PSI welcomes Chris Dunagan as senior science writer

Christopher Dunagan

Chris Dunagan

We are pleased to announce that veteran journalist Chris Dunagan has joined the Puget Sound Institute as a Senior Writer. Anyone who has followed Puget Sound issues over the years will recognize Chris’s byline. As the very first environmental reporter for the Kitsap Sun, he has been a respected voice in the region for more than 25 years. As a writer at PSI, he will continue to cover science-related stories focusing on Salish Sea recovery. Continue reading


Could shoreline armoring finally be declining in Puget Sound?

For more than 100 years, urban development has been a near constant along Puget Sound’s shoreline, but one controversial type of beach structure may now be on the decline. State agencies say that is good news for Puget Sound’s shoreline habitat.

By Christopher Dunagan

For the first time in Puget Sound history, the removal of shoreline armoring — such as rock and concrete bulkheads — has surpassed new construction of such erosion-control structures.

New, replaced, and removed Puget Sound armoring (2005-2009)

New, replaced, and removed Puget Sound armoring (2005-2009). Source: WDFW

This major milestone could be a turning point following decades of degradation, officials say. Natural shorelines have been altered in nearly every corner of Puget Sound — often at a rate of more than a mile a year.

Sheida Sahandy, executive director of the Puget Sound Partnership, celebrated the fact that more bulkheads were removed than built in 2014, but she added a note of caution.

“This is a good thing,” Sahandy said. “It shows that we have turned a corner and are going in the right direction. But this is just one point in time, and there is a lot of work to be done.”

Continue reading


Drought offers a glimpse of the ‘new normal’

This year’s drought has prompted wide concern for Puget Sound’s salmon. Low stream flows and warmer water can prove deadly to fish, as was the case this summer for more than a million hatchery salmon in Washington and hundreds of thousands of sockeye in the Columbia River. While it is seen as an unusual water year, 2015 may actually offer a glimpse of the future under climate change.

What is now considered “low” water may become normal by about 2050, according to figures from the University of Washington Climate Impacts Group. The figures are based on 2015’s higher than average winter temperatures. Those were about 5.6 degrees Fahrenheit above average and contributed to the low snowpack and scarce runoff we are seeing this summer. The same scenario may be common as soon as 2050 and highly likely (with at least a 75% chance) by 2080. Continue reading


New papers look at ‘zombie’ steroids

They are sometimes called ‘zombie’ chemicals. Some compounds thought to be safe and inactive can change into dangerously active forms when they are exposed to the environment. Two recent papers co-authored by PSI collaborator Ed Kolodziej look at some of the ways that regulators may need to account for these transformations.

Cole, EA, McBride, SA, Kimbrough, KC, Lee, J, Marchand, EA, Cwiertny, DM, Kolodziej, EP. (2015). Rates and product identification for trenbolone acetate metabolite biotransformation under aerobic conditions. Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry. Volume: 34, Issue: 7, pgs. 1472-1484; DOI: 10.1002/etc.2962.

Read the full paper.

Ward, AS, Cwiertny, DM, Kolodziej, EP, Brehm, CC. (2015). Coupled reversion and stream-hyporheic exchange processes increase environmental persistence of trenbolone metabolites. Nature Communications. Volume: 6, Article Number 7067; DOI: 10.1038/ncomms8067.

Read the full paper. 


Assessing microplastics in the world’s oceans

Microplastics in the Ocean: A Global Assessment

Microplastics in the Ocean: A Global Assessment

Our Director Joel Baker recently co-authored Microplastics in the Ocean: A Global Assessment, an international report commissioned by GESAMP (The Joint Group of Experts on Scientific Aspects of Marine Environmental Protection). GESAMP is an inter-Agency Body of the United Nations, comprised of a group of independent scientists providing advice to UN Agencies on a wide variety of ocean matters. The report examined the global distribution of micro plastic particles, their known and hypothesized effects on marine organisms, and evaluated potential solutions.

Download the report. 


Impacts of diving ducks on herring populations


Herring productivity in relation biomass (Francis et al.).

Puget Sound Institute Lead Ecologist Tessa Francis attended the 2015 meeting of the International Congress for Conservation Biology earlier this month in Montpellier, France. She presented results from her recent work with colleagues at NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center evaluating the impacts on Puget Sound herring populations of herring egg predation by seabirds and other predators.

