As North Sound Baykeeper at RE Sources, Eleanor Hines has a variety of responsibilities– but maintaining “fishable, drinkable, swimmable water for everyone” is at the top of the list. She and her team are part of the Waterkeeper Alliance, and their role is to protect and restore habitats within the central Salish Sea.
“More generally, I review technical comments to make sure that water quantity and quality are being protected through development or regulations or policy,” Hines says. “And then we also do a bunch of community science.”
Baykeeping isn’t exactly a desk job. Whether Hines is conversing with the public, collecting data on her kayak, or surveying beaches with volunteers, there’s always a reason to get out of the office. That said, she notes that the best part is the impact she and her team make within the community.
“It’s not necessarily about me doing all the work by myself,” Hines says. “It’s about engaging the community and making sure that they have the tools that they need.”
Hines trains volunteer community scientists through the North Sound Stewards program, and she and her team also lead a network of volunteers in monitoring potential pollution via a crowdsourced data-gathering app called Water Reporter. In addition, she reviews and disseminates key information from complex technical documents to the general public, namely in regards to legacy contamination sites.
In a recent example, the RG Haley contamination site along Bellingham Bay was up for public comment at the time of our interview. Hines’ team helped to lead virtual and in-person tours of the site so the public could learn more about the cleanup process, how to make public comments, and what kinds of comments might be most meaningful.
As cleanup continues, Hines says that the community has plenty to look forward to. Areas of the Bellingham waterfront that have been off-limits for more than a century will be accessible to the public in the coming years.
“It’s all of our waterfront,” Hines says. “We all want to know what’s happening and have our voices heard in that process.”
If you’re wondering how to get involved in making our waters accessible to all, Hines recommends looking to a trusted local organization such as RE Sources for information, which has been doing this work for 40 years. Community members can sign up to receive monthly newsletters, event info, volunteer opportunities, and action alerts.
“We try to be a resource for the community so that folks can come to us with questions,” Hines says. “We do some of the heavy lifting so that community members can get the information and take action.”
Secondly, Hines encourages people to focus their attention on both individual actions and the larger system at hand.
“For example, when you go to the grocery store and say you want to reduce single use plastics, and they automatically give you a plastic bag, is that really your fault? Not necessarily,” Hines says. “That’s why we try to make change by passing ordinances– so that we can all help each other out to do the right thing to protect the Salish Sea.”
For those interested in hands-on work, RE Sources’ community science program offers volunteer opportunities for a variety of skill sets. Whether it’s through collecting data, taking photos, or even advocating for better policies, the program offers a variety of ways to make a difference.
“I really fell in love with this community, because there are so many people that are so engaged,” Hines says. “[People] are willing and able to step up and do something about it to make sure that their community is protected– and future generations are also going to be able to enjoy it too.” 2309 Meridian St., Bellingham, 360.733.8307, re-sources.org