Managing the Salish Sea
What is it?
The Salish Sea is an ecosystem created by the interaction of fresh water from rivers and salt water from the Pacific Ocean. Although technically the Salish Sea is just the combined waters of the Strait of Georgia, Puget Sound and the Strait of Juan de Fuca, many people consider the watersheds of the rivers to be part of the ecosystem.
Why a name?
The natural resources of the Salish Sea are not healthy. Managers of these resources have for some time recognized the value of looking at the whole ecosystem as a basis for protecting and restoring its resources. Like most things of interest to humans we start our understanding with a name. The ecosystem needed a name.
About 7 million people who live on or close to the Salish Sea. Those who have embraced the name include the Coast Salish indigenous people, Educators, Artists, Wine Makers, Boat Owners, Land Developers, and those who work with the management of the Salish Sea natural resources. It is this group that is the focus of the City Club Presentation.
Does the Salish Sea need help?
Yes! I think the Salish Sea is not healthy. As a kid, I remember catching unlimited numbers of 9 inch herring in Pender Harbor. As a teenager I worked in a fishing camp on the east coast of Vancouver Island where, in the summer, catching a coho was almost a guarantee. Later I fished with my Dad commercially in the Straight of Georgia, not lots of fish but a reasonable summer job. All that is gone. The reasons for this decline are complex. What we do know is that the deterioration continues. Twenty years ago, there were thousands of Western Grebes wintering in Bellingham Bay. This year there are just a few left and they are on their way to the endangered species list.
The literature concerning the environmental Health of the Salish Sea is sobering. In a survey done in 2006 David Fraser of Environment Canada and others evaluated the environmental conditions of the Salish Sea. At least 60 species of plants and animals are listed as threatened, endangered, or of concern. Indices of habitat degradation and loss in the basin are telling: in the Fraser River delta, less than 1% of the original wet meadow areas remain from historic times. Most urban bays in the Puget Sound have lost over 98 percent of their original marsh habitat, and since 1850 more than 80 percent of tidal flats and intertidal areas in the Sound’s major river deltas have been destroyed.
Water quality is also challenged. Increasing sewage discharges and contamination, high levels of persistent bioaccumulative toxins, localized implications of climate change, increasing concern over air pollution in the basin’s air-shed, oil spills and pollution from stormwater runoff, and other types of ’non-point’ source pollution associated with various types of land-use practices are all issues of concern. For more information see the article by Fraser et al. See in particular Section 3.