Series:

Implementation Strategies

About the series

New EPA-funded Implementation Strategies are designed to target Puget Sound recovery in the most direct and coordinated way ever conducted by state and federal agencies. We report on how these strategies will affect Puget Sound’s Vital Signs for years to come, and why you should care (a lot).

Sponsored by

United States Environmental Protection Agency logo

Latest story posted: 1/14/2020

Related stories

In laboratory experiments, a pteropod shell dissolved over the course of 45 days in seawater adjusted to an ocean chemistry projected for the year 2100. Photo: NOAA Environmental Visualization Laboratory

Rate of ocean acidification may accelerate, scientists warn

Last summer, scientists met at the University of Washington to address alarming findings concerning the rapid acidification of the world's oceans. Experts at that symposium warned that wildlife in the Salish Sea, from salmon to shellfish, may start to see significant effects from changing water chemistry within the next 10 to 20 years. This article summarizes the symposium's key findings and was commissioned and edited by the Washington Ocean Acidification Center which hosted the gathering. Funds for the article were provided by the Washington state legislature. [A version of this article was originally published by the Washington Ocean Acidification Center.]


Climate change, Water quality, Species and food webs, Algae, Fishes, Invertebrates, Marine habitat, Ocean acidification, Dungeness crabs, Salmonids, Shellfish, Bivalves, Zooplankton, Herring, Eelgrass

Rhinoceros auklets near Protection Island. Photo: Peter Hodum

Keeping watch on seabird health

Scientists are still trying to understand what caused the deaths of thousands of rhinoceros auklets in the Salish Sea in 2016. Some studies point to disease as a central factor in that incident and potentially other large seabird die-offs along the coast. That is prompting a deeper look at what makes these birds sick, and how local populations are faring. We followed a group of researchers as they gave a health checkup to a breeding colony of rhinoceros auklets on Protection Island.


Species and food webs, Birds, Marine habitat, Nearshore habitat, Aquatic reserves, Oil spills, Vital Signs, Salish Sea, Marine birds, Implementation Strategies, Disease, Monitoring

Volunteer Vernon Brisley surveys a bull kelp bed near Ebey’s Landing on Whidbey Island as part of the Island County MRC regional monitoring project. Photo: Rich Yukubousky

Kelp crisis? Decline of underwater forests raises alarms

They rival tropical forests in their richness and diversity, but Puget Sound's kelp beds have declined steeply in recent decades. Scientists are just starting to understand the extent of these losses. What they are finding is bringing kelp to the forefront of Puget Sound's environmental concerns.


Climate change, Species and food webs, Algae, Marine habitat, Kelp, Salish Sea, Implementation Strategies, Food web, Rockfish, Monitoring, Tribes

Caption: Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) swimming upstream. Photo: Ingrid Taylar (CC BY-NC 2.0) https://flic.kr/p/dmbyre

'Early migration gene' tied to unique population of Chinook

Spring and fall Chinook salmon were thought to be alike until researchers discovered a gene for early migration. Now, federal biologists and legal experts are struggling to decide if spring Chinook should be granted their own legal protection under the Endangered Species Act.


Species and food webs, Fishes, Marine habitat, Estuarine habitat, Nearshore habitat, Freshwater habitat, Salish Sea Currents magazine, Salmonids, Tribes, Traditional ecological knowledge

Pigeon guillemot taking flight over water. Photo: Patty McGann (CC BY-NC 2.0) https://flic.kr/p/opywhG

Unsung seabirds could help track Puget Sound health

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.


Species and food webs, Birds, Marine habitat, Nearshore habitat, Marine birds, Salish Sea Currents magazine, Bald eagles, Implementation Strategies

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

The herring defenders

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. 


Species and food webs, Fishes, Marine habitat, Herring, Implementation Strategies, Eelgrass, Food web, Forage fish, Monitoring

Clockwise from top left: 1) Mountain gorillas. Photo: Andries3 (CC BY-NC 2.0) https://www.flickr.com/photos/andriesoudshoorn 2) J pod Southern resident orcas – Photo: Miles Ritter (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) https://www.flickr.com/photos/mrmritter/42903242165 3) Scientists collect orca breath samples. Photo: Pete Schroeder 4) Hawaiian monk seal. Photo: Karen Bryan/Hawaiian Institute of Marine Biology (CC BY-NC 2.0) https://www.flickr.com/photos/papahanaumokuakea/38322932854

The Orca Docs: Can medical interventions help?

This three-part series explores opportunities and challenges of using medical interventions to save Puget Sound's southern resident orcas from extinction. Part 1 looks at how scientists might treat endangered southern resident orcas that face starvation and risks of disease; Part 2 considers how veterinarians have intervened with other animals in the wild, and how this might apply to orcas in Puget Sound; and Part 3 explores a federally approved vaccination program designed to ward of a deadly virus among endangered Hawaiian monk seals.


