Ocean Organization Spotlight: Deep Green Wilderness
By Asta Mail
You wouldn’t guess her age by looking at her. At 80 years old, she is still in incredible shape, and is ready for anything- including exploration, adventure and education.
She sits in waiting at a beautiful Shilshole Marina just outside of Seattle, Washington. Orion, a 64’ wooden yawl, is being prepared for another epic summer exploring the waters of the Pacific North West. Now owned and operated by Captain Kevin Campion and his company, Deep Green Wilderness, Orion’s newest purpose is to act as a roving classroom and research facility.
Orion is one of the West Coast’s premier work yachts. She has had many important purposes in her time, including working as a racing vessel in the early 1930’s, and aiding the search for German U-boats along the Eastern Sea Board during the Second World War. She has even aided many grieving families put their loved one’s ashes to rest in the waters off of San Diego.
Now in her 80th summer afloat, Campion and his crew use Orion for a new purpose; to introduce guests to the wonders of the Pacific coast. Deep Green Wilderness provides a variety of overnight and day trips for both adults and teens that combine marine exploration, research, and environmental stewardship with classic sail training.
Captain Campion is passionate about providing guests with opportunities to explore the marine environment.
“I love sailing, and taking kids out on the boat is such a great way to engage them with outdoors and get them hooked.”
Campion was inspired to start Deep Green Wilderness after working as an engineer and captain for local and international sail education programs. He has previously worked aboard the Robert C. Seamans, a vessel associated with the Sail Education Association (S.E.A.), as well as the Carlin, a vessel used by local sail organization Salish Sea Expeditions.
After several years of crewing for other organizations, Campion wasn’t satisfied with the science and natural history programming available to his students. “I was frustrated when there was no program structure available to dive further into subjects like marine biology and environmental policy. I felt like we were missing an opportunity to take sail programs a step further with the kids, so I decided to start my own program.”
The organization’s 2-3 week summer programs for teens are the main focus of the company’s work. These programs are fun-filled, but scientifically rigorous. Between sail training and marine science programming, students are also required to design and conduct their own research project during the program.
Campion encourages his students to explore and connect with a variety of marine science topics through their research. Previous student projects have looked at topics such as water quality, plankton composition, seabirds and marine mammal behavior.
Once completed, students are encouraged to use what they have discovered towards their high school senior research projects. The programs also provide students with marine science college credit.
Campion notes that Orcas (commonly known as Killer Whales) are one of the most important elements of his research programs. “Orcas provide an incredible teaching opportunity. They are so charismatic, and the kids love them, but it’s also easy to observe the threats and issues involved in their protection.”
Orcas provide not only a hot subject for student research, but also a tool for teaching marine policy. “The policy conversation to me is a natural next step once the students have learned about a subject through their research. Every year there is something new going on [with Orca conservation]… There’s all sorts of current stuff happening to keep it interesting, current and relevant to our students.”
Campion notes that though he is happy to discuss marine policy with his students, he tends to let them come to their own conclusions on the subject of activism. “I have some very strong political and conservation views that I try to keep quiet as I can during the program and really let students come to that on their own. Through these policy discussions, students typically come up with their own activist stance which is often more passionate than even the staff at times.”
Campion hopes that the success of his programs will allow Deep Green Wilderness to expand its summer programming in the Pacific North West. In the future, he envisions using a similar sail research program model to explore other unique ocean regions. “I’d like to one day explore the Channel Islands in search of Blue Whales with my students, or perhaps study coastal ecology in Hawaii.”
Campion is also an avid filmmaker. He is currently preparing to release and tour his first film, “The Unknown Sea: A Voyage on the Salish Sea.”
The film takes viewers aboard Orion on an exploration through the Salish Sea, a name given to the body of water that includes the Puget Sound, the San Juan Islands, the Gulf Islands, the Straits of Juan De Fuca and the Straits of Georgia.
The film will highlight the incredible biodiversity, unusual natural history and a unique cultural perspective of the area, and discuss some of the environmental threats to this extremely productive, yet delicate marine environment.
Orion may end up serving yet another purpose in her golden age. Campion hopes that the success of the film will pave the way to develop student film programs in the future. “I want to get away from strictly research based projects and open it up to an art or socio-economic projects. I am always looking for new ways of telling a story while still engaging with the ecosystem.”
Deep Green Wilderness begins its programming for the season on April 12th. You can learn more about their programming and research on their website and find them on Facebook here.
Copyright © 2014 by Marine Science Today, a publication of Marine Science Today LLC.