Salish Sea Currents is a new online series featuring the latest science from the 2014 Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference. Join us as we report on some of the key issues driving Puget Sound recovery.
The magazine-style series is housed on the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound and is developed in collaboration with the Puget Sound Partnership with funding from the EPA.
Eric Wagner kicks off the series with a story on the region’s declining seabird populations. Close to a third of the birds in the Salish Sea are classified as species of concern, and some scientists believe this may hold clues to the overall health of the ecosystem. Later, in August, we’ll have reports on why so many of Puget Sound’s salmon are dying young, as well as a look at current efforts to restore the region’s eelgrass. Each month through December, we’ll bring you new stories, along with related media and interviews with leading scientists.
A “medicine wheel” graphic that will be used to showcase HWB indicators; copyright Biedenweg et al.
How does a healthy environment translate into human health? What do aesthetic concepts like natural beauty or even feelings like happiness mean to ecosystem recovery? These are some of the central questions behind the research of Puget Sound Institute’s Lead Social Scientist Kelly Biedenweg.
Biedenweg has been working closely with the Puget Sound Partnership and organizations like The Nature Conservancy to identify what are termed “human wellbeing indicators.” In essence, she wants to understand how human happiness can translate into cleaner water or healthier salmon and vise versa.
Biedenweg points out that understanding how people relate to Puget Sound’s natural environment is an important part of ecosystem recovery. People tend to engage more in positive, less destructive behaviors when they feel that they are receiving a benefit, she says. Studies show that a healthy environment also leads to healthier—and happier—citizens.
Recently Biedenweg collaborated with the Puyallup Watershed Initiative (PWI) to
develop a process for selecting human wellbeing indicators relevant to natural resource
management in the Puyallup Watershed.
Indicators were divided into five domains: physical, psychological, governance, cultural and economic. These domains were in turn divided into attributes and indicators related to factors like access to natural areas or how often people experience what they consider to be “the beauty of nature.”
The July 2014 report was prepared by Biedenweg and Haley Harguth of the Puget Sound Partnership.
Download the full report.
PSI Visiting Scientist Marc Mangel receiving an honorary doctorate last month at the University of Guelph.
Congratulations to Puget Sound Institute Visiting Scientist Marc Mangel for his recent honorary doctorate from the University of Guelph. Mangel was presented with the honor last month in Ontario in recognition for his “significant academic contributions combining mathematics and statistics with theoretical ecology and evolutionary biology.”
The presenters wrote: “You have profoundly influenced an entire generation of ecologists, environmental scientists and applied mathematicians on how to solve important practical problems and make the world a better place.”
Dr. Mangel was awarded the Doctor of Science, honoris causa. He is currently working at the Puget Sound Institute to apply mathematical principles to the population dynamics of Puget Sound forage fish and other species. Read an interview with Dr. Mangel about some of this work.
The July 2014 issue of the journal Coastal Management focuses on the role of social sciences in Puget Sound recovery. PSI’s Lead Social Scientist Kelly Biedenweg was co-editor, and authored an article in the issue describing the development of Puget Sound human wellbeing indicators.
Issue now available.
Shoreline armoring along railroad. Photo: NOAA.
More than 125 planners and scientists gathered for a May 20th forum focusing on the latest scientific studies of shoreline armoring in Puget Sound. A video of forum presentations is now available online (below).
“Armoring” refers to hardened structures designed to protect shorelines against natural processes like erosion and storm surge, and it is common throughout the region. Almost 30% of the Puget Sound shoreline—about 700 miles total—is now classified as armored, and the figure grows by a mile or more per year.
Some shoreline residents would say that is a good thing. They argue that they need it to protect their property, but scientists have been wondering for some time how this trend is affecting the ecology of Puget Sound. The Puget Sound Partnership has made reduction of armoring one of the centerpieces of its recovery efforts, and studies are increasingly pointing to armoring’s negative effects. The science, however, has not always been definitive. That was the motivation behind the recent Salish Sea Shoreline Forum at South Seattle Community College where scientists and planners gathered to discuss their research.
Salish Sea Nearshore Conference #3 from Salish Sea Shoreline Forum Video on Vimeo.
The Salish Sea’s premier science conference concluded last month in Seattle, and judging strictly by the numbers (or the theme music—”We are the Champions” blared from the auditorium speakers after the closing plenary) it was one of the most successful in conference history.
The 2014 Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference, or #SSEC14 as it came to be known in various social media, featured several significant firsts. It was the largest in its history with more than 1200 attendees. Overall, there were 450 science talks, 150 posters, eight discussion panels and numerous featured speakers, proving that the region’s scientists aren’t shy or standing idle.
It was also the first time the conference had its own mobile app, giving attendees the option of going paperless. The Puget Sound Institute provided the app with funding from the Puget Sound Partnership, and a survey by the SSEC (n=400) showed that nearly half of the respondents used it, strongly suggesting that future conferences will also go this route.
In fact, conference-goers turned out to be a fairly digitally savvy group. A separate poll by the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound (n=62) showed that more than 83% of all respondents rated the Web as their most important or second most important source for retrieving scientific information, rating it as either a 4 or 5 on a 5-point scale. Those numbers are likely skewed considering it was a web-based survey, but there was one surprising note. Despite their high reliance on the Web, survey participants didn’t think much of social media. Almost 80% of the respondents said they “don’t use” Twitter.
