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The Benthic Index of Biotic Integrity (B-IBI) Implementation Strategy is designed to improve freshwater quality by analyzing the health and diversity of invertebrate populations in Puget Sound area streams.


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Rivers are flowing higher than normal since 2020. Winter weather has been warmer and wetter. In marine waters, temperatures have become too cool for Northern Pacific anchovies to tolerate in North Sound. From patches of jellyfish and snow geese, to sediment and early blooms, there is more happening in the winter than you might expect. Puget Sound has many species worth showcasing such as the heart crab – a shy critter that wears its heart on its shell.


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Priority Science to Support Recovery of the Puget Sound Ecosystem: A Science Work Plan for 2020-2024 (SWP for 2020-2024) describes the information, learning, and interaction needed to support the coordinated efforts to recover, protect, and improve the resilience of the Puget Sound ecosystem.


Puget Sound shoreline at sunset. Photo by Jeff Rice. All rights reserved.

Puget Sound's shorelines are "liminal landscapes" that can inspire senses of "escape, transformation, and human creativity," according to a 2021 paper in GeoJournal. That may have regional policy implications as coastal researchers increasingly recognize the need to incorporate community inclusion and 'sense of place' in management decisions. The paper includes findings from a 12-county survey aimed at gauging residents’ sense of place for Puget Sound’s liminal shorelines.


Harbor seal in Puget Sound. Photo courtesy of NOAA.

Harbor seals and harbor porpoises in the Salish Sea are showing a relatively high presence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. A 2021 paper in the journal Oceans suggests that these findings may indicate a wider problem among other species in the region.


Eyes Over Puget Sound report cover

The Washington State Department of Ecology has prepared a summary review of its Eyes Over Puget Sound surface condition reports from 2020.


The Elwha River, Washington. Photo: Tom Collins https://flic.kr/p/SUgCYk (CC BY-ND 2.0)

This report details the outcomes, successes, and reflections of the final two years (2014-15) of an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) National Estuary Program award dedicated to tribal restoration and protection projects in the Puget Sound watershed.


A woman standing on a rock in a river holding a long pole with a net on the end. Photo: Rachael Mallon

A river spawning species of forage fish known as the longfin smelt is rare and getting rarer in the Salish Sea. Biologists are looking into the mysterious decline of the ‘hooligans’ of the Nooksack.


Tidal marsh at the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge in Puget Sound. Photo courtesy of USFWS.

An estuary is a place where saltwater from the ocean mixes with freshwater from rivers and streams. Technically, this defines all of Puget Sound, but scientists have identified several types of "sub-estuaries" within the water body. These include pocket estuaries (or embayments), tidally-influenced rivers and wetlands and other areas near the shoreline connected with freshwater sources. This summary provides descriptions of these estuaries from the Washington State Department of Natural Resources, the Puget Sound Nearshore Partnership and other sources.  


Two southern resident killer whales. Photo courtesy of NOAA.

A 2020 study of pathology reports for 53 stranded killer whales in the northeastern Pacific and Hawaii showed that deaths related to human interaction were found in every age class. Vessel strikes accounted for the deaths of four of the nine endangered southern resident killer whales identified in the study. The findings were published Dec. 2 in the journal PLOS ONE.


Jenifer McIntyre (left), an assistant professor at WSU's School of the Environment based in Puyallup; and Zhenyu Tian (right), a research scientist at the Center for Urban Waters at UW Tacoma, are at Longfellow Creek, an urban creek in the Seattle area. Photo: Mark Stone/University of Washington

The search for why large numbers of spawning coho salmon have been dying in Puget Sound's urban streams goes as far back as the 1980s and culminated this year with the discovery of a previously unidentified chemical related to automobile tires. We offer a detailed timeline for the discovery. 


A returning Coho Salmon at the Suquamish Tribe's Grovers Creek Hatchery. Photos: K. King/USFWS (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Environmental engineers and chemists at the University of Washington Tacoma have identified a mysterious compound implicated in the deaths of large numbers of coho salmon in Puget Sound. The chemical is linked with a rubber additive commonly used in tires and is thought to kill more than half of the spawning coho that enter the region's urban streams every year. 


