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State of Sanctuary Resources

This section provides summaries of the condition and trends within four resource areas: water, habitat, living resources, and maritime archaeological resources. Sanctuary staff and selected outside experts considered a series of questions about each resource area. The set of questions derive from the National Marine Sanctuary System’s mission, and a system-wide monitoring framework (National Marine Sanctuary Program 2004) developed to ensure the timely flow of data and information to those responsible for managing and protecting resources in the ocean and coastal zone, and to those that use, depend on, and study the ecosystems encompassed by the sanctuaries. The questions are meant to set the limits of judgments so that responses can be confined to certain reporting categories that will later be compared among all sanctuary sites and combined. Appendix A (Rating Scheme for System-Wide Monitoring Questions) clarifies the questions and presents statements that were used to judge the status and assign a corresponding color code on a scale from “good” to “poor.” These statements are customized for each question. In addition, symbols are used to indicate trends. Methods for consultation with experts and development of status and trends ratings are described in Appendix B.

This section of the report provides answers to the set of questions for Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary. Answers are supported by specific examples of data, investigations, monitoring and observations, and the basis for judgment is provided in the text and summarized in the table for each resource area. Where published or additional information exists, the reader is provided with appropriate references and web links.

Water Quality Status and Trends

Water quality within the sanctuary is largely representative of natural ocean conditions, with relatively minor influence from human activities at sea and on land. By conventional measures, marine water quality within the sanctuary is not notably compromised. There are very few point sources of pollution in the vicinity, such as sewage outfalls or industrial discharge sites, to degrade water conditions. To date, the sparse human population has limited nonpoint source pollution — the harmful byproducts of everyday activities, such as pathogens from failing septic systems, residues from domestic products, excess nutrients, petroleum combustion byproducts, or hydrocarbons from roads and highways — that might enter the oceanic food web. However, increased sediment loading in rivers from logging, road building and upland development has been a concern for impacts to nearshore habitats.

Although water quality within the sanctuary is currently good, the potential for contamination by petroleum products, pathogens and chemicals is a concern. Four of the five largest oil spills in Washington state history have occurred in or moved into the area now designated as the sanctuary. In the decade before sanctuary designation, two major oil spills released more than 325,000 gallons (1,230,258 liters) of petroleum products that impacted marine ecosystems and human communities on the outer Washington coast. Moreover, naturally occurring harmful algal blooms can elevate the risk of shellfish poisoning. Recently documented, widespread hypoxic conditions in nearshore areas off Oregon and part of the Washington coast appear to result from anomalous weather and oceanographic patterns.

The following information summarizes assessments by sanctuary staff and subject area experts of the status and trends pertaining to water quality.

Water Quality Status and Trends
table
# Status Rating Basis For Judgement Description of Findings
1. Stressors
?
Hypoxic conditions may be increasing in frequency and spatial extent in nearshore waters. Selected conditions may preclude full development of living resource assemblages and habitats, but are not likely to cause substantial or persistent declines.
2. Eutrophic Condition
No suspected human influence on harmful algal blooms or eutrophication. Conditions do not appear to have the potential to negatively affect living resources or habitat quality.
3. Human Health
Naturally occurring harmful algal blooms result in periodic shellfish closures. Selected conditions that have the potential to affect human health may exist, but human impacts have not been reported.
4. Human Activities
Threat of oil spills from vessels. Some potentially harmful activities exist, but they do not appear to have had a negative effect on water quality.

1. Are specific or multiple stressors, including changing oceanographic and atmospheric conditions, affecting water quality?

Whereas sanctuary waters are not degraded by persistent chemical contamination, periodic incursion of oxygen-depleted water to continental shelf and nearshore waters has killed organisms in its pathway. Potential and early evidence of linkages between climate change and changing oceanic conditions with these hypoxic events, as well as local effects on toxic algae blooms, increasing water temperature and acidity, all lead to uncertainty about the trends in these stressors.

Oxygen serves a critical role in defining ocean habitats. Deep waters on the continental shelf normally have low oxygen concentrations, and resident organisms are adapted to oxygen levels that can be lethal to animals living in near-surface and nearshore waters. Further depression of oxygen levels near the deep seafloor and movement of oxygen-depleted waters toward shore, however, can stress living communities. Hypoxia (low oxygen levels, or dissolved O2 below 1.4 ml/L) is often associated with high nutrient loading from land-based sources, while off Washington’s outer coast it is a function of wind-driven upwelling dynamics and ocean conditions that control the delivery of oxygen-poor, nutrient-rich deep water across the continental shelf (Grantham et al. 2004). Hypoxic conditions severe enough to cause widespread fish and invertebrate mortality were documented off the Washington and Oregon coasts in 2006. Figure 17 provides data from the sanctuary’s monitoring station off Cape Elizabeth showing hypoxic conditions that persisted close to shore for more than two weeks in July 2006. Other invertebrate and fish mortality events have been observed along Washington’s coast, for example in 2001 and 2002, but historic records and oxygen monitoring data are not available to definitively link previous mortality events to hypoxic conditions.

