Portland Playhouse A Christmas Carol Portland Oregon

Marine reserves inspire coastal artists

A Lincoln City exhibit calls attention to “living laboratories” set aside for conservation and research.


It’s no secret that people love Oregon’s coast — the beaches, the tidepools, the sunsets, the wildlife. Less known is the fact that along those 360-odd miles of coast lie five distinctive areas — “living laboratories” that may hold the answers to the ocean’s health long after we’re gone.

Participating in efforts to find those answers is an organization best known for birds. As the state marks August as the first Marine Reserve Awareness Month, the Audubon Society of Lincoln City is sponsoring Reserve Inspiration in the Lincoln City Cultural Center’s PJ Chessman Gallery. The art exhibit, inspired by the Cascade Head Marine Reserve, features seven coastal artists working in media including painting, ceramics, photography, and FirePainting. It opens Friday, Aug. 13, and runs through Sept. 5.

The “Reserve Inspiration” show is sponsored by the Audubon Society of Lincoln City, but it is not all about birds. Ernie Rose’s photo of brown pelicans, however, is.
The “Reserve Inspiration” show is sponsored by the Audubon Society of Lincoln City, but it is not all about birds. Ernie Rose’s photo of brown pelicans, however, is.

“We are very eager to raise public awareness of the marine reserves, because people just don’t know they are out there,” said Ruth Shelly, a board member of the local Audubon Society.  “We are eager for people to understand that these areas — one of them is by us at Cascade Head — have been set aside for conservation and research where scientists can monitor change over time.”

A theme running through the art exhibit is man’s connection to the Earth. “It’s only by studying these reserves that we can understand how all life is interconnected,” said Shelly, who added that the Lincoln City group is eager to stress that Audubon is more than birds.

The five marine reserves are named for landmarks on the coast. In addition to the 9.7-square-mile reserve that stretches roughly from Cascade Head to Roads End, the others are Cape Falcon, Otter Rock, Cape Perpetua, and Redfish Rocks. The areas have been set aside for scientific research, and removal of marine life is prohibited. Each site is unique with distinct habitats and biological characteristics, according to the Oregon Marine Reserves website.

Jill Perry Townsend works in plein air oils, here depicting Devil’s Churn at Cape Perpetua.
Jill Perry Townsend works in plein air oils, here depicting Devil’s Churn at Cape Perpetua.

“Oregon created these marine reserves to conserve marine habitats and biodiversity,” the website notes. “They also serve as living laboratories, where we can learn about Oregon’s nearshore ocean environment and the effects that protections … have over time on the marine environment. This research is helping inform how we can best manage our coastal waters into the future.”

Nora Sherwood is coordinator for the show and an exhibiting artist. In putting Reserve Inspiration together, she tried to emphasize species that have an interaction with the reserve. That may mean illustrating an eagle catching a salmon, surf scooters eating shellfish, or seals coming out of the water to rest on the beach.


Portland Playhouse A Christmas Carol Portland Oregon

Artist Jill Perry Townsend depicts the world above the surface in plein air oils; Ernie Rose in photographs, particularly of birds and other wildlife; and Cynthia Longhat-Adams with pyrographic – painting with fire — techniques.

“I am really focusing on the reliance between various species,” Sherwood said. “I hope it brings awareness to important government functions of research and conservation,”  which tend not to be respected, she added. She said she hoped the show would make people using the beach aware of the harm caused by leaving garbage, for example, which gets into the marine system and leads to problems.

Six of the exhibiting artists are from Lincoln County. The seventh, Scott Groth, is a Coos Bay photographer and Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife biologist. Sherwood calls his underwater work stunning.

Scott Groth says underwater photography is “like diving into the best aquarium ever.”
Scott Groth says underwater photography is “like diving into the best aquarium ever.”

The son and nephew of professional photographers, Groth has been shooting below-the-surface scenes, both via snorkeling and scuba diving, for 20 years.

“It’s a lot more colorful than most people think,” Groth said. “A lot of what I do is macro, close-ups of sponges and corals, and micro fauna. If you look at a tidepool, then into 10 feet of water, it’s twice as good as that. It’s like diving in the best aquarium ever. Just the volume and the diversity of the things you see in any place is really neat. But it’s not just aesthetic. To have that area where no fishing occurs is really important.”


This story is supported in part by a grant from the Oregon Cultural Trust, investing in Oregon’s arts, humanities and heritage, and the Lincoln County Cultural Coalition.


Portland Playhouse A Christmas Carol Portland Oregon

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Photo Joe Cantrell

Lori Tobias is a journalist of many years, and was a staff writer for The Oregonian for more than a decade, and a columnist and features writer for the Rocky Mountain News. Her memoir “Storm Beat – A Journalist Reports from the Oregon Coast” was published in 2020 by Oregon State University press. She is also the author of the novel Wander, winner of the 2017 Nancy Pearl Book Award for literary fiction and a finalist for the 2017 International Book Awards for new fiction. She lives on the Oregon Coast with her husband Chan and rescue pup Gus.

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