Young women from next year's host tribe, Squaxin Island, dance during the last day of the 2011 Tribal Canoe Journey.

Paddle to Swinomish concluded Sunday with songs from Swinomish, the host tribe, and Squaxin Island, which will host next year when canoes will land in downtown Olympia.

This year’s Canoe Journey marked the fourth year of a water quality study, as reported by Coast Salish Gathering News and printed in Indian Country Today Media Network:

Canoe families from Western Washington and British Columbia participated in the fourth year of a unique study of water quality in the Salish Sea during their paddle to Swinomish.

Partnering with the U.S. Geological Survey, the canoes were outfitted with measuring equipment small enough to be held in one hand and strong enough to be towed hundreds of miles behind the canoes. The tools, called YSI multiparameter water quality sondes, send signals to Google Maps with near real-time information about water conditions.

Canoe families who participated in the study during the Canoe Journey were from the Squaxin Island Tribe, Swinomish Indian Tribal Community and Sauk-Suiattle Tribe from Western Washington and the Squamish First Nation and Musgamagw Tribe of British Columbia.

The 2011 summer’s cool start was reflected in initial results from South Salish Sea, where temperatures of surface waters averaged 12.3º C (54.1º F). In 2009, temperatures of surface water averaged 18.6º C (65.5º F). In 2008 and 2010, the average water temperature in the same area was 14.4º C (58º F).

“Our canoes work best for this project because they don’t use motors, they can cover a large area and they don’t churn up the water,” said Northwest Indian Fish Commission Chairman Billy Frank Jr. “This is just the right kind of vehicle to gather this kind of information.”

Samples taken by motorized boats can be tainted by exhaust, fuel remnants and propeller turbulence.

While traveling their ancestral highway, canoe families simultaneously measure many conditions, including surface-water temperature, conductivity, salinity, pH, dissolved oxygen and turbidity, producing multiple water-property profiles every 10 seconds across the Salish Sea.

Scientists travel in canoes with pullers and skippers, so they can work together to collect observational data. In these interactions, indigenous knowledge is integrated with modern science to improve everyone’s understanding of the Salish Sea’s natural history. The perspectives are ones that science alone cannot offer.

The exchanges made between scientists and Coast Salish culture bearers, with their traditional knowledge from their communities, increases the overall understanding of conservation and stewardship in the Salish Sea.

View photos of Paddle to Swinomish on NWIFC’s Flickr feed.