A major oceanographic feature off the eastern Pacific Coast, the oxygen minimum zone, is a layer of deep water along the upper continental slope extending to depths greater than 1,000 meters where dissolved oxygen levels are persistently low (Deuser 1975). Analysis of a long-term data set, the 50-year data record from the eastern subarctic Pacific, indicates that deep waters beyond the continental shelf, although normally hypoxic, show trends of increased temperature and lower oxygen (Whitney 2006). As this occurs, deep waters transported across the continental shelf and upwelling toward shore may be increasingly depleted of oxygen and may cause more stress to living resources in the sanctuary.

Grantham et al. (2004) described the development of nearshore hypoxic conditions in the Pacific Northwest as “a novel emergence” that may represent a critical link between climate variability and ecosystem sensitivity to such changes. Although there is some historic evidence that hypoxic conditions have occurred along the Oregon and Washington coasts in the past (Hickey pers. comm.), a comprehensive set of historic data from Oregon’s shelf waters indicates that the severity, geographic extent, and duration of hypoxic conditions off Oregon have increased since 2000, and anoxic conditions (water completely devoid of oxygen) had never been recorded before the 2006 event (Chan et al. 2008).

Figure 17. Oxygen data taken concurrently with the July 2006 fish kill first reported by Quinault Natural Resources Department. Oxygen was measured at 1 meter from the bottom at an Olympic Coast sanctuary mooring station off Cape Elizabeth in 15-meter-deep water.
Figure 17. Oxygen data taken concurrently with the July 2006 fish kill first reported by Quinault Natural Resources Department. Oxygen was measured at 1 meter from the bottom at an Olympic Coast sanctuary mooring station off Cape Elizabeth in 15-meter-deep water. (Source: OCNMS data)

Harmful algal bloom (HAB) events are common in sanctuary waters and can affect wildlife and marine ecosystems, as well as human health. Figure 18 shows the presence and unpredictability of high-domoic acid events at two beaches approximately 40 kilometers (25 miles) apart on the shores of the sanctuary (domoic acid is a toxin produced by one particular type of harmful algae). Some scientists suspect that HABs off the outer coast are increasing in frequency, but long-term records are not available for confirmation.

Figure 17. Domoic acid levels in razor clams from the Kalaloch and Mocrocks (near Moclips River) razor clam management areas, where large recreational razor clam fisheries occur. Shellfish harvesting is closed when tissue levels exceed the action level. (data from WDFW)
Figure 18. Domoic acid levels in razor clams from the Kalaloch and Mocrocks (near Moclips River) razor clam management areas, where large recreational razor clam fisheries occur. Shellfish harvesting is closed when tissue levels exceed the action level. (Source: WDFW data)

Recent evidence of increasing seawater acidity (low pH), increases in water temperature, and shifts in oceanographic conditions have been attributed to anthropogenically influenced climate change (Wootton unpublished data, Grantham et al. 2004, Barth et al. 2007, Chan et al. 2008). However, such cause-and-effect linkages are uncertain and will require more data before they are fully accepted.

Existing levels of contaminants (metals, persistent organic pollutants, hydrocarbons, PCBs) are generally at low levels off the Olympic Coast. Measurements of chemical levels in water, sediment and biota in 2003 at 30 stations in the Olympic Coast sanctuary as part of the Environmental Monitoring and Assessment Program indicated good water quality throughout the sanctuary (Partridge 2007).

2. What is the eutrophic condition of sanctuary waters and how is it changing?

Human-caused eutrophication is not a concern in the sanctuary due to the absence of problematic sources of nutrients, such as population centers or significant municipal discharges in or near the sanctuary. In fact, sampling in 2003 indicated that conditions for primary production can be limited by a low availability of essential nutrients in summer months off the Washington coast (Partridge 2007). This would suggest that if nutrient supplies were to increase during that time of year, blooms could be triggered. Local inputs of nutrients are not expected to increase significantly, but because long-term datasets and sufficient instrumentation are lacking, there is not information to document a change or trend in nutrient concentrations in sanctuary waters.