Species and food webs, Mammals, Marine habitat, Implementation Strategies, Disease, Killer whales, Salish Sea Currents magazine, Salmonids, Monitoring

Six-month-old Olympia oyster (Ostrea lurida) seed. Photo: Benjamin Drummond/benjandsara.com

Return of a native: Olympia oysters are making a comeback

Puget Sound’s only native oysters were nearly wiped out in the 19th century from overharvesting. Now a network of scientists and advocates is working to restore them to their historical and cultural prominence.


Climate change, Species and food webs, Water quality, Invertebrates, Nearshore habitat, Implementation Strategies, Salish Sea Currents magazine, Shellfish, Species of concern, Bivalves, Traditional ecological knowledge, Tribes

A Hawaiian monk seal at Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument. Photo by: Karen Bryan/Hawaiian Institute of Marine Biology (CC BY-NC 2.0) https://www.flickr.com/photos/papahanaumokuakea/38322932854

Vaccines now used to reduce the risk of extinction in Hawaiian monk seals

For critically endangered animal populations, experts worry that a highly infectious disease could be the final nail in the coffin, forcing the species into extinction. That’s one reason why federal authorities approved the development and deployment of a new vaccine to ward off the deadly morbillivirus among Hawaiian monk seals. The vaccination program raises the possibility of using vaccines to prevent disease among Puget Sound's southern resident killer whales, but no specific steps have been taken so far.


Species and food webs, Mammals, Marine habitat, Implementation Strategies, Disease, Killer whales, Monitoring, Species of concern, Salish Sea Currents magazine

Left: mountain gorillas. Photo: Andries3 (CC BY-NC 2.0) https://www.flickr.com/photos/andriesoudshoorn. Right: J pod southern resident orcas – Photo: Miles Ritter (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) https://www.flickr.com/photos/mrmritter/42903242165

Wildlife rescues may inform orca strategies

As the plight of Puget Sound’s southern resident orcas becomes increasingly desperate, with the population dropping from 98 to 75 in just 22 years, scientists are weighing the options of medical intervention. In part two of our two-part series The Orca Docs we look at how veterinarians have intervened with other animals in the wild, and how this might apply to the situation here in Puget Sound. [Part one, "When should medical experts intervene to save a killer whale?" is also available.]


Species and food webs, Mammals, Implementation Strategies, Disease, Killer whales, Salish Sea Currents magazine

Scientists in a boat use a long pole to capture the breath of an orca. Photo: Pete Schroeder

When should medical experts intervene to save a killer whale?

The death of a young female orca in September has sparked a discussion of how and whether scientists should step in with medical care for distressed animals in the wild. Medical intervention has become routine for some endangered mammals, but scientists say Puget Sound’s resident orcas present a series of unique challenges and ethical questions. In part one of our two-part series The Orca Docs we look at how scientists are preparing to treat endangered southern resident orcas that face starvation and risks of disease.


Species and food webs, Mammals, Marine habitat, Implementation Strategies, Disease, Killer whales, Salish Sea Currents magazine, Species of concern, Salmonids

A milky, turquoise, phytoplankton bloom in Hood Canal visible from space. Natural color MODIS image from Landsat 8 acquired July 24, 2016. Photo: NASA Earth Observatory https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/NaturalHazards/view.php?id=88454

Does Puget Sound need a diet? Concerns grow over nutrients

As the region's population grows, scientists say we can expect to see increasing amounts of nitrogen and other elements flowing into Puget Sound. Known as “nutrients” these elements are naturally occurring and even necessary for life, but officials worry that nutrients from wastewater and other human sources are tipping the balance. That could mean big problems for fish and other marine life, gradually depleting the water of oxygen and altering the food web.


Algae, Salish Sea Currents magazine, Harmful algal blooms, Hypoxia, Eutrophication, Sewage and fecal pollution, Circulation, Food web, Stormwater, Ocean acidification, Nutrient pollution, Implementation Strategies

The rapid growth of a red-orange algae, Noctiluca scintillans, dramatically colors the waters of Puget Sound near Edmonds on May 16, 2013. Such algae blooms have been seen more frequently in recent years. Photo: Jeri Cusimano via WA Ecology (CC BY-NC 2.0) https://www.flickr.com/photos/ecologywa/8744775119

Dead plankton leave clues to a food-web mystery

High amounts of elements such as nitrogen can cause blooms of phytoplankton that sometimes trigger perturbations throughout the food web. This occurs most often in the spring and summer after the long, dark, cloudy days of winter begin to fade.


