Pacific Northwest Conservation in Action
Wildlife Habitat Restoration
- Work alongside conservationists to reforest river ecosystems and monitor orca whales.
- Go river rafting in Olympic National Park.
- Kayak in the San Juan Islands.
This expedition was specially crafted to involve students in ongoing conservation efforts with researchers in the field. More »
Itinerary 12 Days
In Washington State’s Puget Sound watershed—one of the country’s great treasures—orcas breach against a backdrop of snowy peaks, and bears and bald eagles preside over rain forests and pristine islands. The Puget Sound is an immense estuary where rivers mix freshwater with the saltwater of the Pacific, creating a unique habitat and extraordinary biodiversity. Yet human impact is threatening the health of this fragile ecosystem. Join the region’s top conservationists to work on habitat restoration in Olympic National Park and monitor orca populations in the San Juan Islands, then cap off the trip with a two-day kayaking adventure.
Days 1-2. Our program starts and ends in the vibrant city of Seattle, perched on the edge of Puget Sound. Get to know your group during an orientation and visit some of the city’s sights, including the famous Pike Place Market. Take a behind-the-scenes tour of the Seattle Aquarium and learn about local conservation issues.
Days 3-7. Ride a ferry across Puget Sound to the Olympic Peninsula and settle into our base on the shores of Lake Crescent within Olympic National Park. This UNESCO World Heritage-listed park is home to sandy beaches, rain forests where green comes in all shades, glacier-topped mountains, and natural hot springs. Lake Crescent, left behind by the last ice age, harbors numerous fish species, and hiking and kayaking opportunities here abound. Join local conservationists and scientists to work on the park’s major conservation initiatives. In photographs and interviews, document the story of the Elwha River, whose century-old dam was recently removed, paving the way for the resurgence of salmon populations. Hike up the old riverbed to record the dam’s impact on old-growth forest and witness how the unleashed river is now reclaiming the land. Use satellites to map the new path of the river, collect water samples in search of fish eggs, help with reforestation efforts, survey wildlife along the river, and monitor the growth of native and invasive species. Raft down the newly opened section of the river on the lookout for bald eagles, bears, and elk.
San Juan Islands
Days 8-12. Scattered across the Puget Sound lie the San Juan Islands, several hundred pristine islands that range from the largest— Orcas Island— to tiny tree-topped tufts. Our home here is Friday Harbor, on the island of San Juan. Here, your National Geographic expert joins the group as we focus our efforts on marine conservation. Learn about the region’s largest marine mammals at the Whale Museum, then hop in a boat with local researchers to spot and study the sound’s wildlife. The narrow inlets and passages that carve between the islands are home to both resident and transient pods of orca whales. Matriarchal groups, the resident families can be found traveling through Puget Sound in search of salmon and other food sources. Despite being some of the most studied populations of orcas in the world, their numbers are still dwindling due to overfishing of their food stocks and contamination from pollution runoff. Meet with members of local research groups and collect data on these charismatic animals, recording their movement, measuring their population size, and tracking them through acoustic listening devices. Use what you’ve learned to help staff an education station and teach visitors about orcas and the threats they face.
Set out to discover the wilds of the San Juans on a two-day kayak excursion. With professional guides at our helm, paddle past rugged sea cliffs and into pristine coves, on the lookout for falcons, seals, porpoises, and whales. Each night, we’ll set up camp on a secluded beach and make dinner together under the stars. Along the way, we’ll collaborate with the Washington State Parks system to help clean beaches, maintain trails, and educate the public about conservation issues.