Annie Crawley poses for a photo with her scuba gear at Brackett’s Landing near the Port of Edmonds on Saturday, Feb. 3, 2024 in Edmonds, Washington. (Annie Barker / The Herald)

Annie Crawley poses for a photo with her scuba gear at Brackett’s Landing near the Port of Edmonds on Saturday, Feb. 3, 2024 in Edmonds, Washington. (Annie Barker / The Herald)

Edmonds ocean activist to kids: Life is better under the sea

From clownfish to kelp, Annie Crawley has been teaching kids and adults about the ocean’s wonders for three decades.

EDMONDS — The ocean is a cold, dark, scary place.

Let’s try that again.

The ocean is an amazing place brimming with fish, whales, coral reefs and kelp forests.

Edmonds resident Annie Crawley is on a mission to change the narrative that vilifies more than two-thirds of the earth.

From eerie tales of the Bermuda Triangle to movies like “Jaws,” the ocean is often depicted as unpredictable and frightening.

“There are so many fear-based myths about the ocean,” said Crawley, a scuba diving instructor, business owner and photographer, who’s been taking her message of stewardship to schools and community groups for more than three decades.

“If people understood that the ocean was our planet’s life source, I believe we would treat it a little bit different,” Crawley added.

From sea turtles to clown fish, “these animals are part of our world. But they have no voice unless we give them a voice,” she said.

Her photos illustrate “Plastic Ahoy!,” “Planet Ocean” and other children’s books she’s co-authored with Patricia Newman.

Crawley’s multimedia company Dive Into Your Imagination, aims to inspire kids to explore the ocean with educational videos, lesson plans and books.

“When we love something, we want to take care of it,” she said. “And it doesn’t have to be an ocean, it can be a lake or river in their backyard.”

Crawley is a familiar sight at the Port of Edmonds where she and a team of volunteer divers have been holding regular dives to remove underwater trash since 2013.

A single cleanup can retrieve hundreds of pounds of debris from the waters beneath the marina, said Angela Harris, the port’s executive director.

“She’s not only helping us clean up the water, but she’s raising awareness about ocean environments,” Harris said.

‘Everything we do on land affects the ocean’

She’s a frequent visitor at schools around the region and beyond.

“Her enthusiasm and energy is contagious” said Barbara Bromley, who teaches fourth- and fifth-grade students at Hazelwood Elementary School in Lynnwood.

“She brings knowledge about plants or animals students never even knew existed,” Bromley added.

After Crawley visited Kaleb Wolde’s classroom, the fifth grader is now on a quest to learn everything he can about the giant Pacific Octopus. When full-grown, it can weigh more than 50 pounds.

“It’s a cool animal and there’s a lot of research you can look up,” Kaleb said.

Sixth grader Rylee Chen was amazed to learn the ocean’s plants produce most of the air we breathe. Ocean plants produce 70% of the earth’s oxygen.

“Before, I thought trees produced it all,” Rylee said.

Crawley often shares stories and photos of her visit to the Great Pacific garbage patch, a floating vortex of plastic and trash in the North Pacific Ocean, estimated at twice the size of Texas.

Researchers have found plastic and garbage in the middle of the ocean, hundreds of miles from shore.

“Every piece of plastic we’ve ever used is still on our planet,” Crawley said.

Plastic does not biodegrade – but it does react to light.

“It never goes away,” she said

Light, particularly ultraviolet light, makes plastic brittle, which can then break into smaller pieces.

Those small pieces accumulate in the ocean’s food chains and contribute to the death of more than 100,000 marine mammals a year, according to Fauna & Flora International, a nonprofit conservation group.

Plastic is in the food and seafood we eat, posing a threat to human health, Crawley said: “Everything we do on land affects the ocean.”

“In the past, I just thought the ocean was a place for animals and where people scuba dive,” said Cheng Ming, a sixth-grader at Hazelwood Elementary. “She taught us about how the ocean needs help with all the junk and plastic

Diving lessons

Crawley, who grew up in Chicago, visited Australia in her early 20s. While there, she spotted a sign advertising scuba diving lessons. It was her first brush with the ocean and it would change her life.

From the moment Crawley entered the water, diving hooked her.

“I had my eyes set on becoming an underwater photographer and filmmaker,” she said.

A short time later, she sold her car and used the money to buy underwater camera equipment.

Today, Crawley is a Master Scuba Diving instructor certified by the Professional Association of Diving Instructors, the world’s largest scuba training group.

Ten years ago, Crawley began teaching children age 10 and up (with parental permission) how to scuba dive. But first she needed the right-sized equipment.

She contacted dry suit manufacturers and convinced them to design smaller suits.

Annie Crawley’s Scuba Diving Team is now made up of more than 40 members, kids of all ages, who dive with her year-round at the Edmonds Underwater Park and other spots, including Mexico, Indonesia, California’s Channel Islands and Mexico.

“A lot of our training is done at Edmonds Beach at Brackett’s Landing North,” she said.

On a sunny but cold day in February, she zipped into a dry suit at the Edmonds Underwater Park to supervise two of her scuba diving students.

They were among dozens of divers who gather at the park on Saturday and Sunday mornings to explore the underwater marine sanctuary, established in 1970.

“Scuba diving really is very easy — if you’re trained properly,” Crawley said. ”You don’t have to be a Navy SEAL to scuba dive, but you have to have determination. When people learn to dive properly, they love it and become Pacific Northwest cold water divers.”

Crawley will present “Our Underwater Backyard,” a 90-minute talk, from 6-8 p.m. June 13 at the Edmonds Waterfront Center at 220 Railroad Ave. Edmonds. Cost is $7.50 per person.

Or, learn to dive with Crawley at ouroceanandyou.com/dive-team.

Janice Podsada: 425-339-3097; jpodsada@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @JanicePods.

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