SEATTLE — Climate change poses a significant challenge to Puget Sound’s health, warns the latest “State of the Sound” report.
In the 2021 State of the Sound — an annual report commissioned by the state of Washington to track the health of Puget Sound and it’s impact on the human and animal population — researchers found the Sound is not doing as well as hoped, and caution that Washington must redouble its efforts to protect the water and preserve the habitat for future generations.
“The Southern Resident orca population hovers at 74 animals, and Chinook salmon populations show no signs of recovery,” writes State of the Sound Executive Director Laura Blackmore.” Marine water quality continues to decline.”
The annual report measure’s Puget Sound’s health using six broad ecosystem recovery goals:
Each goal carries between one and six “vital signs” that are used to track Puget Sound’s overall health. Unfortunately, right now those signs “send mixed signals about the health of Puget Sound” researchers write. About half are either not improving or getting worse, and many are not trending in any direction at all. Just five out of 52 vital signs were near or at the 2020 target, and only 11 are getting better.
The biggest problem, researchers say, is that climate change is hurting the sound, and isn’t something that can be address locally, requiring radical investments from global leaders.
“Indeed, this summer’s heat wave in the Puget Sound region showcases the unprecedented threat of climate change,” the report reads. “The Seattle area rarely experiences triple digit temperatures: prior to this summer, we’d only reached the 100-degree mark three times in the past 117 years. In late June, however, we witnessed three consecutive days of high temperatures exceeding 100 degrees Fahrenheit. This extraordinary heat literally cooked more than a billion of shellfish alive on exposed tide lands. The aggregate impact on wildlife is not currently known.”
The biggest immediate concern is likely the Sound’s species and food web. Of that category’s five vital signs, three are listed as “getting worse”: the number of Southern Resident killer whales, the biomass of spawning Pacific herring, and the terrestrial bird population. Meanwhile, Chinook salmon abundance has stagnated, and there have only been mixed results restoring the marine bird population.
“With only 74 Southern Resident orcas at last count according to the Orca Network, the population is far from reaching the target of 95 whales,” the report said. “However, three whales were born since 2020, the first seen since 2015.”
The situation is dire, but the report is not all doom-and-gloom, and does point to gains made in protecting and restoring Puget Sound habitats. Four out of 12 habitat vital signs were found to be at or near the 2020 goal, and seven were making progress towards improvement.
“We see the most progress for the habitat goal. Success arises in areas where decision-makers and land managers have direct influence on habitat outcomes, for example, restoring estuaries and floodplains or preventing conversion of ecologically sensitive lands. Many indicators in the habitat goal measure restoration and land conversion. Where our recovery community is involved, we see progress,” the report concludes.
Ultimately, researchers say Washington and the world at large need to reconsider and reinvest in combatting climate change, or risk the sound’s continued deterioration.
“The recovery community is making a difference. When tribal, federal, state, and local decision-makers work together to protect and restore Puget Sound, the ecosystem improves. However, we must redouble our efforts to ensure the scale of our response matches the scale and urgency of the problem. We need to focus our monitoring efforts to better understand the causes of change, including changes in the health and quality of life of Puget Sound residents.”
Source: Bellevue Patch