Figure 18. The Juan de Fuca Eddy (also called the Big Eddy) is west of the Strait of Juan de Fuca and spans the international boundary between U.S. and Canadian waters.
Figure 19. The Juan de Fuca Eddy (also called the Big Eddy) is west of the Strait of Juan de Fuca and spans the international boundary between U.S. and Canadian waters. (Image: Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society)
The Juan de Fuca Eddy system is a naturally occurring, seasonally intensified water circulation feature covering northern sanctuary waters (Figure 19). It covers a broad region beginning roughly 70 kilometers west of Cape Flattery and contains elevated macronutrients levels. Nutrients in this system are derived primarily from upwelling of nutrient-rich deep waters from the California Undercurrent, combined with lesser contributions from the Strait of Juan de Fuca outflow (MacFadyen et al. 2008). The feature’s retentive circulation patterns and nutrient supply promote high primary productivity within the eddy, and periodic advection of these water masses toward shore has been identified as a trigger for HABs in sanctuary waters (Foreman et al. 2007, MacFadyen et al. 2005). Consequently, HABs in the sanctuary are currently considered natural phenomena that are not enhanced by anthropogenic inputs of nutrients or eutrophic conditions.

3. Do sanctuary waters pose risks to human health and how are they changing?

The main risk to human health posed by sanctuary waters is through consumption of tainted shellfish. Levels of naturally occurring biotoxins in excess of action levels to protect human health have been detected once or twice a year, on average, over the past 16 years, but the limited historical record precludes the identification of any long-term trend in the frequency of toxin level spikes.

Shellfish on the outer Washington coast is normally safe for human consumption, yet during HAB events filter feeding organisms, such as hard-shelled clams and mussels, can concentrate toxins produced by some species of plankton, rendering them toxic to consumers. Routine monitoring is conducted at selected locations by coastal tribes and Washington state, and shellfish harvest closures are enacted when concentrations exceed action levels for protection of human health. Rapid detection techniques are being sought to enhance the ability to monitor for toxins. Risk of human exposure remains, however, because it can be difficult to reach all subsistence and recreational harvesters on this remote coast.

For centuries, consumers of bivalves in the Pacific Northwest have known about paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP), which is caused by saxitoxins produced by dinoflagellates. In 1991, domoic acid, a neurotoxin produced by diatoms in the genus Pseudo-nitzschia that causes amnesic shellfish poisoning (ASP), was first detected in clams on Washington’s outer coast. High levels of either toxin have led to multiple restrictions on the popular recreational razor clam harvest and commercial harvest by local Indian tribes (Figure 18). For the shoreline adjacent to the sanctuary, Washington State Department of Health records since 1991 indicate 14 shellfish harvest closures based on ASP and nine closures based on PSP concerns. The state health department has received no reports of shellfish poisoning on the outer coast since 1991, although exposures (but no deaths) have been reported from other areas in Washington.

As discussed above, harmful algal blooms in the Olympic Coast sanctuary are naturally occurring phenomena. With more intensive monitoring in recent years, there is a perception that blooms have increased in frequency. However, there are insufficient data to confirm a trend because monitoring began only in the 1990s and shellfish poisoning may have been misdiagnosed in the past (Juan de Fuca Eddy Steering Committee 2004, Trainer 2005, Trainer and Suddeson 2005). If HABs are increasing in frequency, contributing factors may include increased advection of offshore waters shoreward as a result of reduced volume of the Columbia Plume (due to dams and water removals) and altered wind and current patterns due to climate change (Juan de Fuca Eddy Steering Committee 2004, Hickey pers. comm.).

Limited bacterial monitoring in marine waters is conducted by the state health department with assistance from coastal tribes in order to assess human health risks in shellfish harvest areas (Washington State Department of Health 2008). In addition, Surfrider’s Blue Water Task Force volunteers monitored five additional sites in the sanctuary during 2003-2005. These data indicate there are no significant concerns regarding bacteria such as fecal coliform, E. coli and Enterococcus in the sanctuary waters.

4. What are the levels of human activities that may influence water quality and how are they changing?

The high volume of marine traffic, particularly through northern sanctuary waters, introduces the threat of catastrophic injury to marine resources from an oil spill. This threat is persistent but not changing significantly because vessel management procedures and preventative measures have been implemented, and vessel traffic volumes have been stable in recent years.

