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Puget Sound, Case Study Example

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Case Study

Introduction: Ecosystem

By now we all know how detrimental humans can be to the biosphere. Human settlement can and does indeed have a very significant impact on ecosystems on planet earth.  Settlement affects the lives and the habitats of very many biotic and abiotic components within the ecosystem. This paper attempts to discuss some of the negative effects that human activity has on the Puget Sound. Further, the paper elaborates on the despite human settlement and increasing population, we are still able to preserve the ecosystem and sustainably maintain it at its prime.

Introducing Puget Sound

The term Puget Sound refers to an extremely large salt water estuary that is fed by seasonal freshwater flowing from the Olympic and Cascade Mountain watersheds. It is thus a sound of the inland marine waterways located at the northwestern part of Washington, United States. It extends from the eastern end of the Strait of Juan de Fuca south until it meets with the sound at the state capital of Olympia. Puget Sound has been divided up into five different regions, so called basins; each one of them interconnected with the others by some naturally formed shallow sills. Within the entire landform, Puget Sound incorporates some distinct landmarks such as the Admiralty Inlet Possession Sound, waters of Hood Canal, Saratoga Passage among others.

Biotic and Abiotic Factors in Puget Sound

The Puget Sound is an important habitat for many life forms. It is especially a crucial home to numerous marine mammals. The region hosts over 26 species of marine mammals, over 600 types of sea grasses, over 200 species of marine fish, as well as over 200 different kinds of sea birds like great blue herons, surf scoters and bald eagles. Puget Sound also hosts over 3,000 species of invertebrates like clams, octopuses, oysters, nude branches and moon snails. Scientists have identified five species of salmon, rockfish and baitfish. Puget Sound also features amazing plankton, numerous small plants and many animal species that drift on water currents. All these constitute the food at the base of Sound’s food chain.

The region is very conducive for diverse life forms. As Clemens (2009) says, “The region has a temperature maritime climate with an average annual precipitation ranging from about 100 centimeters per year.” Indeed, Puget Sound waters are generally cold and nutrient-rich. The lowlands of Puget Sound supply freshwater, nutrients and sediments. Surface waters range in temperature seasonally from 45 degrees Fahrenheit to 55 degrees Fahrenheit. The waters have an average salinity of 27 PSU while the tidal range usually increases from about 2.5-4.5 meters from north to south. This is then complimented by a shoreline that consists of mixed sand and gravel beaches to further increase the diversity of natural habitation scenes.

Impact of Human Activity at and Around Puget Sound

As we stand, the human activity at and around Puget Sound is taking its toll on the ecosystem. Wildlife are dying from litter and trash improperly discarded by humans in the region. Marine mammals have been dying with a worrying trend mainly due to starving. Most of the mammals are entangled in plastic container holder until they starve to death. The drink holders disposed in the waters have had a very damaging effect to the aquatic life of Puget Sound. Yet it would only take a few seconds to cut up such holders into pieces before disposing them properly, to save these amazing creatures. Most marine animals mistake the dangerous debris deposited in water for food. Once swallowed, such debris is caught up in the gut or the system and the animal dies a slow agonizing death.

Once debris and household trash is deposited in and then carried downstream the rivers, it ends up endangering not just mammals, but all aquatic life. The danger spreads all the way, as the debris is carried into sea, where it drifts on ocean currents for years and years. For the last five decades, all the waste that we have deposited in the rivers is lodged in the ocean and the volume of that waste is devastating. To make matters worse, unsafe fishing practices destroy the little life that the aquatic biospheres have. Unregulated trawlers for instance drag huge and heavy nets with hooked chains and gear on the ocean floor scraping away all the life forms and habitats therein and thus destroying the crucial ecosystems. It takes very few years to destroy the ocean floors with all the live it supports. Such practices rip up, crush,  expose and burry marine life forms gradually, leaving the seafloor much like an underwater desert.

Acoustic Pollution in Perspective

Acoustic pollution remains one of the most prominent ecosystem degradation causes. Given that marine mammals greatly depend on their ability to hear for survival, acoustic pollution is a prominent danger to most of these animals. Puget
Sound is not just a habitat for marine life. It is also a major shipping route with an active economic profile. We have numerous factory fishing vessels and recreational vessels prowling the waters day and night. These human economic activities ultimately create a lot of noise. For those animals residing in the Puget Sound waters, constant noise levels constitute a negative feature of the ecosystem. The noise levels impact negatively on marine life since the mammals suffer hearing loss easily and thus increase the risk of being over hunted. Sometimes entire species are lost only because of such excessive manmade noise.

The most problematic noise makers include the Low Frequency and Mid-Frequency Active Sonar, Vessel noises and acoustic harassment devices (AHD’s). The Low and Mid-Frequency Sonar (mainly used to locate enemy submarines) produce powerful waves of energy that can spread across thousands of square miles in the ocean. Those marine mammals at a close range usually suffer serious affects on their health and ultimately on their survival ability. There have been several incidences of obvious marine mammal harassment during navy sonar testing, negatively published by the press for having led to deaths of marine mammals.

According to Balcombe (2003), sonar testing has led to one of the most obvious displays of how LFA sonar negatively impacts marine mammals. According to Balcombe, U.S. Navy Guided Missile Destroyer Shoup DDG 86 conducted sonar operations for five hours in the Strait of Juan de Fuca in 2002, creating one of the most obvious displays of marine mammal harassment that has ever been experienced (2003).

