Puget Sound Marine Waters 2021 Report

puget sound marine waters 2021 overview

NOTE: SoundToxins contribution on pg 51.

———- Forwarded message ———
From: marinewaters workgroup <marinewaters@psemp.org>
Date: Wed, Mar 1, 2023 at 10:17 AM
Subject: Announcing the release of the Puget Sound Marine Waters 2021 Overview Report

Today, the Puget Sound Marine Waters Work Group of the Puget Sound Ecosystem Monitoring Program released the eleventh annual report on marine water conditions in Puget Sound. (84 pages)

The report combines a wealth of data from comprehensive monitoring programs and provides a concise summary of what was happening in Puget Sound’s marine waters during 2021. It covers areas such as climate and weather, river inputs, seawater temperature, salinity, nutrients, dissolved oxygen, ocean acidification, phytoplankton, biotoxins, bacteria and pathogens, shellfish resources, and more.

The report represents a collaborative effort among various agencies and groups and provides a collective view of marine water conditions in Puget Sound for 2021, enhancing our understanding of this complex ecosystem that is an economic lifeline for Western Washington.

Thank you all for your contributions to the report and your continued support. The report (and the workshop that informs the report) provides a valuable, collaborative, inclusive, and much-needed forum for communicating the results of monitoring and assessment programs operating in Puget Sound. Your contributions made this report possible — CONGRATULATIONS! Your work inspires us. We are proud to be part of your community.

Jude Apple, Rachel Wold, Kimberle Stark, Julia Bos, Paul Williams, Nathalie Hamel, Sylvia Yang, Jamey Selleck, Stephanie Moore, Jeff Rice, Sylvia Kantor, Christopher Krembs, Gabriela Hannach and Jan Newton (Editors).

Key Messages 

  • The Puget Sound region is home to more than 4.2 million people. These people visit the Sound’s beaches, eat the local seafood, and enjoy the diversity of life  in and around these waters. The Sound is a social, cultural, and economic lifeline for Western Washington, where the health of human communities and the health of the Sound are inextricably linked.  
  • Each year, the Marine Waters Work Group releases the annual Puget Sound Marine Waters Overview report, which combines a wealth of data from numerous comprehensive environmental monitoring programs. Since 2011, we have been reporting on the physical, chemical and biological conditions of Puget Sound, including many conditions related to human health and pollution. The 2021 report represents the collective effort of 76 contributors from federal, tribal, state, and local agencies, academia, nonprofits, and private and volunteer groups. 
  • This edition of the 2021 Puget Sound Marine Waters Overview once again directly informs the Puget Sound Vital Signs. The majority of technical summaries (28 out of 38) collectively inform many of the Vital Signs nested under the Puget Sound Partnership’s ecosystem recovery goals (Healthy Water Quality, Abundant Water, Thriving Species and Food Webs, and Healthy Human Populations). In this manner, the annual report makes a valuable contribution to our shared understanding of ecosystem conditions as they relate to Puget Sound recovery efforts.
  • The Puget Sound Marine Waters Work Group of the Puget Sound Ecosystem Monitoring Program will continue to provide valuable insight on the status of Puget Sound. We provide these facts to help people understand and make informed policy decisions to protect and restore Puget Sound.

Major Findings

Despite cool-phase climate forcing, conditions in Puget Sound were generally warmer and sunnier in 2021, with an extreme summertime heatwave and other abnormalities. 

  • Coastal deep waters, source waters to the Salish Sea, were cooler than typical as recorded since 2014, even cooler than in 2020, and may have been influenced by La Niña and cool Pacific Decadal Oscillation conditions. Surface waters were also cooler than normal.
  • Despite cooler than normal coastal waters, seawater temperatures in Puget Sound were generally warmer than average, likely influenced by warmer than normal air temperatures. In contrast, runoff and precipitation were above normal, yet salinity in Puget Sound was generally higher than average. Upwelling was stronger than normal during winter and summer, which may have had the predominant influence on the saltier than normal waters. These observations suggest that controls for Puget Sound temperature and salinity are complex, involving both local weather and coastal influences.
  • A major atmospheric heat wave in June coincided with seasonal low tides, resulting in high mortality of intertidal communities throughout the region.
  • While precipitation and runoff annual averages were near normal, there was extreme seasonal variation with the second driest spring and the wettest fall on record. Extreme heat in June caused rapid snowmelt, leading to below average streamflow in later summer.
  • Seasonal phytoplankton blooms were evident in the Puget Sound, but the bloom season ended early in 2021 compared to previous years in the Central Basin and Padilla Bay.

Harmful algae blooms, biotoxins, bacteria, and pathogens evident 

  • Harmful algal blooms were more frequent than in 2020. 2021 had the first instance of dual toxicity (diarrhetic and amnesic) recorded in Washington.
  • Biotoxins caused closures at 20 commercial growing areas and 30 recreational harvest areas. 
  • Only 77% of the 60 Puget Sound beaches monitored met EPA’s standards for safe swimming, representing an 18% decrease from 2020.

Lower than average dissolved oxygen, but no fish kills reported.

  • Dissolved oxygen (DO) showed strong regional variability. Lower than average DO was generally found during fall at Central Basin and South Sound sites; yet for the majority of the year in Hood Cana, with hypoxia in January and May through November. 

Ocean acidification (OA) in Puget Sound waters continues as our understanding of patterns grows. 

  • Atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) values over the coast continued an upward trend of 2 ppm per year since 2010. Outer coast seawater CO2 was relatively high compared to previous years.  Atmospheric  CO2 at Hood Canal also increased, but was 11-12 ppm higher than the coastal values.  These were high relative to globally averaged marine surface air by about 3 ppm at the coast and by 6.5 ppm at Hood Canal. In contrast, seawater  CO2 was relatively low at Dabob Bay. 

Biological responses to changing conditions vary – some good news, mostly bad. 

  • Zooplankton abundance and biomass were average to moderately low, compared to past years with a few elevated values. Continuing a trend observed in 2019 and 2020, spring biomass was dominated by large oceanic copepods in Bellingham Bay and the San Juan Islands.
  • Larval crab abundance was very high in Admiralty Inlet, with the 4th highest biomass on record.
  • Despite historically high spawning biomass estimates from 2020, Pacific herring biomass in 2021 declined nearly 45%. Stocks remain depressed in South Sound and critically low at Cherry Point. 
  • Consumption of zooplankton by juvenile Puget Sound-origin Chinook migrating through the San Juan Islands declined by 20% since the 2014 marine heatwave (the blob). 
  • Scoter species abundance was 23% below the average since 1996, though somewhat stable since 2011.
  • Harbor porpoise densities remained stable since 2015, a plateau from gradual increases during 1996-2015.

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