Figure 20. Track lines from large commercial vessels transiting the western Strait of Juan de Fuca in June 2007. Purple lines are tanker traffic. Darker lines are freighter traffic. The light blue line is the sanctuary boundary, and the red line marks the Area-To-Be-Avoided.
Figure 20. Track lines from large commercial vessels transiting the western Strait of Juan de Fuca in June 2007. Purple lines are tanker traffic. Darker lines are freighter traffic. The light blue line is the sanctuary boundary, and the red line marks the Area-To-Be-Avoided. (Source: OCNMS)
The potential for a large-volume oil spill is generally considered the greatest threat to the sanctuary’s water quality — a low-probability but high-impact threat. The northern area of the sanctuary lies at the western Strait of Juan de Fuca, the major passage for the incoming and outgoing shipping traffic that lead to the Pacific Northwest’s major ports: Seattle, Tacoma and Vancouver, British Columbia. Large commercial vessels, including oil tankers and freighters with large fuel capacity, transit through and near the sanctuary daily, creating a persistent and elevated risk of accidental and catastrophic release of toxic products. An estimated 5.7 billion liters (1.5 billion gallons) of oil are transported through the area each year. Tanker and container traffic occurs daily through all seasons and weather, with about 5,500 freighters and 1,400 tankers transiting the Strait of Juan de Fuca in 2006 (data from Marine Exchange of Seattle) (Figure 20). Vessel entry and transit data for the Strait of Juan de Fuca compiled by Washington State Department of Ecology indicate the number of large non-tank vessels (less than 300 gross tons; cargo, passenger, and commercial fishing industry vessels) has decreased by about 17 percent in the past decade, while the number of tank ship transits has increased by 50 percent (from 547 in 1998 to 820 in 2007). Overall, the number of large vessels transiting the Strait may have increased over the past few decades, but has been stable in the past decade.

In the previous century, weak environmental regulations allowed logging and road building practices to damage freshwater habitats and riparian systems in the Pacific Northwest. Rivers and creeks in logged watersheds discharging into marine waters of the outer Washington coast carried elevated burdens of suspended materials that increased turbidity of nearshore marine waters. Although definitive documentation is not available, these conditions may have inhibited growth of macroalgae in areas near river mouths (Devinny and Volse 1978, Dayton et al. 1992, Norse 1994). Logging remains a major industry on the Olympic Peninsula, and whereas improved regulatory oversight of logging practices may have led to reduced inputs of fine particulates from recent harvest areas, impacts from historic activities continue to impact freshwater systems flowing into the sanctuary.

Sanctuary waters are protected from impacts of ballast water discharge by regulations that prohibit discharge within 50 nautical miles (93 kilometers) of shore. The cruise ship industry is rapidly expanding in the Pacific Northwest, with passenger numbers increasing from 120,000 to 781,000 through the Port of Seattle between 2000 and 2007 (WDOE 2008). In 2007, the industry agreed to avoid discharge of biosolids (i.e., sewage sludge) in sanctuary waters. These ships can, however, discharge treated sewage, graywater and blackwater in the sanctuary, in accordance with state and federal law. Cruise ships generate an average of 79,500 liters (21,000 gallons) per day per vessel, but the majority have advanced wastewater treatment systems (EPA 2007).

Coastal development adjacent to the sanctuary is sparse, with a few small population centers on tribal reservation lands and growing residential development along the southern shores of the sanctuary. State and county development regulations should minimize impacts of the growing coastal populations on marine water quality, but this remains a potential threat because of ever increasing pressure for coastal development.

Habitat Status and Trends

Figure 21. Areas where high-resolution seafloor habitat mapping has been completed by NOAA in Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary.
Figure 21. Areas where high-resolution seafloor habitat mapping has been completed by NOAA in Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary. (Source: OCNMS)
Marine habitats of the sanctuary extend from the intertidal, which is accessible daily during low tides, to the depths of submarine canyons that are only seen by humans via submarines, sensors, or lenses on remotely or autonomously operated vehicles. The sanctuary covers a large area, with physically and biologically complex habitats. Exploration and habitat mapping involves carefully planned and costly surveys from large vessels using sophisticated technology. Thus far, the sanctuary has completed detailed habitat mapping for about 25 percent of its seafloor, while information on remaining areas lacks resolution and specificity (Figure 21). As a result, generalizations about the sanctuary's habitats are difficult to make. The following discussion focuses on available information wherever possible, but also includes speculative analysis based on habitats from similar areas and impacts to these habitats documented at other locations.

