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A large river delta in Puget Sound. Photo courtesy of Puget Sound Nearshore Ecosystem Restoration Project

The mosaic of deltas and other estuarine ecosystems in Puget Sound

The diversity and complexity of estuarine ecosystems is vital to the overall health of Puget Sound. This summary fact sheet focuses on the current state of estuarine ecosystems in Puget Sound—large river deltas, embayments, their interconnecting beaches, and rocky coasts—and the historical changes that have occurred since the development of the Puget Sound coastline. Additional emphasis is placed on the historical losses of tidal wetlands within these estuaries. 

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RECENT ARTICLES

Two people carry a creosote-treated log on beach with calm water in the background.
11/19/2021

Improving the probability that small-scale science will benefit conservation

A 2021 article in the journal Conservation Science and Practice analyzes the conservation benefits of small-scale, competitively funded scientific research in the Salish Sea. The findings show that collaboration, networking, and stakeholder engagement before, during and after the research are key factors.

A school of brightly colored orange fish shown swimming near kelp.
11/18/2021

Learning from a legacy of overfishing

Fishing for rockfish was once promoted as a sustainable alternative to salmon harvests, but when rockfish numbers plummeted, fisheries managers realized they had a problem. Now a rockfish recovery plan seeks to reverse the damage as scientists learn more about protecting this once-popular game fish.

Winter scene of marsh at high tide two conifer trees reflected on water in the foreground; snow covered mountain in the background.
11/15/2021

Making room for salmon

How can Puget Sound generate more salmon? That question has been at the center of ecosystem recovery efforts for decades. But even as scientists and conservationists make progress on many fronts — from breaching dams to cleaning up the water — they have faced one especially complicated and frustrating limitation: Salmon need more estuaries. We look at how local tribes are working to restore this critical habitat.

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11/1/2021

State of the Sound report 2021

The 2021 State of the Sound is the Puget Sound Partnership’s seventh biennial report to the Legislature on progress toward the recovery of Puget Sound. The document reports on both the status of the Partnership's recovery efforts and a suite of ecosystem indicators referred to as the Puget Sound Vital Signs.

Aerial view of kokanee salmon swimming in a stream
10/29/2021

Lost freshwater salmon population may still inhabit Lake Washington

Scientists think they may have discovered a lost population of native kokanee salmon in Lake Washington. Salmon watchers are monitoring local creeks this fall to confirm the finding.

View of river with reflection of clouds and vegetation
10/28/2021

Puget Sound National Estuary Program Synthesis of Integrated Floodplain Management in Selected Puget Sound River Deltas

A 2021 synthesis report from the University of Washington Puget Sound Institute synthesizes leading integrated floodplain management approaches to support the Puget Sound Partnership’s Floodplains and Estuaries Implementation Strategy.

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10/27/2021

Puget Sound Marine Waters 2020 Overview

The tenth annual Puget Sound Marine Waters Overview looks at marine water quality and other conditions in the region in 2020. According to the report, there were few extreme weather or ecological events in 2020, but overall, conditions in Puget Sound were generally warmer, sunnier, and wetter than in typical years. The overview also examines patterns and trends in numerous environmental parameters, including plankton, water quality, climate, and marine life. 

Two people lift a basket of rocks from a stream flowing through a forest.
10/21/2021

Can 'bug seeding' improve the health of local creeks?

Bug seeding involves moving beneficial insects and other aquatic invertebrates from healthy streams to streams where these creatures are missing from the food web.

Graphical abstract showing E.coli isolates characterized for phenotypic and genotypic resistance to antibiotics
10/8/2021

Surveillance for antibiotic-resistant E.coli in the Salish Sea ecosystem

A 2021 study published in the journal Antibiotics suggests that animals may be potential sentinels for antibiotic-resistant and extraintestinal pathogenic E. coli in the Salish Sea ecosystem. 

Strands of bull kelp near Smith Island in Puget Sound. Photo by Eric Wagner.
9/30/2021

New studies aid kelp conservation

Bull kelp is easily recognized by its wavy leaves and long, floating stipes that sometimes wash ashore like slimy green bullwhips. In that sense, it is one of the more familiar types of seaweed in Puget Sound. But as kelp forests decline throughout the region, scientists are finding that there is much about this increasingly rare species that remains a mystery.

