Washington Sea Grant-funded researchers inventoried foraminifera in impacted bays and waterways to develop a low-cost tool for monitoring Puget Sound’s health. They collected 715 sediment grab samples, analyzed their foraminifera content, and correlated findings to water quality and pollution data. Their initial focus was Bellingham Bay, site of both past industrial pollution and current hypoxia problems, followed by four other Puget Sound locations that can be characterized by their histories of pollution, effluent, and urban and agricultural issues. The team shared its work with the public through an online atlas, a museum demonstration, and partnerships with two community colleges on student-designed research projects.
Foraminifera, or “forams,” are microscopic shelled organisms that inhabit marine sediment. Their sensitivity to environmental stress makes them useful indicators of ecosystem health. Puget Sound is the only major American industrialized estuary whose forams have not been comprehensively studied.
Bellingham Bay exhibited a dramatic decline in foraminifera from 1997 to 2010, with one section losing the organisms entirely. Contrary to initial expectations, heavy metals did not appear to be responsible; only one metal, zinc, showed even a weak correlation. Instead, a shift from calcareous to agglutinated foram species pointed to hypoxia and higher acidity as factors. Two Bremerton inlets and Seattle’s Elliott Bay and Duwamish waterway showed similar declines in foraminifera abundance and diversity.
Jamieson D, Nesbitt E, Martin R (2012) Foraminiferal diversity in Port Madison, Washington. University of Washington Undergraduate Research Symposium, May 18.
Martin RA, Nesbitt EA, Martin DE (2013) Distribution of foraminifera in Puget Sound, Western Washington, U.S.A. The Journal of Foraminiferal Research, 43:291-304.
Martin RA, Nesbitt EA, Martin DE (2012) Distribution of benthic foraminifera in the southern Salish Sea, Washington state and British Columbia. Geological Society of America Abstracts with Programs, 44(7):582.
Nesbitt E, Martin R (2013) Puget Sound Foram Research Project. The Burke Museum. http://www.burkemuseum.org/paleontology/foram_project. Created 3 September 2013.
Nesbitt EA, Tomlinson RJ, Martin RA (2012) Environmental factors influencing foraminiferal distribution in Bellingham Bay, Northern Puget Sound. Geological Society of America Abstracts with Programs, 44(7):523.
Tomlinson R, Nesbitt E, Martin R (2012) Documenting environment shifts in Puget Sound using benthic foraminifera. University of Washington Undergraduate Research Symposium, May 18.