The Olympic Coast sanctuary's habitats, similar to its waters, are relatively uncontaminated by chemicals introduced by human activities. Intertidal and nearshore habitats are not considered substantially altered or degraded. Underwater noise pollution and marine debris do compromise habitat quality, but their impacts in the sanctuary are not well-documented. The most significant concern relates to several decades of intensive efforts by fisheries using bottom-contact gear. At locations where biologically structured habitats existed on the sanctuary seafloor, it is likely they have been altered by fishing practices, except perhaps in the roughest of terrain that fishermen avoided. Recovery of biologically structured habitats is expected to occur very slowly, even in the absence of future pressures.

The following information provides an assessment by sanctuary staff and subject area experts of the status and trends pertaining to the current state of marine habitats.

Habitat Status and Trends
table
# Status Rating Basis For Judgement Description of Findings
5. Abundance/Distribution
hyphen
Reduction in habitat complexity by bottom-tending gear; short-term impacts from fishing gear and cable installation. Selected habitat loss or alteration has taken place, precluding full development of living resource assemblages, but it is unlikely to cause substantial or persistent degradation in living resources or water quality.
6. Structure
?
Damage by bottom-tending gear in some deep biogenic habitats. Selected habitat loss or alteration may inhibit the development of living resources, and may cause measurable but not severe declines in living resources or water quality.
7. Contaminants
hyphen
Prior studies indicate low levels of contaminants. Contaminants do not appear to have the potential to negatively affect living resources or water quality.
8. Human Activities
hyphen
Decrease in bottom trawling and presumably impacts to hard-bottom habitats. Decrease in bottom trawling and presumably impacts to hard-bottom habitats.

5. What are the abundance and distribution of major habitat types and how are they changing?

This question focuses on changes to the type and physical composition of marine habitats, whereas Question 6 focuses on biologically structured habitats. Past or ongoing modification of habitat types (e.g., conversion of coastal marsh into upland) from extensive physical disturbance or alterations to physical forces is not a concern in the sanctuary. Some reduction to the physical complexity of deep seafloor habitats, however, has resulted from extensive bottom trawling activity over the past half-century. Recent fishery management measures have limited bottom trawl efforts in areas where the seafloor is most susceptible to physical alteration, so future alteration of habitat from this activity is likely to be minimal, as long as trawl area closures remain in effect.

With limited exceptions, nearshore and intertidal habitats in the sanctuary are remarkably undisturbed by human use and development that has modified habitats in more urbanized areas, such as shoreline armoring, wetlands alteration, dredging, and land-based construction. The remote location, low levels of human habitation, protections provided by the wilderness designation of Olympic National Park s coast, and restricted access to tribal reservations have allowed these coastal habitats to persist largely intact. At the few locations where shoreline armoring has been employed or where human visitation has focused on intertidal areas for food collection and recreation, impacts do not appear to be dramatic or widespread (Erickson and Wullschleger 1998; Erickson 2005).

Data on habitats of the deeper waters of the sanctuary are limited. Only 25 percent of the sanctuary has been characterized using modern, high-resolution acoustic and imaging methods (Intelmann 2006, Bowlby et al. 2008). Low-resolution surveys have revealed a generally wide and featureless continental shelf in the southern portion of the sanctuary dominated by soft substrates with areas of rock outcrop and spires, and the Quinault Canyon. High-resolution mapping may reveal more complex features along the shelf than presently indicated. The northern portion of the sanctuary is dominated by the Juan de Fuca Canyon and trough, complex, glacially carved features containing a mixture of soft sediments, with significant cobble and boulder patches and scattered large glacial erratics deposited during ice retreat. Most of the trough, the shallower extensions of the canyon closer to the Strait of Juan de Fuca, has been mapped using high-resolution methods. Comprehensive surveys with both multi-beam and side-scan techniques have not been completed for the Nitinat, Juan de Fuca, and Quinault canyons.

The most significant physical alteration of sanctuary habitats, besides that caused by natural forces, is likely to have resulted from commercial fishing with bottom trawl gear. Known physical impacts of bottom trawl gear on seafloor habitats from similar areas, in combination with historic fishing patterns in the sanctuary, are evidence that such habitat alterations have likely occurred. Bottom trawl gear is known to reduce complexity and alter the physical structure of seafloor habitats (NRC 2002). Bottom trawling can smooth sedimentary bedforms, such as sand waves, reduce bottom roughness, alter the size distribution of surficial features, impact biogenic structures, and roll and move boulders on the seafloor (Auster et al. 1996, Auster and Langton 1999, Norse and Watling 1999, Thrush and Dayton 2002). Moreover, monitoring by the sanctuary has shown that acute and localized seafloor impacts from submarine cable installations result in short-term habitat disturbance in soft sediments and more persistent physical disturbance in hard substrates. Cable trenching, however, covers a very small portion of the sanctuary seafloor. Monitoring by the sanctuary has also revealed rolled and displaced boulders as a result of cable trenching and bottom-contact commercial fishing gear. Dredging, another fishing technique that causes acute physical disruption of the seafloor, has not been widely employed in the sanctuary.

