Puget Sound is a rich and complex biological system. This system supports thousands of species, some of which have yet to be discovered or fully classified. Natural ecosystems help provide clean water, air, natural flood control, habitats for wildlife and many other valuable benefits.
Maintaining the abundance and diversity in natural habitats and species is essential for a healthy environment as well as a robust, vital economy. Tourism, outdoor recreation, timber and fisheries industries, and others, all depend on the well-being of Puget Sound’s natural resources.
What’s the problem?
Unfortunately, Puget Sound has experienced declines in many species (from the iconic chinook salmon and the high-profile predatory orca to lesser known prey species such as Pacific herring). Other populations in decline include many species of marine birds, forage fish, and groundfish/rockfish as well. Eelgrass beds, which provide corridors for migrating salmon and nursery habitat for many juvenile species of fish and crab, are also shrinking in certain areas in the Sound.
Many of these declines reverberate through the food web, and can disrupt the overall dynamics of the ecosystem. As of 2006, more than 40 species in the Puget Sound basin are on the list of threatened or endangered species at the state and federal level, or are candidates for listing.
Some threats to species health comes in a variety of forms, including:
Excessive nutrient loading, which can cause oxygen-deprived conditions such as in Hood Canal and parts of the southern Sound. Pathogens in our waters. Habitat alteration that fragments once contiguous ecosystems. Shoreline modification, such as bulkheads and riprap. Invasive species that often out-compete native populations for habitat. Changes in water flow. Toxic contamination. Climate change. Unsustainable harvest practices.
They have focused mainly on the more charismatic or economically important species such as orcas and salmon. These efforts, while valuable, often don’t address the importance of a species’ role in the food web. Nor do these efforts always address how resource management practices affect the food web dynamics.
For example, it is important to understand the role of plankton and forage fish in them marine food web that in turn support a vast array of higher-level feeders including marine birds, salmon and orcas. Keeping the food web healthy is essential in maintain a robust diversity of species.
What is being done?
Every single day, efforts to protect ecosystem biodiversity and recover species at risk occur throughout the Puget Sound basin. These efforts involve state, local and federal agencies, tribes, non-profit organizations, citizen groups, businesses and many others.