Arts & Culture

New Tacoma Ocean Fest to celebrate as it protects the sea. Bonus: go diving without getting wet

Tacoma City Ballet dancers in “Whale Song” at the Foss Waterway Seaport. They’ll perform the ballet at Ocean Fest.
Tacoma City Ballet dancers in “Whale Song” at the Foss Waterway Seaport. They’ll perform the ballet at Ocean Fest. Rosemary Ponnekanti

Few festivals begin with a beach cleanup.

But that's how the new Tacoma Ocean Fest will begin Sunday (June 10) along the Foss Waterway.

The hour-long (and optional) cleanup will be the work portion of the festival. The rest will be all fun, education and sports geared toward increasing knowledge and appreciation for the sea that laps at Tacoma’s shoreline.

The hope is that festival goers will be inspired to protect it from threats that include plastic and chemical pollution, overfishing and climate change, organizer Rosemary Ponnekanti said.

“The goal is to make people think differently about the ocean, and to care enough about it to change what they do,” she said. “It could be as simple as giving up plastic straws, or driving less.”

Ponnekanti, a former arts reporter for The News Tribune, now works in communications at Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium. She was inspired to create the festival by her 13-year-old son, an avid swimmer, SCUBA diver and environmentalist.

“He was seeing a lot more of this (pollution) than I was,” she said. “He said, ‘What can we do?’”

Ocean Fest is the result.

“It’s hard to know what any one person can do to help save the ocean,” Ponnekanti said. “But getting people to care about it through a festival is something I could do.”

Ocean Fest will be at the Foss Waterway Seaport and feature artists, filmmakers, musicians, dancers and water-craft activities.

Shelton-based eco-sculptor Barbara de Pirro will install “Kelp Forest,” a large collection of strands from plastic bottles. The photography of Hawaii surf photographer and shark attack survivor Mike Coots will be on display.

Performers will range from Tacoma City Ballet’s “Whale Song” to T.U.P.A.C. dancers performing West African-ballet fusion.

An aerialist will perform every hour inside the Seaport’s museum and a SCUBA virtual reality experience will allow festival goers to explore underwater without getting wet.

More than 60 Tacoma middle and high school students submitted poems or short films in the theme of "Be the Voice of the Ocean." The finalists will screen or read their work at the festival with prizes to follow.

"It's part of Ocean Fest because young people are going to inherit this world and this ocean, and this contest gives them another reason to learn about it and care, and a space to tell their story," Ponnekanti said. "And it tells them that adults are listening."

More than 20 booths will line the esplanade and feature local and regional non-profits, government agencies and individuals who work to protect Puget Sound waters.

All will offer festival-goers a chance to learn about the ocean environment

Micro plastics can be examined in “beach-in-a-box” and using microscopes.

Food trucks will provide on-site meals.

From the Seaport’s dock, festival-goers can take to the water on paddleboards, kayaks, rowboats and even a dragon boat.

Ocean Fest will begin with the beach cleanup at Jack Hyde Park, 2201 Ruston Way. South Sound Surfrider Foundation, Citizens for a Healthy Bay and Eco-Pride will take collected trash to the festival for a surprise activity.

Craig Sailor: 253-597-8541, @crsailor

Tacoma Ocean Fest

When and where: 9-10 a.m. Sunday (June 10); beach cleanup at Jack Hyde Park, 2201 Ruston Way. 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Ocean Fest at Foss Waterway Seaport, 705 Dock St.

Cost: Free.