NOAA Fisheries Service statistics indicate that the northern waters of the sanctuary were one of the most intensively fished bottom trawl areas along the West Coast of the United States in the later half of the 1900s (Shoji 1999). Groundfish landings in Washington, the majority of which were from bottom trawlers, averaged 30 to 40 million pounds annually from the mid-1950s through about 1980. To put this into perspective, non-tribal bottom trawl landings into Washington have averaged about 7 million pounds per year in recent years (2004-06), which represents a decline of about 80 percent since the earlier time period. The number of vessels participating in the fishery shows similar trends. About 100 trawl vessels landed and sold groundfish on the Washington coast (excluding Puget Sound) between the late 1970s and early 1990s (Shoji 1999). As a result of a federal buyback program in 2003 and attrition in the fishery, in some cases, as a direct result of increasing fishing restrictions, the number of non-tribal trawl vessels landing into Washington has declined to less than 10 vessels per year, which represents about a 90 percent decrease from historical participation levels. Another statistic relevant to potential habitat impact is trawl effort. The total hours of trawler fishing effort on the outer coast averaged about 10,000 hours per year between 1989 and 1997 (Shoji 1999), yet a subsequent decline in the amount of trawl hours has also occurred as the number of vessels has decreased, coupled with a general reduction in trawl trip limits for target species. While Washington bottom trawl fishermen typically used moderate-sized vessels (e.g., less than 30.5 meters or 100 feet length), there was an especially high-impact fishery practiced in deeper waters for more than two decades. Beginning in 1966, a large Soviet fleet of factory trawlers began fishing off the U.S. coasts of California, Oregon and Washington. The vessels were large stern ramp trawlers exceeding 76 meters (250 feet) in length using large gear that fished mostly on the continental shelf and upper slope at depths ranging from about 91 to 220 meters (300 to 720 feet). Their efforts continued until 1991, when all commercial fishing by foreign vessels was excluded from waters within 200 nautical miles (370 kilometers) of the U.S. coastline.

Figure 22. Composite map of overall change in bottom trawl effort by WDFW block area over 1989-1997. (Shoji 1999)
Figure 22. Composite map of overall change in bottom trawl effort by WDFW block area over 1989-1997. (Shoji 1999) Click here for a larger version.
Although the manner in which data were collected in the past makes it difficult to map precisely the level of bottom trawl effort by area, there clearly has been significant interaction between the fishery and the sanctuary seafloor for several decades. Although bottom trawl effort in different areas has changed over time, analysis of Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) commercial trawl logbooks between 1989 and 1997 indicates that trawling occurred widely throughout the sanctuary during this period (Figure 22). There is also an indication of increased trawling pressure within the individual blocks depicted in Figure 22, where the number of blocks with greater than 120 tows per year increased from zero to 11 for the time intervals of 1991-1993 and 1997-1999, respectively (data compiled from NRC 2002). Moreover, large footrope gear (i.e., footrope greater than eight inches in diameter) that allows trawlers to access rockier areas by bouncing the bottom of the trawl net over larger obstructions without tearing nets, was not restricted West Coast-wide until 2000 (PFMC 2005). In recent years, fishery management measures that restrict footrope gear size and limit areas open to trawlers have focused trawl effort more toward soft seafloor substrates where gear impacts on the physical habitat are less of a concern. Off of Washington, WDFW has had a five-inch footrope restriction on non-tribal trawling in state waters (within three nautical miles or 5.5 kilometers of shore) since 1996; WDFW then followed up with a complete prohibition on bottom trawl gear in state waters in 2000. More recent designation of Essential Fish Habitat and Rockfish Conservation Areas, which restrict bottom trawl fishing by non-tribal commercial vessels, and Non-Trawl Rockfish Conservation Areas that restrict longline and pot gear, also reduces seafloor impacts in the sanctuary by non-tribal fishers. These measures are discussed in more detail in the Response to Pressures section of this report. Although detailed information on historic and current conditions in the sanctuary's deep seafloor habitats is limited, the degree and extent of alteration to the physical complexity of these habitats resulting from past bottom trawling activity are cause for concern, based on evidence from other locations in both the Pacific and Atlantic (Auster and Langton 1999, NRC 2002, Thrush and Davton 2002). The most significant threat, however, is the impact of these damages to the distribution and abundance of biologically structured habitats on the sanctuary seafloor (see Question 6).

