It was standing-room-only last year at the Beachcombers Fun Fair for retired oceanographer Curtis Ebbesmeyer’s captivating warning about Japanese tsunami debris headed for the Washington coast.
The retired oceanographer and marine observer has proved to be one of the most popular returning speakers at the 26th annual Beachcombers event at the Ocean Shores Convention Center Friday through Sunday.
For good reason – beachcombing and what used to be considered simply recreation is now much more than collecting flotsam, shells, rocks and driftwood. It encompasses environmental awareness, scientific research, marine stewardship, wildlife protection or artistic expression.
Last year’s Ebbesmeyer session on tsunami debris had people waiting outside to squeeze in.
“We have doubled the size of the seminar rooms for this year,” said event organizer Helen Lord of the Visitor Information Center.
Lord notes that this year’s event includes University of Washington professor Brian Atwater, who has been a popular speaker in the past but is often out of the country.
“This is an educational event and we try to get people in to educate them,” Lord explains about how the nature of the Beachcombers Fun Fair has evolved because of the growing interest in more detailed information about all things on the coast.
“To me, I love this environment, and I hope people will also love it, protect it and learn how to preserve it,” Lord said. “That’s why I’m so involved in doing this.”
Even if all of his predictions don’t come true, Ebbesmeyer simply enjoys spreading the joys and the enlightenment that comes with what he considers to be the science of beachcombing. It’s not just recreation.
Ebbesmeyer earned his PhD in oceanography at the University of Washington in 1973. He has traced ocean movement and currents with how they affect flotsam and marine debris, and he’s the founder of the nonprofit Beachcombers’ and Oceanographers’ International Association and the Beachcombers’ Alert: http://beachcombersalert.org/
Ebbesmeyer is sort of the Pied Piper of beachcombing when it comes to debris from the Japanese tsunami. Within the year after the destruction, Ebbesmeyer predicted at a benefit for the Interpretive Center that “high windage” objects from the tsunami would start washing up on Northwest beaches any day. That was in November and the next several months through the winter and spring of 2012 saw so much debris the state finally had to send out crews to help clean the beaches.
Later that March at a Beachcombers Fun Fair lecture, Ebbesmeyer said the “next wave” of arrivals would probably be boats and other larger floating objects. He was right again.
Yet he’s also been criticized for predicting that some of the debris might have radioactive traces and that body parts, particularly feet encased in shoes, could was ashore from tsunami victims. So far, that hasn’t happened.
Ebbesmeyer now enjoys the Beachcombers event as much for the other seminars as for his opportunity to be one of the keynote speakers.
“The depth of the speaker field has really grown a lot,” he said. “You have some really good scientific talks and a real broad coverage with speakers who can communicate to the average person.”
Ebbesmeyer also was right about invasive species being a concern from organisms hitching a ride across the Pacific on debris.
“I said in October of 2011 to look out for invasive species, and they blew me off as crazy,” he said.
The dock recently drifting ashore north of LaPush was found to be covered in invasive species.
Retired local marine conservation educational specialist Alan Rammer of Central Park, one of the originators of the Beachcombers Fun Fair, said it was modeled after a similar event he had been involved with in Seaside, Ore.
“It was all about displaying all the things you found on the beach, basically. And people came and talked about flotsam and jetsam. But now it’s grown into scientific speakers about tsunamis and ocean currents, or debris and how it tracks. It has taken on what I call a new element,” Rammer said. “We haven’t left the other element behind, we just picked up the science portion of it.”
On Saturday morning, there is a children’s “Science-Go-Round” to engage youth in the science of the beach and ocean, and Rammer calls this year’s list of presentations a “vast array of fun information stuff and intellectual stuff.”
Rammer believes that interest continues to increase and hold steady for the event, which has limited media coverage outside of the area and no funds to do a paid advertising campaign.
Of the new speakers, he said he is particularly interested in seeing the Saturday afternoon (3 p.m.) presentation by Dr. Deacon Ritterbush of Pacific Asian Research Associates, who will be speaking on “Beachcombing: Portal to the Past – an introduction to the historical and scentific context of many treasures you find upon the shore.”
“Her nickname is ‘Dr. Beachcomb,’ and she collects everything,” Rammer said of Ritterbush, who has authored books on the subject.
Rammer enjoys the communication and interaction at the Fun Fair as much as anything.
“I just love sitting and visiting with people and I get a rush from all aspects of it,” he said.
The Beachcombers Fun Fair has added showings of the new documentary movie, Ikkatsu: The Roadless Coast, which chronicles a kayak trip last year down the remote Washington coast through some of the most pristine beaches and inlets affected by marine debris.
The intent is to show the movie in a loop at a viewing center throughout the event. The documentary most recently was selected as the winner of the 2013 Waterwalker Film Festival in the Environmental category.