It’s not every year that Tacoma gets a brand-new festival, but that’s indeed what’s happening on June 10, 2018. Ocean Fest will fill the spaces of the Foss Waterway Seaport with all things – you guessed it – ocean related.

The festival will take place on World Oceans Day weekend and is free to attend. As part of the event, the Foss Waterway Seaport will host both local and international artists, filmmakers, musicians, dancers and more, all out to help inspire everyone to learn more about the threats the oceans face and how we all might protect them.

Mike Coots self-portrait with hammerhead
Mike Coots, “Self-portrait with hammerhead.” Photo courtesy: Mike Coots

The festival was both founded and organized by Rosemary Ponnekanti, who many Tacomans know from her time writing at The News Tribune. These days she works in communications at Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium…and has added festival planning to her resume. She hopes this festival will help people think differently about the world’s oceans and care about how their individual actions might impact them, whether that’s giving up plastic straws or cutting down on gas usage.

“I have always loved the ocean (grew up beside it, in Australia),” says Ponnekanti, “but have been more and more worried lately about the plastic pollution, the dying orcas in Puget Sound and dying coral reefs in my home country. But of course I was thinking, like everyone else, what can I do as just one person? Then the application for a Make a Splash grant came across my desk and I thought, well, I know enough people (from my former job as arts writer for The News Tribune) to organize a festival, and to really galvanize people’s imagination and care about the ocean. So I applied – and I got it!”

But while many environmental efforts might take the approach of inspiring action through handouts, websites or lectures, Ocean Fest is all about the arts, sciences and showing attendees what they can do. Festival attendees will even get cards filled with “Ocean Actions” they can do, and if you turn in your card as a pledge, you’ll become eligible for prizes.

Ocean Fest Gretchen Yanover
Gretchen Yanover, electric cello, is one of the performers at Ocean Fest. Photo coutesy: Gretchen Yanover

Who Will Be at Ocean Fest?

Artists attending Ocean Fest include both locals and those from farther afoot, but all will highlight the plight of the world’s oceans in some way or another. Shelton eco-sculpter Barbara de Pirro will be in attendance with “Kelp Forest,” which is an installation made from woven white reclaimed plastic bottles. Seattle-based underwater filmmaker and environmentalist Annie Crawley will be the keynote speaker as well as display some of her work. Hawaiian surf photographer Mike Coots will have photos on display of sharks that will highlight how threatened many shark species are and why (he is himself a shark attack survivor).

Other artists include electric celloist Gretchen Yanover, soprano Erin Calata, singer/songwriter Kim Archer, Tacoma City Ballet performing “Whale Song,” flamenco artist Marisela Fleites, Samoan dancers, Jeff Brahe on an mbira, and Deanna Riley on an aerial hoop. Also count on a film stage showing a short film and scuba virtual reality.

“I tried to pick a wide variety of people and genres from Tacoma and beyond, that told powerful ocean stories,” says Ponnekanti. “Some, like Tacoma City Ballet’s “Whale Song,” which involves 35 dancers moving under a 60-foot piece of blue-purple silk to the sound of humpback whales, were obvious. But then I also have West African, Samoan and Cuban dance – because each have a different story to tell about the ocean. I’m super excited to have electric cellist Gretchen Yanover and Deanna Riley on aerial hoop – both pretty unusual performers! All of the artwork will be just breathtaking. And the scuba virtual reality is phenomenal – I tried it out and didn’t want to stop.”

Along with artists, there will also be 25 booths staffed by nonprofits, government agencies and individuals who all work to protect oceans and waterways, including Citizens for a Healthy Bay, Surfrider Foundation, NOAA Fisheries, Puget Sound Partnership, local universities and more.

Expect some hands-on activities too, from looking at plastic through a microscope to tasting some kelp. Or if hands-on activities just aren’t enough and you really need to commune with the water, you can do that too. At the dock will be paddleboards, kayaks and other small watercraft (even a dragonboat!) that festival-goers can take for a spin.

Annie Crawley Humpback Whales
“Whale shark” is an example of keynote speaker Annie Crawley’s digital photography. Photo credit: Annie Crawley

Oh, and if you get hungry, some food trucks will also be in attendance.

Beach Cleanup

Ocean Fest takes a step beyond education, too. On the morning of June 10, you can join in a beach clean up from 9:00 to 10:00 a.m. at Jack Hyde Park, 2201 Ruston Way.

“I hope lots of people join in to clean up the beach – it’s a huge part of the Ocean Fest message to care for our shorelines. They need it so much,” says Ponnekanti. “I can say now that Surfrider (who is partnering on the clean-up) will be taking the safe parts of the trash over to their festival booth – people can help build a bow decoration for the paddle craft that festival partner Ken Campbell has made completely out of washed-up trash. He’ll be paddling it the next day in the Seventy48 paddle race from the Museum of Glass to Port Townsend, so everyone will be able to admire their handiwork!”

For more information, visit the Tacoma Ocean Fest website. The festival will be held at the Foss Waterway Seaport, which is located at 705 Dock Street in Tacoma.

Ponnekanti hopes to make this an annual festival so check it out this year, and watch again for it next year.