6. What is the condition of biologically structured habitats and how is it changing?

Intertidal and nearshore habitats structured by living or once-living organisms are intact and thriving in the sanctuary. Of concern are biogenic habitats in deeper areas of the sanctuary that are presumed to have been degraded by extensive practice of bottom trawl and longline fisheries. The trend is undetermined because these habitats may not recover quickly or may never re-establish to their original composition, and recovery can occur only where bottom contact gear is prohibited.

Biologically structured habitats in rocky intertidal areas include macroalgae and invertebrate communities (e.g., mussel beds) that provide micro-habitats for many species of invertebrates and fish. Monitoring conducted by Olympic National Park since 1989 indicates that these habitats are healthy and do not appear to be changing substantially in response to human influences. Large-scale disturbances related primarily to extreme winter weather cause periodic damage to mussel beds (Paine and Levin 1981). Coastal ecologists have begun to design studies to better detect changes that may result from effects of global climate change, such as sea level rise, reduced pH, increasing temperatures, and changes in storm frequency and magnitude. Local trends in these parameters are uncertain, however, and no definitive results have yet been published.

In nearshore areas, canopy kelp beds form a productive, physically complex and protected habitat with a rich biological community association of fish, invertebrates and sea otters. The first historical record for Washington kelp occurred in 1912 (Rigg 1915) as part of the war effort to assess potential sources of potash. Annual monitoring and quantification of the floating kelp canopy has been conducted since 1989 by the Washington Department of Natural Resources and in collaboration with the sanctuary since 1995. Although the canopy changes every year, these kelp beds are generally considered stable. In fact, the area covered by floating kelp has been increasing along the outer coast and western portion of the Strait of Juan de Fuca (Figure 23; Berry et al. 2005;). This increase may be due in part to a growing population of sea otters and subsequent decline in grazing sea urchins or may be influenced by changes in oceanographic conditions. In contrast, extensive logging of the Olympic Peninsula, an area of very high rainfall, has markedly increased sediment loads in rivers in the past. Long-term residents along the coast have noted a reduction in kelp beds near river mouths, which may have been associated with siltation of nearshore habitat and reduced light penetration (Chris Morganroth III, personal communication in Norse 1994).

Figure 23. Annual floating kelp canopy area since 1989 along the Washington coast and the Strait of Juan de Fuca. (data from WDNR)
Figure 23. Annual floating kelp canopy area since 1989 along the Washington coast and the Strait of Juan de Fuca. (Source: WDFW data)
Figure 24. Potential historic distribution of biologically structured habitat associated with hard substrate in the Olympic Coast sanctuary. (data from Curt Whitmire, NOAA)
Figure 24. Potential historic distribution of biologically structured habitat associated with hard substrate in the Olympic Coast sanctuary. (Source: NOAA data)
Some deepwater corals found off the Pacific Coast are designated as "structure forming" because they provide vertical structure above the seafloor that serves as habitat for other invertebrate and fish species (Whitmire and Clarke 2007). Other emergent epifauna, such as sponges, hydroids and bryozoans, also provide living habitat for invertebrates and fishes. These organisms are vulnerable to damage from bottom contact fishing gear, and because many have slow growth and recruitment rates, damage can be long-lasting (Auster and Langton 1999, Norse and Watling 1999, NRC 2002, Thrush and Dayton 2002). Information on the historic distribution and condition of habitat-forming corals in the sanctuary is extremely limited, based on observations compiled from NOAA Fisheries trawl surveys from which identification of invertebrates was very limited particularly prior to 1980 (Whitmire and Clarke 2007) and occasional observations by West Coast research institutions (Etnoyer and Morgan 2003). These data, augmented by video surveys conducted more recently by the sanctuary in limited areas, indicate the presence of several habitat-forming species. The paucity of data is indicated by the first discovery in 2004 of Lophelia pertusa in the sanctuary (Hyland et al. 2005), a species with high potential as a biogenic habitat producer (Whitmire and Clarke 2007). Surveys conducted since then have documented additional living and dead colonies of L. pertusa and several other species of corals and sponges in the sanctuary (Brancato et al. 2007). Analysis of seafloor habitat data used for Essential Fish Habitat (EFH) designation indicates that approximately 6 percent of the sanctuary is hard substrate with potential to host biologically structured habitat (Figure 24). Of this, 29 percent lies within the Olympic 2 EFH conservation area (see Figure 35). Recent surveys by Olympic Coast sanctuary researchers have documented corals and other biologically structured habitat in other areas, which indicates this analysis may underestimate the historic or current distribution of biologically structured habitat.

