Molluscs in the Class Bivalvia feed on phytoplankton and detrital particles suspended in the water column, serving as a key trophic link between microscopic primary producers and higher consumers. Epibenthic bivalves can function as ecosystem engineers through the provision of hard substrate and three-dimensional biogenic structure, while infaunal bivalves can function as engineers through physical alteration of soft substrate habitats. Numerous native and non-native species of bivalves occur in Puget Sound, including important aquaculture species such as Pacific oysters (Crassostrea gigas), non-native invasive species such as the purple varnish clam (Nutallia obscurata), and species targeted in recreational fisheries (e.g., nativelittleneck clams and non-native Manila clams). The native geoduck clam, Panopea generosa, is valued as a commercially-fished species and as an aquaculture species. The native Olympia oyster, Ostrea lurida (also known as Ostreola conchaphila) currently is a restoration target in Puget Sound, having been depleted through human activities in the last century.
The geoduck has earned an honored place as Puget Sound's largest and most distinctive native clam, but how much do we really know about it? Often seen as a culinary curiosity, the geoduck has only been commercially harvested on a large scale since the 1970s, and the clam's current popularity is based mostly on demand from Asian markets. Nevertheless, this deep-burrowing mollusk has always been a signature part of the Salish Sea ecosystem.
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.]
A new report from the Puget Sound Ecosystem Monitoring Program says climate change altered the base of Puget Sound's food web in 2018, diminishing microscopic phytoplankton necessary for marine life. Scientists also observed lower abundances of fish, seabirds, and marine mammals.
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.
The survival of hatchery‐origin pinto abalone Haliotis kamtschatkana released into Washington waters
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.
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.
A report from the Washington State Department of Health outlines results from a series of projects funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's National Estuary Program in 2011. These projects addressed pathogen pollution in Puget Sound through the management of human and animal waste. Restoring shellfish growing areas, avoiding shellfish closures, and protecting people from disease served as the primary objectives.
State agencies tracking pollution levels in Puget Sound have discovered traces of oxycodone in the tissues of native bay mussels (Mytilus trossulus) from Seattle and Bremerton area harbors. The findings were presented at the 2018 Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference in Seattle.
A 2017 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.
The Puget Sound Ecosystem Monitoring Program (PSEMP) is an independent program established by state and federal statute to monitor environmental conditions in Puget Sound.
Invasive species are considered a top threat to the balance of ecosystems worldwide. New discoveries of non-native green crabs in Puget Sound have highlighted that concern here at home, but invasive species can impact more than just the food web. Some introduced species can produce toxins that accumulate in shellfish or by directly infecting the human body.
Social scientists around the Salish Sea are predicting the effects of environmental change through the lens of culturally important foods.
Environmental samplers may provide early detection of harmful algal blooms (HABs) in Puget Sound. This toxic algae is expected to increase as the climate changes, bringing with it new and potentially more severe outbreaks of shellfish poisonings.
A 2005 report from the Washington Sea Grant Program describing the history and current state of native Olympia oysters including their ecology, history with human interactions, prefered habitat, and reestablishment efforts in the Puget Sound region.
The region's famed mollusks provide more than just money and jobs. They offer what are called ecosystem services—a wide variety of benefits that humans derive from an ecosystem.
This 2006 technical report for the Puget Sound Nearshore Partnership describes how shellfish have high ecological, economical, cultural, recreational value, however human activity is threatening their existence by altering their native habitat with changes in land use, shoreline modifications, stormwater, sewage and industrial discharge.
Northwest Coast First Peoples made clam garden terraces to expand ideal clam habitat at tidal heights that provided optimal conditions for clam growth and survival, therefore enhancing food production and increasing food security.
A November 2013 literature review by Washingtom Sea Grant synthesizes the state of the science of geoduck clams and the potential environmental impacts of geoduck aquaculture in the Puget Sound region.