Sound Waters University, reimagined

— Created January 5, 2022 by Kathy Reed

By Shannon Bly

Sound Waters University, to be held Saturday and Sunday, Feb. 5 and 6, is an opportunity to learn about our unique Salish Sea ecosystem so we can be good stewards of our water and land.

Sound Water Stewards Whidbey Coordinator Tabitha Jacobs-Mangiafico brims with excitement and positivity when describing plans for the event.

“The theme this year is Hope in Action,” she said. “Everybody’s had a rough go with the pandemic and feeling a little bit down and we want to give you the hope for what the Salish Sea could be, how you as a person can come together with these like-minded Sound Water Stewards, and help steward our environment.”

In its 28th year, Sound Waters University is reimagining its event. Past years have brought professionals from across the Pacific Northwest to South Whidbey High School for over 60 classes with up to 700 attendees. The past two years have offered an entirely virtual event, which opened classes up to the entire United States, spreading the word about the variety and extent of research and action being taken in the Pacific Northwest.

“Last year we had people all the way from California up to Washington, across from Texas to Iowa, up to Connecticut and down to Florida. The friends and the network sharing [the event] were able to bring in everybody to learn a little bit more about the Salish Sea,” said Jacobs-Mangiafico.

This year, Sound Waters University will be a two-day event, with virtual classes on Feb. 5, and new, in-person field trips on Feb. 6.

Jacobs-Mangiafico said the field trips were inspired by changes that had to be made to the Sound Water Stewards volunteer training program due to COVID-19 precautions.

“We had to change our 100-hour training program last year,” she explained. “How to get that connection and community when it had to go virtual? We ended up leaning heavily on field trips and offered 31 field trips last year for our class so they could go learn about geology and the intertidal, bluffs, estuaries. They loved it so much, we were like, ‘Let’s try to do field trips for Sound Waters University too!’”

The field trips are open for registration but are filling up fast. They include two winter birding excursions: Winter Birds of Dugualla Bay and Lake, guided by Jay Adams, and Skagit Flats Winter Birding Caravan, guided by Jeff Osmundson. PaulBen McElwain’s field trip, The Western Bluffs, Beaches, and Waves of Whidbey Island, proved very popular, filling up in the first week of registration. Offered on Camano Island is Iverson Preserve on Camano: Exploration and Inspiration.

“At Iverson Preserve on Camano you get to go explore the temperate forest and estuary habitat and marine environment with Tina Dinzl-Pederson, who used to be an employee of Camano State Park,” said Jacobs-Mangiafico, who recently toured the preserve herself. “It’s a lot of fun. These guides have the history and knowledge [so] that if you’re craving community, grab a field trip.”

There will be 11 virtual classes, which participants may attend live or watch as recordings, and two keynote speakers. Traditionally, the event covers a wide range of topics related to the Pacific Northwest environment, and this year is no different. “We are really trying to go from the bees to the seas to the environmental,” said Jacobs-Mangiafico.

Keynote speaker Linda Mapes, Seattle Times reporter, will present on her recently published book “Orca: Shared Water, Shared Hope.” David B. Williams will talk about hope in home waters, the natural history of the Puget Sound, and the human impacts on our area.

Classes cover topics such as bull kelp surveys, restoration projects, krakens, solitary bees, rockfish, humpback whales and more. Presenters aim to educate and entertain, as evident in one class titled “Anemones and Shakespearean Drama in the Intertidal Zone of the Pacific Northwest.”

Local marine videographer and diver, Florian Graner, will talk about his short films and the effect of supply chain back-ups in Puget sound.

“He’s going to touch upon the shipping container impacts and how the marine animals transiting are affected by the noise pollution at the mouth of Holmes Harbor,” said Jacobs-Mangiafico.

In addition to classes, Sound Waters University has always included booths of organizations and businesses working in environmental study, conservation, and advocacy and they continue to do that virtually. To connect with nonprofit organizations, visit the virtual exhibit hall, and to connect with event sponsors, visit the virtual sponsor and partner hall. All exhibitors, sponsors and partners have profiles with information about their organization, videos, research papers, and contact information.

 Jacobs-Mangiafico recommends visiting the exhibit and sponsor halls ahead of the event.

“Don’t wait until the day of the virtual event to look at the exhibit hall – look at it leading up to the event because the day of the event those exhibitors and sponsors can be right there with you for chats [during the classes].”

Sound Waters University is the main fundraising event for Sound Water Stewards, a group of trained volunteers who do education, outreach, citizen science and stewardship to sustain a healthy Puget Sound environment. A new class of volunteers is trained each year, through virtual classes and field trips. Once completed, the volunteers spread their knowledge to the community, work on projects and make an impact on the health and well-being of the Salish Sea and Whidbey Island.

Many Sound Waters Stewards got involved after attending Sound Waters University.

“These volunteers are people who are living and breathing Whidbey Island as their community. They want to learn more about their backyard. Sound Waters University is our door that opens up into our education and training program. You want to learn more? We have professionals elaborate and go in depth on what you can get a taste of in Sound Waters University,” said Jacobs-Mangiafico.

One of the ways Sound Water Stewards educates is through its website, which has recently been updated with new features, including an interactive map of the organization’s projects, showing the impacts the volunteers’ work has on Island County.  (

Another feature of the new website is a Marine Species Identification page, where beachcombers can learn to identify common marine species specific to our area. Categories include animals, seagrass, shore plants, and one called Beach Mysteries, which describes fun beach finds that may go overlooked, such as the gray, rubbery collar of Moon Snail eggs or the pitted low-tide sand left behind by gray whales feeding on shrimp. 

Sound Waters University will weave a message of hope for the Salish Sea through education, research, and action.

“Finding connectivity, learning, being hopeful in ways you can make an impact. If anybody likes any piece of the environment, I recommend this for you, come check it out!” said Jacobs-Mangiafico.

Virtual classes and field trips are eligible for continuing education units for teachers through WSU. Discounts are available for students, Americorps, military and teachers. In addition, hardship scholarships are available. Register now at