Other survey results from the SSEC:
- Respondents were generally favorable in their opinion of the conference format, the mix of science and policy at the event, the relevance of content to ecosystem recovery and management (4 out of 5 average rating).
- The aspect of the conference most commonly noted as “best” was the diversity of topics and presenters, followed by networking opportunities, learning opportunities, and the quality of presentations.
- The aspect of the conference most commonly noted as “least favorite” was the structure of the lunchtime activities, followed by length of oral presentations (too short), and the amount of time for networking and discussion (not enough).
- Survey demographics: 20% non-profit, 8% tribe/first nation, 14% local government, 14% state/provincial government, 14% federal government, 11% private sector, 24% academic. And according to registration figures, 12.5% of attendees were from Canada, 85.5% from USA, 0.3% from other countries and 1.6% came from parts unknown.
(Results of the SSEC survey are based upon a ~33% response rate out of a total of ~1200 conference participants.)
See you at SSEC16 in Vancouver.
Amphipholis squamata (Phylum Echinodermata, Class Ophiuroidea) – This is a brittle star, commonly known as the “brooding snake star”. (Sandra Weakland, Brooke McIntyre photo)
Ever wonder what is wriggling around in the sediment at the bottom of Puget Sound? Dip into a list of over 1800 benthic invertebrates prepared as part of the Washington State Department of Ecology’s Marine Sediment Monitoring Program. Now available with links to species accounts and habitat classifications on the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound.
Harbor seal vocalizing on rock. Credit: G.E. Davis
Harbor seals are the most commonly seen marine mammals in the Salish Sea and can be found throughout the region at all times of the year. They have been intensively studied here and a new in-depth profile from Jacqlynn Zier and Joe Gaydos provides an overview of their local ecology and behavior.
This is a must-read for professional and amateur naturalists alike, and it is available for download on the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound.
Workers for the Center for Urban Waters examining a storm-water outlet in Tacoma, Wash., as part of pollution monitoring. Credit Matthew Ryan Williams for The New York Times
A June 12th article in The New York Times features a collaboration between the Puget Sound Institute and the City of Tacoma to curb stormwater pollution.
PSI’s Director Joel Baker describes how “the forensic work of the scientists and the city have changed the ability to enforce antipollution laws.”
Scientists at PSI and the Center for Urban Waters have been working closely with the City of Tacoma to identify and trace sources of contaminants from stormwater and underground pipes flowing into Puget Sound.
“We talk about being able to go to anyone — an individual, a house, a business — who is discharging something,” Dr. Baker told the Times, “and unambiguously trace back to them. That gets you into a whole different conversation with people about responsibilities and remedies.”
The article reports that 85% of all water pollution now comes from stormwater and runoff from agriculture.
Read the full article.
Several Rhinoceros Auklet recordings from the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound are featured on the national radio show BirdNote this month. PSI’s Jeff Rice recorded the sounds during a trip to Protection Island with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. The island is home to one of the largest nesting colonies of rhinoceros auklets in the world, and scientists are studying the birds to identify overall patterns in ecosystem health. Listen online.
Rhinoceros Auklet. Photo copyright Bob Whitney. Courtesy of BirdNote.
Crush the poop-smelling dog leads handler Aryn Hervel to a container that the dog identified as containing evidence of human-sourced effluent. Scott Terrell / Skagit Valley Herald
A story in the May 29th Skagit Valley Herald features a study by PSI researchers to see if dogs can sniff out chemical contaminants in sewage.
Dogs can tell the difference between human waste and that of other animals, and PSI researchers want to know if they can also identify the presence of human-created chemicals such as ibuprofen and caffeine. The chemicals are part of a large group of compounds known as emerging contaminants that are sometimes used to trace sources of pollution.
Researchers relied on the nose of Crush the poop-smelling dog, and will conduct further tests in the lab at the Center for Urban Waters. “The samples will be sent to a Tacoma-based researcher who developed the method [referring to Andy James and his team],” reads the article. “The results will be compared with Crush’s findings…”
Skagit County hopes the dogs will be able to sniff out sewage leaks that are contaminating the local watershed. High readings of fecal coliform have led to numerous shellfish harvest closures in Samish Bay, according to the article, and the problem is widespread throughout Puget Sound. Regulators say bacteria associated with human waste like E. coli and fecal coliform have contributed to the closures of almost 20% of Puget Sound’s commercial shellfish beds and approximately 25% of its swimming beaches.
Read the article.
The Puget Sound Science Panel meets June 3-4 at Western Washington University in Bellingham. Immediately following the June 3rd meeting, Tim Essington and Jan Newton will present talks on forage fish conservation and ocean acidification as part of the panel’s new speaker series.
Where: Viking Union 552 at Western Washington University in Bellingham.
When: Tuesday, June 3rd from 9:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. The speaker series is from 4:00 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.. The panel meets again on Wednesday, June 4. from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
Download the full agenda and meeting materials.