Marine Waters report provides overview of 2015 conditions in Puget Sound

Marine Waters 2015 report cover

Marine Waters 2015 report cover

The Puget Sound Ecosystem Monitoring Program released its fifth annual Marine Waters Report today. The report provides an assessment of marine conditions for the year 2015 and includes updates on water quality as well as status reports for select plankton, seabirds, fish and marine mammals.

According to the report, water temperatures broke records throughout Puget Sound. The year also marked the worst on record for two distinct stocks of Pacific herring. You can read the full report on the Puget Sound Partnership website. 

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Second invasive green crab found in Puget Sound

Carcinus maenas. Photo: Brent Wilson (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) https://www.flickr.com/photos/59048895@N06/5409329320/

Carcinus maenas. Photo: Brent Wilson (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) https://www.flickr.com/photos/59048895@N06/5409329320/

Last month, Puget Sound Institute senior writer Christopher Dunagan’s series on invasive species in Puget Sound highlighted some of the state’s worries about the arrival of the European green crab. The article noted that “the threat could be just around the corner.” It could not have been more timely.

Several weeks after the article was published, volunteer crab spotters led by Washington Sea Grant made the region’s first green crab sighting. The crab was found on San Juan Island and it led to a rapid response coordinated by the state to find out if others had spread further. This week, another crab has been spotted in Padilla Bay.

Emily Grason of Sea Grant said in a news release that there is little evidence so far of a larger population of the invasive crabs on San Juan Island, “but finding an additional crab at a site more than 30 miles away suggests that ongoing vigilance is critical across all Puget Sound shorelines.”

Green crabs are listed as one of 12 aquatic animals of greatest concern by the Washington Invasive Species Council. They cause an estimated $22 million each year in damage to fisheries on the East Coast and have started to disrupt fisheries in California as well.

Scientists suspect that green crabs may be spreading because of warming temperatures, but little is known for sure. Green crab larvae can also survive in the ballast water of ships entering Puget Sound, a major—and at times unregulated—pathway for a variety of invasive species. You can catch up on green crabs and other emerging threats from invasive species in our August series in Salish Sea Currents.

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The return of the pig

Harbor Porpoise (Phocoena phocoena). Bellingham Bay, WA. Photo: Andrew Reding (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) https://www.flickr.com/photos/seaotter/9509722373/

Harbor Porpoise (Phocoena phocoena). Bellingham Bay, WA. Photo: Andrew Reding (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) https://www.flickr.com/photos/seaotter/9509722373/

After an almost complete collapse in the 1970s, harbor porpoise populations in Puget Sound have rebounded. Scientists are celebrating the recovery of the species sometimes known as the “puffing pig.” Eric Wagner reports for Salish Sea Currents.

Need even more harbor porpoise facts? Read an in-depth profile from the SeaDoc Society prepared for inclusion in the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound.

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Clam hunger: environmental impacts on food and well-being

2013 Swinomish Tribe clam bake. Photo: Copyright Northwest Treaty Tribes https://www.flickr.com/photos/nwifc/9517621153

2013 Swinomish Tribe clam bake. Photo: Copyright Northwest Treaty Tribes https://www.flickr.com/photos/nwifc/9517621153

A story this week in Salish Sea Currents delves into the connection between environmental change and culturally important foods. Writer Sarah DeWeerdt interviewed social scientists at the 2016 Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference about how this affects the spiritual and physical health of Salish Sea tribes and first nations. “The loss of subsistence and cultural identity cannot be estimated,” Joe Schumacker of the Quinault Department of Fisheries told her. In some cases, the yearning to eat culturally important foods can even override health when foods may be hazardous due to toxins from pollution. Read the story on the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound.  

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A comparative study of human well-being indicators across three Puget Sound regions

Puget Sound Institute social scientist Kelly Biedenweg has published a comparative study of three well-being indicators in the Puget Sound region. The article appears in the August issue of the journal Society & Natural Resources.

Abstract:

Simple frameworks that generalize the best metrics of human well- being related to the natural environment have rarely been empirically tested for their representativeness across diverse regions. This study tested the hypothesis that metrics of human well-being related to environmental change are context specific by identifying priority human well-being indicators in distinct regions. The research team interviewed 61 experts and held 8 stakeholder workshops across 3 regions to identify and prioritize locally relevant indicators. Results from the three regions were compared to determine the degree of geographic and demographic variability in indicator priorities. The team found broadly similar domains and attributes of human well- being across the regions, yet measurable indicators were specific to the contexts. Despite this, the congruence of overarching domains suggests that a high-level framework of human well-being can guide a holistic assessment of the human impacts of environmental change across diverse regions.

