National marine sanctuaries honor U.S. veterans with Vet Into Your Sanctuary activities

By Sarah Marquis

November 2018

“It doesn’t get much better than this.”

Ken Tatro is talking about getting out on the ocean in Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary, and he has the experience to back up his statement. A U.S. military veteran, Tatro served in the U.S. Navy from 1958 to 1964. He’s also a volunteer member of the Channel Islands Naturalist Corps, dedicated to educating visitors on the water about the unique resources found within Channel Island National Marine Sanctuary and Channel Islands National Park. In 2015, he received the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary’s Volunteer of the Year award for his years of work.

Every year, each site across the National Marine Sanctuary System holds Get Into Your Sanctuary events. Activities across the system encourage people to experience their national marine sanctuaries first-hand, whether on, in, or near a sanctuary. This year, national marine sanctuaries on the West Coast honored the service of our nation’s veterans by dedicating Get Into Your Sanctuary events as “Vet Into Your Sanctuary.”

people whale watching on a boat
Veterans enjoy whale watching in Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. Photo: Karen Grimmer/NOAA

Tatro served as a naturalist on one of this summer’s Vet Into Your Sanctuary cruises, helping get other veterans out and into national marine sanctuaries. “As veterans, we served to protect our country, including the waters along our shores,” he says. “I am very excited to be able to share all of this with some of our local vets. These are their waters, too.”

The national marine sanctuaries along the West Coast – Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary in Washington, and Greater Farallones, Cordell Bank, Monterey Bay, and Channel Islands national marine sanctuaries in California – each reached out to adjacent veterans’ communities. Dozens of veterans enthusiastically participated in activities including ocean film viewing, boating, fishing, kayaking, wildlife viewing, and visitor center activities.

"Veterans understand what it means to protect and serve,” says West Coast regional director Bill Douros. “Our reaching out to the veteran community informs them about national marine sanctuaries and highlights how veterans can assist in protecting and becoming stewards for these special places.”

people photographing a sea cave
Veterans photograph a sea cave in Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary. Photo: Robert Schwemmer/NOAA

Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary: Whales, porpoises and rockfish...oh my!

Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary celebrated Vet Into Your Sanctuary with recreational boating opportunities for veterans and their families. U.S. veterans and their families enjoyed a beautiful day either fishing or wildlife viewing in the national marine sanctuary waters aboard the Neah Bay charter boat Wind Song or the sanctuary’s Research Vessel Tatoosh.

The morning fishing charter catch was teeming with rockfish. Wildlife watchers took in the scenic beauty of the coastline, caught glimpses of harbor porpoises and humpback whales, and visited a common murre rookery and a Steller sea lion haul-out.

people fishing off the side of a boat
Some veterans in Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary chose to spend the day fishing on board Wind Song. Photo: NOAA

Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary: From humpbacks to haul-outs

Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary engaged recreational partners so that veterans could experience remarkable wildlife and habitats. At the Farallon Islands, the largest seabird colony in the contiguous United States, visitors sighted breeding puffins and other species, and watched sea lions and fur seals joust for space. Near the Continental Shelf break, they watched albatross soaring, sunfish basking at the ocean surface, and humpback whales engulfing prey by the ton. On the mainland, visitors enjoyed docent-led “seal spotting” at a rocky harbor seal haul-out.

Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary: When the going gets tough, the tough get going – to films!

Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary is offshore and access is challenging. The weather and sea conditions are prohibitive much of the time, making human access difficult at most.

With that in mind, the sanctuary held its Vet Into Your Sanctuary events at the Arena Theater in Point Arena. In partnership with the International Ocean Film Festival, the sanctuary showed eight films from the 2018 festival and answered questions. Veterans were among the ocean film fans who attended.

Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary: Research and whale watching

a person holding a net to catch plankton
Veterans collect plankton on board the R/V Fulmar in Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. Photo: Lisa Uttal/NOAA

Sanctuary staff took area veterans on a voyage aboard the NOAA Research Vessel Fulmar in Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary to celebrate Vet Into Your Sanctuary. They watched more than 30 humpback whales lunge feed on anchovies, and learned how to record their whale sightings using Whale Alert, a free mobile app available to the public that helps in research and protection.

Veterans listened in to sounds captured with a hydrophone located almost 3,000 feet below the ocean surface, and were asked to guess the sound source. They collected and observed plankton under a microscope and learned that plankton is the basis for the high biodiversity they were observing that day.

Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary: whales, dolphins, and a bald eagle

Sanctuary staff took area veterans out for a Vet Into Your Sanctuary cruise aboard the NOAA Research Vessel Shearwater.

As in Monterey Bay, veterans on this cruise also learned how to record whale sightings using the Whale Alert app. They encountered two humpback whales, six Risso's dolphins, some common dolphins, and one bald eagle off the west end of Santa Cruz Island.

They also traveled along the coastline of Santa Cruz Island to discover its unique geology and sea caves, and learned about the rich maritime heritage and military history of the sanctuary.

people on a boat looking at sea caves
Veterans explore sea caves in Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary on board the R/V Shearwater. Photo: Robert Schwemmer/NOAA

The start of a tradition

“With the success of the first Vet Into Your Sanctuary, national marine sanctuary staff along the West Coast are eager to discuss with local U.S. veterans how they may want to be involved with next year’s annual celebration,” Bill Douros says.

From the enthusiastic response, it looks like local veterans, including Ken Tatro, are happily on board.

Sarah Marquis is West Coast/Pacific media coordinator for NOAA Office of National Marine Sanctuaries.