DNR FIELD NOTES
July 28, 2010
Rising acidity in Puget Sound challenges DNR's restoration
By Naki Stevens
Executive Policy Advisor on Puget Sound
Washington State Department of Natural Resources
If you’ve been following the news on Puget Sound’s rising acidity levels, than you’re probably aware that we all play a major role in the Sound’s health, and that recovery is a top priority for Washington. Recent studies completed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Ecology, and the University of Washington, revealed that Puget Sound has had a 30 percent increase in acidity since pre-industrial uses.
What does this mean? The ocean absorbs the majority of excess carbon dioxide emitted by vehicles and industry - the result is potentially lethal levels of acidity harming aquatic ecosystems and species. In some parts of Puget Sound, namely the Hood Canal, ph levels were as low as 7.4 – the lower the ph the higher the level of acidity in the water.
High levels of acidity are known to weaken the shells of clams, and kill tiny plankton that serve as a main food source for salmon - and ultimately the food chain.
As steward of more than 2.6 million acres of aquatic lands including the coast, navigable lakes and rivers, and bedlands under Puget Sound, the DNR Aquatic Reserves Program is an example of how DNR is helping restore the Sound to health by 2020. The program helps identify state-owned aquatic lands that are of educational, environmental, and scientific interest and nominate them for protection.
Some of the benefits of designating areas as aquatic reserves include:
- Ensuring environmental protection through site-based preservation, restoration, and enhancement.
- Encouraging public use and access.
- Providing for greater public input into conservation management.
- Working with citizens, state, local and federal governments, and other stakeholders to develop and implement site-specific management plans.
Currently, DNR manages four aquatic reserves. Three more are proposed for protection:
Cherry Point Aquatic Reserve – one of the highest pacific herring spawning grounds in the Puget Sound, Cherry Point has a relatively undisturbed beach environment and houses a robust aquatic ecosystem. Many forage fish, and salmon, pass through Cherry Point as a migratory corridor using its pristine nearshore environment as spawning ground.
Cypress Island Aquatic Reserve – a rare example of connectivity across habitats, the mature forests, undisturbed nearshore environment, and the pristine subtidal areas of Cypress Island are increasingly rare in Puget Sound. The combination of undisturbed upland and aquatic environments benefits bald eagles, the endangered marbled murrelet and other species.
Fidalgo Bay Aquatic Reserve – Used by a healthy spawning stock of Pacific herring, Fidalgo Bay has an abundance of eelgrass beds that cover the majority of the bay between January and April of each year. These eelgrass beds create habitat for surf smelt, sand lance, bald eagles, peregrine falcons and great blue herons.
Maury Island Aquatic Reserve - The reserve contains Chinook salmon migratory corridors and rearing areas, bottomfish rearing habitat, and bull trout migratory corridors. This area was identified by the Audubon Society as an important bird area and, in particular, an important area for wintering marine birds, especially western grebes.
DNR’s Aquatic Reserves are laboratories for understanding the effects of increasing acidity levels and other significant problems plaguing Puget Sound. The more we understand the science behind the problems, the better equipped we will be to implement effective solutions.
What can you do? Get involved. The public is invited to nominate new areas for possible Aquatic Reserves. And, DNR looks to the public to help create and carry out management plans for these sites. The Sound belongs to all of us, so all of us need to be involved to save it.
Media Contact: Abbey Corzine, Communications Specialist, 360-902-1401, email@example.com
Photo of author available upon request.