NOAA: Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary In “Fair-to-Good” Condition, But Facing Emerging Threats

A new NOAA report on the health of the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary indicates that the overall condition of the sanctuary’s marine life and habitats is “fair to good,” but identifies several emerging threats to sanctuary resources, such as potential oil spills, invasive species, commercial development, climate change, and underwater noise pollution.

The first report of its kind about the sanctuary, located off the Washington state coast, drew from a wide range of experts in fields including water quality, habitat integrity, oil spill prevention, historic preservation, wildlife populations, and others. Based on their findings, conditions were described as “good,” “good/fair,” or “fair.” None of the 17 categories evaluated were ranked “poor.” The experts also analyzed trends, where adequate data were available.

Generally, water quality categories rated “good/fair” and “good,” with trends reflecting little or no change. Habitat ratings ranged from “good” for low contaminant levels to “fair” for human impacts on deep-sea habitats. Some trends are improving because of reduced bottom-trawling pressure resulting from new NOAA fishing regulations. Living resources were rated “fair” to “good/fair.” Improving trends appeared partially due to generally reduced fishing pressure.

Trends in invasive species show conditions worsening due to spread of aggressive newcomers including Sargassum seaweed and tunicates, an invasive invertebrate. Historical resources such as federally protected shipwrecks appear to be in “fair” condition, although further inventories and monitoring are needed.

“This report provides us with a great benchmark,” said Carol Bernthal, sanctuary superintendent. “It serves as an important tool that sanctuary staff can use to measure future changes in our sanctuary’s extraordinarily valuable and productive marine ecosystem.”

The condition report will serve as background and supporting material for the upcoming review of Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary’s overall management plan, which will enable staff to better understand and protect the marine environment. It was prepared by NOAA's Office of National Marine Sanctuaries with assistance from numerous federal, state, tribal and private experts, as well as a peer review panel.

“This report suggests that we still have much to learn about the condition of resources within the sanctuary and how they are changing over time,” said Dr. Terrie Klinger, chair of the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary advisory council. “These considerations are vital to the update of the sanctuary management plan, and we invite the public to comment,”

The full report is available online. Similar reports have been or are being developed for every site in the National Marine Sanctuary system.

NOAA’s Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary was designated in 1994 as the first national marine sanctuary in the Pacific Northwest, encompassing about 3,300 square miles off the Washington coast. Significant natural and cultural resources include 29 species of marine mammals, large populations of nesting seabirds, Native American communities and archaeological sites, and some of the last remaining wilderness coastline in the lower 48 states.

“In reviewing the condition report and in considering changes to the sanctuary’s management plan, it is important that the legal rights and management role of the state of Washington and the coastal treaty tribes be recognized,” said Ed Johnstone, Quinault Indian Nation policy advisor and chair of the Olympic Coast Intergovernmental Policy Council.

The area encompassed by the sanctuary include the “usual and accustomed areas” of the Hoh, Makah, Quileute and Quinault Indian tribes, who signed treaties with the U.S. government and exist as domestic sovereigns. Since the affirmation of treaty fishing rights in U.S. v. Washington in 1974, tribal, state and federal governments have developed a unique co-management approach for fisheries in western Washington. This co-management approach, its underlying legal framework, and Washington coastal treaty tribes’ historical and present use of cultural and subsistence resources are explained in an addendum to the condition report.

NOAA works to understand and predict changes in the Earth's environment, from the depths of the ocean to the surface of the sun, and conserves and manages our coastal and marine resources.

Media Contact
David Hall, NOAA
Robert Steelquist, OCNMS

Published on: 2008-09-18

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