Teen wants to make a difference by pushing bills for state oyster

A 14-year-old student wants to designate a state oyster and bring awareness to the threat of ocean acidification. She also wants other young people to know they can participate in government.

Claire Thompson wants young people to know they can participate in government.

The 14-year-old is behind Senate Bill 6145 and House Bill 2387, companion measures that would designate Ostrea lurida as the official state oyster.

She’s pushing the bills for an eighth-grade project at Nova School, an Olympia-based independent middle school for highly capable students, but said she’s aiming for more than a grade.

Thompson, who wants to be a marine biologist, grew up near Olympia’s Boston Harbor. Water, she said, is a part of her life and when she learned about ocean acidification through The Seattle Times “Sea Change” project, she wanted to do something.

“I don’t really know a lot of ways to fix it,” she said. “Raising awareness is something I can do, and I think it’s really powerful that someone my age, someone like me, could change the way my state works.”

The Senate Governmental Operations Committee on Thursday held a hearing for the Senate bill, which would add the oyster to other official state symbols, including petrified wood, the state gem; the Columbian Mammoth, the state fossil and the steelhead trout, the state fish.

Thompson, who is the daughter of Rowland Thompson, lobbyist for Allied Daily Newspapers of Washington, told committee members why they should vote to recognize the oyster’s history and contribution to the state.

Ostrea lurida — sometimes called the Olympia oyster, though that’s a controversial name for an animal native to other places besides the city — is a big part of state history, Thompson said.

“When we were just going into statehood, people took barrels full of oysters and hosted these dinners to gain favor for Olympia,” she said in an interview. “We really wouldn’t be the capital if it weren’t for these oysters.”

She hopes bringing attention to oysters will make people aware of ocean acidification and inspire other students to take part in government.

“The thing I’d really like people to take home is that [ocean acidification] exists; it’s a real problem,” she said. “It might not be a problem for you, but it’s a going to be a problem for me and my generation, and we should start doing something about it now.”

There’s no clear evidence that ocean acidification is affecting this particular species of oyster, but scientists have shown that Ostrea lurida will be susceptible in the future.

Raymond Sen. Brian Hatfield, who once worked in oyster fields, is prime sponsor for the Senate bill. The Democratic senator said with transportation, education and other issues looming, it might not make it to the floor.

Sen. Pam Roach, R-Auburn, and four others are also sponsoring.

“It recognizes something unique to Washington,” said Roach, also chair of the committee. “The oyster is something we’re all proud of; it’s part of our culture, agricultural production and quite a delicacy.”

Reps. Brian Blake, D-Aberdeen; Dean Takko, D-Longview; and 14 others are sponsoring the House bill, scheduled for a hearing Jan. 29.

Ashley Stewart, The Seattle Times, 23 January 2014. Article.

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