Kingston summer beach camps get youth in touch with Puget Sound

A new beach camp in Kingston started this summer, offering youth the chance to step away from technology and learn about Puget Sound from a marine biologist and ocean lifeguards.

Sea the Sound Charters was founded by Tiffany and Russell Fergus. Tiffany’s background is in marine biology, and she was also an ocean lifeguard in California for 10 years. Russell is a former commercial fisherman. They met in the Bering Sea as Russell was on a Deadliest Catch vessel and Tiffany was onboard as a marine biologist. Now Russell is a firefighter in Kitsap County, and they live in Hansville.

The original idea of the company was to provide local fishing and tourism charters on Russell’s fishing boat.

But in January, the couple realized it wanted to offer kids a chance to get in the water and learn about the marine environment. They worked with the Port of Kingston to offer beach camps at Saltair Beach near the ferry dock.

“We’re just trying to add a little more to our community, get more people involved in the water and have appreciation for the marine environment,” Tiffany said. “There’s a huge safety component too because for so many years we’ve been hearing about more water rescues happening from our fire departments. Summers are getting hotter so more people are finding themselves down by the water yearly.”

Sea the Sound offers two main services now: beach camps and paddleboard rental. But Tiffany said the charters would start during the fall and winter months. The boat fits up to 10 people. “We’re a small charter service, and we’re kind of on a request basis,” Tiffany said.

So far, the camps have been a huge hit among local youth. There were seven sessions this summer. Each session is four days a week from 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. The last session is Aug. 21-24. Cost per session is $250.

The camp is for ages 7-14, but Tiffany said there are exceptions. There is a maximum of 15 kids per camp so instructors can keep eyes on all of them. Tiffany said the camp starts off with morning exercise. “Exercise is great for the body and mind, but it also helps them paddleboard throughout the day,” she said. “Most of the kids, regardless of where they are coming from, thrive off it.”

Then the kids delve into beach exploration where lessons touch on coastal erosion and marine biology. “We kind of plan our day around the tides,” Tiffany said. “If it’s a great low tide, we do a bunch of marine biology on different sealife that is visible.”

Then the kids get into the water. They wear life jackets if the water goes past their waste since swim tests weren’t conducted. Coming out of the COVID pandemic, Tiffany said many kids haven’t been able to have swim lessons since there’s a shortage of lifeguards at local pools. The kids also are provided wet suits and paddleboards.

“We talk about safety in the water, and that’s why we have lifeguards as instructors,” she said. “The wetsuit gives them confidence to get in the water and not worry about getting messy or cold. Some of these kids have never spent any time in the Sound, and they’ve lived here for ten-plus years. Now they’re just like mermaids swimming.”

She said there is no set schedule each day. “We kind of let the kids lead. If there’s something they’re really interested in we’ll kind of pivot our day to do what they want to do. It might be as simple as a sandcastle competition or it might be as complex as talking about why these animals live here.”

Tiffany said she’s looking to keep the camps at Saltair Beach going forward, although it can be labor-intensive to bring the boards up and down the stairs every day. But overall, she said the beach accommodates what the camps need. “What the environment provides for us is pretty amazing. We find that there’s not a lot of people there. It almost feels like you’re on your own little private island when you’re down there.”

As the camps come to a close this summer, Tiffany said she’s looking to partner with some local schools for hands-on marine biology education this fall. She also is looking to add a camp for adults next summer during the weekends if there’s interest in it. “It’s kind of an open book right now,” Tiffany said. “We’re taking it as it comes. We take a lot of suggestions from the local community.”

Looking back on its first year, Tiffany is thrilled. “Our mission has always been to create the next generation of ocean stewards,” she said. “We’re trying to educate people that marine environment is so vital to our existence, especially where we live. We feel like this is exactly what children need. It’s a great way to break them away from technology. We provide a mental health boost for a lot of the kids that come through.”

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