Our World in Images

Eelgrass, Part 2 – Status, Threats, and Restoration.

 

Map of the Salish Sea & Surrounding Basin, Western Washington University, 2009.
The southern part of the Salish Sea is Puget Sound while the northern part is The Strait of Georgia in British Columbia. There are no clear dividing lines except for political borders.

In Part 1, I made the case that eelgrass (Zostera marina) and other sea grasses are critical to local estuaries and near shore areas as well as to the health of the planet in terms of all of the myriad of ecological functions they serve. I also noted that they are among the world’s most threatened ecosystems. In part 2, I review the current status of eelgrasses, the numerous threats to their viability, and many conservation and restoration efforts currently underway both locally and worldwide. Most emphasis is on eelgrasses in Puget Sound and the Pacific northwest but most of what applies here is applicable elsewhere.

Seagrass coverage is being lost globally at a rate of 1.5 percent per year. That amounts to about 2 football fields of seagrass lost each hour. It’s estimated that 29 percent of seagrass meadows have died off in the past century.

 

Eelgrass Meadows, the Tidelands’ Global Nursery

 

Eelgrass Meadow along eastern shore of Bellingham Bay

This diary is about the wonders of eelgrass, one of the major components of near shore habitat that nurtures a myriad of sea critters. Additionally it provides many other functions in support of our sea life, our recreation, and it even contributes to reducing the CO2 problems in our oceans and atmosphere. There are other sea grasses and kelps that contribute as well, but I think that eelgrass is a star.

Eelgrass is a common name for a species of seagrasses.  I will focus on the salt water variety of Zostera marina and describe its vital ecological functions, its current status, and efforts to sustain it. This form of eelgrass is the most widely distributed aquatic flowering perennial in the northern hemisphere, growing largely in the cooler waters of the northern Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

World distribution of Zostera marina

I will in part highlight eelgrass in Puget Sound, the southernmost part of the Salish Sea which is the second largest estuary in the US (by volume). However, most of what applies to our local intertidal waters also applies to eelgrass beds and other seagrasses elsewhere in the Salish Sea, along the shores of Oregon and California, the western Atlantic Seaboard and near shore habitats globally.200px-World_map_ocean_genus-Zostera.jpg

This is the first of a two part post. In this first part, I describe the many gifts it gives us. In Part 2, I describe its current status, take a look at its threats and the efforts underway to preserve this valuable resource.

   

World distribution of Zostera marina

The Torturous Tenacity of Trees: Nurse logs, stumps, and rocks

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Gnarled roots entwined from Cedar and fir trees seeking sustenance where they can

 

This is a photo diary on some unconventional looking trees I’ve observed in my various local wanderings. Some appear to be growing and prospering under rather difficult and stark conditions. Their shapes are often graceful and even artsy. Others are contorted, gross, gangly, and even eerie, but all are interesting.

Restoration of Wild Habitat at Maple Creek Reach trying to Rescue Salmon and Orcas

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Nooksack River valley with the river running right to left in the mid-ground. Taken from Slide Mountain above Maple Creek Reach looking north toward British Columbia.

 

Fall 2016

Maple Creek Reach

Nooksack Valley, WA

This fall I participated in a celebration day to welcome back the salmon of Maple Creek Reach that brought over 100 people to its meadows and river beds. This event was sponsored by the Whatcom Land Trust to honor its supporters for the huge efforts given to preserving this scenic, once wild and pristine property and streams. Located in Whatcom County in the far northwest of the Lower 48, this event was co-sponsored by Nooksack Salmon Enhancement Association, the Lummi and Nooksack Tribes, and supported by numerous local businesses. The Trust restores and cares for over 20,000 acres of County land.

The Royal British Columbia Museum’s Exhibit on Mammoths and Ancient Proboscideans

Mammoth reconstruction in diorama, Royal British Columbia Museum, Victoria, Canada

I was fortunate to have been in Victoria, BC recently while their Royal Museum had a magnificent traveling exhibit from Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History: “Giants of the Ice Age.”  With a short ferry ride, my two brothers and I hit the jack pot on our little tour of Victoria. We all had strong interests in mammoths and one brother is currently conducting an education based Columbian Mammoth dig in eastern Washington. To him this was like striking gold. In addition to the exhibits, we were treated to a 3 – D, IMAX documentary on Mammoths, complete with ice age snowflakes that melted in my hand!

