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2019 State of the Sound Report

The 2019 State of the Sound is the Puget Sound Partnership’s sixth biennial report to the Legislature on progress toward the recovery of Puget Sound by 2020. The document reports on both the status of the Partnership's recovery efforts and the status of a suite of ecosystem indicators.

RECENT ARTICLES

Cutthroat trout (Oncorhynchus clarki clarki). Photo: NOAA Fisheries West Coast
12/5/2019

Genetic composition and conservation status of coastal cutthroat trout in the San Juan Islands, Washington

The watersheds of Washington’s San Juan Islands were thought to be too small to support wild salmonid populations, and many streams flow only seasonally. But a 2019 article in the journal Conservation Genetics reports that at least five watersheds in the region support populations of coastal cutthroat trout (Oncorhynchus clarki clarki). Genetic analysis of the cutthroat trout in three of the watersheds suggest two support native populations. The findings are important for understanding the conservation status of these previously unknown populations. 

Report cover
11/25/2019

Eyes Over Puget Sound: Surface Conditions Report - October 30, 2019

After a dry early summer followed by more than expected rain, rivers mostly remained lower than in 2018. In October air temperatures dropped, but water temperatures remained warm enough for spawning anchovies in South and Central Sound and herring and salmon optimal growth in Whidbey Basin. By the end of October many red-brown blooms vanished, yet the waters of South Sound are still green, adorned with rafts of organic debris in many places. Read what happened the year before in the Puget Sound Marine Waters 2018 Overview.

Volunteer Vernon Brisley surveys a bull kelp bed near Ebey’s Landing on Whidbey Island as part of the Island County MRC regional monitoring project. Photo: Rich Yukubousky
11/21/2019

Kelp crisis? Decline of underwater forests raises alarms

They rival tropical forests in their richness and diversity, but Puget Sound's kelp beds have declined steeply in recent decades. Scientists are just starting to understand the extent of these losses through mapping projects and consultations with local tribes. What they are finding is bringing kelp to the forefront of Puget Sound's environmental concerns.

11/13/2019

2018 Puget Sound Marine Waters Overview

A new report from the Puget Sound Ecosystem Monitoring Program says climate change altered the base of Puget Sound's food web in 2018, diminishing microscopic phytoplankton necessary for marine life. Scientists also observed lower abundances of fish, seabirds, and marine mammals.

Harbor seals, San Juan Islands. Photo: Mick Thompson (CC BY-NC 2.0) https://flic.kr/p/JVtiJy
11/5/2019

The occurrence of heavy metals in harbor seals of the San Juan Islands

A 2019 article in the Journal of Wildlife Diseases looked at trace element concentrations of heavy metals in the livers of harbor seals that died and stranded in the San Juan Islands. The study indicated exposure to trace elements (naturally occurring, human-introduced, or both) in the Salish Sea; however, the study reports that trace element toxicity is not a major threat to harbor seal health.

Bigg's killer whales. Photo: copyright Monika Shields, with permission
10/24/2019

Status and trends for West Coast transient (Bigg’s) killer whales in the Salish Sea

Officially known as West Coast transients but increasingly referred to as Bigg’s killer whales, these marine mammal-eating orcas (Orcinus orca) are spending increasing time in the Salish Sea to consume their marine mammal prey including harbor seals, Steller sea lions, and harbor and Dall’s porpoise. They range from Southeast Alaska to California, but over the last 15 years more members of the population are spending increasing time in the inland waters of Washington State and British Columbia (Houghton et al. 2015, Shields et al. 2018). They have no predators (except perhaps occasionally other Bigg’s killer whales - see Towers et al. 2018), but are at risk from anthropogenic effects, including toxics and noise pollution (Ford et al. 2007).

10/21/2019

Enhancing the resilience of Puget Sound recovery: A path through the maze of resilience thinking

A 2019 report from the University of Washington Puget Sound Institute examines the application of 'resilience thinking' to Puget Sound protection and restoration.

Report cover
10/21/2019

Coastlines and communities: A preliminary glance at the relationship between shoreline armoring and sense of place in Puget Sound

A 2019 report from Oregon State University examines how community members, including non-property owners, value shorelines in Puget Sound. The report emphasizes the impacts of shoreline armoring on survey respondents' sense of place in the region.

Sheryl and Todd Ramsey with Gretchen Waymen-Palmer in the wood zone of Point No Point beach. Photo: Eric Wagner
10/18/2019

Tracking the trash: Inside a marine debris survey

Volunteer researchers are tracking the plastic and other debris washing up on Puget Sound's beaches. They hope the data can be used to protect sea creatures from the growing amounts of trash littering the world's oceans. [A version of this article first appeared in the COASST blog.]

Eugene and Dorothy Collias.  Photo courtesy of Collias estate
10/14/2019

History of UW Oceanography by Eugene Collias

Notes and biography about the history of the department of oceanography at the University of Washington (1903-1980) as reported by oceanagrapher Eugene Collias. Report courtesy of the Collias estate.

