The Puget Sound watershed has gone through extraordinary change in just a few decades. As conservation groups wrestle with ways to protect the region’s environment, a key priority in many cases is also to “restore” Puget Sound to its former health.
But what is a healthy Puget Sound? To what condition do we seek to restore it? In short, what was the environment of Puget Sound like? These questions are often answered in quantifiable terms like salmon counts or any number of ecosystem indicators, from shellfish beds to measurements of Orca populations.
Less quantifiable may be the human experience. One of the goals of the Puget Sound Institute is to spur dialogue on the “human dimension” of ecosystem recovery. (This key component of ecosystem-based management was the topic of a workshop sponsored in 2011 in collaboration with Washington Sea Grant. You can read the resulting white paper here.)
In this spirit, the forthcoming Encyclopedia of Puget Sound will feature a new series called “Puget Sound Voices.” We will talk to people that remember the Puget Sound ecosystem— or that have researched it, such as historians or other scholars— and get their stories. These might include scientists, fishermen or tribe members, or the person with whom I spoke recently, Vern Morgas.
Morgas is 86 years old and has the distinction of being the first person (ever) to scuba dive in Puget Sound. His recollection was that the water was a little murky in Hammersley Inlet where he made his first dive, but that the spearfishing was good. “I didn’t think of it as being a pioneer,” he says. “To me, it was just so much fun.” He learned to scuba dive in California and bought his first air tank and regulator directly from the legendary Jacques Cousteau. After his inaugural dives, he became a scuba instructor and over the years taught thousands more to scuba in Puget Sound.
Morgas is a fascinating character on many levels— sailor, boat builder, river rafter, and even an expert harmonica player. (I brought my Marine Band harp to the interview, but he blew me out of the water when I tried to match him on a blues number.) He also remembers that while some things were better in the past— he recalls Hood Canal as a fisherman’s paradise— some things, at least, may have improved. Consider what some people used to call whale watching. “In the early days I can remember when the Orcas would swim up [near here],” he recalls. “I’d hear the rifle shots of dimwits shooting at them. Right out here. And this inlet at this point is a mile wide, and they’re shooting at Orcas. Hard to believe.”
Look for the full interview in the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound, which will begin beta testing this coming spring.