Celebrate Earth Day through song and seaweed
— Created April 19, 2023 by Kathy Reed
By Kathy Reed
Here on Whidbey Island, it takes a month to celebrate a very important day. Earth Day itself is Saturday, and if you haven’t been able to participate in any activities thus far, there are still plenty of opportunities remaining. (Go to whidbeyearthday.org for a calendar of events.)
Case and point, an Earth Day concert with Celia Farran will be held at 7 p.m. Friday at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Whidbey Island, located at 20103 Hwy. 525 in Freeland. The concert is sponsored by the Greening Congregations Collaborative and UUC. Tickets are $20 in advance, $25 at the door and a portion of the proceeds from the live (and live streamed) concert will benefit Sound Water Stewards. Tickets for the in-person concert are available at CeliaEarth.eventbrite.com and tickets for the livestream concert are available at CeliaEarthLive.eventbrite.com.
Farran, a singer, songwriter, comedian and a self-described “Everyday Goddess-High Priestess of Herself” and a “Red-Headed Capricorn Force of Nature,” moved to Whidbey Island during the pandemic for her fiancé. This will be just her third in-person concert since moving here, and organizers felt the combination of Farran’s music and the Unitarian Universalist sanctuary would be a good way to revive live Earth Day concerts.
“We UUs are passionate about protecting Gaia and we are part of the Greening Congregations Collaborative that has a history of sponsoring workshops, discussions and stunning speakers about the climate crisis and other environmental challenges,” organizer Terra Anderson wrote in an email to Whidbey Weekly. “Celia likes to donate part of the proceeds to a local environmental group. We recommended several ideas to her, and she selected Sound Water Stewards.”
“I love what I do,” said Farran, who describes her material as all original, with a Celtic influence. “I love being able to offer what I do in service to good projects and values, and I love being able to give back. I love bringing people together to create a cohesive energy so we can uplift one another through music.”
Farran, who previously lived in a southwest desert climate, said she loves Whidbey for the land, the water and the inspiration it brings to her writing.
“I love that ferns grow here year-round, that moss grows on everything, even the road,” she said. “I love the clean air, the people. I’m loving building community and connections and I love the island vibe, where things are a little slower. I call it the land of mermaids and fairies.
“It has helped inspire my writing,” she continued. “I write and record a song every week. When I take hikes and go for walks, I’m usually writing. Walking is inspirational to me. Then to be walking in this beautiful land, to have water so nearby…it’s all right here.”
Anderson said events like the Earth Day concert help celebrate what we know and love about our island environment.
“This concert honors our deep acknowledgment of the interdependent web of life and how the health of our environment determines the health of humans,” she said. “Celia’s music is uplifting even as it grounds us in our deep caring for the island and for all of creation. She reminds us we are stewards of creation, not consumers of creation. People will probably leave inspired to do more, learn more, and to express in their daily actions their love of this world around us.”
Friday’s concert will provide the opportunity to purchase Farren’s CDs, plus there will be information on the Greening Congregations Collaborative and Sound Water Stewards. You can learn more about Farran and her music at CeliaFarran.com.
“For those of us who have had the pleasure of already hearing Celia’s music, she’s contagious and inspiring,” Anderson said. “People will want to tap their foot or perhaps even get up and dance. What a grand way to reconnect with friends, be happy to your bones, laugh, cry, sing and celebrate the blessings of life on Mother Earth.”
One of the more interesting facets of Mother Earth that Whidbey Island residents may or may not be familiar with, is seaweed.
Sound Water Stewards, a beneficiary of Friday night’s concert, will celebrate Earth Day Saturday with a seaweed walk, led by guides Jeanie and PaulBen McElwain. The walk will take place from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Libbey Beach Park, at the end of Libbey Road off Hwy. 20, north of Coupeville, and is a great way to learn about the important role seaweed plays in and out of the water.
