science advisor

A New Science Advisor and the Science Behind the Salish Sea's Ancient Bonds

By Bob Friel

At the SeaDoc Society, we always talk about the importance of preserving the health of the Salish Sea for the benefit of both the environment as well as the people who live here and depend on it for everything from the economy and recreation to the philosophical satisfaction of existing amid such inspiring natural beauty.


SeaDoc’s newest addition to our all-star team of Science Advisors, Dr. Jamie Donatuto, understands that linking of people and place so deeply that she’s helped redefine the concept of ecosystem “health” for other scientists who’ve traditionally studied human and wildlife systems separately.

After earning her Environmental Science degree, Jamie went to work for the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community, a Tribe comprised of Coast Salish peoples who originally inhabited the Skagit and Samish River valleys, and Puget Sound coastline and islands.

“The Tribe asked me to write a project proposal to study toxics in locally-harvested shellfish,” says Jamie. It was an ideal project for her since she wanted to work in toxicology. And though it was her first try at writing a grant, not only was it accepted but also it was the largest grant ever awarded to a Native American tribe at that time.

Then, two years into her project, after completing the initial human health risk assessment, came the real beginning of Jamie’s education on ecosystem interconnectedness.

“I presented the draft results to the governing Tribal Council,” she says. “There was a long pause before the Chairman finally asked, ‘Where in these numbers are our definitions of health?’”

While Jamie and every other scientist working on issues like this had approached them by simply measuring potential poisons in the environment then describing human risk in biological terms of exposure to x micrograms of whatever toxins, the Swinomish had more profound ideas about defining and prioritizing health.

“Shellfish are an important traditional food for the Swinomish,” says Jamie. “But they taught me that the importance goes way beyond subsistence calories. For them, shellfish are imbued with deep connections to the health of their people through creation stories, ceremonies, tools, and the passing down of ancient ecological knowledge.”

It was an “Aha” moment for Jamie, who realized that the scientific tools available for human health assessment were inadequate to address the needs and values of tribal communities.

“I also found that in regards to health, scientists studied risks and impacts to natural ecosystems as if they existed in a wholly separate world from risks and impacts to human ecosystems.” This didn’t make sense to the Coast Salish or to Jamie. “Human and natural systems are inextricably connected and need to be assessed that way.”

Jamie realized that she’d have to create her own scientific study mechanisms, and used her revelations to inform her doctoral thesis: “When Seafood Feeds the Spirit Yet Poisons the Body: Developing Health Indicators for Risk Assessment in a Native American Fishing Community.”

It’s this kind of outstanding insight and experience that we prize in our SeaDoc science advisors, and we’re proud to now have Dr. Jamie Donatuto as part of the team.

Alongside her continuing work with the Swinomish Tribe, Jamie maintains her personal interconnectedness with the Salish Sea by swimming in it and hiking the trails on Orcas Island with her kids. And not only is she a high-flying environmental/social scientist, Jamie is also an aerial artist, performing acrobatic dance while suspended above the ground on a ribbon of silk!

Thanks for your continuing support, and please help us welcome Jamie aboard!

To see a list of all SeaDoc's Science Advisors, visit our Team page.

SeaDoc Adds to its All-Star Science Team

By Bob Friel

There’s a world of difference between West Africa and the Salish Sea, between the steamy equatorial jungle habitat of pygmy hippos and zebra duikers, and the Pacific Northwest’s temperate rainforests and chilly waters aswim with salmon and orcas. But Dr. Ken Currens, SeaDoc’s newest addition to our team of Science Advisors, has called both places home.

Ken Snow

Ken Snow

Growing up amid Liberia’s remarkable biodiversity sparked Ken’s interest in conservation, an awareness that became a calling after moving to Oregon and earning his PhD in fisheries. Since coming to the shores of the Salish Sea in 1995, Ken has worked for the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission (NWIFC), which is the natural resource management organization of Washington State’s 20 treaty tribes. Currently he serves as manager of the NWIFC's Conservation Planning Program.

Ken’s scientific specialties include phylogeography, a field combining genetic and spatial study that’s proved critical to Salish Sea salmon conservation and Endangered Species Act listings by determining which Evolutionary Significant Units (ESUs - a.k.a. stocks) are reproductively isolated by watersheds and seasonal runs. When he's not working, Ken takes full advantage of the region’s outdoor attractions and is an active mountain climber, skier, and fisherman.

Much of Ken’s scientific work has been precisely aligned with SeaDoc’s mandate to do great science and get it in the hands of managers and policy makers so they can make well-informed decisions. In addition to working for the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, Ken has also worked as Science Director for the Puget Sound Partnership (PSP) and has served on multiple endangered species recovery teams, science panels, and scientific journal editorial boards. He joins our team of advisors that have been chosen from the top scientists on both sides of the border to ensure our work has the greatest reach and effect possible on the welfare of the Salish Sea.

And SeaDoc’s scientific advisory board doesn’t just exist as degree-plastered window dressing! We count on all of these highly accomplished scientists to help us prioritize our research and review grant proposals from researchers seeking funding that we provide, with your support, through the SeaDoc Society Competitive Grants program.

Ken’s scientific background and expertise brings a valued new voice and a wealth of experience. “I’m thrilled,” says Ken, “to be working with one of the most effective small nonprofits supporting Salish Sea science and restoration.”

Please help us welcome him aboard the SeaDoc all-star science team!

View a complete roster of SeaDoc Science Advisors.