Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Waiting for the Tide to Turn …

Pete Haase

Guest blog by Pete Haase

It has been a pretty rough spring and summer for most of us volunteer folks who spend some of our time working to help protect and restore the Salish Sea - one bad news report after another.

Whales failing.  Salmon runs dwindling. Temperatures rising faster than previous forecasts.  Ice melting and seas rising.  Violent weather and fires.  Forest fire smoke.  Acid oceans.  Red tides.  Plastic-plastic-plastic.

Despite the periodic feel-good stories about this estuary expanded or that culvert fixed or more of those native oysters found, the overall picture seems worse and worse.

And the politics – aagghhhh.  Nationally it is a horror story and locally a circus.  Where I live, the update to the Shoreline Management Plan is in its 8th year of work and the “Clean Up the Samish” plan is in its 9th. 

It takes a 45-person task force many months to study and deliberate about whales not having enough food.  And it seems like almost every one of the 45 is being paid by their organization to be sure that whatever is proposed will not cause them pain and/or will promote their agenda.  What is so hard about “Get them Food” … or quit worrying.

I studied the upcoming Puget Sound Partnership Action Agenda and found hundreds of proposed “Near Term” Action Items that would cost hundreds of millions of dollars, with plenty of other actions already ongoing and eating money.  Not a single one was for more outreach to the public about the BIG problems and needed help and actions.

I processed the text of the Action Agenda with an “Ease of Reading” tool and it requires in excess of 4 years of college education – probably specializing in Marine issues.

Did I mention that one boot is leaking?

Oh dear, oh dear.  Put my head under the pillow ….

But we can’t quit. 

Some of us are needing to make up for bad deeds of our distant past and others are needing to better care for the future of their children and grandchildren. 

We all understand “Think Global – Act Local.”  Many feel helpless about the big ocean garbage patch but are inspired to regularly patrol a local beach and pick up trash.  Tremendous amounts of all sorts of local environmental data are being accumulated through numerous “citizen science” activities, like trapping for invasive green crabs or counting herons foraging, with the hope that it will lead to enlightened change.

Our small actions continue.

I’m wondering how others feel and what they are doing to help turn the tide ….

Pete Haase is a Skagit County volunteer and citizen scientist who coordinates the Skagit Citizen Forage Fish Survey Team and serves on the Skagit County Marine Resources Committee and the Fidalgo Bay Aquatic Reserve Stewardship Committee.


  1. Thnx! I feel exactly as u do about each item. As a Mgmt Consultant the lack of coordination drives me crazy. I continue to feel that lack of brand awareness as to what the Salish Sea is, it's current state and how individuals can help is lacking in the general pop. I have pulled together colleagues who will do market research on this in order to inform us all on effective public outreach but so far I haven't found a group to partner with on this - its not about money. But, we will all continue our work because we love the Salish Sea. I am kayaking in it today! Thnx 4 all u do.

  2. In the 2009 Frontline documentary "Poisoned Waters", whale specialist Ken Balcom said our local orca were doomed by the PCBs flowing from the Duwamish. At the time, Boeing and state lawyers were wrangling over who would pay for cleaning up the Duwamish PCBs that were killing Indian subsistence fishers as well as orca. Over the past nine years the lawyers resolved their case and the Duwamish PCB clean up has started. However, PCBs are hurting toothed whales globally, because toothed whales lost genes that protect them from PCBs and related chemicals. Here's the abstract of an article in Sep 21, 2018 Science magazine: "Killer whales (Orcinus orca) are among the most highly polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB)–contaminated mammals in the world, raising concern about the health consequences of current PCB exposures. Using an individual-based model framework and globally available data on PCB concentrations in killer whale tissues, we show that PCB-mediated effects on reproduction and immune function threaten the long-term viability of >50% of the world’s killer whale populations. PCB-mediated effects over the coming 100 years predicted that killer whale populations near industrialized regions, and those feeding at high trophic levels regardless of location, are at high risk of population collapse. Despite a near-global ban of PCBs more than 30 years ago, the world’s killer whales illustrate the troubling persistence of this chemical class."

  3. A letter in the Sep 21 magazine explains.
    Christian Sonne1, Aarhus U et al.

    "Killer whales (Orcinus orca) are vulnerable to environmental pollutants.

