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Freshwater habitat in King County. Photo by Jeff Rice. All rights reserved.

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.


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

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

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.

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

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

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

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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)

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

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. 


The Puget Sound Partnership's list of Puget Sound 'Vital Signs'

The Toxics in Fish Implementation Strategy is a recovery plan that will be used to guide funding and activities to reduce the impacts of toxics contaminants on marine fish and the humans that consume them. The plan is scheduled to be completed in 2019.


Report cover

Following a generally warmer and drier winter and then a cold spell in February, Puget Sound waters are cold for anchovies. The productive season is in full swing with algal blooms spotted in South Sound, Kitsap Peninsula, and Quartermaster Harbor. Jellyfish are abundant in some inlets, and Noctiluca stains the water orange in Hood Canal. We collect monthly data to keep you informed about the conditions around Puget Sound. Come into the lab and see how we assure the highest data quality from our field instruments!


A group of southern resident orcas swimming near San Juan Island. Photo: Rene Leubert (CC BY-NC 2.0) https://flic.kr/p/V4EERj

Understanding the social networks and family bonds of Puget Sound's southern resident orcas may be critical to keeping the endangered whales from extinction. A healthy population is about more than numbers, scientists say. It's about connections.



Cover of 2018 Salish Sea Toxics Monitoring Synthesis: A Selection of Research

A 2019 report from the Puget Sound Ecosystem Monitoring Program presents an overview of selected recent monitoring and research activities focused on toxic contaminants in the Salish Sea. 


Armor-removal project at Cornet Bay State Park before and after site restoration. Photo courtesy of PSEMP

The removal of shoreline armoring has become a priority for the state's Puget Sound recovery efforts. The Puget Sound Ecosystem Monitoring Program (PSEMP) is providing details on the effectiveness of armor-removal projects at 49 study sites.


Close up of oil on water collected behind an oil boom. Photo: WA Department of Ecology (CC BY-NC 2.0) https://flic.kr/p/2f25AiG

Bills in the state legislature target oil spill threats to Puget Sound and its endangered killer whales.


Oil barge, SEASPAN 827, in Fildalgo Bay with tug boat, Rosario. Photo: DanaStyber (CC BY-ND 2.0) https://flic.kr/p/f2SYAB

An EPA-funded study of oil spill risks in Puget Sound forms the basis of new legislation to regulate vessel traffic in the region. We break down some of the numbers from the study and look at where the risks may be greatest.


Interior shell of pinto abalone (Haliotis kamtschatkana). Photo: James St. John (CC BY 2.0) https://flic.kr/p/DNTsBV

In Washington State, the pinto abalone (Haliotis kamtschatkana) has declined by 97 percent since 1992 and is unlikely to recover without intervention. A captive rearing and restocking pilot study shows promise for saving wild populations from local extinction.