Citation:

Biedenweg, Kelly. (2016). A Comparative Study of Human Well-Being Indicators Across Three Puget Sound Regions. Society & Natural Resources. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/08941920.2016.1209606.

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The secret lives of forage fish: Where do they go when we aren’t looking?

Pacific sand lance at rest on sand. Photo: Collin Smith, USGS. https://www.flickr.com/photos/usgeologicalsurvey/13378704834

Pacific sand lance at rest on sand. Photo: Collin Smith, USGS. 

Some of the most important fish in the Salish Sea food web are also the most mysterious. Researchers have only begun to understand how many there are, where they go, and how we can preserve their populations for the future. University of Washington researcher Margaret Siple reports on the secret lives of forage fish in the latest issue of Salish Sea Currents. 

Read the article in the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound.

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New in Salish Sea Currents: Invasive stowaways threaten Puget Sound ecosystem

A state inspector boards a container ship at the Port of Seattle to check on ballast water and determine whether procedures were followed to reduce the risk of invasive species being released into Puget Sound. Photo: WDFW

A state inspector boards a container ship at the Port of Seattle to check on ballast water and determine whether procedures were followed to reduce the risk of invasive species being released into Puget Sound. Photo: WDFW

Invasive species are among the three greatest threats to the environment worldwide, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Species ranging from microscopic viruses to larger creatures like rodents and non-native fish can alter the balance of entire ecosystems. The threat is well-known in Puget Sound and the Salish Sea, which face their own unique challenges.

This week, our magazine Salish Sea Currents looks at some of the ways that invasive species get into local waters. Senior writer Christopher Dunagan reports on two leading pathways that have caught the attention of regulators. Studies show that many invaders are literally shipped into our ports. They arrive as stowaways in ballast water, or attach themselves to the outer hulls of boats and ships, a condition known as biofouling.

Despite this knowledge, there remain significant gaps in regulations of these two pathways. Most ships are required to exchange their ballast water in the open ocean, which offers some protection. But in the case of ships coming from the mouth of the Columbia River—a known hot-spot for potential invaders— ballast water can still be dumped directly into Puget Sound. Researchers worry that this could open the door for species of concern such as the green crab, or tiny crustaceans known as copepods that may already be interfering with the Puget Sound food web. The other major pathway, biofouling, is almost entirely unregulated.

Officials are just starting to develop—and debate—plans to address these issues. You can read the entire series on the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound.

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Killer whale miscarriages linked to low food supply

A Southern Resident Killer Whale is about to surface with her young calf. Photo: NOAA Fisheries, Vancouver Aquarium under NMFS research permit and FAA flight authorization.

A Southern Resident Killer Whale is about to surface with her young calf. Photo: NOAA Fisheries, Vancouver Aquarium under NMFS research permit and FAA flight authorization.

New techniques for studying orcas have been credited with breakthroughs in reproductive and developmental research. Drones and dogs are helping scientists connect declines in food supply with low birth rates and poor health.

Read the story this week in Salish Sea Currents. 

 

 

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Salish Sea snapshots: Detecting harmful algal blooms

Monitoring devices deployed by NOAA for detecting harmful algal blooms. Photo by Rachael Mueller.

Monitoring devices deployed by NOAA for detecting harmful algal blooms. Photo by Rachael Mueller.

New technology may provide early detection of harmful algal blooms in Puget Sound. This toxic algae is expected to increase as the climate changes, bringing with it new and potentially more severe outbreaks of shellfish poisonings.

Read the article by Rachael Mueller in Salish Sea Currents.

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Mystery remains in deaths of young salmon

Key hypotheses include bottom-up and top-down processes and additional factors such as toxics, disease, and competition. Graphic: Michael Schmidt, Salish Sea Marine Survival Project

Key hypotheses include bottom-up and top-down processes and additional factors such as toxics, disease, and competition. Graphic: Michael Schmidt, Salish Sea Marine Survival Project

The Salish Sea Marine Survival Project has mobilized dozens of organizations in the U.S. and Canada to find an answer to one of the region’s greatest mysteries. What is killing so many young salmon before they can return home to spawn? A series of talks at the 2016 Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference brought together some of the latest research.

Read the story in Salish Sea Currents. 

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Advances in technology help researchers evaluate threatened Puget Sound steelhead

A steelhead (Oncorhynchus mykiss) in the Cascade River, WA, 2014. Photo: © Morgan Bond http://www.morganhbond.com/

A steelhead (Oncorhynchus mykiss) in the Cascade River, WA, 2014. Photo: © Morgan Bond http://www.morganhbond.com/

New, smaller acoustic tags will allow scientists to track steelhead migrations in Puget Sound in ways that were once impossible. Will this new technology provide answers to the mysterious decline of these now-threatened fish?

Read the article in Salish Sea Currents.

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