The Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe recently learned that Sequim Bay is filled with more eelgrass than previously thought, and that’s good for the bay’s summer chum salmon, an ESA-listed species.

“It’s a good sign to see that eelgrass was found nearly all the way around the bay,” said Lohna O’Rourke, the tribe’s environmental biologist. “This provides a baseline of what’s there now and we can track the growth or decline over time.”

Prior to hiring Marine Resources Consultants last summer to survey the bay for marine vegetation with an underwater video camera, the tribe had data showing only what existed along a portion of the southern and western shoreline.

“The state Department of Natural Resources’ survey of the bay in 2000 had similar results to what was found last summer, so it’s encouraging to see that there hasn’t been a decline of vegetation in 12 years,” said Jim Norris, owner of Marine Resources Consultants. More detailed findings of the survey will be out in a final report due later.

Junvenile summer chum and other salmon species depend on the eelgrass beds as they make their way out to sea from the Jimmycomelately Creek at the southern end of the bay. Salmon use eelgrass beds to rest, feed and hide from predators.

“The tribe and its many partners spent millions of dollars restoring the Jimmycomelately Creek and estuary to bring summer chum back to the watershed,” O’Rourke said. “Making sure there is eelgrass for the young salmon before they leave  the creek is vital.”

Having this new data also will help the tribe with its studies on the plankton blooms that happen regularly in the southern half of the bay.

These blooms, which typically happen during warmer months, can shade eelgrass, causing it to die. The blooms are fueled by an excess of nutrients in the water that come from a variety of sources such as leaking septic systems and lawn fertilizers.

“Land development and human-caused factors severely impact eelgrass beds, so it’s critical we keep the existing eelgrass alive and well,” she said.