The group is evaluating the causes of local declines in herring subpopulations, or “stocklets,” and suspect that heavy egg predation by diving ducks, especially scoters, may be preventing some herring populations that are already at low levels from recovering. Using a combination of in situ incubations and predation exclusion devices, Francis and her colleagues estimated that predation accounted for between 75 and 99.6% of egg mortality in several Puget Sound stocklets, including the sharply declining Cherry Point herring stocklet. They further found that high egg mortality rates are associated with stocklets that have been declining in recent years or decades.

Pacific herring are a foundational species in Puget Sound, owing to their critical position in the marine foodweb, and the Puget Sound Partnership has set recovery targets for herring. These results suggest that an assessment of the impacts of early life stage mortality on population trends, and prospects for recovery, warrants further investigation.


PSI scientist argues that African elephants are two distinct species

African Elephant in Addo National Park, South Africa

African Elephant in Addo National Park, South Africa

Will it prompt new conservation strategies?

Puget Sound Institute research scientist Nick Georgiadis was quoted recently in The Guardian about increasing evidence that African elephants should be divided into two species. Georgiadis and other scientists argue that this divide creates an urgent need to reassess elephant conservation strategies.

Georgiadis is co-author of a paper in the Annual Review of Animal Biosciences that makes the case for splitting savannah-dwelling elephants (Loxodonta africana) from those living in forested areas (Loxodonta cyclotis). “To my knowledge, all the evidence, now a very large amount, supports two [African elephant] species, and no evidence supports one,” Georgiadis told The Guardian. “There never was any objective evidence supporting one species, just a few subjective preferences that became dogma.”

Governments and some major conservation groups currently see the elephants as sub-species, but some scientists argue that this is “condemning” the forest elephant to possible extinction. While both proposed species have suffered from poaching due to the illegal ivory trade, forest elephants have declined faster and are far more endangered. Continue reading


State approves human wellbeing indicators for Puget Sound

The state today adopted a series of human wellbeing indicators for Puget Sound. The project was led by PSI social scientist Kelly Biedenweg and was featured in a story published by UW News and picked up by several news outlets. 

July 29, 2015

Healthier Puget Sound depends on healthy people, report finds

from UW Today 

A thriving Puget Sound depends on healthy habitat that can support the animals and plants that live here. Shellfish free of toxins, salmon dashing up streams and forests full of diversity all are important benchmarks for the full restoration of Puget Sound.

puget sound-1-TILE

Photo: Puget Sound Partnership

But what about the people who live here? Should our well-being and the aspects we care most about in the natural world bear any weight on the plans — and money — being poured into cleaning up the Sound?

They should, according to the state agency tasked with organizing the recovery of Puget Sound. Continue reading


PSI’s Tessa Francis co-leads Ocean Modeling effort

The University of Washington Tacoma News & Information website features PSI’s lead ecologist Tessa Francis and her work at the Ocean Modeling Forum.

Pacific herring. Photo: JJ Vollenweider, NOAA Fisheries

POSTED BY: John Burkhardt

June 23, 2015

Tessa Francis at Center for Urban Waters Co-leads Ocean Effort

UW Tacoma research scientist Tessa Francis has been named the managing director of the Ocean Modeling Forum, a collaborative effort meant to improve understanding of the world’s oceans.

Tessa Francis, research scientist and lead ecosystem ecologist at UW Tacoma’s Puget Sound Institute, is serving as the managing director of a new international, interagency effort to improve advice for managing the world’s oceans.

Read the full article at UW Tacoma News & Information.


Wastewater study looks at Seattle marijuana use

One of our collaborators made news this week for his pilot study quantifying marijuana use in Seattle and Tacoma. Dan Burgard, a chemist at the University of Puget Sound, is analyzing wastewater from sewage treatment plants to identify levels of metabolized THC. The study is designed to determine if new recreational marijuana laws are leading to an increase in marijuana use. It will also look at trends over time, and how the legal trade of marijuana compares with the black market. Burgard is using analytical equipment at the Center for Urban Waters for his study.

Read more in an article today’s Seattle Times.