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.
- Action Agenda
- Adaptive management
- Aquatic reserves
- Bald eagles
- Ballard Locks
- Biennial Science Work Plan
- Climate change
- Contaminants of emerging concern
- Dungeness crabs
- Ecosystem-based management
- Ecosystem services
- Environmental justice
- Estuarine habitat
- Eyes Over Puget Sound
- Food web
- Forage fish
- Freshwater habitat
- Green crabs
- Harbor porpoise
- Harbor seals
- Harmful algal blooms
- Healthy human population
- Human quality of life
- Implementation Strategies
- Invasive species
- Killer whales
- Land cover conversion
- Marine birds
- Marine debris
- Marine habitat
- Marine Protected Areas
- Marine Waters Overview
- National Estuary Program
- Nearshore habitat
- Nutrient pollution
- Ocean acidification
- Oil spills
- Persistent contaminants
- Physical environment
- Puget Sound boundaries
- Puget Sound Fact Book
- Puget Sound Pressures Assessment
- Puget Sound Update
- Salish Sea
- Salish Sea Currents magazine
- Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference
- Sea-star wasting disease
- Sea level rise
- Sewage and fecal pollution
- Shoreline armoring
- Social science
- Species and food webs
- Species of concern
- State of the Sound
- Summer stream flows
- Terrestrial habitat
- Tidal energy
- Toxic contaminants
- Traditional ecological knowledge
- Vital Signs
- Water quality
- Water quantity
- Water Resource Inventory Areas (WRIA)
- Watershed hydrologic unit codes (HUC)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Bug seeding involves moving beneficial insects and other aquatic invertebrates from healthy streams to streams where these creatures are missing from the food web.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.