Sea Level Rise to Damage Squaxin Shellfish Habitat

Squaxin Island will split in two by 2100, according to new sea level rise projections by the Squaxin Island Tribe.

“We know we’re losing a lot of our island,” said Candace Penn, climate change ecologist for the tribe.
Squaxin Island is the tribe’s original reservation and is central to the tribe’s natural resources-based economy and culture. It was also home to many Squaxin tribal members until the tribe established a land base in Kamilche in Mason County.

“Our island is the bond that unites our past, present and future generations,” Penn said. “We see the island as a place that brings us together. Fishermen camp out there during the fishing season, we dig clams out there and we hunt on the island.”

The tribe used Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR) technology to produce a detailed digital elevation
map of Squaxin Island, and model predicted sea levels and shellfish and forage fish habitats.

From the LIDAR data, tribal researchers were able to produce more accurate sea level rise maps than
those already available.

The tribe is looking at the effect sea level rise will have on the natural resources tribal members depend on.

“The beaches on Squaxin Island sustain us with their shellfish,” Penn said. “Sea level rise is going to damage shellfish populations, and we want to understand how. If there are no clams to harvest, we can’t teach the next generation those traditional harvest techniques.”

The tribe estimates that a third of the shellfish habitat on the island is going to disappear.

“This will be a major loss for us and for everyone that depends on shellfish harvesting,” said Andy Whitener, natural resources director for the tribe.

The tribe will expand its analysis to predict the loss of shellfish habitat in nearby Oakland Bay, which supplies more than half of the nation’s manila clams and will likely see similar habitat loss as Squaxin Island.

“Sea level rise will impact everyone, not only tribal members,” Whitener said. “Shellfish harvesting
supports hundreds of tribal and non-tribal households in our community.”

Portions of Squaxin Island, the original reservation of the Squaxin Island Tribe, eventually will be underwater as sea levels rise. Squaxin Island Tribe.

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