Health of the Salish Sea depends on everybody

By Kelsey Par - Staff Reporter

Humans are having a significant impact on the Salish Sea, which includes the Puget Sound, the coordinator of a beach watchers program said at  last week's Science on the Sound lecture.

Chrys Bertolotto, WSU Natural Resource programs manager, hosted a discussion at Highline's MaST Center at Redondo on the diverse marine life that inhabits the Salish Sea, changes to the Salish Sea over time, and what can be done to keep those waters clean.

The Salish Sea stretches from northern Vancouver Island, south to Olympia and runs between the Cascade and Olympic Mountain ranges. 

The Salish Sea is defined as an estuary, a partially enclosed body of water that has one or more streams or rivers flowing into it and has an open connection to the sea. 

It is home to 26 kinds of marine animals; more than 200 species of fish; includes the streams flowing into the marine waters; more than 200 species of birds; and thousands of species of invertebrates. 

"Ninety percent of biomass in the Salish Sea is plankton. A glass of water from the Puget Sound can contain millions of plankton," Bertolotto said. 

During the last several hundred years, people have had a major impact on the Salish Sea, she said. 

People living near or along the Salish Sea have cleared and burned areas, increasing the levels of runoff, which has had a direct impact on many of the species living in the sea.

"Farming has also had a major impact on the sea," she said. 

Many historic estuaries were lost in efforts to propagate crops. Estuaries were drained for soil and later used for farming. 

"This is one of the many conflicts between people and nature," Bertolotto said. 

These human impacts have caused disturbances within the Salish Sea ecosystem. 

Beyond human influences, there are naturally occurring phenomena that also have an effect on the Salish Sea.

Seas, lakes and oceans accumulate sediment over time. Sediment is a material that is naturally occurring and is broken down by erosion and weathering. 

Sediments contribute to the ecosystem in a positive way. However, too much sediment can have a negative effect. 

When road waste, human and animal waste, and medication become out of balance in sediments, it can severely impact an ecosystem. 

As a community or individually, there are many steps we can take to repair and keep the Salish Sea clean and healthy, Bertolotto said. 

Some of these steps include properly managing waste; planting and retaining trees; buying local products and sustainably harvested foods; properly disposing of chemicals, medication and other hazardous waste; composting food rather than putting it in the disposal; and fixing car leaks.

There are local resources that can help people to easily accomplish these steps, Bertolotto said. 

Select Bartell Drugs and Rite Aid pharmacies will take left-over medications and properly dispose of them. Police stations take left-over or unwanted narcotics.

Whether you ingest medications or flush them down the toilet, they eventually reach the Salish Sea and can cause an imbalance in the ecosystem. 

It's important to properly dispose of medications because they can get into our waters and can potentially harm the inhabitants, Bertolotto said.

There are several efforts underway to help protect the Salish Sea. For more information on medication and narcotic disposal, visit 

Don't Drip and Drive, a Washington state regional campaign, offers free leak inspections for vehicles and workshops that can help you learn about your car and how to fix leaks. 

For more information, visit 

 Household Hazardous Waste Facilities will take hazardous waste and dispose of it for free. The nearest facility is located in Seattle at 12550 Stone Ave N. 

Science on the Sound events are once a month and begin at noon. The next event is on March 4, and is about local and international examples of our oceans changing. 

For more information, visit

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