Marine life disappearing from Puget Sound – 10/11/2006

  • November 25, 2013 at 3:58 am #1324

    from arufon:

    Marine life is disappearing from Puget Sound, and fast

    Peter Lang and his buddies like to go diving by Blake Island, just
    across Puget Sound from West Seattle, where they can scoop up
    delectable Dungeness crabs.

    But when they showed up last spring, the lush meadows of eelgrass
    where crab like to hide were nearly gone. In the sandy expanse below,
    they could pick out just a cell phone and an old car radio.

    Where they normally spotted scads of crabs and fish, they saw just
    one sick-looking Dungeness — with only one claw. It didn’t bother to
    run from them.

    The place — within sight of Tillicum Village, where tourists savor
    salmon and celebrate the Sound’s bounty — had turned into an
    underwater desert.

    In three other places where Lang and his friends expected to chase
    after bountiful sea life, they instead found a barren expanse.

    “The shallows of Puget Sound are mostly dead,” asserts Lang, who has
    been diving here since 1988. “Something’s drastically changed in the
    last two years.”

    Lang’s story and similar anecdotes match the findings of scientists
    who study the Sound. Their conclusion: Marine life is disappearing,
    and fast.

    Seabird populations are plummeting. The state’s largest seabird-
    nesting colony last year saw a catastrophic failure. In the south
    Sound — years after fishing was cut way back for Pacific cod,
    whiting and walleye pollock — populations are still in critical

    Paul Joseph Brown / P-I
    A dead lingcod pulled out of Hood Canal in September reflects a
    haunting conclusion by those who know Puget Sound: “Dead zones” are
    Salmon stocks stand at perhaps 10 percent of their historic
    abundance, and individual fish are much smaller.

    The orcas that eat those salmon are the highest predator trying to
    eke out a living in Puget Sound. The federal government last year
    awarded local orcas the strongest protection available for species
    slipping toward extinction. Later this year, federal scientists will
    announce which areas of the Sound must be preserved to keep the
    population afloat. Whale lovers wonder if the effort will be enough.

    The orcas are victims of decades of politicians’ broken promises,
    industries’ resistance to stricter regulations and — perhaps most
    damagingly — the inability to convince residents to live and work
    more gently on the shores of the Sound. It all has resulted in a
    failure to turn the environmental tide in favor of the salmon on
    which the orcas depend — much less launch the broad-based rescue of
    Washington’s unique inland sea that scientists say is necessary to
    prevent the loss of species.

    Warnings are dire.

    Recent studies show that Puget Sound’s herring — a key link in the
    food chain — contain higher contamination levels than those in
    Europe’s highly polluted Baltic Sea. In May, leading federal and
    state scientists reported that the “food web of Puget Sound appears
    to be more seriously contaminated than previously anticipated.”

    And orcas now are among the more chemically contaminated marine
    mammals in the world’s oceans.

    What’s causing the disappearance of the eelgrass and crabs, the birds
    and fish? Hard to say.

    Research “has not been as robust or as consistent as it should be,”
    said Tracy Collier, manager of the National Marine Fisheries
    Service’s ecotoxicology program in Seattle.

    “Saying why things are happening is difficult because we haven’t been
    spending enough time and effort on it.”

    For example, systematic state eelgrass surveys were started just five
    years ago. They cover just 3 percent of the shoreline and one-fifth
    of the bays where eelgrass might be found.

    The tale told by Lang and his diving buddies is one of several recent
    anecdotes that raise questions about whether we are witnessing a
    widespread decline in the Puget Sound ecosystem.

    Jenny Black came back from college for summer break to find greatly
    reduced numbers of sea anemones and sea urchins off Bainbridge
    Island. Where many types of sea stars once thrived, a single species
    has taken over.

    “It’s definitely changed a lot. It’s drastic,” said Black, a Brigham
    Young University junior who scuba dives and studies marine
    biology. “I’m kind of bummed out. When you have too much of one
    thing, you know something’s going wrong with the ecology.”

    These anecdotal reports from central Puget Sound raise the specter of
    the “dead zones” that have turned up in recent years off the
    Washington coast and in Hood Canal.

    The news is not all bleak. Some sewage pollution and industrial
    contamination spots have been brought under control, at great cost,
    in Seattle. Tacoma’s Commencement Bay is cleaner than it has been in
    decades. And state and federal officials have started spending
    millions to unravel reasons behind the increasingly desperate decline
    of Hood Canal — which saw its most extensive fish kill in history
    last month.

    But progress is slow. Despite promises to clean it up, the foul
    concoction known as stormwater flows into the Sound after every good
    rain. Shorelines crucial to marine health continue sprouting docks
    and waterfront owners reinforce walls that wreck the shallow-water
    ecology, despite a shoreline protection law that dates to 1971. And
    an ambitious federal effort to help Puget Sound’s shoreline has been
    routinely underfunded.

    Politicians have promised for years to save Puget Sound, starting
    with the chinook salmon that are orcas’ main food source.

    “We’re concerned about the future of marine life in Puget Sound,”
    former Gov. Gary Locke said in 2003, at least five years after he
    started promising to save the salmon. “We … need that road map of
    things we can do that will make an immediate and substantial benefit
    in the health of Puget Sound.”

    Nearly three years later, that road map still isn’t finished. The
    sweeping actions that experts say are needed to save Puget Sound are
    still in their infancy.

    Laws dealing with many of the problems are on the books, but
    enforcement is spotty.

    “In our meetings with the citizens, we found out the first thing they
    want us to do is enforce existing law,” said Rep. Norm Dicks, D-
    Wash., a leader in efforts to save the Sound. “They don’t think
    existing law is being enforced.”

    Gov. Chris Gregoire is credited by longtime observers with trying to
    bring a sense of urgency to the effort, prodding extra money from the
    Legislature and appointing an all-star, bipartisan committee to
    devise a way to save the Sound. But well-intentioned plans in the
    past have flared and then fizzled.

    “The whole system is under stress,” activist Stephanie Raymond told
    representatives of the Puget Sound Partnership, the high-powered
    group organized by Gregoire to map out a Sound rescue plan. “This
    isn’t the first or the second or even the fourth time a set of people
    got together and said, ‘How can we help Puget Sound?’

    “So I urge this group to look at it with fresh eyes.”

    Time is critical.


    You live, work, play here. You can help.

    Buy seafood that’s sustainably harvested.
    Fish responsibly. Avoid overfished species.
    Help collect scientific data on the Sound through scuba surveys.
    Maintain vegetation on shorelines to slow erosion and provide shade
    and food sources for small fish.
    Build away from bluffs. Prevent erosion with log barriers instead of
    concrete walls.
    Volunteer for beach restoration projects.
    Support the creation of marine protected areas where fishing is
    The Puget Sound Partnership: Gov. Chris Gregoire-appointed group with
    21 members representing diverse public, private and non-profit
    interests. Their purpose is to craft a plan for recovering the
    Sound’s health by 2020. Draft plan to be released Friday for public

    Puget Sound Action Team: State agency overseeing the protection and
    restoration of the Sound. Issues biannual report cards on progress.

    People for Puget Sound: Non-profit group dealing with marine-related
    education, restoration projects and lobbying.

    Puget Soundkeeper Alliance: Non-profit group with strong focus on
    stormwater pollution and patrols of marine industrial activities.

    P-I reporter Robert McClure can be reached at 206-448-8092 or
    robertmcclure@…. P-I reporter Lisa Stiffler can be
    reached at 206-448-8042 or lisastiffler@.

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