WSG News Blog

2016 Washington Sea Grant-Funded Projects

December, 2016

Shoreline armoring removal: synthesis and assessment of restoration effectiveness in Puget Sound

Jeffrey Cordell, Jason Toft and Emily Howe, UW School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences; Megan Dethier, UW Friday Harbor Laboratories

Local officials, state resource managers and conscientious property owners have shown growing enthusiasm for removing bulkheads to restore natural shorelines and shore habitats. The Puget Sound Partnership’s 2014/15 Action Agenda identifies shoreline armoring as a significant threat and restoration as a main strategic goal. But monitoring of restoration sites has been scattershot and piecemeal. We still do not fully understand what ecological benefits bulkhead removal confers, or how such an understanding might inform future management. This study addresses that shortfall in two ways. First, it analyzes data gathered before and after de-armoring various sites, seeking common threads and inferring what results can be expected from new removals. Second, it assesses physical and biological conditions, from slope and sediments to the insects and “beach hoppers” that sustain young salmon and seabirds, at 10 clusters of three beaches around Puget Sound—one armored, one restored with armoring removed, and one unaltered reference beach.

Settlement or death? Factors affecting early growth and mortality of juvenile clams in diverse Washington waters

Megan Dethier, UW Friday Harbor Laboratories; Jennifer Ruesink, UW Department of Biology

Naturally seeded clams along Puget Sound often suffer extremely high mortality, which can affect the size of adult populations and harvests. Surprisingly little is known about causes of mortality and about early life stages of clams in general. This study will assess the key factors affecting the survival and growth of two common naturalized species: thick-shelled Manilla clams and thin-shelled Eastern softshell clams. Field experiments at eight highly diverse sites, from Willapa Bay to southern Puget Sound, will compare settlement and growth rates and first-year mortality as salinity, temperature and acidity vary. Lab experiments will help determine how rising temperatures will impact clams and which suspected predators—worms, small snails or young crabs—already affect them.

Assessing historical abundance trends for key marine species to support ecosystem-based management and restoration of Puget Sound.

Timothy Essington, UW School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences; Eric Ward and Correigh Green, NOAA Fisheries Northwest Region; Dayv Lowry, Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife

Unlike most major U.S. estuaries, Puget Sound has not received the long-term monitoring needed to determine how successful restoration and recovery efforts have been. To evaluate the status of its fish populations requires a comprehensive synthesis of historical data, but such an evaluation has only been conducted for one forage fish, Pacific herring. Much less is known about status and trends for such important species as Pacific hake, cod, walleye pollock and spiny dogfish. This long-term historical assessment of key Puget Sound species will provide the baselines needed to gauge their current status and recovery potential. It will integrate and analyze nine datasets from university, state, federal and salmon-hatchery surveys ranging from 1947 to the present. This will make it possible to consider as never before the relative roles of fishing, population growth and climate change in driving fish losses. Researchers will also gauge the impacts of predation by growing seal and sea lion populations.

Effects of ocean acidification on salmon and sablefish neurobehavioral function     

Evan Gallagher, UW Department of Occupational and Health Sciences; Andy Dittman, NOAA Fisheries Northwest Region; Chase Williams, University of Washington, Seattle; Meg Chadsey, Washington Sea Grant; Paul McElhany, NOAA Fisheries Northwest Region; Shallin Busch, NOAA Northwest Fisheries Science Center

Studies elsewhere show that anticipated marine carbon dioxide concentrations can alter vital smell-mediated behaviors in fish—even repelling fish from prey and drawing them to predators. But no such studies have examined fish in Washington, where dissolved CO2 already reaches elevated levels and waterborne chemicals cause neurobehavioral impairment in juvenile salmon. This project will expose coho salmon and sablefish (a.k.a. black cod, another important native species) to actual and anticipated CO2 levels and to odorant signals for food, predators and schooling. It will gauge their responses via behavioral analysis, electro-olfactograms and electro-encephalograms. Understanding the neurobehavioral impairments caused by such exposures and their underlying mechanisms is the first step toward mitigating them.

