Earlier this month, the Puget Sound Partnership released its third annual State of the Sound report, a comprehensive summary of the latest progress toward ecosystem recovery. While much remains to be done, the State of the Sound is an opportunity to step back from the day-to-day science and consider the whole picture in wide focus.
From a larger ecosystem perspective, the span of a year isn’t much time to expect significant change, although we do know that change can be dramatic. Certain cases, like the Elwha Dam removal in 2011 capture our imaginations. This year, scientists are measuring improved salmon runs, and the river is roaring back, churning sediment and re-building a system not seen for 100 years.
(If there is a rock star of mountains-to-sea recovery, it is the Elwha. A new exhibit at the UW Burke Museum tells this story, and you can read more about it in the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound.)
In most cases, however, progress is more incremental. It is little surprise that this year’s State of the Sound looks similar to those of previous years, with a mixed report card for the agency’s 21 “Vital Signs.” Three showed slight improvement, although “many of the Vital Signs continue to struggle, and three show a worsening trend,” according to the Partnership. Given the complexity of the system, and the wide variety of indicators being measured— from shellfish beds to eelgrass and orcas—that too is expected.
There is no silver bullet for Puget Sound recovery, no one culprit, and this is precisely the value of the State of the Sound. Not as a collection of varying results, but as a reminder of the importance of synthesis. Simply put, it is a case where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
Synthesis spawns not only greater understanding, but also greater action. It helps scientists and policymakers make tough choices, where uncertainty might otherwise be an excuse for inaction.
Since 2011, the PSI has been working with the Partnership to help with this process. We have brought together leading scientists from other ecosystem recovery efforts to share information. We have convened workshops on forage fish, dissolved oxygen, and human wellbeing; we have analyzed emerging contaminants and stormwater and examined the ways that organizations make key choices through decision science. Our efforts such as the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound collect and synthesize the most relevant reports and data from around the region. The PSI is the only organization of its kind with this focus.
As we move into to the next year, work to protect and restore Puget Sound continues on many fronts by many organizations. We encourage you to read the State of the Sound as a key document in this cycle.