Aerial Photos of Plankton Bloom in Puget Sound – Good, Bad, Ugly?

Chris Dunagan and the Kitsap Sun covers the aerial photography of “Eyes over Puget Sound” (EOPS) on the latest “Watching our Waterways”. EOPS is a DOE program to track the annual plankton blooms around the Sound. There is still no consensus about why these blooms are continuing to happen and apparently grow. Could it be simply natural? Are they expanding? Contracting? Is it caused by the continuing degradation of Puget Sound? As an example, the paper mill in Port Townsend pours 12 million gallons a day of very polluted water into the Bay, legally. While we won’t get into whether this is “good” or “bad”, whether this is causing these blooms by destroying water quality, is unknown, even after 40 years of the Clean Water Act.

What all this seems to show is that data gathering is still the basis for scientific and political action. Without properly funding data collection, the legislature will continue to lurch from crisis to crisis and throw money at the news headline of the day, without knowing whether it is going to do any good at all.

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5 Responses

  1. Thanks for your answer. Alexandra Morton’s message of “get involved” made her presentation more than just a recitation of net-pen carnage. I found her work getting local people involved with tissue sampling the most hopeful part of “Salmon Confidential”.

  2. Well I can’t disagree there. The lack of serious enforcement on the local level is really where the problems can pile up. Clallam County is working with the Dungeness River Management Team (DRMT) to solve problems along the river, it’s feeder streams, and into the Bay. But yes, the lack of funding and lack of backbone to actually go fix the failing septics is problematic. The politics behind enforcing these regulations is also causing anger in a lot of people. People just don’t understand how crowded the Dungeness watershed is, nor how many people are now using septic in housing that didn’t even exist a few decades ago.

    • So how do we proceed? What would help our community/region tackle the problems caused by development and neglect? I’ll have to find out more about the Dungeness River Management Team. Thanks for the info.

      • The answer is getting involved. Improving the Salish Sea and Strait of Juan de Fuca, and the rivers that feed them, will not happen unless people stop being passive observers and get out there and do something. Picnics and ‘Save the (your favorite animal)’ are nice to get the public aware, but they don’t change the legislature, nor the local officials point of view. There are numerous organizations, all with various points of view, listed to the left on this web site. I sat in on many of them to see if they fit my style. Many didin’t. You can choose to join a non-profit advocacy group, and/or work as a volunteer on city or county projects such as volunteer involvement in a county Shoreline Master Program or Critical Areas Ordinance update. You can volunteer or just go an participate in monthly meetings of your county’s Marine Resource Committee. The Democratic party in Jefferson County has done a great job of supporting environmental efforts, far beyond any other party organization that I’ve ever seen. I stay out of politics myself, because I think that the issue of environmental protection is not a Democratic or Republican issue. I know many conservatives and some actual professed Republicans who are very passionate about actually doing things to make things better. Everyone wants clean water, clean air, lots of fish in the sea, etc. Everyone wants their children to grow up in a better environment. But not everyone will do something about it, nor take the time to understand it.

        Writing letters, going and meeting with your legislative representatives, and finding out how you can help is critical. We, who are working so hard to turn around this mess, are outnumbered, both by industry lobbyists who camp on our elected officials doorsteps, outgunned by money, outgunned by people unwilling to take any steps beyond cheering from the sidelines. Look at what you are good at, then go talk to a group that has interests most closely aligned with your passions. For me, it happens to be education, marketing, journalism and video production. But the most important thing is showing up. It will take us, to do this. Not our elected officials. They always follow. They never lead. And they are the first to admit it.

  3. More study is always good. However, we need to enforce our federal and state laws, limiting the inflow of nutrients into local waters, even as we continue to study the marine environment. Good research, started in the 70s and continuing into the 90s, from the East and Gulf Coasts shows that run-off from increased land use leads to eutrophication, shifting nutrient levels, and introduction of contaminants. These alter the local planktonic systems, usually favoring a flagellate dominated planktonic system (bad for fisheries) and linked to hypoxia in waters within which they occur.

    Other planktonic and bacterial organisms are linked to negative outcomes following large releases of nutrients. As early as 1954, high levels of cynobacteria and chlorophytes (a green algae) were found in waters which had runoff from nearby duck farms. These blooms occurred at the same time a local oyster fishery collapsed. We are all familiar with “dead zones” caused by nutrient-loading in the Gulf of Mexico and off of the coast of the SE Atlantic coast.

    Currently, sewage, from failing septic systems, is leaking into Dungeness Bay. Yet Clallam County does not enforce public health codes, due at least in part, to a lack of funding. So while naturally caused “blooms” are a part of ocean cycles, there is more than enough research out there to conclude that we have added to their frequency, duration, and size. We need action. Stringent enforcement of existing clean-water laws and health codes is a good place to start.

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