A man in a kayak works to make a virtual 360 degree view of the Puget Sound shoreline

TRACYTON – Waves gently hit the cracked concrete as Brian Footen pushes his kayak off the boat launch into the salt water. It’s a cool fall morning under blue skies and snow-capped Olympic Mountains, a perfect time for the former fisheries biologist to map the estuary of the deep fjord that is Puget Sound.

Footen made it his mission to document every tide of the coastal environment from nearly 1,300 miles of sound, using 120 pounds of instruments as he paddles, namely a GoPro camera equipped with a 360 view. degrees which takes a photo every 10 seconds. The result: the most comprehensive collection of images ever captured along its shores.

“It’s a way to interact with Puget Sound in a way we’ve never experienced before,” said Footen, who launched the first mapping he completed on the Kitsap Peninsula on Wednesday.

On most days of his 10 to 15 mile trips, he collects around 6,000 images, a similar number of water quality samples, as well as a number of wildlife sightings – a passed out eagle. or a floating seal, for example. He’s already amassed a wealth of data, after kayaking the east side of the Strait, from Olympia to Seattle.

Its aim is to shed light on the problems facing the sound and wildlife found there. By his company, EarthViews, he funded the project in a participatory manner and hopes that it will be useful to scientists, decision-makers and the general public, who can use it in the same way they surf the roads of the Web. Google Street View.

But at a time when Puget Sound’s health is precarious and climate change will change the landscape, it also does the work for posterity.

“These places won’t look like this in 50 years,” Footen said.

Brian Footen, co-founder and president of EarthViews, adjusts one of his kayak's GoPro cameras as he prepares to launch into his kayak at the Tracyton Boat Launch on Wednesday, November 17, 2021.

“An intuitive perspective”

Footen, a Seattle resident, worked for two decades as a fisheries biologist for federal, state and tribal agencies. In his work of counting salmon egg nests called nests, he began to wonder if there was a way to help researchers and other people get closer to streams and rivers without having to sidestep. get there. He tried using Google Street View, but he had his limitations, namely the roads, and maybe a bridge or two, that crossed them.

“You can’t drop the little ankle in the water,” he joked.

The first attempt at mapping rivers was to take a plate and stick a bunch of cameras on it. As technology improved, Footen saw an opportunity. He quit his job and became an entrepreneur by starting EarthViews. Since then, the tiny Seattle startup has worked with governments, businesses, conservancies, and tribes.

In 2014, the company mapped the Elwha River just 48 hours after the largest dam removal project in history, digitizing a ‘baseline of habitat conditions’ as restoration took hold. . In 2015, EarthViews partnered with National Geographic to conduct “transects” or continuous trips through the Okavango Basin in Angola (but using a mokoro, the region’s common canoe, instead of kayaks. )

Along the way, others have helped do their own mapping, and the company is helping to bring it together on their website.

“We just want to get out here and preserve these precious ecosystems,” said Footen, who runs the two-company with CEO, Courtney Gallagher, a retired Navy F-18 pilot.

Brian Footen, co-founder and president of EarthViews, dons his life jacket as he prepares to launch his kayak at the Tracyton Boat Launch on Wednesday.

Footen is sometimes asked why a kayak is necessary for the success of his company’s work. Satellite imagery, and even an annual overview of the state’s ecology department, can only represent a number of details. A motor boat would not be able to enter tides where it is often found within inches of water.

“It’s a different perspective, an intuitive perspective,” Footen said.

Packed with data, Footen will not just map the entire coastal environment of Puget Sound, but will also take water quality measurements along the way. He has already noticed low oxygen levels in some pockets of Puget Sound, a sign of environmental degradation. It also looks for acidification, an indicator of increased carbon dioxide in the water.

He compares the project to the dawn of the 20th century, when photographers carried pioneer box cameras to the shores of sound. These images remain archived and tell a valuable story of what Sound was like at the time. His project will gain in value over time in the same way, he believes.

“It’s digital preservation,” he said.

On the Web: https://www.earthviews.com/

Josh Farley is a reporter covering the Army and Bremerton for the Kitsap Sun. He can be reached at 360-792-9227, [email protected] or on Twitter at @joshfarley.

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