Report cover
9/26/2019

Eyes Over Puget Sound: Surface Conditions Report - September 12, 2019

This year, air temperatures were warmer than in previous years, and this pattern is predicted to continue. Precipitation was low and is now improving, yet river flows remain low. By August, Puget Sound surface water temperatures were 0.6 °C warmer across all regions; this could have shifted the timing of optimal temperatures for some marine organisms. In September, blooms are limited to inlets. Jellyfish are abundant in Sinclair Inlet, and anchovies reside in Eld Inlet. Macroalgae are still plentiful. Learn about the benefits of beach wrack and a DNA barcoding project supported by Ecology.

Caption: Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) swimming upstream. Photo: Ingrid Taylar (CC BY-NC 2.0) https://flic.kr/p/dmbyre
9/25/2019

'Early migration gene' tied to unique population of Chinook

Spring and fall Chinook salmon were thought to be alike until researchers discovered a gene for early migration. Now, federal biologists and legal experts are struggling to decide if spring Chinook should be granted their own legal protection under the Endangered Species Act.

Fishes of the Salish Sea book cover
9/24/2019

Of ratfish, Loch Ness monsters and stuffed sharks: A conversation with the authors of the book “Fishes of the Salish Sea”

The first comprehensive guide to the fishes of the Salish Sea is the culmination of more than 40 years of research by University of Washington authors Ted Pietsch and Jay Orr. The new, three-volume set includes descriptions and illustrations for every fish species known to have been documented within the Salish Sea, all gathered from an exhaustive search of libraries, aquariums, fish collections and even one restaurant.

Freshwater habitat in King County. Photo by Jeff Rice. All rights reserved.
8/21/2019

Connections between terrestrial, freshwater, and marine habitats

Freshwater habitat in the Puget Sound region consists of rivers, marshes, streams, lakes and ponds that do not have any saltwater input. Many species depend on these freshwater resources, including salmon, salamanders, frogs, and beavers.

8/21/2019

Story map: Seeking softer shores on Puget Sound

A 2019 story map produced by the University of Washington Puget Sound Institute in collaboration with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife shows how shoreline armoring can often be replaced by softer, shore-friendly features.

Eyes Over Puget Sound report cover
8/7/2019

Eyes Over Puget Sound: Surface Conditions Report - July 29, 2019

In July, the recent trends of warm, dry conditions lessened; however, river flows remain low. Extensive macroalgae drifted through South and Central Sound and washed up on beaches. Macroalgae growth is fueled by excessive nutrients and sunshine. When it washes onto the beach, it is called beach wrack, and it can be a health risk to beachgoers because of bacteria it can harbor. From our aerial photography, we saw that Southern Hood Canal looks tropical because of a bloom of coccolithophores coloring the water turquoise. Schools of fish congregate in South Sound and southern Hood Canal. Jellyfish are abundant in Quartermaster Harbor.

Herring fishing boats in the Strait of Georgia, BC
7/19/2019

Ancient harvests: A history of Salish Sea herring

Scientists believe that herring have been a staple of Salish Sea food and culture since humans first arrived here at least 12,500 years ago. That importance has continued into modern times, even as herring numbers have declined in parts of the region. 

Predicted annual average Δ in surface temperature and salinity over (a) the entire Salish Sea domain, as well as (b) in the nearshore intertidal regions of the Snohomish River estuary (see Khangaonkar et al. 2019 for details).  Image courtesy of Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans.
7/15/2019

Salish Sea Model looks at climate impacts on the nearshore

A 2019 paper in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans outlines how the Salish Sea Model describes the impacts of climate change, sea level rise and nutrient loads on the region's nearshore environment.

Pigeon guillemot taking flight over water. Photo: Patty McGann (CC BY-NC 2.0) https://flic.kr/p/opywhG
6/26/2019

Unsung seabirds could help track Puget Sound health

Pigeon guillemots have attracted relatively little scientific attention compared to other seabirds in Puget Sound. That may be because their population is generally stable, but a group of citizen scientists is helping to put guillemots on the conservation radar. They hope the birds can be used as an indicator of Puget Sound health.

Harbor seals, Lopez Island, WA. Photo: Bethany Weeks (CC BY-NC 2.0) https://flic.kr/p/6Mnq5k
6/14/2019

Fine-scale variability in harbor seal foraging behavior

A 2014 paper in the journal PLoS ONE examines differences between foraging behavior of harbor seals based on haulout site locations, seasons, sexes and times of day. The authors hypothesize that these factors may help explain the variability in diet among harbor seals observed at different haul-out site groups in the Salish Sea. 

Eyes Over Puget Sound report cover
6/13/2019

Eyes Over Puget Sound: Surface Conditions Report - May/June 2019

Warm and dry conditions this spring are predicted to persist into summer, resulting in saltier and warmer than normal Puget Sound water conditions. Early upwelling and a premature melt of the snowpack means nutrient-rich ocean water likely already entered Puget Sound. This sets the stage for a lot of biological activity. From the air, it is obvious that the productive season is in full swing. We saw large algae blooms in Central Sound along with abundant Noctiluca.  Huge numbers of anchovies were documented in Case Inlet and other finger inlets in South Sound, attracting hundreds of marine mammals.

