July 17, 2003

Charting a sustainable course for the Sound

  • Puget Sound’s current health is a mixed bag
    Puget Sound Action Team


    Good news and bad news remains on Puget Sound’s environment.

    The good news is that Puget Sound continues to provide society with critical services, such as food, recreation, resources for industrial, commercial and residential development, as well as the natural beauty and splendor that are hallmarks of this region.

    Many people have invested enormous effort over the past two decades to recover Puget Sound and important progress has resulted from their work.

    We are reopening commercial shellfish areas that were once closed due to pollution at a faster rate than we are closing shellfish beds. Some species of salmon, such as coho, appear to be returning to Puget Sound at small, but increased numbers this decade, compared with returns in the late 1990s.

    Photo courtesy of Puget Sound Action Team
    Puget Sound has many uses, including water-based recreation.

    In addition, we are wiping out infestations of spartina, an aquatic nuisance species, in nearly all areas of Puget Sound. Spartina chokes out native plants and harms native habitat.

    The quality of water in many places and the health of some marine animals have improved in Puget Sound.

    The bad news is that many indicators of the Sound’s health continue to decline.

    Significant declines in salmon, orcas, marine birds and rockfish, continued hard-armoring of shorelines and loss of habitat, identification of “hot spots” of highly contaminated sediments, and the ongoing problems associated with stormwater runoff all contribute to an ecosystem at risk.

    So while we have done a great deal, there is still a great deal more to do. In order to protect Puget Sound as a living natural system today and for future generations, we need to work smarter.

    The Puget Sound Action Team is the state’s partnership for Puget Sound: we coordinate, integrate and implement the state’s conservation agenda for the Sound. The Action Team Partnership bridges diverse jurisdictions, responsibilities and mandates.

    The Action Team is made up of 10 state agencies and representatives from tribal and local government. The Puget Sound Council, which advises the Action Team, has representation from business, agriculture, the shellfish industry, environmental organizations, local and tribal governments and the Legislature. The Action Team has a staff of 21.

    Sound facts
    Square miles of inland marine waters: 2,800

    Miles of shoreline: 2,500

    Percentage of areas with hard armoring: 30-50%

    Fish species: 200

    Kinds of marine mammals: 26

    Sea bird species: 100

    Marine invertebrate species: thousands

    Decline of marine bird species in the past 20 years: 57-96%

    Decline of rockfish egg production from 1970 to 2000: about 90%

    Resident orca whales in 1996: 97

    Resident orca whales in 2001: 78

    Resident orca whales in 2003: about 82

    Whale watching boats: about 80

    Percentage of state’s recreational salmon caught in the Sound region: more than 50%

    Acres of contaminated sediment cleaned up (1991-2001): over 560

    Acres of contaminated sediment that poison marine life: over 5,000

    Annual sales of Washington-grown oysters, mussels and clams: over $100 M

    Pounds of recreational clams and oysters harvested yearly: nearly 2 million

    Second largest U.S. ports for container traffic: Seattle and Tacoma

    Percentage of the stateís 350 marinas located in the Sound: 80%

    Percentage of the stateís 39,400 moorage slips located in the Sound: 85%

    Watercraft owned by state residents in 2002 (a majority in the Sound region): 476,000

    Vehicles carried on ferries, July 1998-June 1999: over 11 million

    People carried on ferries, July 1998-June 1999: 26 million

    Percentage of statewide revenues from tourism and travel generated in the Sound: nearly 80%

    Percentage of statewide tourism-related jobs located in the Sound: 75%

    Percentage of state’s 6 million people that live in the Sound: about 70%

    Over the coming years, the Action Team Partnership will concentrate on the highest priority conservation challenges, where integrated and collective action by the state agencies can make a significant difference in solving problems. These priorities include:

    • Cleaning up contaminated sites and sediments.

    • Reducing ongoing toxic contamination.

    • Managing stormwater runoff.

    • Preventing contamination from public and private sewage systems.

    • Conserving shorelines and other natural areas that provide key ecological functions.

    • Restoring degraded nearshore and freshwater habitats.

    • Developing conservation and recovery plans for orca, rockfish and other species at risk of becoming extinct.

    The Action Team’s staff is working with the people and groups throughout the region — those who meet, tackle and struggle with the difficult challenges to protect and improve water quality and plant and animal life in Puget Sound.

    The Action Team is committed to engaging diverse interests and fostering an interest-based approach to our conservation agenda. We all share an interest in a healthy, functioning natural system. Our experience has shown that pragmatic solutions, based on these shared interests, and crafted in collaborative processes, are the most enduring and effective.

    We plan to continue working closely with members of the business community, along with people and groups representing other interests, to do our part to secure the future of this beautiful and bountiful place, our home, Puget Sound.

    Brad Ack is chair of the Puget Sound Action Team, a state program focused on protecting and restoring Puget Sound. He has worked on environmental policy, natural resource conservation and sustainable development in Washington, D.C., Latin America and the western U.S. for 18 years.

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