Solving a Decades-Old Mystery
In 2009 the Pacific Salmon Foundation was asked to figure out why Chinook, Coho and steelhead in the Strait of Georgia abruptly crashed in the 1990’s and never recovered. Catches that had once numbered in the hundreds of thousands shrunk to a mere one-tenth of those levels. The Strait of Georgia is part of the shared US/Canadian Salish Sea ecosystem. The Salish Sea Marine Survival Project brought together more than 60 different entities from the US and Canada to examine all facets of the ecosystem impacting salmon to answer to two key questions: what happened and what can we do about it? The initiatives within the Marine Science Program are based on the culmination of those findings and identification of urgent priority areas for advancing salmon recovery.
Studying A Salmon Ecosystem
Past efforts to understand what happened to salmon in the Salish Sea have been hampered by fragmented studies. Salmon are the proverbial ‘canary in the coalmine.’ Their health is a reflection of the various interacting ingredients that make up an ecosystem. The Salish Sea Marine Survival Project sought to examine the Salish Sea ecosystem as a whole with the Pacific Salmon Foundation leading Canadian efforts and Long Live the Kings leading efforts in the U.S. To do this we essentially needed to be ‘everywhere all at once.’ Enter the Citizen Science Oceanography Program – one of the most successful legacy initiatives to come out of this Project.
By training volunteers with personal vessels, we have continued to monitor defined territories of the entire Strait of Georgia. The data collected provide a snapshot of what’s happening at a point in time across the Strait’s entire ecosystem so that we can see impacts to ocean conditions and the food chain.
While the Project helped us prioritize key areas of restoration and further study in the marine environment, it also highlighted the need to better understand salmon’s time in the open ocean. Our nearshore activities through the Marine Science Program will link PSF’s community-based activities in freshwater, and research on the open ocean, to achieve a full picture of the salmon lifecycle and what we can control to help them recover.