Designing a healthy ecosystem is not easy. If it were, it would have already been done. Since 1999 the SeaDoc Society has been conducting and sponsoring scientific research in the Salish Sea and along the California and Baja California coasts.
We use science to find out what’s happening to wildlife and ecosystems, and to design effective ways to keep coastal ecosystems healthy for wildlife and people.
In addition to funding and conducting science, a major part of our mission is to bring people together, too.
Our approach over the past decade has been comprised of three parts.
- We generate new scientific information
- We bring people together to focus on solving complex issues, even across political or ideological boundaries.
- We translate scientific funding to engage stakeholders, knowing that lasting change doesn’t come just from science, but from communicating that knowledge to the right people.
Change doesn’t happen in a vacuum. In the Salish Sea there are numerous Federal, State, Provincial, Tribal and private organizations and individuals working to improve the health of the Salish Sea ecosystem. All of the accomplishments we list below, major and minor, happened not just because of the SeaDoc Society, but also because of the efforts of these groups and individuals.
Most importantly, SeaDoc is mostly privately funded through the donations of individuals and foundations. None of the work we do would be possible without this kind of support. It’s the people who make these donations who should really take credit for causing a sea of change.
The SeaDoc Society has funded and conducted nearly $3 million in needed research. While that in itself is impressive, the real benefit of the work comes when the research improves management, policy or thinking about our marine ecosystem.
Here are a few examples of SeaDoc successes:
Derelict Fishing Gear
SeaDoc work helped document the ongoing toll taken on fish and marine mammals by derelict fishing gear. In both California and the Salish Sea, our work in this area has brought government focus to the task of removing lost fishing nets and traps. In February of 2007, the California Ocean Protection Council identified derelict gear as a priority issue in its Resolution on Marine Debris. In October 2009 the SeaDoc Society was appointed to the West Coast Governor’s Agreement Marine Debris Action Coordination Team.
Diseases in Southern Resident Killer Whales
With only 87 or so southern resident killer whales, SeaDoc research made it clear that managers need to understand that disease has the potential to wipe out the southern resident killer whales population. As a result, disease was added as a risk factor in the federal recovery plan and scientists are now conducting ongoing killer whale health monitoring.
SeaDoc has worked to get decision makers to think of the Salish Sea as an ecosystem rather than one body of water defined by political boundaries. In 2008, SeaDoc completed and published its Top Ten Principles for Designing Healthy Coastal Ecosystems, both as a peer-reviewed paper in the journal, EcoHealth, and as a list of principles written for the lay public. The principles have been shared with thousands of people, bringing needed attention to the importance of thinking beyond the human conceived boundaries that wildlife do not recognize. One of our specific accomplishments in this area was successfully urging the Puget Sound Partnership to include a transboundary approach in its work to restore Puget Sound.
Management of Scoter Population
SeaDoc investigated whether hunting was impacting the ability of Surf and White-winged Scoters to recover. These populations have declined by more than 50% over the last 25 years. SeaDoc-supported analysis showed that in at least 4 counties, hunting was happening at too high a level. As a result, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife has adjusted scoter hunting limits.
Marine Protected Areas
SeaDoc found that voluntary MPAs are not effective. As a result, San Juan County is working with anglers, citizens, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Tribes to create a new plan for protecting bottomfish. SeaDoc research, conducted with the Vancouver Aquarium, showed that poaching is occurring in Marine Protected Areas in Howe Sound. The results have been increased enforcement and increased public outreach by the Vancouver Aquarium.
Northern Abalone have been disappearing for several decades and their numbers are low enough that the population is not naturally reproducing. SeaDoc spearheaded workshops to discuss this issue and funded critical science. The result was the development of the first technique to successfully raise and outplant genetically-correct abalone that survive in the wild.
Oil Spill Response and Killer Whales
SeaDoc convened a series of stakeholder meetings to plan for how to keep killer whales out of future oil spills in the Salish Sea. As a result, the contingency plan has been incorporated into the Northwest Area Contingency Plan for Oil Spills. Read the meeting notes or find the actual contingency plan on the NOAA website.
Status of Western and Clark’s Grebes
Western and Clark’s Grebe populations are declining in the Salish Sea. SeaDoc conducted a species status review and submitted a report to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife in June 2009 that said that the grebes should be listed as threatened. The process of listing them is now underway.
Understanding Shifting Baselines
SeaDoc funded important research to understand whether fish and wildlife stocks in the Salish Sea are different now than they were decades ago. Our analysis of long-term data is being used for proposed listing of three rockfish species under the Endangered Species Act. This work also fueled the creation of an endowed Fellowship at the University of Washington School of Aquatic Fisheries and Sciences.