Welcome to the Oregon Coast

Watershed Sentinels spans habitats from the forests of the Coast Range to the open ocean.

By watching the wildlife living in our watersheds, we can make smarter decisions for our communities, benefiting humans and all of nature.

The marbled murrelet is a robin-sized seabird that spends 90 percent of its life at sea. Yet, its population is highly impacted by logging practices up to 50 miles inland.

The Pacific lamprey, an ancient jawless fish, informs us about the impacts from dams hundreds of miles up river.

The coastal giant salamander, a foot-long species with metallic marbled coloration, keeps tabs on the ebb and flow of silt in streams running through conifer forests.

The river otter is an apex predator that needs an abundance of diverse prey and water free from pollutants to thrive.

Each of these species is an “indicator species” whose life illuminates the workings of an ecosystem and informs us what impact we are having on the environment.

As miners used canaries to signal something amiss in a mine, we can look to indicator species for assessing the ecological health and conditions of an area.

Through documentary portraits of species dependent on connected, healthy and functioning watersheds of the central coast of Oregon, Watershed Sentinels brings to light the intricate web that connects these species to us, connects us to our local ecosystem, and connects us to one another.

The Canaries

An indicator species is an organism that provides us with a measure of the environmental conditions of an area.

For example, apex predators indicate abundant prey populations, which is often a sign of good health in an ecosystem. Frogs succumb easily to pollutants in water, and so are an indicator species for water quality. The presence of cobra lilies (Darlingtonia California) indicates serpentine, an uncommon soil type.

Indicator species can inform us of one or several aspects of an ecosystem’s health, whether it is air, water or soil quality, habitat fragmentation, biodiversity, or any number of other characteristics.

If a species is particularly abundant or has declined, the health of individuals of that species, or how that species is changing in an area over time all are ways that it can indicate to us what is going on in an ecosystem. 

Clues to Problems

Keys to Solutions

The watersheds of the Oregon Coast face a variety of conservation challenges. These include:

  • clear-cut forestry practices that speed soil erosion and siltation of rivers and estuaries
  • pollution entering our waterways
  • development of habitat for human use
  • an influx of invasive species
  • an ongoing loss of biodiversity
  • aerial spraying of pesticide and herbicides
  • the storage and distribution of biosolids

Each of these issues require collaboration and creative thinking for smarter, more ecologically-sound solutions that balance economic health with ecological health.

Local indicator species help to reveal the extent to which we are impacting our ecosystem, and can guide us upstream to the cause of the problem and the beginning of a conversation. 

Not only do these watershed sentinels provide us with insights, they also stimulate action.

Charismatic flora and fauna are vehicles for sparking curiosity and motivating citizens to understand where their water comes from, what activities impact their watersheds, and the larger story of an ecosystem.

Using a visual experience of wildlife and their world, Watershed Sentinels seeks to bring more participants to the table and form solutions-based strategies that consider the needs of all community members – land owners, business owners, outdoor enthusiasts, families and many others.

Through investigation and education, industry and living practices that affect our watersheds become larger, far more involved conversations that move away from an Us-Them mentality and instead take everyone into account – human and non-human alike.

The sentinel species featured in this project help us monitor the heartbeat of this most critical element of life – our water from ridge to sea – and in turn, predict the future we shape for ourselves and the world around us.

The Oregon Coast is a hub for science, industry, tourism, and tight-knit communities.

It is the home of industrial logging, commercial fishing and farming companies, a base for scientific research including Hatfield Marine Science Center and NOAA Marine Operations Center-Pacific, and it is the nucleus of conservation organizations large and small.

This unique coastline is wildlife- and resource-rich, and an ideal location to closely study the tenuous balance of watershed health, community needs, and the lives of indicator species that live in the crosshairs of human activities.

All the species featured in this project are photographed within 25 miles east or west of the Oregon Coast shoreline, starting from the Columbia River at Oregon’s northern border and running to the edges of redwood forests at Oregon’s southern border.

This habitat diversity underscores the interconnectivity of our watersheds, and the long journey water takes from mountaintop to ocean.

Indicator species living within these watersheds help us monitor the heartbeat of this most critical element of life and in turn, assist us in determining the future we shape for ourselves and our communities.

How We’ll Flow Forward

The Phases

This project will be many years in the making. Here is how I plan to create it, one piece at a time.

   Phase 1: Species Profiles

Let the sentinels lead the way. Each of the species highlighted in this project will have their own profile, filled with storytelling images that explore their lives and natural history. The profile pages will be a visually immersive educational experience with images, video, and sound embedded within informative text. 

   Phase 2: Place profiles

After celebrating each sentinel species, the diverse locations where they live will be explored and celebrated as well. Place profiles will include images, video and sound that explains the ecosystem itself, it’s qualities and quirks, and its function in a watershed. 3D video tours of the highlighted locations will allow viewers to explore as if you are there in person, enjoying the sights and sounds.  

   phase 3: People profiles

Once the watersheds and its wild inhabitants are well documented, it’ll be time to highlight the people hard at work researching and restoring watershed habitats, and the sentinel species.  

