top of page

Washed Up | Concern for Olympia Marine Life

From the Washington State Department of Ecology:

Feb 26, 2019

"A spill of transformer oil at the former Olympia Brewery... first discovered of Feb. 25... was identified and stopped on Feb. 26. The spill... is believed to have entered the Deschutes River through a series of storm drains."

"We do not know exactly how much oil spilled. The transformer had a capacity of approximately 700 gallons.... Transformer oil may contain PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls), a toxic chemical that gets into the food chain."

May 9, 2019

"As a reminder, the spill is not an immediate public health threat, however it remains a concern to the health of the Deschutes watershed. We are doing our best to rapidly, aggressively, and effectively find and remove the remaining PCB-containing oil."

July 8, 2019

"To date, responders have cleaned up seven of ten identified contaminated areas in Capitol Lake. We will continue to sample sediment to ensure clean areas meet state standards, and locate any new pockets of contamination."

View of downtown Olympia at sunset/high tide.

Olympia's Capitol Lake has been a contaminated mucky mess for years. Not much grows in the water anymore, they recommend we don't even touch it. All the old beaches have been fenced off, and it's illegal to put boats in the water or even throw a stick for your dog because of a destructive New Zealand Mud Snail invasion.

The great estuary that used to exist before settlers of the area destroyed it by filling the bay with rock and soil–creating what is now downtown Olympia, and later a now-filthy enclosed swimming area– was unparalleled in natural beauty and abundance. Stah-Chass (what is now Tumwater Falls and the grounds of the State Government) was home to one of the greatest diversities of plant, animal, and sea life in all of the region, and was sacred land to the First Nations, providing them with food, water and other life-giving resources nature has to offer.

Important salmon populations have always passed through this region during spawning season. From far out in the ocean, they swim down the bay to the tips of the arms of the sea, up the rivers to where they themselves hatched years ago, where they lay their eggs and complete the cycle of their life. The salmon are incredibly important to the ecosystems of the region, but their populations are quickly dwindling as over-fishing, contamination, dams and habitat destruction complicate their return to the spawning grounds and fewer make it every year.

The spill of poisonous oil from the old Olympia brewery is just one of many threats to the local ecosystem, and a small demonstration of what has been happening in every region of the world for hundreds of years. The clean-up project is admirable, and will be beneficial to a part of the ecosystem that has been affected, but will it continue into the bay, where the bodies of hundreds of thousands of crabs and minnows have washed up? Will it continue along all the beaches of the Sound, up past Seattle and into the Sea? We cannot concern ourselves with only one tiny area, when the problem of contamination is now everywhere. How long will it take before we realize it's already too late?

A seagull flies above the mudflats at low tide, searching for its next meal.

West Bay shoreline at high tide.

The Olympia oyster, native to the region and only found on the beaches of the Olympia area bays, are in danger of extinction because of climate change, contamination, and the introduction of foreign oyster populations for commercial farming purposes.

Barnacles cling to the shady sides of the boardwalk pier posts in downtown Olympia.

One of many dead minnows floats near the shoreline at high tide.

Graveyard at the beach.

In August 2019, I saw more dead crabs on the beaches of Olympia than I have ever seen in my life. Their little bodies

formed a line where high tide had reached–a crab graveyard that spanned the entire beach for miles.

Minnow memorial.

Images from beaches just past the Capitol Lake dam, where the clean-up project ends.

Olympia, Washington

Color Film, scanned & edited.

21 views0 comments


bottom of page