A “learn and adjust” strategy known as Adaptive Management plays a central role in state and federal Puget Sound recovery efforts. It is an approach that is gaining traction for ecosystem management worldwide. An article this week from the Puget Sound Institute provides an overview of the concept and how it is being applied locally.
Puget Sound Partnership Leadership Council Chair Martha Kongsgaard has announced that she will be stepping down from her post this year. Jay Manning will take over as chair on December 7th.
Kongsgaard has served on the council for nearly a decade and spent more than five years as its chair. During that time, she was a regular presence in Washington, D.C. where she advocated for increased federal funding to bring Puget Sound in parity with other major estuaries such as Chesapeake Bay.
Under Kongsgaard’s leadership, the Puget Sound Partnership made significant strides in establishing a science-based plan for environmental recovery, something that continues to influence many of the region’s conservation efforts.
Kongsgaard says she will continue to advocate on behalf of Puget Sound in various other capacities. “My heart, my passion, lie with this great estuary,” she wrote in a resignation letter to Governor Jay Inslee earlier this week. In addition to her longstanding work with the Puget Sound Partnership, Kongsgaard is president of the Kongsgaard-Goldman Foundation and serves on numerous boards and foundations in the region including the Puget Sound Institute Advisory Board.
Jay Manning takes over as one of the Leadership Council’s most experienced members. He is currently the council’s Vice Chair and was one of the original co-chairs of the Puget Sound Partnership, with Billy Frank, Jr. and Bill Ruckelshaus.
In early 2016, scientists at NOAA made headlines when they reported finding 81 different man-made chemicals in the tissues of juvenile Chinook salmon in Puget Sound. Among those chemicals were drugs such as cocaine and Prozac.
This was the first time scientists had made these findings for the region’s salmon, but it has been well-understood that local waters — and marine waters the world over — are becoming an alphabet soup of synthesized compounds. In varying degrees, these rogue chemicals are settling into the bodies of every species analyzed in Puget Sound, including humans.
In fact, there are thousands of different man-made chemicals that flow into Puget Sound every day. Many include pharmaceuticals that pass through sewage treatment plants. Others, such as flame retardants (also known as PBDEs) can bind to the dust and blow out to sea. Some simply persist in the environment and pass through the food chain. Often these chemicals occur in vanishingly small traces, sometimes in the parts per trillion.
The big question, then, has become not whether scientists will find these chemicals, but which are the most dangerous. Could something in such trace amounts cause harm? And what happens when more than four million residents of the region all contribute to the problem?
That is the topic of our latest story in Salish Sea Currents. Christopher Dunagan reports on some of the effects of chemicals known as contaminants of emerging concern. The story covers a range of contaminants, from pharmaceuticals like Prozac and birth control to industrial chemicals. Some of the findings are surprising — tiny amounts of birth control in the water can actually change the sex of some fish species — and in other cases the ramifications are unknown but potentially disturbing. Take a read and you will never look at wastewater and our chemically-dependent culture the same way.
Can we really wait 700 years to remove all of the armoring along Puget Sound’s shoreline? Let’s do some of the math.
Senior Writer Christopher Dunagan reports in Salish Sea Currents this week that armor removal now exceeds new creation by somewhat less than a mile per year. At first glance, that’s a good thing. It is a reversal in a 100-year trend that has added more than 700 miles of bulkheads and other anti-erosion structures to Puget Sound beaches. It happened for the first time in modern memory in 2014 and the trend continued in 2015. But consider that number: 700 miles.
In the simplest terms, less than a mile per year of net removal adds up to a timeline of more than 700 years. That doesn’t tell the whole story, of course. The fact is, not all of the region’s shoreline armoring is meant to be removed, nor should it be. Some of it is considered necessary. No one is expecting to breach the downtown seawall, or surrender endangered houses to the waves. But it does give a sense of the scale of the project.