Using bioenergetics models to evaluate ecological and fishery impacts of climate change on Dungeness crab

Sean McDonald, UW Program on the Environment; David Armstrong, UW School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences

Climate change puts Dungeness crab, Washington’s most valuable catch, at risk. They favor cooler water, while less-desirable graceful crab predominate in warmer parts of Puget Sound. Warmer temperatures can make crab grow faster, outstripping available resources. Males may molt earlier and reach harvestable size before reproducing. But little is known about how changing temperature and salinity and other climate-related factors will specifically affect Dungeness crab. Regulators need this information to determine fishing seasons and set harvest size. This research will divide Dungeness and graceful crabs of roughly equal size into tanks kept at six different temperatures and feed them standardized portions. Similar feeding trials conducted at a common temperature with crabs of various sizes will determine size-specific consumption rates. Bioenergetic models based on the data thus developed will be used to consider how future conditions may affect crab ecology and to evaluate the robustness of current management strategies.

Progress toward a new sedimentary and ecological equilibrium: habitat modification from Elwha Dam removal

Andrea Ogston, UW School of Oceanography; Ian Miller, Washington Sea Grant; Nancy Elder, U.S. Geological Survey

The physical and ecological recovery of the Elwha River delta is underway, following the removal of two upstream dams. Physical changes such as sediment deposition during floods and redistribution by waves and storms continue as the system approaches a new equilibrium. Evaluating these processes and associated ecological changes is essential to understanding the longer-term impacts of dam removal and other coastal management practices that affect sediments, such as de-armoring and beach replenishment. This project seeks to address fundamental, widely applicable questions about habitat change in coastal ecosystems. To correlate substrate character to ecological changes, researchers will sample the seabed where state and federal researchers are surveying algae, invertebrates, fishes and other indicators. Water-column profiling will reveal the relationships between sediments delivered by the plume, resuspended bottom sediments, grain size, and light attenuation. Instruments will monitor currents, waves, suspended sediment concentrations and ambient light at key sites.

A novel proteomic-based approach to identify and mitigate factors responsible for shellfish mortality events

Steven Roberts and Brent Vadopalas, UW School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences; Benoit Eudeline, Taylor Resources

Shellfish aquaculture, especially oyster farming, is the economic mainstay of many Washington communities. But since the late 1990s shellfish hatcheries have suffered mysterious mass die-offs of oyster seed, typically about one month after fertilization. Unlike mortality at the earlier larval stage, these die-offs are not associated with water-chemistry problems such as high levels of dissolved carbon dioxide, nor with pathogens; treating for these does no good. The seed losses threaten supplies that growers large and small depend upon. This project will test a key hypothesis: that differences in the abundance of various proteins and peptides presage die-offs. It will sample seed from oyster cohorts, some subject to die-offs and some not, at hatcheries in Quilcene, Washington, and Kona, Hawaii. It will then use shotgun proteomics to identify the protein biomarkers associated with die-offs and select peptides for targeted assays. This will provide a powerful tool for uncovering the causes of future die-offs.

 Columbia River Estuary Science Education and Outreach (CRESCENDO): a landscape-scale university–high school partnership integrating scientific and educational research

Gretchen Rollwagen-Bollens, Stephen Bollens and Tamara Holmlund Nelson, Washington State University

The Columbia River’s 146-mile estuary is one of the largest in the nation; only the Missouri–Mississippi system carries more water. Rapid population growth has changed land use in the Columbia estuary’s watershed in ways that may affect coastal ecosystems. It is critical to understand whether and how nutrients and organisms from upstream contribute to habitat degradation, eutrophication and the spread of invasive species. It is also important to determine how participating in authentic scientific research affects students’ ecological knowledge and outlook. CRESCENDO represents a rare marriage of scientific and educational research. For two years, students at five high schools along the estuary will gather water samples and plankton tows and collect hydrographic data. They’ll help measure nutrient, phytoplankton and zooplankton levels (including harmful algae and invasive copepods) and determine whether these increase steadily as the river descends or reflect local conditions such as land use, wastewater discharge and coastal upwelling. Researchers will then gauge what the students have learned about science and stewardship.

Maritime Discovery Schools Initiative

Sarah Rubenstein and Kelley Watson, Port Townsend School District; Jack Beattie and Nancy Israel, Northwest Maritime Center; Betsy Davis, Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding; Kathryn Karschney, Karschney Consulting; Janine Boire, Port Townsend Marine Science Center; Nathanael O’Hara, Port Townsend School Board; Shelly Randall, Story Services; Reed Aubin, North Olympic Salmon Coalition

Many high school students, parents and educators are unaware of the job opportunities that shipping, fishing, boatbuilding and other maritime industries provide in this state. Schools often do not teach the skills these industries need, and more workers are now retiring or leaving these industries than entering them. Educators and industries must come together to head off a looming workforce crisis in Washington’s $12 billion maritime sector. This initiative will transform Port Townsend’s school system into a model “maritime district.” Teachers and industry professionals will find ways to apply skills such as marine mapping and historical research to core subjects like mathematics and social studies. All 85 Port Townsend teachers, plus 30 more from the region, will integrate these applications into the K-12 curriculum. Students will learn seamanship, problem solving and teamwork­—vital skills at sea—aboard replicas of the longboats Captain Vancouver used to explore Puget Sound.