    "In their Report “Ancient convergent losses of Paraoxonase 1 yield potential risks for modern marine mammals” (10 August, p. 591), W. K. Meyer et al. show that marine mammals are particularly vulnerable to adverse health effects from organophosphorus pesticide pollution because of a functional loss of the primary mammalian metabolic defense mechanism—the Paraoxonase 1 gene. Unfortunately, this finding is just one example of an evolutionary deficiency that puts marine mammals at increased risk for modern-day pollution.

    "Toothed whales, which originated in the mid-Eocene from herbivorous artiodactyls (cloven-hooved land mammals) (1), also show a reduced metabolic ability to eliminate persistent environmental pollutants such as biomagnifiable polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) compared with carnivorous predators such as polar bears (Ursus maritimus), seals and walruses, and humans (2, 3). Because they lack the ability to filter these chemicals, extreme concentrations of PCBs and mercury have been found in high trophic-feeding cetaceans, including killer whales (Orcinus orca) (4, 5). Moreover, toothed whales lack the keratinous pollutant sequestration routes, such as hair, that relieve carnivorous marine mammals from their contaminant burden, including mercury (5).

    "Given the vulnerability of marine mammals, global regulation and remediation of harmful marine pollutants, including organophosphorus compounds and PCBs, should be urgently prioritized by the United Nations Environment Programme, the Stockholm Convention, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (6, 7). Failing to protect these cetaceans could lead to pollution-mediated population collapses (8, 9) and an irreversible loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services."

  4. I sympathize with Pete’s frustrations. As the board chairman of one of the NGOs on the governor’s task force, the last thing we are trying to do is create a win/lose situation. We are simply trying to make sure our small issues of saving the nearshore habitat (from the lack of abiltity of certain state bureaucracies to do their jobs properly) get heard against the onslaught of the “big dogs” who want long term issues like the Snake River dams to take precidence over issues like closing Chinook fishing, or protecting the nearshore for the near term. Unfortunately, “get them food” has taken on a chant that, for some, is not backed by any science but wishful thinking. Some are thinking that going back to the past is a way to the future. Sorry. That’s already failed folks.

    As someone who has sat in PSP Partnership “actionless agendas” that simply had us sit around and prioritize endless lists of projects, I get Pete’s point. The problem we face is that, yes, the solutions are going to cost far more billions than anyone wants to spend. We and our ancestors screwed up a perfect ecosystem over the last 100 years and the cost to fix it is not countable in todays’ dollars. It will take 100 more years and billions more to restore and recover, if we can.

    As someone who got a small grant by the PSP to do “outreach” to these very people Pete describes, the PSP has always had a miniscule budget for that. It was known and commented on at the very beginning. I didn’t get my grant until 6 months into the year that we needed to complete it in. We put forward plans to continue the outreach for the following year. They denied the extension. They have kept cutting back on the outreach ever since. The PSP seems to simply be a catalogue activity of issues and projects. They prioritize the big ones, which would have got the money anyway. The notion of “ a thousand points of light” for the smaller orgs rarely get anything. Frustrating? You bet.

    But we can’t quit. The Tribes talk about working for “7 Generations forward”. My son, born here, spends almpost every weekend fishing. This is my home. This is what you do to save it. You don’t give up, you take every small step you can get and then another. The future is uncertain but we are all there is. I will never forget the last time I met Billie Frank Jr. He was talking to us about his recent meeting with Obama and Congress. “There is no one out there that will save us, “ he said, or words to that effect.”Those people in Washington D.C. don’t understand it, really. It’s all up to us.”

  5. One last thought, we need more marketing of this. We have enough scientists now. The governor and all the rest of us working to ‘sell’ saving the Orcas need the expertise of marketing professionals. We have to figure out a better way to sell the solutions the ‘experts’ come up with, to the public. Without their support, it’s all a waste of time.

  6. Somewhere, buried in a recent item from the Puget Sound Partnership, I saw that there might be a request for 2019-20 legislature funds (?) to help start and guide a non-profit organization to do public outreach and education. Can anyone shed more light on that notion?

    Pete Haase (I go as Rabbit's Guy as a Google Blogger - a long story)

  7. I too feel your pain and frustration, Peter. You are outstanding in the many efforts you work on to improve our shorelines and coastal waters. Things still get worse, especially on the larger scale of the climate and international actions and inactions. But like the star thrower, we go one at a time with the starfish that's in front of us, taking care of what we can, and encouraging others to do the same. We can't turn the tide with our individual efforts; but together, with enough of us making those efforts, the tide may -- may -- yet turn and the earth once again be considered a home to be treasured and not a resource to exploit. Keep your hope strong.