Timber pile bulkheads at Ledgewood Beach on Whidbey Island. Photo: Washington Department of Ecology https://flic.kr/p/mUeFc (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
9/30/2021

Shared shorelines, shared meanings?: Examining place meaning in Puget Sound (extended abstract)

A 2021 article in the journal Applied Geography examines perceptions of shorelines in the Puget Sound region. A community survey described in the article showed that local residents preferred undeveloped shorelines to shorelines with armored structures such as seawalls and bulkheads. 

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9/28/2021

Eyes Over Puget Sound: Surface Conditions Report - September 8, 2021

This summer river flows were generally lower than in 2020. And in August, high air temperatures and low precipitation continued, following a drought emergency declaration in mid-July that affected also marine conditions.  The higher-than-normal salinity anomaly which persisted during summer in Puget Sound marine water is, however, eroding away, and lower-than-normal oxygen conditions developed in Central Sound in the month of August. Many blooms and organic material were reported by citizens throughout summer, and by September many colorful blooms in bays across the region continue to be active. Patches of macro-algae and organic debris are still numerous in South and Central Sound and in Padilla Bay. Jellyfish are occurring in unusual places. While we document water quality issues, we are also showcasing the natural beauty of Puget Sound through photography.

A firefighter monitors a controlled burn near Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington. Photo by Jeff Rice.
9/27/2021

Controlled burn in Puget Sound prairie habitat

Raging wildfires can be an ecological calamity, especially as the planet warms due to climate change. But in small doses, some wildfires are actually beneficial. In prairie habitats, fires can enrich soils and maintain native plant species. In late September, state wildlife biologists oversaw several controlled burns near Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM) as part of an effort to preserve habitat for the endangered Taylor's checkerspot butterfly. Less than 3% of Puget Sound's prairies now remain and are mostly concentrated along the region's southern edges, including land on the military base. Listen to a recording of some of the action, including comments from JBLM fire manager and biologist John Richardson.

Pacific Oyster (Crassostrea gigas). Photo by Don Rothaus. Courtesy of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.
9/7/2021

Regional perspectives on the effectiveness of Puget Sound shellfish recovery actions

A 2021 report commissioned by the Washington State Department of Natural Resources identifies potential actions at the state or local level, or in combination, that could further bolster shellfish bed recovery in support of the Puget Sound Partnership's shellfish bed recovery target.

Salish Sea with Mt Baker in the background
9/2/2021

Social Science for the Salish Sea

Social Science for the Salish Sea (S4) provides a foundation for future research projects, accessible information for planning or management decisions, and synthesized content to inform ecosystem recovery.

Map of the Salish Sea & Surrounding Basin. Map: Stefan Freelan https://flic.kr/p/6adqMP (CC BY-NC 2.0)
8/30/2021

Salish Sea survey: Geographic literacy enhancing natural resource management

An article published in the journal Society & Natural Resources in 2021 describes the results of a geographic literacy survey which shows residents of Washington and British Columbia are largely unfamiliar with the name Salish Sea. The authors discuss the implications of their findings for ecosystem recovery of the region.

Western grebe (Aechmophorus occidentalis). Photo: Ingrid Taylar (CC BY-NC 2.0) https://flic.kr/p/7jmJHZ
8/30/2021

Effects of season, location, species, and sex on body weight and blood chemistry in free-ranging grebes

An article published in the Journal of Avian Medicine and Surgery in 2021 describes the results of study comparing the effects of season, location, species, and sex on body weight and blood chemistry for free-ranging western and Clark's grebes.

Gray whale and calf
8/25/2021

Biomarkers update insights on reproductive physiology of gray whales

An article published in PLoS ONE in 2021 describes a study of hormone concentrations in gray whales. The findings may contribute to increased knowledge of reproductive physiology and population dynamics among the species.

Amy Marsha and Aimee Fullerton standing in the Raging River
8/19/2021

Taking the temperature of salmon

Warming waters threaten the recovery of salmon in Puget Sound. New findings about stream temperature could help salmon survive the threats of climate change.

The Nooksack River in autumn.
8/19/2021

Nooksack River Transboundary Technical Collaboration Group 2020-2021 annual report

The Nooksack River watershed spans part of the border between British Columbia and the State of Washington. In August 2018, the international, multi-agency Nooksack River Transboundary Technical Collaboration Group (TCG) was established to implement a three-year work plan to reduce fecal bacteria concentrations in the Nooksack River watershed. The 2020-2021 TCG annual report summarizes third and final year project activities and focuses on three of the watershed's transborder sub-basins.