Recent peer-reviewed studies show that armoring clearly and unambiguously causes damage to the ecosystem, giving increasing urgency to the need to remove armoring wherever possible. Just how much of it is vital and how much can stand to be removed or replaced with more environmentally sensitive structures is not yet clear, but what is clear is that 700 miles of it — more than 25% of Puget Sound’s shoreline — is hurting the environment. Put another way, 700 miles adds up to a ‘Great Wall’ stretching further than the ocean-facing coasts of Washington and Oregon combined. It’s going to have an impact.
So why not just remove it? That’s easier said than done. For example, between 2012 and 2016 the state of Washington, with support from the EPA, spent about $8 million dollars on seven armor removal projects. They were just some of the many such projects underway across the region, but were bundled together as part of a series of grants from the state’s Marine and Nearshore Grant Program [also a funder of some of the work at the Puget Sound Institute]. Those projects did more than just remove concrete bulkheads. They restored beaches and in some cases added new softshore structures that took the place of more damaging ones. But simply measured by linear feet, total armoring removal in those projects added up to less than a mile. It is clear that it will be difficult and expensive for state and federal agencies to simply remove armoring, and those agencies recognize that other strategies have to be considered as well.
That is especially true given the many other threats to the ecosystem. The expenditure of $8 million dollars is tiny compared to Puget Sound’s overall recovery needs. Containing stormwater alone could cost close to half a trillion dollars, according to one study, and other ecosystem threats may be just as broad and sweeping. That kind of funding is simply not available, and scientists and policymakers must prioritize at every turn.
One approach for armoring is to look at where most of it is occurring. Studies show that about 57% of Puget Sound’s shoreline is privately owned, and that is where the state believes much of the change will happen. State-sponsored efforts such as Shore Friendly provide information to shoreline owners and building contractors on alternatives to armoring. The state is also looking at ways to ramp up enforcement against unpermitted, illegal shoreline armoring. Removal numbers may be modest so far, but the hope is that once the roller coaster crests the hill, it will start to roll faster down the other side.
Read our series ‘Rethinking shoreline armoring’ for more background.
The Obama administration today approved the establishment of a new federal task force to prioritize agency actions for Puget Sound recovery.
The announcement came from Christy Goldfuss, the managing director of the White House Council on Environmental Quality.
“We understand we have a critical role to play here in Puget Sound,” said Goldfuss, speaking at a press conference in Seattle. The new task force will serve as a blueprint for increased federal cooperation and is part of a memorandum of understanding signed today by the White House and nine federal agencies.
Goldfuss was joined at the conference by Washington governor Jay Inslee, congressmen Derek Kilmer and Denny Heck of the Puget Sound Recovery Caucus, Suquamish Tribe Chairman Leonard Forsman, Tulalip Tribes Chairman Mel Sheldon and several state and federal administrators.
Also announced was a recommendation by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to commit $452 million dollars to the Puget Sound Nearshore Ecosystem Restoration Project. The money will support three estuary recovery projects, including the Duckabush River Estuary project, the Nooksack River Delta restoration and the North Fork Skagit River Delta project.
Final funding for the estuary projects must still be approved by congress, but Governor Inslee was optimistic that the funds would be forthcoming. “Once you have laid the keel of the ship, the ship tends to get built,” he said.
A story in Geekwire mentions that Center for Urban Waters engineers are among the first to receive a University of Washington Amazon Catalyst Grant. Dr. Andy James (also a member of the Puget Sound Institute) and Alex Gipe received $50,000 from Amazon to improve a process to remove phosphorous from stormwater pollution. Phosphorous can cause increased algal growth in lakes and ponds which in turn can poison fish and other species.
The Center for Urban Waters is the Puget Sound Institute parent organization and is affiliated with the University of Washington Tacoma.
The Amazon Catalyst program began in 2015 and 12 projects across the University of Washington have been selected for grants so far. The program supports innovation at universities, and encourages “people in all fields to think big, invent solutions to real-world problems, and make a positive impact on the world,” according to the program’s website.
Read the full story in Geekwire: Amazon ‘Catalyst’ program reveals the first university projects it’s backing.
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 was also the worst on record for two distinct stocks of Pacific herring. You can read the full report on the Puget Sound Partnership website.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.