The Puget Sound Estuarium was founded in 2007 by the South Sound Estuary Association (SSEA) as a nonprofit organization. Their mission is to foster learning opportunities that inspire people of all ages to enjoy the unique estuary* environment of Puget Sound.
* Estuary: where a river meets the sea, mixing fresh water with salt water. The word estuary comes from the Latin word aestuarium meaning tidal inlet of the sea, derived from the word aestus, meaning tide.
Estuaries carved by glaciers, such as Puget Sound, are known as fjord estuaries. They are prominent in areas where the glaciers once loomed, including Alaska and Scandanavia in the Northern Hemisphere and Chile and New Zealand in the Southern hemisphere.
The more common type of estuary, called coastal plain estuaries, were formed when a rising sea level flooded a major river valley. Coastal plain estuaries, including Chesapeake Bay on the East Coast and Coos Estuary in Oregon, tend to be shallower with less physical diversity than fjord estuaries. More info: 2015 Puget Sound Fact Book v3.1 (eopugetsound.org)
Chesapeake Bay is the largest estuary in the United States, occurring in parts of six states — Delaware, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia. Chesapeake Bay covers about 4,480 square miles—more than four times the area of Puget Sound (not including waters north of Whidbey Island). More than 150 rivers and streams drain into the Bay.
However, Puget Sound is the largest estuary system in the United States by volume of water (and second largest by shoreline). Chesapeake Bay is shallow, averaging just 21 feet deep. In comparison, Puget Sound averages 205 feet deep. Consequently, Puget Sound can hold a more massive volume of water, some 40 cubic miles—well beyond Chesapeake Bay’s volume of 18 cubic miles. An estimated 2,800 streams—from large rivers to small creeks—flow into Puget Sound.
About Puget Sound & Deschutes Estuary
The Puget Sound Estuarium in Olympia is home to live estuary animals, exhibits, specimens and more! The community is invited to explore the animals and plants in our estuaries, where freshwater and saltwater meet, and learn what is unique about this delicate, vibrant ecosystem so vital to our region. Knowledge helps you and me take better care of our shared natural resources and act in ways that protect the ongoing health, conservation, and restoration of south Puget Sound.
The Deschutes Estuary/Capitol Lake is the southernmost point of Puget Sound. It is part of the Puget Sound estuary system and has local ecological, cultural, and economic significance. While Capitol Lake is a relatively recent alteration, the Deschutes Estuary has existed since the end of the last ice age and is the ancestral land of the Steh-chass people whose relationship with the Deschutes Estuary traces back through time immemorial.
The facility features five tanks featuring an amazing diversity of animals from intertidal and subtidal environments in South Puget Sound. Animals include sea stars, anemone, shellfish, crabs, and more. Permanent Exhibits at the Estuarium explore intertidal life in the Puget Sound and the impacts of human life on the ecosystem. Topics include aquaculture, climate change, pollution prevention, and first peoples of the Salish Sea. Rotating Exhibits highlight special topics and often feature special guest speakers, demonstrations, and activities such as dissections led Estuarium interpreters.
In addition, the specimen collection includes preserved creatures from the depths of Puget Sound and an extensive shell collection. Most specimens can be handled and observed. There is also an exciting array of short videos from local organizations and projects. And finally, visitors can explore the microscopic world of Puget Sound native flora and fauna with their collection of slides.
Visiting Puget Sound Estuarium
Stop by during open hours to explore Salish Sea education.
- Location: Puget Sound Estuarium, 309 State Ave NE, Olympia, WA 98501
- Hours: Saturday & Sunday: 11:00 – 4:00 PM.
- Admission: $8/family, $5/adult, $3/youth (18 and under), Free with EBT
- Website: Puget Sound Estuarium (pugetsoundestuarium.org)
Free admission days at Puget Sound Estuarium
On select dates throughout the year, admission to the Estuarium is free and open to the public. However, this super popular event requires registration. To fine find out the next free admission day or to register, visit: Preregistration Now Required for Free Admission Days – Puget Sound Estuarium
Throughout the year, the Estuarium offers many programs and special events to enhance your returning visits. Read more about some of these programs below.
Puget Sound Estuarium programs & tours
Meet the Beach: During summer, Meet the Beach connects beach goers with a dedicated team of volunteers, called Beach Naturalists, to learn about our unique estuarine ecosystem by identifying intertidal life during summer low tides.
Educational programming: the Estuarium offers topics for Pre-K through 12th grade students, providing unique hands-on activities linked to the STEM standards, Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), and Ocean Literacy Frameworks.
Volunteers: The Estuarium is always looking for enthusiastic people to be a part of the Puget Sound Estuarium as a volunteer. Volunteering is a great opportunity to learn more, gain experience, connect with other volunteers and the community, and make a difference in the health of Puget Sound through education. More info: Volunteer – Puget Sound Estuarium
Guided Bird Walks
During spring and early summer, join the Estuarium staff on select days for an introduction to birding. No birding experience required! Learn about the local and migratory birds, get info on current restoration projects, and help collect data. The walk will be 2 hours and cover approximately 2 miles, so don’t forget your comfy walking shoes and dress for the weather. Please bring your own binoculars. During the walk, the group will stop at different areas to observe birding behaviors and discuss the impacts humans have on waterfront property and local bird habitats. Preregistration is required as there is limited space available. The Bird Walk tour also includes free admission to the Marine Life Discovery Center. Cost: Adults (Ages 13 and older) $15. Children (Ages 12 and younger) are FREE. Free registration to individuals or families with an EBT card. More info: Bird Walks 2023 Registration, Multiple Dates | Eventbrite
Night visit: Pier “Peer” at Boston Harbor Marina
Pier Peer program happens on select nights during the year when there is opportunity to visit the docks at Boston Harbor Marina. Underwater lights attract spectacular estuary creatures for you to safely scoop up and observe, while volunteer naturalists help you identify and learn more about what you’ve found. Also try your hand at driving an underwater remotely operated vehicle! Tickets: Adults (Ages 13 and older) – $15. Children (Ages 12 and younger) – $3. Preregistration is required as there is limited space. Free registration to individuals or families with an EBT card. More info: Pier Peer @ Boston Harbor Marina Registration, Multiple Dates | Eventbrite
- BYOF* (bring your own flashlight)
- Wear non-slip shoes as the dock can be slippery.
- Dress for the weather! For kiddos, it’s not a bad idea to have spare clothes and towel in the car.
- More info: Pier Peer – Puget Sound Estuarium
Find these and other boating and maritime events of all kinds on our calendar list belows
Maritime events on our calendar