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A 2022 article in the journal Environmental Science & Policy looks at how knowledge exchange across organizations influences science-based ecosystem recovery in Puget Sound. The University of Washington Puget Sound Institute describes its work to identify and communicate key scientific findings that support funding and policy decisions on an ecosystem scale.


Mudflats at low tide with numerous small mounds of sediment

A pilot project to create a 'living dike' in Canada's Boundary Bay is designed to help a saltwater marsh survive rising waters due to climate change.


A white beluga whale swiming near the surface of the water.

A series of beluga whale (Delphinapterus leucas) sightings in southern Puget Sound in October 2021, added a new set of records for the species in this region. The 2021 event represents the longest period of time a beluga has been observed so far south of Alaska, in the eastern North Pacific. This may have just been an isolated event of a single extralimital individual. Alternatively, it may suggest a potential range expansion that could portend future increased visits by this species in the Pacific Northwest, especially if warming of Arctic waters continues.


Black and white photo of two men standing in front of a canvas shack with mountain and glacier behind it.

Puget Sound's glaciers are melting rapidly due to climate change. The North Cascades mountains have lost about 56% of their glacial ice while estimates show that glaciers in the Olympics could be gone within the next 50 years. Scientists say salmon and other species could be hard hit as the region loses its “giant storage tank” of ice.


Use our interactive map to determine if a geographic feature is within the boundaries of the Puget Sound or Salish Sea watersheds. The Puget Sound region includes the area within the United States while the Salish Sea region* encompasses the entire shaded area. Areas that influence circulation in the Salish Sea or eventually drain into the estuary are marked by broader boundaries.


Two people operating a bulldozer at the intersection of two flooded streets in Sumas, Washington. In the background, partially submerged cars are parked in front of the library.

Can restoring the natural balance of the Nooksack River also reduce flood risks? Officials on both sides of the U.S.-Canada border are taking note as climate change raises the stakes. 


Report cover

The winter was cold and wet, resulting in a good snowpack in the mountains to sustain river flows into summer. In Puget Sound, saltier waters in summer transitioned to fresher conditions by fall 2021. Water temperatures in late winter 2022 are now colder and oxygen levels are high. From the air, Puget Sound looks spectacular, with few events to report. First signs of the spring bloom were visible in protected bays and passes. Port Susan and Carr Inlet already show sizable patches of drifting organic material. Small jellyfish patches were  present in Eld Inlet.


Data image showing marine heatwave known as the Blob

The marine heatwave that struck the Pacific Ocean in late 2013 also caused large changes in temperature in the Salish Sea, but scientists are still puzzling over the impacts of those changes on Puget Sound's food web. The so-called "blob" of warmer than average water was thought to have increased the production of plankton, which potentially benefits creatures like herring and salmon that feed on the tiny organisms. A new paper in the journal Frontiers in Marine Science calls that interpretation into question pointing to a computer model that links the cause to higher than normal river flows in the region.   


Graphic image of tidal channels

Puget Sound is often referred to as the second largest estuary in the United States behind only Chesapeake Bay, but its overall size may be less important than its complexity. The place is defined by the mixing of saltwater from the ocean and freshwater from inflowing creeks and rivers that create an almost alchemical transformation of habitat. In this article, we look at the geologic forces that formed Puget Sound and made it the dynamic system that we understand today.   


Marine technician Sony Brugger, right, retrieves underwater sampling equipment during a December 2020 research cruise aboard the RV Rachel Carson. Tor Bjorklund, left, is marine engineer and chief scientist during on the cruise off Alki Point, seen in the background. (UW photo)

Large plumes of methane bubbles have been discovered throughout the waters of Puget Sound prompting questions about the Puget Sound food web, studies of earthquake faults and climate-change research.


Eyes Over Puget Sound report cover

The year 2021 was generally drier and warmer including a heat wave in June. Higher river flows followed a rainy and cloudy fall. In 2021, EOPS aerial images continued to capture the diversity of phenomena on the water, with support from its wonderful contributors who documented visible water quality issues across the larger Puget Sound region. With our Artists Corner and story maps on critters in the mud, we hope to continue to inspire, educate, and motivate our community to keep curious and watchful eyes over the environment.


Bluntnose sixgill shark (Hexanchus griseus). Photos courtesy of NOAA Ship Okeanos Explorer.

Over the past year, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has reported an unusually high number of sixgill sharks found washed up along Puget Sound's shoreline. Four dead sharks in all were spotted, alarming scientists who believe that the large predators use Puget Sound as a pupping ground. Sixgills are rarely seen in Puget Sound but are one of its largest fishes, reaching lengths of up to 16 feet. Some speculate that warmer-than-usual waters could be a factor in the deaths, but the cause remains a mystery. We spoke with Fish and Wildlife biologist Lisa Hillier.


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

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.

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.

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.


Report cover

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

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

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


Report cover

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.

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

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.

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)

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. 


Report cover

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.

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.