Home Environment Tacoma Ocean Fest: Celebrate, Learn, Protect

Tacoma Ocean Fest: Celebrate, Learn, Protect


Article courtesy Tacoma Ocean Fest with edits from Scuba H2O Staff
Photos left to right: Foss Waterway, Tacoma Ballet, Annie Crawley (whales), Marisela Fleies, Mike Coots 

The first of its kind, the Tacoma Ocean Fest will open June 10 from 11 am to 4 pm on June 10 at the Foss Waterway Seaport in Tacoma, Washington. The first of its kind, the free fest brings together arts, sciences, and water sports to help the city celebrate the ocean, learn about its threats, and get inspired to protect it. 

Held on the internationally- celebrated World Oceans Day weekend, Ocean Fest is a free festival at the Foss Waterway Seaport that features local and international artists, filmmakers, musicians, dancers and even an aerialist to highlight the beauty and fragility of the ocean and its creatures – especially those in the Salish Sea/Puget Sound. 

Artists include Shelton eco-sculptor Barbara de Pirro with “Kelp Forest,” a giant installation of ghostly strands of woven white reclaimed plastic bottles, and Hawaii surf photographer Mike Coots, a surfer, shark attack survivor and shark advocate. Coots’ breathtaking images will headline an exhibit that highlights the beauty of sharks and speaks out against the barbaric finning that is sending many species close to extinction. 

Keynote speaker Annie Crawley, a Seattle-based international underwater filmmaker and environmentalist, will have her stunning ocean imagery on the walls and screen. Local youth will have their poetry and film honored and awarded as part of the Ocean Fest Youth Story Contest, and the Seaport’s own exhibits of science and maritime history will be on view. 

Other artists include Gretchen Yanover (electric cello), soprano Erin Calata, singer/songwriter Kim Archer, Jeff Brahe on mbira (an African thumb “piano”), Tacoma City Ballet’s “Whale Song”, T.U.P.A.C. dancers performing West African-ballet fusion, flamenco artist Marisela Fleites and Deanna Riley on aerial hoop. A film stage will loop local ocean-themed short film. Seattle’s Cascade Game Foundry, known for its scuba simulator “Infinite Scuba”, will also present a new VR project inspired by the legendary Dr. Sylvia Earle. 

The “learn” and “protect” components of the festival will be along the esplanade, where over 20 booths will be filled with local and regional non-profits, government agencies and individuals who work to protect our waters. These include Citizens for a Healthy Bay, Surfrider Foundation, NOAA Fisheries, Puget Sound Partnership and science departments from the University of Puget Sound, University of Washington Tacoma and more. Ken Campbell, a Tacoma kayaker, will bring a craft he made from recycled plastic bottles. 

“[Ocean Fest is] a unique combination of arts to inspire empathy/ imagination, science to inform, and water sports to just have fun with the ocean,” explains Ocean Fest director and founder Rosemary Ponnekanti, a writer and musician who works in communications at Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium during the day, planning Ocean Fest by night. 

“Ocean Fest began when I was wondering with my 13-year-old diver son just what we as individuals could possibly do to help the ocean, especially the plastic pollution,” she continues. “Then a Make a Splash grant email came into my inbox, and I thought well, I know about the arts and I know a lot of people here. I could do an ocean festival. And Ocean Fest was born.” 

All these features will offer festival- goers a chance to learn about the ocean environment and its threats, such as plastic and chemical pollution, overfishing and climate change. Hands-on activities like beach-in-a-box, looking at microplastics through microscopes and games will underscore the environmental message. 

Finally, down on the dock will be a chance for festival-goers to have fun on the water, with paddleboards, kayaks, rowboats and even a dragon boat available to try out. 

“This is a unique festival for Tacoma,” says Ponnekanti. “The goal is to make people think differently about the ocean, and to care enough about it to change what they do. It could be as simple as giving up plastic straws, or driving less. The ocean needs our help – and it will take all of us. That’s what Ocean Fest is about – inspiring our imagination and empathy through the arts, informing us through science, and showing us how to take action. 

And just having fun on the water!” 

Festival-goers are encouraged to bike, walk, take transit or paddle into the festival, and afterwards are invited to “paddle out” down to the Museum of Glass, where partner festival 70-48 will kick off its long-distance human- powered paddle race that evening. 

Tacoma Ocean Fest is supported by a City of Tacoma Make a Splash grant and a Sustainability Small grant, as well as a SPARK grant from the Greater Tacoma Community Foundation. The Foss Waterway Seaport is the venue host sponsor, and Tacoma Sunrise Rotary is sponsoring the Youth Ocean Story Contest. Other in-kind sponsors include The Grand Cinema and Round Table Pizza. Partners include Tacoma Public Libraries, Waka Waka Studios, and Write253. 

The first Tacoma Ocean Fest event is completely free to enter. For more details, visit www.tacomaoceanfest.org