education opportunities for this team.

Lamont is also coordinator of the Coastal Observation and Seabird Survey Team (COASST). In this program, pairs of specially trained volunteers conduct monthly or bimonthly surveys of a particular stretch of coastline, where they identify, measure, mark and photograph seabird carcasses. With the information the volunteers gather, marine scientists can detect unusual weather events, oil spills and other natural and unnatural phenomena. COASST data also can be used to identify long-term changes in resident populations of marine birds.

For more information about joining the COASST or Discovery Center volunteer corps, phone Lamont at 360-457-6622, ext. 31, or email janet.lamont@noaa.gov.

Peninsula Woman
PORT ANGELES — The great body of water beside us has long held Janet Lamont in its thrall.

“My favorite place to be,” says the tiny woman, “is on an ocean beach.” For her, it's an elemental experience: hearing the waves, smelling the air, feeling the energy.

Lamont grew up in Seattle, slightly removed from the Pacific Ocean's front lines, though she became acquainted with the coast on family backpacking trips. She grew up to be a classroom teacher and library media specialist in the Edmonds School District — and then moved closer to the oceanfront to begin a second career.

Out on the edge of the Olympic Peninsula, she leads a kind of civilian coast guard. And together, she and her volunteers face a daunting battle with a dynamic blend of determination and love.

As volunteer coordinator for the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary's Discovery Center in Port Angeles, Lamont and her compatriots are fighting for the Pacific, through education and through reaching out to people who come here from everywhere. While the marine sanctuary staff of researchers are funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, the volunteers also gather data about our local seas, and share it with the concerned public.

Lamont trains these volunteers and coordinates continuing education for them — while pursuing an intangible, equally important task: keeping people hopeful.

“The ocean is in very big trouble” because of pollution, overfishing, acidification and other damage, she says.

“Humans have created the problems — and I hope we can reverse some of those things, too.”

All of this begins, naturally, with young people. So Lamont, with the staff of the Feiro Marine Life Center on Port Angeles' City Pier, every year introduces flocks of local fourth- and fifth-graders to the marine world in their front yard.

The Clallam County youngsters get to go on field trips to the Feiro and to the Olympic Coast Discovery Center, an 800-square-foot space loaded with exhibits, photography and volunteers to explain it all.

“The kids are really important. All of this is going to be handed to them,” says Jim Jewell, who's been volunteering in the Discovery Center with his wife, Becky, since 2004.

The Jewells also meet people from all over the world, thanks to the proximity of the ferries to Victoria. Travelers wander into the center, which is beside the entrance to Downriggers restaurant, and find out about the 3,310-square-mile oceanic sanctuary nearby.

They learn that the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary, as it extends 25 to 50 miles out over the continental shelf, protects a productive upwelling zone, a wilderness with a dazzling population from plankton to otters to whales. They learn too that the sanctuary has a rich human culture, with more than 150 documented shipwrecks and the native communities of the Makah, Quinault, Hoh and Quileute nations.

The Jewells, like many who come to the Olympic Peninsula to “retire,” wanted to give of themselves and make a contribution in their new community. Jim and Becky moved from Dyer, Ind., and have since found volunteering at the Discovery Center to be mind-expanding work.

“We came to learn about the ocean, and we had a lot to learn,” Jim said, adding that he and his wife relish their interactions with sanctuary staff, the guest speakers Lamont brings in, and the people who happen to visit the Discovery Center.

Becky is heartened by the interest younger visitors show.

“There was a little girl,” she said, “who watched one of our videos,” narrated by a female biologist. “She said, ‘That's what I'm going to be.'”

Lamont herself started here as a volunteer in 2004. Then, when sanctuary staffer Heidi Pedersen went on maternity leave in 2006, Lamont was hired; now the two women share the volunteer coordination duties.

“First of all, [Lamont] is a great teacher,” said Robert Steelquist, the sanctuary education coordinator. “She relates very, very well to all kinds of folks: visitors, staff, scientists.”