An image from "Salish Sea Wild." Video courtesy of the SeaDoc Society.
6/6/2019

Video series features science and adventure in the Salish Sea

A new video series follows local scientists into the water, capturing the adventure behind the research. "Salish Sea Wild" is entering its second season and we interviewed the series host and producers. Among our burning questions: What's it like to have a Steller sea lion chew on your head? 

Glaucous-winged gulls in flight at Protection Island National Wildlife Refuge. Photo: Peter Davis/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
6/6/2019

Predator–prey dynamics of bald eagles and glaucous‐winged gulls

An unintended consequence of the recovery of bald eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) has been the impact on seabirds. The authors of a 2019 paper published in Ecology and Evolution suggest that the effects of bald eagle activity on a large glaucous-winged gull (Larus glaucescens) colony on Protection Island in the Strait of Juan de Fuca include the possibility of coexistence but also the possibility of gull colony extinction.

Jeff Gaeckle measures the length of eelgrass using a measuring stick and later records the information for a study on the rate of growth near Joemma Beach State Park in South Puget Sound. Photo: Aaron Barna
6/5/2019

Science in the spotlight: Eelgrass recovery

The Washington Department of Natural Resources is studying new ways of increasing ecologically important eelgrass habitat in Puget Sound. It is part of the state's effort to boost eelgrass 20% Sound-wide by 2020. So far, recovery of the species has fallen short of that goal, but transplanting efforts are showing promise. 

Fidalgo Bay Citizen's Stewardship Committee volunteers conduct intertidal monitoring surveys during low tide at Fidalgo Bay Aquatic Reserve. Photo: Erica Bleke/DNR
6/3/2019

State aquatic reserves lean heavily on citizen scientists

Eight aquatic reserves in Puget Sound are being studied by volunteers working under the direction of state experts. Washington Department of Natural Resources manages the reserves with guidance from nearby communities.

European green crab story map cover image
5/28/2019

Story map: European green crab in Puget Sound

A May 2019 story map shows how a broad collaboration of volunteers, agencies, and tribes is working together to keep invasive European green crabs at bay in Washington state. The story map was produced by the Encyclopedia of Puget Sound and the Puget Sound Institute in collaboration with the Washington Sea Grant Crab Team. 

Location of eight aquatic reserves in Washington. Map: WA DNR
5/24/2019

Washington state aquatic reserves

Eight aquatic reserves, managed by the Washington Department of Natural Resources, have been established to protect important ecosystems on state aquatic lands.

In most reserves, area residents work with state, local and tribal officials and nonprofit groups to develop and carry out management plans, including scientific research.

The aquatic reserves in the order they were established include: 

  • Maury Island 2004
  • Cypress Island  2007
  • Fidalgo Bay 2008
  • Cherry Point 2010
  • Protection Island 2010
  • Smith and Minor Islands 2010
  • Nisqually Reach 2011
  • Lake Kapowsin 2016
Salish Sea basin and water boundaries. The Salish Sea water boundary (blue) includes the Strait of Georgia, Desolation Sound, The Strait of Juan de Fuca, and Puget Sound. The larger watershed basin (green) is the area that drains into Salish Sea waters. WA Water Resource Inventory areas (WRIA) boundary lines are shown for reference. Map: Kris Symer. Data: Stefan Freelan; WAECY.
5/20/2019

Survey illustrates a lack of familiarity with the Salish Sea

Washington and British Columbia residents are largely unfamiliar with the Salish Sea. A recent study conducted by the SeaDoc Society and Oregon State University reveals a need to improve geographic literacy and familiarity with the Salish Sea among those communities who share and live alongside this integrated transboundary ecosystem. This summary was provided by two of the collaborators on the survey, David Trimbach of Oregon State University and Joe Gaydos, Science Director at the SeaDoc Society.

Derelict fishing gear with animal carasses found by the USFWS Puget Sound Coastal Program. Credit Joan Drinkwin/USFWS https://flic.kr/p/8TX8CQ (CC BY 2.0)
4/24/2019

Ghost nets still fishing in the deep waters of Puget Sound

New technology is helping to remove deadly “ghost nets” that have been lost in the depths of Puget Sound. It is part of an effort that saves millions of animals every year, but managers say better reporting of these lost nets by fishermen is still needed.    

Clouds of herring milt in the water seen during spawning season near Brinnon, WA on Hood Canal, March 2019. Photo: copyright John Gussman, with permission http://www.dcproductions.com
4/11/2019

The herring defenders

Each winter and spring, researchers survey the sometimes spectacular spawning events of Puget Sound's Pacific herring. They have found wide swings in the fish's population and an overall decline in herring numbers since the 1970s, but little is known about the cause or what this might mean for the health of the food web. We spent a day with a biologist spotting herring eggs and considering the future of one of our region's most ecologically and culturally important fish species. 

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