Vessel Impact in Perspective

The Puget Sound facilitates most of the major Pacific Northwest shipping routes, which adds up to thousands of vessels entering and leaving the major ports of Washington State and British Colombia. Most of the traffic usually travels on the Puget Sound waters on a daily basis. We have hundreds of cargo ships, cruise lines and fishing vessels crisscrossing the habitat in a single day. Added to these are thousands of recreational vehicles, ferries, and whale watching boats.

At the end of the day, all these traffic affects the mammals living in the waters and destroys, or at least interrupts the habitat in which these mammals live. Since 1995, there has been a decrease in the Southern Resident Orca populations since the increase of vessel activity. “The population declined from 99 in 1995 to 83 in 2000. Biologists have
grouped the causes of this large decline into three main areas: toxins; declining salmon populations; and effects of vessel traffic.” (McGinnis, 2003)

Future Human Impact of Vessels on Marine Life

As already noted marine mammals are adversely affected by vessel noise. Such species, as the humpbacked whale, prefer shallow protected waters for calving. As vessel impact increases in marine habitats such as the humpback breeding grounds, the whales are usually forced to move from these preferred protected near-shore waters. This explains why the humpback recovery is today threatened. Similarly, many other marine mammals will be threatened and forced to move away from their preferred habitats.

Acoustic Harassment Devices

The use of acoustic deterrence devices over the years has grown and many fear that there is a danger that these devices are being overused and therefore driving marine animals away from native habitats. This increases the risk of low birth numbers and general species decline. Prolonged and increased exposure to AHD’s of significant sound can affect marine mammals hearing and may even cause hearing loss with an increase in pathological stress. It is believed that the AHD’s are the cause of displacement of Orca whales from their native habitat because of direct introduction of noise in their environment. There has also been a decline of Killer Whales with the introduction of the AHD’s into their natural habitat at the Johnson Strait area.

Wildlife Protection Measures against Trash and Vessels

At this point it is the job of scientific researchers to determine which noises
affect marine mammals the most. It is imperative that we determine
if certain noises like acoustic harassment devices or navy mid frequency and low frequency sonar inflict the same level of damage to marine auditory senses. This is necessary in formulating long term environmental impact policies. Studies of acoustic pollution in marine habitats should also help elaborate on how best we can protect the valuable habitats. The general society must also take precautions, both economically and environmentally, in a bid to protect the incredibly resourceful habitat of the Puget Sound.

Puget Sound marine and plant life is on a decline and will decrease if we do not take action now. Marine life may abandon the entire region, and may even become extinct, if the society doesn’t address the interruptive and polluting concerns. There is need to use inventive ways of manufacturing quieter vessels. If new ships were required by law to be equipped with quieter engines and propellers, the noise issue would be adequately addressed. Again, reducing the speed of vessels when they are in the Puget Sound marine habitats would also decrease boat noise. Engines do not create as much noise under the water with reduced speed and this would help in keeping noise levels in certain marine habitats at a minimum, especially at critical seasons.

Planners and environmental interest agencies must also continually anticipate problems that may arise due to the effects of acoustic pollution. The government and the community at large should not place economic advantages above the necessity of maintaining marine habitats. There should be an equal balance in our stewardship of the economy and the environment. By being cautious and keeping marine habitats secure we are also securing our economic future. While research is ongoing, government policymakers must also join in the efforts to conserve marine habitats. Federal regulatory laws especially that stipulate protection of marine mammals should be revised to include clear language and clear consequences for law breakers.

By acknowledging that acoustic pollution is a problem for marine animals and their
habitats and conducting the research needed to better understand how we could minimize its effects. Lawmakers who are entrusted in caring for, not only our economic future, but also our stewardships over these precious habitats can accomplish much if they act wisely today. The trash that is polluting the Puget Sound such as plastics, bottles, bags, strapping bands,
fishing nets, and floats will last for 10-20 years before they decompose. That means that continued pollution will continue killing ocean marine life, threatening
human health and spoiling beaches until there will be nothing left to protect.

It is sad to see how humans settlements have aggravated pollution to levels that are ruining even coral reefs and other crucial coastal habitats, yet each of us enjoy some time on the beach. These are essential areas for recreation are also essential for animal life breeding, feeding and habitation. It is therefore imperative that recycling and other environmental protective measures be adopted now, before it is very late. Trawlers that drag their huge heavy nets, chains, and gear on ocean floor should also be regulated and restricted. The Director of the World Wide Fund for Nature’s North East Atlantic Programme states it better when he says, “These
magnificent coral reefs should be off limits for fishing” (Clemens, 2009).

References

Balcomb, K. (2003). US Navy Sonar blasts Pacific Northwest Killer Whales, San Juan Islander: The Islands Daily News Source, San Juan County, WA

Clemens, J. (2009). U.S. Department of the Interior. Retrieved 12 Sept. 2009, from http://puget.usgs.gov/index.html

McGinnis, L. (2003). The Effects of Boat Noise on the Vocalization Density and Diversity of Southern Resident Killer Whales (Orcinus orca) in Haro Strait, University of Washington.

Field Methods in Marine Mammalogy Research Apprenticeship, Friday Harbor Laboratories, Spring Quarter 2003.

National Research Council of the National Academics (2003). Ocean Noise and Marine Mammals: Committee on Potential Impacts of Ambient Noise in the Ocean on Marine Mammals. Washington DC: The National Academies Press.

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