‘Meet the Beach’ program introduces Olympia area residents to marine life

The 2015 “Meet the Beach” season of marine exploration kicks off Friday at Tolmie State Park.

Volunteer beach naturalists, trained by the South Sound Estuary Association, will be stationed throughout the summer at Olympia-area beaches on days with significant low tides. Donning tan vests, the naturalists will help visitors identify marine creatures and answer questions.

The program takes place at five South Sound beaches: Burfoot Park, Frye Cove Park, Priest Point Park, Tolmie State Park and West Bay Park.

There are typically three to six volunteer naturalists at each beach, there to help visitors discover marine creatures and answer questions, said Wendy Eklund, beach naturalist program manager.

While the association has considered making changes in the program, Eklund said the formula they have used in the past has been effective.

“Just being there, and exploring and discovering things with people works so well,” she said.

That doesn’t mean there won’t be some informal changes.

She recommends walking south to avoid muddy areas at the park entrance.

“We can go as far as the Mission Creek restoration area. They rehabbed a pocket estuary there. If we walk, it makes for a nice experience for people rather than walking through the really sticky mud,” she said. “If that’s something the people there want to do, we’d be happy to do it.”

There will be about 30 people working as naturalists this summer.

“It’s a great group. The backgrounds are so different. We have people who used to work for a family oyster business, people who have worked in different marine biology fields, or have studied it in the past and want to brush up on it because they are new to the area,” Eklund said.

Entering its sixth year, the program serves about 2,000 people.

“At Tolmie we’ll get 125 to 225 people a day, where Burfoot might average about 100 people and the smaller parks attract 30 to 50 people,” Eklund said.

“We want people to explore and connect with the things that live on the beach and inspire them to take care of Puget Sound,” Eklund said. “Without that connection, it is hard to get them to care.”