Stacked tires. Photo: Kool Cats Photography. https://flic.kr/p/ChFgxf (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Modern automobile tires are a complex mixture of chemicals, all used together in different ways to give tires their structure and properties, including riding comfort, safety and long life. Chemicals from tire wear particles are now thought to be responsible for the deaths of large numbers of coho salmon returning to spawn in Puget Sound streams. 


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A new report from the Puget Sound Ecosystem Monitoring Program details the effects of a changing climate on Puget Sound in 2019, and documents how these changes moved through the ecosystem to affect marine life and seafood consumers.


Eyes Over Puget Sound report cover

After a relatively warm summer and fall, and La Niña forming in the tropics, stream flows in the Puget Sound region are now relatively normal. Summer in Puget Sound produced lots of algal and organic material in the water and on beaches, which by October have disappeared. Kelp beds look strong in northern Puget Sound and the Straits; and the harvest of the annual chum salmon run is in full swing in Hood Canal. Jellyfish aggregations are visible in Budd and Sinclair Inlets — and some of the jellyfish might conceal a beast of another kind within. Oil sheens on the water are currently numerous.


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A 2020 Base Program Analysis from the University of Washington Puget Sound Institute presents an overview of the programs, policies and initiatives that support the Puget Sound Partnership’s Land Development and Cover Implementation Strategy.


Close up of a stonefly larva on river rocks.

Many creeks and waterbodies in Puget Sound may look pristine, but most face serious threats from stormwater pollution. A new study at Soos Creek shows how mud-dwelling bugs, traditional chemistry and digital "heatmaps" can be used to track stormwater impacts and identify the most polluted areas. Scientists and planners hope that this may one day lower the price tag on costly stormwater fixes. 


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A warm and dry summer ended with a smoky September due to massive wildfires that were followed by strong rain. As a consequence, muddy river plumes in Puget Sound are very visible, especially near the Nooksack River. During summer, many wonderful citizen contributions documented the large formation of organic material in Central Sound and helped us cover the gap in EOPS flight from April-September. By September when we started flying again, a few bays still had red-brown blooms. Nevertheless, schools of fish are abundant, and jellyfish are sparse, which is good news. Meet our new ocean acidification experts.


Adult harbor seal with pup. Photo: Mark Ahlness (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

A study published in Marine Mammal Science in June 2020 followed the movements and behavior of rehabilitated harbor seal pups after being released into the Salish Sea. The results suggest that although their movements differ from wild pups that have been weaned, the rehabilitated pups do successfully make the transition.


A tributary of the Nooksack River. Photo courtesy NOAA Fisheries.

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. This 2019-2020 TCG annual report summarizes second year project activities and focuses on three of the watershed's transborder sub-basins.


A harbor seal skull in a box

Tiny bone samples show that seals alter their diets as conditions change. The findings could help scientists understand whether seals are contributing to local salmon declines.


Harbor seal photographed by Andreas Trepte. Available through a Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike 2.5 license.

Last month's federal authorization to kill more than 700 sea lions to protect salmon runs along the Columbia River is prompting discussions of similar actions for harbor seals in Puget Sound. But experts say the situations are very different with many unanswered questions. 


Otter crossing street sign. Photo: Joe Gaydos

North American river otters (Lontra canadensis) inhabit inland freshwater environments; however, from Alaska to California they also occur in coastal marine waters where they forage on a variety of marine fish and invertebrates. Little is known about mortality factors in marine-foraging river otters. Among 30 otter carcasses collected in San Juan County, Washington, analysis indicates that car collisions and gunshots were the most common causes of mortality.


We have published a yearly round-up of stories from our magazine Salish Sea Currents. The 2020 edition focuses on the impact of climate change on the Salish Sea and includes a special section on the effect of global warming on infectious diseases in the ecosystem. 


 Wild sockeye salmon in Adams River, BC. Photo: Province of British Columbia (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) https://flic.kr/p/L6McUY

Few environment problems in the Salish Sea have been studied more than the steep decline in salmon populations. But one potential contributor to these declines has gained less attention. Scientists say infectious disease may play a wider role than previously understood.