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Latest Puget Sound marine waters overview now available

Announcement from the Puget Sound Ecosystem Monitoring Program:

Today, the Puget Sound Marine Waters Work Group of the Puget Sound Ecosystem Monitoring Program released the eleventh annual report on marine water conditions in Puget Sound.

The report combines a wealth of data from comprehensive monitoring programs and provides a concise summary of what was happening in Puget Sound’s marine waters during 2022. It covers areas such as climate and weather, river inputs, seawater temperature, salinity, nutrients, dissolved oxygen, ocean acidification, phytoplankton, biotoxins, bacteria and pathogens, shellfish resources, and more.

The report represents a collaborative effort among various agencies and groups and provides a collective view of marine water conditions in Puget Sound for 2022, enhancing our understanding of this complex ecosystem that is an economic lifeline for Western Washington.

Thank you all for your contributions to the report and your continued support. The report (and the workshop that informs the report) provides a valuable, collaborative, inclusive, and much-needed forum for communicating the results of monitoring and assessment programs operating in Puget Sound. Your contributions made this report possible — CONGRATULATIONS! Your work inspires us. We are proud to be part of your community. 

Jude Apple, Rachel Wold, Kimberle Stark, Julia Bos, Nathalie Hamel, Sylvia Yang, Jamey Selleck, Nicole Burnett, Francesca Perez, Grace Ferrara, Alex Marquez, Stephanie Moore, Sylvia Kantor, Christopher Krembs, Gabriela Hannach and Jan Newton (Editors). Additional support was provided by the University of Washington Puget Sound Institute.

Key Messages 

  • The Puget Sound region is home to more than 4.2 million people. These people visit the Sound’s beaches, eat the local seafood, and enjoy the diversity of life in and around these waters. The Sound is a social, cultural, and economic lifeline for Western Washington, where the health of human communities and the health of the Sound are inextricably linked.  
  • Each year, the Marine Waters Work Group releases the annual Puget Sound Marine Waters Overview report. This report is a collaborative effort that combines a wealth of data from numerous comprehensive environmental monitoring programs. Since 2011, we have been reporting on the physical, chemical and biological conditions of Puget Sound, including many conditions related to human health and pollution. The 2022 report represents the collective effort of 84 contributors from federal, tribal, state, and local agencies, academia, nonprofits, and private and volunteer groups. 
  • This edition of the 2022 Puget Sound Marine Waters Overview report once again directly informs the Puget Sound Vital Signs. The majority of technical summaries (32 out of 38) collectively inform many of the Vital Signs nested under the Puget Sound Partnership’s ecosystem recovery goals (Thriving Species and Food Webs, Functioning Habitat, Healthy Water Quality, Healthy Human Populations, and Vibrant Human Quality of Life). In this manner, the annual report makes a valuable contribution to our shared understanding of ecosystem conditions as they relate to Puget Sound recovery efforts.
  • The Puget Sound Marine Waters Work Group of the Puget Sound Ecosystem Monitoring Program will continue to provide valuable insight on the status of Puget Sound. We provide these facts to help people understand and make informed decisions to protect and restore Puget Sound.

Major Findings

The year 2022 was notable, presenting as an unprecedented third consecutive La Niña year. While 2022 local weather annual values were average, there were monthly extremes in opposite directions; thus, weather conditions were far from average.  Region-specific variation in water properties and biota abundance adds to the difficulty to generalize patterns in 2022. 

  • Seasonal air temperatures were quite anomalous and included the 6th coldest April-May, record warmest July-October, and 6th coldest November-December. 
  • Puget Sound precipitation was also characterized by extremes; May-June was the 5th wettest and July-September was the driest on record.
  • Puget Sound water temperatures were cooler than average throughout the water column for much of the year, particularly spring through summer.
  • Below normal stream flows occurred mid-September through late October in 2022 due to record warm and dry conditions.

2022 was a stand-out year in terms of upwelling/downwelling wind patterns. 

  • There was a very late transition to upwelling winds (early June 2022 vs more typical early May) then weak upwelling winds extended a month later than usual to late October. 

Harmful algae blooms, biotoxins, bacteria, and pathogens evident 

  • Phytoplankton that can produce harmful biotoxins, Alexandrium and Dinophysis, were observed less frequently in Puget Sound and at lower abundances than in 2021, but the number of Pseudo-nitzschia blooms nearly doubled.
  • Marine biotoxins associated with paralytic (PSP) and diarrhetic (DSP) shellfish poisoning caused 18 commercial and 29 recreational Puget Sound shellfish harvest area closures in 2022. 
  • A paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP) illness due to the consumption of butter clams harvested in Island County in June was confirmed.

Oxygen concentrations were near normal throughout the region, with seasonal and regional variation, and no fish kills reported.

  • Main Basin and South Sound dissolved oxygen (DO) concentrations were slightly above normal, while Hood Canal was lower than average for much of the year, with hypoxic (very low DO) areas forming earlier in the year at Twanoh compared to prior years. Hypoxia was also observed in Quartermaster Harbor, and low oxygen in Whidbey Basin.

Ocean acidification (OA) in Puget Sound waters continues as our understanding of patterns grows. 

  • Atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) levels on the outer coast and in the Sound were generally higher than the global average. 

Biological responses to changing conditions vary. 

  • Abundances and biomass of zooplankton in 2022 from the southern Salish Sea were generally average to moderately low compared to past years. Admiralty Inlet had the highest biomass value in 2022, mainly due to elevated larval crab abundance.
  • Seabird densities observed during fall 2022 in the San Juan Islands have steadily increased since 2018. 
  • Marine mammals (Harbor seals, Steller sea lions, Harbor porpoises) in the San Juan Islands have shown relatively low densities since 2017, with 2021 the lowest on record. The 2022 density was only slightly higher than 2021.
  • Pacific herring biomass in 2022 showed a slight increase from 2021 and was above the recent 10-year average, although the biomass was concentrated in a handful of stocks. No spawning was detected in South Hood Canal, Discovery Bay, Wollochet Bay, Holmes Harbor and Elliott Bay, but spawning was detected in Kilisut Harbor, Fidalgo Bay, and Quartermaster Harbor for the first time since 2019.
  • Some timing shifts in plankton abundance were seen in 2022. The spring phytoplankton bloom was slightly later in some areas than in past years, peak Dungeness crab larval abundance was a month later than prior years as well as spring zooplankton abundance in Padilla Bay.


PSEMP Marine Waters Workgroup. 2023. Puget Sound marine waters: 2022 overview., J. Apple, R. Wold, K. Stark, J. Bos, S. Yang, J. Selleck, N. Burnett, F. Perez, G. Ferrara, A. Marquez, S. K. Moore, S. Kantor, C. Krembs, G. Hannach, and J. Newton (Eds).