“Seaweeds to some are foreign and strange. To some they are beautiful and even enchanting,” said Jeanie McElwain. “And we need them for the survival of uncounted numbers of species, including those many rely on for food and food additives. The more we understand them, the more we will want to protect them. And there’s no better way to understand them than in person and up close.”
According to McElwain, there are more than 680 species of seaweed in the geographic area from mid-California to the mid-mainland of Alaska, of which the Salish Sea is a part.
“A good hundred or more of those can be found on Whidbey,” she said. “We are likely to see about 71 different species that are listed on the EZ-ID cards we use for our work at Sound Water Stewards. The more you are out there, the more you learn about, the more you will see – particularly seaweeds that survive when the tide is out. These include sea lettuce like rockweed and Porifera —our own kind of nori, which have been feeding peoples worldwide since ancient times. “
Seaweed contributes to the overall health of the planet. In the Pacific Northwest, McElwain said the seaweed forests and eelgrass meadows are essential for the survival of marine species in the water and on the beaches, and are necessary to keep the water healthy.
“Seaweeds, especially kelp, when they grow together, can actually change the waters between and around them,” she explained. “They keep the water immediately around them cooler and may help keep nearby waters cleaner. Some also absorb a great deal of CO2 out of our atmosphere and clean the waters by utilizing fertilizer run-off as nutrients for their own growth. Clean and well-oxygenated waters are necessary for many other species to survive and thrive. And they are also necessary for those of us who harvest from our beaches, be it fish, shellfish, or seaweed itself.”
Increasing water temperatures could also threaten the survival of some species of seaweed.
“The kelp, under which thousands of species live, are disappearing around the world in places like Australia and South Africa,” McElwain said. “We have lost 90 percent of the kelp off California. Without these kelp forests, and their counterparts, the seaweed meadows, we will lose more species than we can imagine, including the forage fish on which the entire ‘higher orders’ of marine creatures depend for food. That includes our salmon, who must have these as shelters, nurseries and feeding grounds if they are to survive as a species.”
It’s not just seaweed in the water that is beneficial, McElwain said.
“Seaweed up on the shore, especially in the long piles of it where it was left by the last high tide, is called the ‘wrack line,’” she explained. “This wrack line is habitat and food for many tiny insects, snails, and other species. As wrack lines decompose, they also become nutrients for the beach itself.”
People are also seaweed consumers and Whidbey Island is a popular place to harvest some types of it.
“Many people come from other parts of Washington to harvest seaweed at Libbey Beach, which is one of the richest public-access seaweed beaches in Washington,” McElwain said. “It is safe, if you harvest where waters are clean. Do not harvest if the beach is closed for harvesting shellfish or any other public health reason. Do not harvest where there are houses clustered along the beach – the risk from septic tank pollution is way too great. Do not harvest where any industry disposes questionable substances in any waters close by.”
A license is required to harvest seaweed in Washington state and McElwain said it’s also very important to know how to harvest seaweed properly.
“Know how to harvest without doing damage, because if you cut at the meristem, from which the seaweed grows, you could destroy it,” she said. “Signs at Libbey beach show you how to do this or [search for] ‘harvesting kelp’ online. Above all, harvest only a tiny amount. Seaweed goes a long way. Start small.”
There is no cost to take part in Saturday’s seaweed walk. Those interested should note participants will have to walk down stairs to get to the beach. McElwain recommends wearing sturdy, water resistant shoes and be prepared for the weather. Learn more at whidbeyearthday.org or visit soundwaterstewards.org.
There are still several Earth and Ocean Month activities scheduled until the end of April, including the opening of three of Whidbey’s farmers markets. The Coupeville Farmers Market begins its 45th year Saturday and there is a free Hügelkulture workshop Saturday at noon on the grounds of the South Whidbey Tilth market. Hügelkulture, a slow composting process, mimics the natural decomposition of the forest floor. Register at email@example.com. South Whidbey Tilth officially opens April 30. Learn about these upcoming events and more at whidbeyearthday.org.