Higher trophic-level function of seagrass-vegetated and unvegetated tideflats in Washington

Jennifer Ruesink, UW Department of Biology; Tom Good, NOAA Fisheries; Cinde Donoghue, Washington Department of Natural Resources

Seagrasses, which are protected locally and declining worldwide, have been proven elsewhere to provide valuable habitat for fishes and birds. But local studies documenting their value are surprisingly lacking; regional research has instead focused on salmon, which don’t linger in eelgrass meadows. This project will provide the overdue data that managers need to develop cost–benefit analyses and ecosystem-based protection and restoration strategies and to answer questions such as, “Why are some large fish less common in eelgrass than in open habitats?” It will document which fishes and birds use four habitat types—large meadows, smaller eelgrass patches, eelgrass-free patches, and the edge zones between—in five representative estuaries from northern Puget Sound to Willapa Bay. Purse seines and remote sensors will identify the fish present. Remote sensing and trained citizen-scientist birdwatchers will capture bird movements. Tethered prey will reveal predation pressure. Statistically analyzed and integrated, these observations should finally begin to fill the data gap.


Coastal hazard planning: the role of governance in community resilience

Clare Ryan, UW School of Environmental and Forest Sciences

Washington’s coastal communities face a wide range of natural hazards, from periodic storms, landslides and erosion to potentially catastrophic tsunamis and the long-term challenges posed by climate change. Many communities have begun to develop plans for mitigating hazards, reducing vulnerability, building resilience and protecting critical facilities. But implementing them requires coordinating budgets, capital expenditures and other activities across various organizations. Little previous research has examined this collaborative hazard-mitigation process on Washington’s coast. This project will seek to determine what factors facilitate or hinder the implementation of hazard-mitigation plans in Washington. It will combine quantitative surveying and qualitative case studies to develop a multidimensional picture of local hazard planning, the factors that support and constrain it and the roles that incentives and perceived risk play in building resilience. Disseminated through various forums and electronic and official media, these findings will deepen coastal communities’ hazard awareness and resilience.


A blue carbon assessment for the Stillaguamish River estuary: quantifying the benefits of tidal marsh restoration

John Rybczyk and Katrina Poppe, Western Washington University

Carbon sequestration has emerged as an important consideration in coastal resource management and a prospective source of restoration funding through carbon finance mechanisms. But Northwest land managers and policymakers lack site-specific and regionwide information they need to value sequestration. This project will assess the carbon stocks contained in regional tidal marshes and the rate at which they accumulate by estimating the amount of carbon sequestered following the restoration of a degraded marsh in Port Susan Bay. Researchers will measure carbon in aboveground plant biomass and in sediment cores from five zones ranging from healthy, undisturbed marsh to a regenerating, rapidly accreting restoration zone. They will continue monitoring changes in surface elevation throughout the estuary to validate long-term accretion rates obtained from soil-core chemical analyses. The results will enable managers and planners to incorporate blue-carbon accounting in their climate adaptation and coastal restoration strategies.


Experience Maritime Project (EMP): a hands-on introduction to careers and pathways in the maritime industry

Sarah Scherer, Craig Bailey, Sam Simone, Thomas Ruszala, Coral Ledford and Joe Schmitt, Seattle Central Community College; Frederic Stahr, Ocean Inquiry Project

Washington’s $12 billion maritime sector faces a workforce crisis with little public awareness of the 118,000 well-paid jobs that shipping, fishing, boatbuilding and other maritime industries provide in this state. Limited school curricula are available to impart the skills these industries need. And according to Seattle’s Economic Development Council, limited industry leadership and fragmented maritime training organizations further hinder workforce development. To reverse these trends, the Experience Maritime Project at Seattle Central College’s Washington Maritime Academy is developing a STEM-focused curriculum introducing high school students to the challenges and rewards that maritime careers offer. It will combine this instruction with hands-on experience, including a full day aboard the Academy’s vessel Maritime Instructor, to initiate 240 high school students, plus teachers and guidance counselors from Seattle and an outlying school district, in the experience of working at sea.