Our Underwater Backyard: How diving connected me to the sea and our community

Elizabeth Zajaczkowski (All photos courtesy Annie Crawley)

My Edmonds News is publishing monthly stories and photographs from the Edmonds Underwater Park, with features written by members of the youth dive team led by Annie Crawley, Edmonds underwater photographer, filmmaker, writer and ocean advocate.

For as long as I can remember, I have been drawn to the sea. The rocky shores, rolling waves and seemingly otherworldly marine life captivate me in an indescribable way. Growing up in Edmonds, just minutes away from the beach, profoundly impacted my life. Some of my earliest memories include spending hours with my dad on his boat crabbing, scavenging the shore for driftwood to build the perfect fort with my cousins, and searching between the rocks to get a glimpse of life below the surface.

Elizabeth as a child exploring the Edmonds beach.

As I grew older, I continued to explore the ocean by reading books and watching documentaries to understand marine life. In high school, I took a marine biology class, which showed me there is more to the ocean than beauty. I realized the ocean as an essential resource on our planet. As part of the class, I returned to the Edmonds beaches where I grew up to study the marine life with a new perspective. Though I love tide pooling, as I watched divers going in and out of the water, I realized I wanted to explore. Scuba diving has always been on my radar, as my parents are divers, but this moment on the beach was the final push. I needed to pursue scuba diving. My parents were very supportive and helped me find Annie Crawley’s Dive Team.

Elizabeth with her parents

Starting with skills in the pool, I spent months preparing for my first dive in the Puget Sound. During July, and the warmer summer months, it was time to finally break the surface. With my excitement, also came nerves. The friendly beach I spent so much time at growing up, now felt like a distant memory. Despite my fear, I knew what I had to do. With my gear prepared and donned, I made my way into the water. When it was time to descend, I slowly released air from my BCD and dry suit and I slipped below the surface. Suddenly, my fear was replaced with an entirely new feeling, something indescribable. How can a place I’ve never seen before feel like home? The underwater world had been here the whole time, but now I was finally able to see it in its full beauty. I had been here hundreds of times as a kid, but I felt like I was seeing it again for the first time. I watched in amazement as a four-foot-long lingcod swam past. Dungeness crabs scurried along the bottom, and animals I had never seen before, like frosted nudibranchs, seemed to be everywhere. I can’t believe I missed out on so much beauty by staying on the surface for so long! No image or documentary could have prepared me for the amazing feeling of breathing air from a tank on my back and witnessing the underwater world.

The experience was incredible and came with many other perks. Through our dive team, I found a new community. My life changed. My teammates were standing on the shore waiting for me to emerge from my first dive. Years later, they are still there to greet me after every dive. We live in an amazing place, surrounded by incredible communities—both human and marine.

Elizabeth underwater.

Witnessing the underwater world firsthand has inspired my love for diving and so much more. Only a year after my first dive, I became a PADI Divemaster and team leader. I love being able to introduce students to the underwater world, knowing many will share in the same profound experience I had.

Along with diving, I have continued to pursue my passion for the ocean through my studies at the University of Washington. In addition to learning about the underwater world, I’ve investigated many factors threatening it. The knowledge of ocean conservation issues, coupled with the responsibility I feel towards the ocean as a diver, has pushed me to advocate for its protection. I helped advocate for the Save Edmonds Beach campaign with our dive team and the Edmonds community. This campaign was a push against the proposed placement of a concrete ramp connector that would alter our waterfront and create runoff into the park. Edmonds Underwater Park is a marine protected area. As a no-take zone, the park has become one of the most beautifully diverse underwater locations in the area. Animals and plants thrive here because they are protected from fishing and habitat destruction.

Though Edmonds Underwater Park has been a marine protected area for 50 years, I only realized its true importance after learning to scuba dive. I see the life that benefits from the protection—from the healthy lingcod population, the rockfish and eelgrass beds. With Edmonds so near to my heart, it saddened me to think of the damage the ramp could cause. My Dive Team taught me to speak up as a voice for the ocean. We want to protect the amazing life we’ve come to love through diving. We realize not many people get to experience it the way we do, but everyone can take action. I emailed members of the Edmonds City Council and voiced my concerns. We gathered as a dive team at the public hearing together with other ocean minded people from our community. It was powerful to come together to protect our beach and our underwater world. Everyone knew there was something valuable at stake. We showed up and our voices were heard. Our hard work paid off and we were able to save our beach.

Protesters outside the Edmonds City Council chambers.

This campaign helped show me the power of our voice. It’s hard to believe, but protection is not simply given to our environment. We must work together and fight to protect the things we love. This realization has guided my path of study. I’m currently working toward a degree in environmental studies, focusing on policy, so I can continue to take action to protect our ocean and local communities.

I am thrilled to have my story featured in Annie’s new book, Planet Ocean, Why We All Need A Healthy Ocean. I know it will serve to inspire young kids and teens across the world to speak up for our ocean.

Three years ago, I would have never imagined diving would change my life in so many profound ways. It’s allowed me to connect more deeply with the sea, my Edmonds community and altered my career path. It’s inspired me to share my love for the underwater world with others. My hope is that more Edmonds residents will learn and understand more about the amazing underwater world we have right here in our backyard, and why we need to protect it.

– By Elizabeth Zajaczkowski

Elizabeth Zajaczkowski is a PADI Divemaster on Annie Crawley’s Dive Team. She is a student at the University of Washington pursuing a degree in environmental studies minoring in political science. Elizabeth’s favorite way to share her passion of the ocean is through underwater photography and writing. She also enjoys surfing, hiking and camping.

 

2 Replies to “Our Underwater Backyard: How diving connected me to the sea and our community”

  1. Thank you so much for this article Elizabeth, and for your advocacy on behalf of Edmonds’ beaches and ocean health!

    Ignored

  2. As a person who was in that crowd with Elizabeth protesting and a fellow lover of the Salish Sea (the real thing and the Brew Pub), I thank her for telling her story here and MEN for letting her tell it. We are blessed with a lot of great things and great people like Elizabeth in this town.

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