Monitoring the health of Puget Sound

Photo: Burke Museum
Photo: Burke Museum
October 27, 2015 | Maggie Dutch

"In the mid-’90s, our unit lead connected with a U.S. Geological Survey scientist in California who had started a project looking at foraminifera— tiny, one-celled creatures that live at the bottom of the ocean. When we collected our samples, we started taking an extra spoonful of sediment and sending it down to her lab.

Over time the project transitioned to Washington. We’ve been sending our samples to Liz and Ruth at the Burke for ten years now. It’s an easy thing for us to do, and it stretches the scientific information our project can provide.

Our monitoring program samples sediment in eight regions and six urban bays throughout Puget Sound. In our studies, we look for chemical contaminants, we do toxicity tests, and we count and identify the macroinvertebrates to determine their health and community structure.

Over time we have seen a decline, but we haven’t seen a large correspondence between the chemicals we measure and the changes in the communities we are looking at. Liz has seen a similar decline in foraminifera in some locations. Her results add to our body of knowledge and the weight of evidence that there is something else going on."

"We are working on a new project plan that includes where and how you sample, and an updated parameter list. There are some chemicals we won’t be looking for anymore because they have been undetected for many years and are not corresponding with the community shifts. Then there are things we haven’t measured, like nutrients and dissolved oxygen levels in sediments, which we want to add in order to see if there is a better correspondence to changes we have seen.

We went to different groups involved in the Puget Sound Ecosystem Monitoring Program and presented them with an overview of the data and our plans going forward. There are so many groups out there looking at different components of the ecosystem—we want to make changes in line with their work. It doesn’t happen in a vacuum."

We’ve been sending our samples to the Burke for ten years now. It [...] stretches the scientific information our project can provide.
Maggie Dutch, Marine Sediment Monitoring Team lead, WA State Department of Ecology Marine Monitoring Unit

Maggie Dutch is the Marine Sediment Monitoring Team lead for the WA State Department of Ecology Marine Monitoring Unit, which provides sediment samples analyzed by Curator of Invertebrate and MicroPaleontology Liz Nesbitt in the Burke’s Puget Sound Foram Research Lab.

Excerpted from "In Our Own Words," the Burke Museum 2015 Annual Report.