Joseph Gaydos

In order to save the sea, Dr. Joseph Gaydos is turning to fifth-graders. Well, not exactly. But his new book, “Explore the Salish Sea: A Nature Guide for Kids” is so rich with compelling, engaging photos of things that swim, wriggle, and grow beneath the water’s surface that you can’t help but think it just might make a difference. The book sets out to inspire and inform in hopes that youths will become adults with a vested interest in marine life in their own backyard. The book stemmed from the enthusiastic reaction he got after co-authoring a more detailed book, “The Salish Sea: Jewel of the Pacific Northwest” in 2015 with naturalist Audrey D. Benedict.

The Salish Sea, a name officially adopted in 2009 by the U.S. and British Columbia, is the section of coastal waterways that includes the San Juan Islands, extending from the Strait of Georgia’s north end to the south end of Puget Sound, and west to the mouth of the Strait of Juan de Fuca. It is our marine backyard encompassing both U.S. and Canadian waters.

“The idea is to get (kids) to know and connect with this place so they get to know and protect it themselves,” says Gaydos, 51, reached by phone shortly after an autumn scuba dive off Flattop Island in the San Juans. “My wife will tell you that it’s easy for me, because I’m a fifth-grader trapped in an adult male’s body.”

The book counters the gloomy news of late by showing kids the miracles that regularly occur in our waters, some-thing that we adults can miss with all the dire reports on climate change, dying orcas and disappearing salmon. “You can’t just come to kids with problems,” Gaydos says. “First, they’ve got to be amazed by salmon—that they can swim to Japan and come back and find that same stream. Then it’s ‘Yeah! We gotta take care of the salmon!’ Our main goal is just to convey our excitement about all the amazing stuff that’s out there.”

Gaydos, who lives on Orcas Island, says a crowd-sourcing campaign has helped raise funds to get the book to teachers in some of the state’s poorest schools. But it sounds like he’s just getting started. “We’d love to see every kid in Washington have a copy of this book.”

Gaydos is science director of the Orcas Island-based SeaDoc Society, a nonprofit group established in 1999 as a program of the University of Calfornia-Davis veterinary school. Last month, the group was part of a team of research scientists that used a small submarine to plunge 950 feet below the sea’s surface off San Juan Island to study a fish critical to the chinook salmon diet. Gaydos started as a vet in West Virginia, but a job at a California non-profit reawakened his interest in marine studies. Gaydos became familiar with Washington after visiting the family of his wife, Julie Brunner.

Among projects like the research sub and conserving the puffin population, Gaydos has been appointed to Gov. Jay Inslee’s Southern Resident Killer Whale Recovery and Task Force. He says the area’s beauty, and visible marine life like seals and whales can lull people into thinking everything’s fine when it isn’t. You don’t have to have money—or write a book—to be an advocate, he says. You can vote and demand that people we elect help us. “We need to be using our voice to take care of this place.”

SeaDoc Society 942 Deer Harbor Rd., Eastsound, Orcas Island
360.376.3910 |

For more stories like this, be sure to check out our Lifestyle section here.

"'The idea is to get (kids) to know and connect with this place so they get to know and protect it themselves.'"