Salish Sea it is!

Get set for a new name on Northwest maps.
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The world has a new sea, the Salish Sea

Get set for a new name on Northwest maps.

Washington state mapmakers will have to juggle space when they update Northwest maps and charts. The State Board of Geographic Names has voted to designate the inland salt waters of Cascadia, roughly from Campbell River and Desolation Sound in British Columbia to the southern coves of Puget Sound as the Salish Sea. The 5-1 vote took place in Olympia on Oct. 30.

The designation won't change any names, but becomes an overall term for the Puget Sound-Georgia Basin ecosystem, not unlike an over-arching term such as the Great Lakes. It will join familiar features like the Strait of Juan de Fuca and Strait of Georgia on regional charts.

The Washington Board joins its British Columbia counterpart in approving the proposal. It is immediately effective for local maps. The U.S. Board of Geographic Names will make a final determination on whether the name also belongs on national U.S. maps. Advocates have sought simultaneous U.S.-Canada approval since the designation straddles the border of the two countries. The expectation is that the U.S. board will make its decision by the end of the year.

The Salish Sea was first proposed by Bellingham marine ecologist Bert Webber in the 1980s, but official consideration was deferred. It was revived earlier this year, two decades later, when Webber resubmitted his proposal. In the meantime, the Salish Sea terminology began to be widely used by marine biologists and environmentalists, the tourism trade, and with greater public interest in acknowledging the indigenous, Salish-speaking inhabitants of the region.

In recent years, objections to the proposal have been raised when it was suggested to rename local waters, such as Georgia Strait. Opponents have also been concerned about possible confusion in navigation, the cost of making new maps, and a sense that the name is too political, possibly furthering an environmental or PC agenda. Some have also expressed concern that it would force a "rebranding" of efforts to clean up Puget Sound.

However, the Salish Sea's growing use as a name — along with support from regional tribes, the fact that it describes an actual geographic feature (an ecosystem), widespread public support (as long as the designation changed no other names), and the lack of objection from official bodies — helped the concept sail smoothly to acceptance. Other major name change proposals, such as switching Mount Rainier to Tahoma, have been stymied.


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About the Authors & Contributors

Knute Berger

Knute Berger

Knute “Mossback” Berger is Crosscut's Editor-at-Large.