Fossils, Coal, Building Stone, & Recreation -The Chuckanut Formation Part II

A palm fan fossil set in sandstone

Part I of this Chuckanut Formation story was mostly about the development of the formation and some of the interesting seaside sandstone features such as the tafoni. Part II will go into other features that the formation provides us including eocene fossils, building materials, coal, and recreation.

What a 54,000,000 year old rock formation has to offer us today

 

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Sandstone Formation in Chuckanut Bay at the foot of Chuckanut Mountain

In stark contrast to the mountainous Pacific Northwest of today, during the Eocene epoch (~ 55 ~ 34 Million Years Ago (MYA) it was quite flat.  However just as today, the region then was lush with vegetation and interlaced with braided streams meandering from what is now Eastern Washington on to the Pacific Ocean. This was a tropical swamp with exotic plants and animals (although some would be familiar yet today).  As the streams approached the ocean, they slowed and their sediments of sand, clay, and silt carried from huge rock formations to the east, settled out. Over millions of years these sediments accumulated, were compressed by gravity and tectonic forces, and solidified into immense geologic rock formations. This bucket is about one of these structures – the Chuckanut Formation made up primarily of sandstone, siltstone,  conglomerate, and shale, with pockets of coal from the ancient compressed vegetation.

I have referred to this formation in three previous diaries that were focused on various aspects of it including its Eocene fauna and flora, and more recently, graffiti  sprayed on the rock formations along its beaches. Here I want to focus on the formation itself and all it has afforded our region.

This formation is not only in my backyard, it is under it as well. These sedimentary deposits extend to depths of nearly 20,000 feet in places. My focus here is on the Chuckanut Mountains which comprise 10 separate but related mountains (and hills) in and around Whatcom and Skagit Counties in northwest WA. In particular, I will focus mainly on Chuckanut Mountain itself (for which the formation was named) and a bit on Sehome Hill which is most directly in my back yard. In addition segments of this and related sedimentary formations are spread across the northwest, including the San Juan Islands and up into British Columbia.

This diary threatened to get too long so I decided to do it in two parts. This is Part I.

Sea Star Recovery in Bellingham Bay – A good news – bad news cruise.

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Early June,

Bellingham Bay,

Salish Sea

I have been monitoring the local sea star (Pisaster ochraceus) population following the devastating die-off from Wasting Syndrome over that past three years. As previously discussed, some pathogen and/or processes that are as yet not fully understood, have quite literally melted into goo upwards of 90% of west coast sea stars ranging from Baja California to Alaska.

Gray Whales of the Salish Sea & the Pacific Northwest

WhaleRonK

Gray Whale tail preparing to dive into the ghost shrimp infested mud at the bottom of the sound.

It is Cinco de Mayo and these whales are fresh out of Baja Mexico. So, how about some whales for a bit a diversion after a full day of “Trump this” and “Trump that …?”

Whales are so much smarter and better looking.

Lake Chelan, Beauty and Fire

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Lake Chelan from Field’s Point Landing

Lake Chelan,

Washington State

October, 2015

Having traversed the North Cascades Highway (previous diary), I continued east, through the Methow Valley to Pateros on the Columbia River. From there I headed South on U.S. 97 to Chelan. This area, nestled in the foothills of the Cascades is arguably the center of the largest and best apple growing region in the country and maybe the world. They grow about one billion pounds of apples each year and export them to 60 countries. Although the region’s apples are impressive, I believe that Chelan’s major attraction is their 50.5 mile long, fjord-like lake. Lake Chelan is the third deepest lake in the U.S. at 1,486 feet, behind Lake Tahoe, and Crater Lake. More remarkable is its setting within the Cascade Mountains. At the southwestern edge of the lake, Pyramid Peak rises to 8,245 feet above sea level and below, just off shore the lake bottom falls to 386 feet below sea level. This peak to bottom differential of 8,631 feet renders it the deepest gorge in the U.S., surpassing Hell’s Canyon which is the deepest river gorge. Further, the bedrock floor, covered with silt and sediment is several hundred feet deeper yet. The lake’s surface at “full pool” lays 1,100 feet above sea Level and the deepest point, as noted above is the 386 feet below sea level. Five percent of the lake’s water is below sea level which lays 76 miles, due west through the mountains to Puget Sound/Salish Sea. The lake’s clear blue water is fed by 27 glaciers and 59 creeks.