   Phase 4: deliverables

With imagery and stories in hand, I’ll move on to create a wide range of deliverables, but most important among these will be packages that assist watershed educators and advocates. Deliverables will include presentation packages with video, image, and PDF materials that can be used in public talks, social media campaigns, agency and stakeholder meetings and presentations, and other events where visuals will make all the difference in conveying the importance of watershed health.

The Deliverables

Curiosity, connection and education are the foundation of this project.
The fact that everyone learns in a different way is taken into account.
This project will create:

   Interactive Website

This ever-evolving immersive platform will seamlessly blend animated maps and timelines, prose and articles, photography, video and sound to appeal to visitors of all learning styles with a multi-sensory experience of places, people and wildlife. The combination of an engaging experience and approachable information encourages us all to explore the connections between species, places and issues here on the Oregon coast, and wherever you may be in the world. 

   Book

The images and stories gathered over the course of the project will culminate in a beautiful published book that reaches an audience well beyond the geographic range of Watershed Sentinels, and inspire readers to learn about their own local watersheds.

   Short Films

To reach a wide array of audiences, especially those “outside the choir”, short films that balance beauty, information, tough truths and humor will introduce viewers to the sentinel species, their homes, and the essential need to know and protect our watersheds.

   presentation packages

Scientists, teachers, nonprofits, non-government organizations, community leaders and many others will have access to pre-designed packages that cover topics for educational talks or programs, from watershed ecology to conservation initiatives.

   display-ready species portfolios

Each Watershed Sentinel will have a thorough image portfolio illustrating its natural history, the issues affecting it and any research or conservation work focused on it. These publication-ready portfolios will assist in getting its story out to a broader audience.

   collaborator portfolios

During the course of this project, I’ll connect with and work alongside a wide range of people and organizations. As I document their work in relation to the species profiled, I will build portfolios of single projects or ongoing work that can be used for outreach or publication.

   traveling exhibits

The portraits created of each species in the Watershed Sentinels project will come together in one cohesive exhibit that can be shown in places of interest including galleries, visitor centers, universities, airports and other key locations.

The Hope

This project is truly for everyone. Those who will directly benefit include:

   Community

From members of the public to policy-makers, people who shape our communities are empowered to make informed, solutions-driven decisions.

   Scientists

The researchers gathering data in the field and lab are provided with ways to communicate their work to funders, publications, collaborators, and the public.

   organizations

Our many action-oriented NGOs and NPOs gain powerfully effective visual media assets for outreach, engagement and funding efforts.

The Storyteller

Hi, I’m Jaymi Heimbuch. I’m a professional wildlife conservation photographer, avid naturalist and instructor. 

From the time I first picked up a camera to document wildlife, I have felt the need to put images to work and engage viewers with the larger story of the photo’s subject.

Experiencing wilderness and witnessing wildlife is my passion and thus conservation photography is my purpose.

In this niche of nature photography, the image itself is the first critical step in a larger process of storytelling, engaging viewers to question, consider, empathize, and ultimately act.

The first part of the job is to craft compelling images that encompass the subject’s story – its life, its world, and the threats it faces. The second part is putting that image in front of viewers in ways that engage them beyond a passing glance.

My goal is to create beautiful, surprising, illuminating images that spark positive emotions, which lead to a sense of connection with and protectiveness for the subject.  

My work has been published by National Geographic publications, Heyday Books, Audubon Magazine, National Wildlife Magazine, Ranger Rick Magazine and many more. One of my images was turned into a stamp by the United Nations Postal Administration to celebrate the International Day of Happiness.

I am no stranger to long-term projects. I founded Urban Coyote Initiative, which focused on creating powerful photography documenting the role of coyotes in a healthy urban ecosystem and promoting science-based coexistence strategies. This project was the recipient of a National Geographic Expeditions Council grant, and in the six years it was active, we reached well over 2 million people through the project’s informative website.

Meanwhile, my joy of teaching finds its outlet through leading conservation photography online courses and in-person workshops through Conservation Visual Storytellers Academy.

To build a diverse and supportive community in conservation visual storytelling, I founded Wild Idea Lab, a digital community for creative and professional development.

Alongside Morgan Heim of Neon Raven Story Labs, I co-founded Her Wild Vision Initiative, a searchable directory that makes it easy for editors and producers to find and hire women-identifying conservation photographers and filmmakers.

I am a volunteer with the North American Nature Photography Association, and a volunteer instructor and advisor with Girls Who Click, a nonprofit that encourages young girls to get involved with nature photography.

All this is to say…

My passion is to help unheard stories and storytellers be seen.

Watershed Sentinels will move this mission forward, one wild voice at a time.