Some coastal communities face challenges when balancing the needs of the fishing, forestry and other well-established industries with the needs of the growing tourism sector. Yet communities like Port Orford are proving that these competing needs don’t have to be pitted against one another — they can actually help one another succeed.

In 2015, following the Travel Oregon Rural Tourism Studio on the Wild Rivers Coast, the community took a creative leap when numerous groups came together to develop the Port Orford Air Station, a scuba tank fill station at Oregon State University’s (OSU) Port Orford Field Station. It’s the result of a partnership between OSU, Redfish Rocks Community Team, Oregon Coast Aquarium, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW), Travel Oregon, and the Wild Rivers Coast Alliance.

The scuba tank fill station attracts both scientific and recreational divers to the area.

“Before the fill station opened, people had to travel more than an hour to refill their tanks,” says Tom Calvanese, station manager at OSU’s Port Orford Field Station. “Without access to air, you’re really limited in your diving options.”

His eyes light up when talking about the underwater world at Redfish Rocks Marine Reserve, one of five protected marine reserves on the Oregon Coast: “For people who have some diving experience and are ready to a dive in a more challenging environment, Redfish Rocks can provide some really spectacular experiences.”

Divers can expect to see a wide variety of fish, invertebrates and seaweed – including kelp, sea corals, sea anemones, sea stars, crabs, sea urchins and more. Over the past year,  more than 70 people have refilled 143 tanks (70 for scientific research and 61 for recreation) at the station, according to Calvanese, who is also President of the Port Orford Port Commission.

Thanks to strong partnerships between recreational, educational and governmental organizations, visitors are getting involved in what Calvanese calls “citizen science” while also creating economic opportunities for local businesses.

From hiring commercial fishing boats to transport scientific and recreational divers to the Redfish Rocks Marine Reserve, to engaging high school students in water quality testing, to asking beachcombers to help monitor beached birds and mammal counts and marine debris, there appears to be a happy symbiosis occurring in Port Orford.

If you see an opportunity to develop tourism and stewardship in your community, consider applying to Travel Oregon’s Tourism Studio program, which helps communities develop a vision for sustainable tourism. Or, contact Oregon Coast Visitors Association for assistance with facilitation and finding funding sources.

Redfish Rocks Marine Reserve

Port Orford Field Station

Redfish Rocks Community Team

Port Orford Air Station

Photo by Oregon Marine Reserves