And when Lamont was sent out on the McArthur II research vessel in 2005, she proved herself as a photojournalist, shooting pictures of her beloved marine mammals and seabirds.

“She understands what motivates volunteers,” Steelquist added.

Lamont organizes, among many other outings, field trips to the Tongue Point tidepools and Port Townsend Marine Science Center and a behind-the-scenes tour of the Seattle Aquarium.

And each month, she coordinates a brown-bag lunch or pizza party during which a guest speaker from Olympic National Park, the U.S. Coast Guard or another organization talks with volunteers about ocean-related activities on the Peninsula.

This Tuesday, the lunchtime speaker will be Charlie Comstock of the new cruise company Expeditions Northwest (www.ExpeditionsNW.com).

Volunteers then share their knowledge while working at the Discovery Center and at community festivals, from Makah Days in Neah Bay to Grays Harbor's Shorebird Festival to the Beachcombers Fun Fair in Ocean Shores.

The coming month is a busy one on the volunteering front: on April 7, Lamont will begin a new series of training seminars for people who want to work in the Discovery Center; she is also helping coordinate the first Klallam Earth Day countywide beach cleanup April 23.

That effort was initially going to include Strait of Juan de Fuca shoreline cleanups from Morse Creek just east of Port Angeles to Dry Creek. But then people in and around Sequim and the West End wanted to be part of it, so the event's scope was extended to cover the strait from Dungeness Bay to Clallam Bay. Signups are under way now, with details at www.KlallamEarthDay.com.

The Olympic Coast Discovery Center, meanwhile, will be open one day next month, April 23, for Port Angeles' Earth Day observances. It will then start its summer season May 28 and stay open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. seven days a week through Labor Day, Sept. 5.

To join the volunteer corps, “you don't have to be a scientist. You don't have to know all about ocean acidification. You don't have to know about all the critters in the tidepools,” Lamont said. What you do need is an interest in people, and in learning about the natural world; Lamont teaches the science part.

In addition to managing the Discovery Center, Lamont coordinates a whole other group known as the COASST volunteers. The Coastal Observation and Seabird Survey Team, a citizen-science program, identifies the carcasses of marine birds found on beaches along on Washington's outer coast.

Pairs of trained workers do monthly or bimonthly surveys of “their” particular beaches, measuring, photographing and marking the birds. In so doing, the volunteers can find out about unusual events at sea. They could, Lamont added, be among the first to detect an oil spill.

Just prior to the start of the season, Lamont took a quick trip to Los Cabos, Mexico, earlier this month for some warmer-ocean time. She and her husband of 41 years, Jim Lamont, have raised their two sons, and can now go south periodically to scuba dive.

Lamont has dived in the waters off Washington's coast, and said that thanks to the rich nutrients here, there's more to see than there is in the tropics. But these days, she and Jim go to warmer climes. And as a recent cancer survivor, Lamont is enjoying these trips, and the enchanted world below the ocean's surface.

“I love being underwater,” amid the multihued community of marine life. “It's amazing feeling, to be weightless,” hovering in the translucent sea.

These dives strengthen Lamont's resolve to make a difference in the ocean's future.

“Janet is a real inspiration, for women,” said Pedersen.

“The most impressive thing about Janet Lamont is her dedication,” to teaching — and constantly learning — about the marine environment.

She is ever-curious, Pedersen added, about not only her own marine sanctuary but the others in the national network. In recent years, Lamont has coordinated volunteer-exchange programs with her counterparts at the national marine sanctuaries in Hawaii and Thunder Bay, Mich.

Lamont also strives to stay hopeful about the potential for healing. She is herself inspired by Carol Bernthal, the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary superintendent who is now acting director of the national marine sanctuaries' entire West Coast region.

“We've got to be positive,” Bernthal says, “to keep going forward.”

“We have some huge challenges in front of us,” Lamont added. “We need a healthy ocean to support life on Earth; it's as simple as that.”

Last modified: March 27. 2011 2:18AM
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