PORT GAMBLE BAY (July 9, 2008) – An upclose study of plankton in Port Gamble Bay and Hood Canal could provide telling results about the health of Puget Sound for the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe and the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration’s fisheries department.
The tribe is monitoring plankton levels along with water quality because plankton are the most basic level of the food chain for the marine ecosystem. The study will also show biologists how the ecosystem itself is changing.
“Port Gamble Bay and Hood Canal are really unique places within Puget Sound,” said Hans Daubenburger, the tribe’s habitat biologist. “If you look at aerial photos from the last 10 years, the development in the nearshore environment throughout Puget Sound has increased dramatically. We need to keep an eye on how that’s effecting the underwater environment.”
Plankton are the basis of all life in the ocean, as larger organisms, such as salmon and herring, either eat plankton directly or eat other animals that eat plankton. The amount of plankton in the water is akin to a staple crop for the ocean’s ecosystems, and is one of the key determinants of an ocean’s carrying capacity for marine life.
The health of the ecosystem is also dependent on the various species of plankton, the time of year when populations increase and its overall abundance.
“Hood Canal and Port Gamble Bay are two areas in Puget Sound where we have a historical record of plankton samples, dating back to the 1970s,” said Naomi Yoder, a fisheries biologist with NOAA. “It’s a very useful place to collect more samples, since its one of the places in Puget Sound where we can actually compare data we collect now to data collected in the past, and help us see what has been changing over time.”
In an effort to collect new data for comprehensive analysis, Daubenburger has been collecting samples monthly from within Hood Canal and Port Gamble Bay from as deep as 400 feet below the surface, since 2007.
These areas are important traditional sites for the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe for harvesting salmon and shellfish. These waters also provide critical habitat for Puget Sound chinook and Hood Canal summer chum, both listed as “threatened” by the federal Endangered Species Act.
The tribe wants to be aware of any potential problems such as fish kills, harmful plankton blooms or oil spills, so that it can take immediate action.
“It’s a renewed effort to gather data from Gamble Bay,” Daubenburger said. “With the listed chinook and chum using these waters, we need to know more about what’s going on.”
For more information, contact Hans Daubenburger, Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe habitat biologist, at (360) 297-6289 or [email protected] or Tiffany Royal, Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission information officer, at (360) 297-6546 or [email protected].