Water quality, Algae, Sewage and fecal pollution, Circulation, Food web, Harmful algal blooms, Eutrophication, Salish Sea Currents magazine, Hypoxia, Nutrient pollution, Implementation Strategies

Harbor Seals sunning on intertidal rocks of Puget Sound. Photo: Tony Cyphert (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) https://www.flickr.com/photos/tony717/14630242564

Study would explore changes to protections for seals and sea lions

As wildlife managers work to recover Puget Sound’s diminished Chinook population, a proposed white paper is expected to review the impacts of some of the salmon's chief predators. The study would include a section on potential management of seals and sea lions, prompting open discussion of a long taboo subject: Could officials seek to revise the Marine Mammal Protection Act — or even conduct lethal or non-lethal removal of seals and sea lions in some cases? Such actions are hypothetical, but we look at some of the ongoing discussions around the issue as prompted by a new resolution from the Puget Sound Leadership Council. 


Species and food webs, Mammals, Fishes, Implementation Strategies, Salmonids, Species of concern, Salish Sea Currents magazine, Harbor seals, Killer whales, Food web

A young resident killer whale chases a chinook salmon in the Salish Sea near San Juan Island, WA. Sept 2017. Photo: (CC BY-SA 2.0) https://flic.kr/p/21wV8rV

Seals and sea lions may be slowing salmon recovery, hurting orcas

Increased consumption of Chinook salmon by seals and sea lions in the Salish Sea “could be masking the success of coastwide salmon recovery efforts,” according to a new study published in the journal Scientific Reports. Endangered resident orcas are said to be declining in part due to a lack of available Chinook, the orcas' preferred prey.


Species and food webs, Fishes, Mammals, Marine habitat, Estuarine habitat, Nearshore habitat, Implementation Strategies, Killer whales, Salmonids, Species of concern, Harbor seals, Food web, Salish Sea Currents magazine

English Sole (Parophrys vetulus) in Puget Sound. Photo: biodiversityguy https://biodiversityguy.smugmug.com/Underwater/Reference-List-Photos-of/i-3GgD5hB/A

PCBs in fish remain steady while other toxics decline

A new study shows a surprising decline in some toxic chemicals in Puget Sound fish, while levels of PCBs increased in some cases. Scientists say the study shows that banning toxic chemicals can work, but old contaminants remain a challenge as they continue to wash into Puget Sound.


Water quality, Fishes, Contaminants of emerging concern, Persistent contaminants, Forage fish, Monitoring, Implementation Strategies, Stormwater, Toxic contaminants, Herring

Dean Toba, a scientific technician with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, operates the agency’s screw trap on the Skagit River. The trap helps biologists estimate the number of juvenile salmon leaving the river each year. Photo: Christopher Dunagan, PSI

Are we making progress on salmon recovery?

In recent decades, hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent to restore habitat for Puget Sound salmon. In this article, we look at how scientists are gauging their progress. Are environmental conditions improving or getting worse? The answer may depend on where you look and who you ask.


Water quantity, Water quality, Species and food webs, Fishes, Marine habitat, Estuarine habitat, Nearshore habitat, Freshwater habitat, Terrestrial habitat, Floodplains, Monitoring, Species of concern, Tribes, Salmonids, Implementation Strategies

The Qwuloolt estuary hydrology restored by breaching a century old levee. WRP easement land in the foreground. Photo: USDA

Saving the last estuaries

When rivers spill into Puget Sound, they provide some of the most productive habitat in the ecosystem. The ebb and flow of the tides creates a perfect mix of fresh and salt water critical for young salmon. But over the past 100 years, the region’s tidal wetlands have declined by more than 75%. Now a coalition of state and federal agencies has a plan to bring them back.


Estuarine habitat, Implementation Strategies

The University of Washington Tacoma has spurred sustainable urban development including re-purposing of historic buildings, new housing, a museum and retail district, multi-use trails, and light rail transit. Photo courtesy: UW Tacoma

Urban lifestyles help to protect the Puget Sound ecosystem

The state of Washington estimates that the Puget Sound area will grow by more than 1.5 million residents within the next two decades. That is expected to have profound effects on the environment as more and more people move to undeveloped areas. The race is on to protect this critical rural habitat, but planners say what happens in the cities may be just as important.


Physical environment, Human quality of life, Freshwater habitat, Terrestrial habitat, Implementation Strategies

Sea lion sunbathing between meals in Seattle's Eliott Bay. Photo: Johnny Mumbles (CC BY 2.0) https://www.flickr.com/photos/mumbles/3283168713

Study says predators may play major role in chinook salmon declines

A new study shows that increased populations of seals and sea lions are eating far more of Puget Sound’s threatened chinook than previously known, potentially hampering recovery efforts for both salmon and endangered killer whales. 


Species and food webs, Mammals, Fishes, Marine habitat, Nearshore habitat, Harbor seals, Implementation Strategies, Food web, Killer whales, Salish Sea Currents magazine, Salmonids, Species of concern