Summary of 2019 Puget Sound environment from the Puget Sound Partnership

  • Short story? Too much not heading in the right direction. Some good news though. Just as a reminder, the Partnership, which was created 2007 with the goal, written into it’s legislation, “It is the goal of the state that the health of Puget Sound be restored by 2020.” Has this goal ever been updated? Not clear. It’s time to revisit that goal. A note: It takes the Partnership a year to evaluate the previous year data. So it’s to be expected, especially with the pandemic, to have this long a period between data and analysis.

The takeaways:

  • Puget Sound waters were warmer and saltier during 2019 – although not as warm as during the “blob” marine heatwave years of 2014-2016. (Unlikely something short term to fix- global issue?)
  • The increase in salinity and temperature throughout the Sound was broadly observed and substantial.Saltier than average conditions have been evident in the Sound over the past three years.
  • Regional snow pack, precipitation, and summer flows were all well below normal. (Better drive less, end fossil fuel use)
  • Atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) measurements on the Washington shelf continued their year-to-year increase in 2019 with values near the global average. (see above)
  • Pacific herring spawning biomass declined from 2018, driven mostly by a substantial decrease in the stock at Quilcene Bay, the largest in Puget Sound. (Why is this happening when the PSP has been working on this for over a decade? Was there a specific event in 2019? Over-fishing?)
  • Bottomfish biomass in 2019 was at its highest since 2014, while abundance has remained consistent since 2017, indicating larger fish. (Good news!)
  • Chinook and Chum salmon returns were particularly low during 2019. Seabird abundance and species diversity were similar to that of the previous years, while the number of forage-fish specialists was higher in the first half of the year. (Good news!)
  • Protection Island, Rhinoceros Auklet breeding effort and reproductive success returned to long-term average values in 2019 after three bad years. (Good news!)
  • Marine mammals and seabird densities during fall 2019 at the eastern Strait of Juan de Fuca were low relative to the 14-year record there.
  • Southern Resident killer whales were present in the Salish Sea for fewer days than in any year from 1994–2016. None were present in June for the first time on record. (Really bad news? Nothing helping them in all that has happened in the last 10 years?)
  • Analysis of sediments across Puget Sound reveal the presence of micro-plastics in all samples collected during 2019. With no statistical change of plastic concentrations from year to year, micro-plastics have been found in every sample except one since 2014. (really bad news getting worse)
  • The number of beaches passing the swimming standard from bacterial contamination decreased by a small percentage from 2018 to 2019. (Bad news with 15 years of the Partnership working on this)

Let’s remember the goals of the Partnership since it’s founding:

The Washington State Legislature identified in 2007 six long-term ecosystem recovery goals for creating a resilient Puget Sound:

  • Healthy Human Population—A healthy population supported by a healthy Puget Sound that is not threatened by changes in the ecosystem.
  • Vibrant Quality of Life—A quality of human life that is sustained by a functioning Puget Sound ecosystem.
  • Thriving Species and Food Web—Healthy and sustaining populations of native species in Puget Sound, including a robust food web.
  • Protect and Restored Habitat—A healthy Puget Sound where freshwater, estuary, nearshore, marine, and upland habitats are protected, restored, and sustained.
  • Abundant Water Quantity—An ecosystem that is supported by good groundwater levels as well as river and stream flows sufficient to sustain people, fish, wildlife, and the natural functions of the environment.
  • Healthy Water Quality—Fresh and marine waters and sediments of a sufficient quality to support water that is safe for drinking, swimming, and other human uses and enjoyment, and which are not harmful to the native marine mammals, fish, birds, and shellfish in the region.

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