Comment: Survey of Puget Sound shorelines key to protection

A bill requiring a photographic survey of shorelines will set a baseline to restore and preserve them.

By Adam Maxwell / For The Herald

The Puget Sound is a vital part of Washington state’s natural heritage, and its preservation is of utmost importance. This is why Audubon supports Senate Bill 5104, a bill in Olympia that would require the Department of Ecology to conduct and maintain a baseline survey of Puget Sound marine shorelines to better understand where critical habitat exists, where development is occuring and where restoration sites can be prioritized.

Shorebirds, salmon and orca rely on healthy shorelines to provide sustainable food. Without healthy natural shorelines, forage fish — the food source for bigger fish and birds — cannot reproduce quickly enough to supply enough sustenance up the food chain.

As an avid stand-up paddleboarder, I’ve had the opportunity to witness first-hand the importance of preserving our natural shorelines and the impact that armored shorelines have on the Puget Sound’s habitat. The difference between more natural shorelines and armored ones was vividly on display during a paddle trip last summer to Everett’s Jetty Island.

Most of the city’s shoreline facing the island is covered in concrete and boulders, drastically reducing the amount of vegetation and wildlife. The once thriving habitats for birds and other wildlife are now mostly barren. But paddle across to Jetty Island and the more natural shorelines are comparatively teeming with life. The sound of harbor seals and ospreys fill the air.

An on-the-water view of our shorelines revealed to me what natural shorelines can do to make the Puget Sound more abundant. Our state and local governments should have that same opportunity to observe and learn.

One of the best ways to monitor the health of our shorelines is through regular observation and imaging. SB 5104 would improve air photo surveys of the shoreline and add on the water views of those shorelines much like Google Street view images. This bill would provide a wealth of information to a variety of programs through these new tools to help protect and restore the Puget Sound. From shoreline master planning to adaptive management, this bill would help ensure that we are taking an informed and comprehensive approach to the health of this important ecosystem.

The myriad organizations and agencies working to protect and restore the Puget Sound could use the data collected by this program to perform virtual site visits or for reconnaissance before commencing field work. This kind of shoreline assessment would also help identify areas in need of restoration and the development of project proposals. The state could more easily track the results of bulkhead removal and soft shore projects, as well as assess coastal changes over time for planning and cumulative impact analysis. This information would be especially valuable for reviewing applications for shoreline permits, and for educational purposes to help people understand different shore forms.

SB 5104, which has passed the Senate and is now before the House environment committee, is an important step in ensuring the long-term health of Puget Sound. I urge everyone who appreciates our beautiful estuary to contact your legislator and ask them to support it. By working together, we can protect this important part of our natural heritage for generations to come.

Adam Maxwell is the senior policy manager for Audubon Washington.

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