Minke whale ahead of a kayaker
7/28/2021

Solitary minke whales lurk in the waters of Puget Sound

A resident population of minke whales is catching the attention of scientists who want to learn if the elusive mammals are found here year-round. While small compared to their cousins the blue whales, minkes are still among the largest creatures in the Salish Sea.

Field of camas lilies
7/20/2021

Indigenous Plants Forum raises awareness of native botanical treasures

A Lopez Island-based nonprofit says the protection of critical habitat for native plants can also preserve a wealth of traditional knowledge. The group is working with private landowners to raise awareness of culturally important plants hidden in the bogs and underbrush of Puget Sound's natural areas.

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7/9/2021

Eyes Over Puget Sound: Surface Conditions Report - June 17, 2021

Despite a La Niña, precipitation and rain have been lower since March, leaving only snow-fed rivers running high. Due to lower rainfall and warm summer temperatures the salinity of Puget Sound is now generally higher. Strong blooms and large patches of organic material and macro-algae are building up in many places and wash onto beaches. During very hot summer days, tidal mudflats and beaches can get really warm. Beach wrack can harbor increased bacteria numbers now. See SCUBA cleaning up at Redondo beach.

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7/9/2021

Eyes Over Puget Sound: Surface Conditions Report - April 1, 2021

After a wet winter/spring transition it has been noticeably drier, warmer and sunnier. River flows are near normal levels and in Puget Sound and coastal bays salinity is increasing above normal. The spring bloom is developing but not very pronounced, yet, Noctiluca is already visible in southern Hood Canal. Suspended sediment near rivers and creeks, failing bluffs, and shellfish activities are frequent. Capturing herring spawning from the plane is informative; pilots share their observations.

Golden-crowned kinglet (Regulus satrapa). Photo: Minette Layne (CC BY-NC 2.0)
6/23/2021

Golden-crowned kinglets in Puget Sound have seen a steep decline since 1968

The number of golden-crowned kinglets in the Puget Sound watershed has declined by more than 91% over a recent 50-year period, according to data from the North American Breeding Bird Survey. The data was reported by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, which tracks the information for the Puget Sound Partnership’s terrestrial bird indicator. The indicator was established to monitor the health of Puget Sound’s species and food webs.

Harbor seal in the water
6/14/2021

Estimating the stock size of harbor seals in the inland waters of Washington State

A 2021 paper in the journal PLoS ONE describes a non-traditional approach to estimating the size of three harbor seal management stocks in the inland waters of Washington using aerial line-transect surveys and tagging data.

Tail of a gray whale showing above water
6/4/2021

"Sounders" arrive as gray whales decline along the coast

Each spring, about a dozen gray whales make a brief detour into the Salish Sea before heading north to their feeding grounds in the Arctic. Biologists dubbed these whales "Sounders" after first noting their presence in the 1990s, and the whales have become rare but widely anticipated visitors to local waters. The whales were spotted again this year, but biologists have documented a 24 percent decline in gray whale populations along the West Coast.

Newborn harbor seal napping on a bed of kelp
6/4/2021

Congenital diseases in harbor seals from the Salish Sea

An article published in the Journal of Wildlife Diseases in 2021 describes trends in birth defects among harbor seals in the Salish Sea from 2003 to 2019. The results suggest a level of congenital disease in this harbor seal population that is important for continued monitoring.

Several harbor seals lying on a rock
6/4/2021

Trends in propeller strike-induced mortality in harbor seals

An article published in the Journal of Wildlife Diseases in 2021 describes research documenting injuries among harbor seals in the Salish Sea caused by boat propeller strikes. The number of strikes increased significantly between 2002 and 2019, as did vessel traffic.

Maps generated from the Salish Sea Model showing surface layer transport in the Northwest Straits (left) and sea surface salinity (right). Images: Pacific Northwest National Laboratory
5/18/2021

The Salish Sea Model

The Salish Sea Model is a computer model used to predict spatial and temporal patterns related to water circulation in the Salish Sea. It was developed at the United States Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory with funding from the Environmental Protection Agency. It is housed at the University of Washington Puget Sound Institute. 

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