Of all fishing gear types used in the region, bottom trawls have the highest severity ranking (in terms of severity and extent of damage) for potential impacts to deep corals (Morgan and Chuendpagdee 2003). A single pass of a bottom trawl was shown to have significant impacts on corals in Alaska (Krieger 2001). Bottom trawls are followed in severity by bottom longlines. Longline gear can travel significant distances over the seafloor, particularly during retrieval, snaring or undercutting emergent structures (Whitmire and Clarke 2007). Several recent management measures implemented through the Pacific Fisheries Management Council for non-tribal commercial fisheries, such as footrope size restrictions, EFH designations, vessel buyback programs, and Rockfish Conservation Area designations restricting use of trawl and non-trawl gear, will reduce ongoing impacts to such habitats.

The condition of the sanctuary’s biologically structured habitats prior to modern fishing activities may never be known. However, we do know that bottom trawl and longline fisheries have been widely practiced in the sanctuary for many decades, likely over all but the roughest of seafloor habitats. We also know that the sanctuary waters contain hard-bottom habitats that can support biogenic structures that are susceptible to damages from these activities. Consequently, we believe it is reasonable to assume that where trawl and longline fisheries have occurred on deep-sea biogenic habitats, it is likely they have been degraded and may not quickly recover. For example, growth rate studies of red tree coral from Alaska indicate recovery of fish habitat from trawl impacts may take 100 years or more (Andrews 2002). Intensive survey efforts will be required to determine the extent of detectable damage, and the rate of recovery can only be determined within areas where these practices are no longer allowed.

7. What are the contaminant concentrations in sanctuary habitats and how are they changing?

Sediment contamination levels (i.e., heavy metals and organic pollutants) in the Olympic Coast sanctuary are generally low and do not appear to be increasing. In 30 sediment samples taken in 2003 as part of the West Coast Environmental Monitoring and Assessment Program, there were no PCBs, DDT, or other chlorinated pesticides detected (Partridge 2007). Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs; found in oils and byproducts of petroleum combustion) and metals were found in the sediment throughout the sanctuary, but no concentrations exceeded Washington state sediment quality standards (WDOE 1995). At one location, a sediment quality guideline predictive of toxicity called the Effects Range-Low (ERL) was exceeded for silver, and at four locations the ERL was exceeded for chromium. The ERL is a concentration correlated with a low likelihood of toxicity to biological organisms (Long et al. 1995, O'Connor 2004). Anthropogenic sources for these metals are not known, but given the low level of human development along the shoreline, these conditions are not likely to change in the near future. Lost lead fishing weights may be a contaminant source, particularly if ingested by wildlife, but there have been no investigations to assess this risk in sanctuary waters.

Concentrations of contaminants in tissues can provide an integrated measure of bioavailability of compounds that are present at low or variable levels in the marine system. Chemical concentrations were recently measured in a variety of invertebrates and sea otters for a study of sea otter health (Brancato et al. 2006), the West Coast Environmental Monitoring and Assessment Program, and for NOAA’s Status and Trends, Mussel Watch Program. Contaminant concentrations were found to be low in all organisms, with very few exceptions.

Two potentially significant sources of chemical contaminants in the sanctuary include petroleum releases and atmospheric deposition. Physical evidence, such as tar balls on beaches and oil sheens on water, are occasionally noted in the sanctuary, but persistent and widespread contamination from petroleum has not been documented outside of major oil spills, the most recent of which occurred in 1991. Atmospheric sources of contaminants, however, are a growing regional concern associated with rapid industrialization of Southeast Asia (Wilkening et al. 2000), but the most significant impacts are anticipated in terrestrial systems.

8. What are the levels of human activities that may influence habitat quality and how are they changing?

Bottom-tending fishing gear has been employed widely throughout the sanctuary for many decades. Where this has occurred, biologically structured habitat that may have existed is likely to have been degraded. Moreover, diversity of organisms that live in the surface sediment layer, an important element in the seafloor food chain, can be reduced by bottom trawling (Collie et al. 1997; OCNMS unpublished data). Recent fisheries management measures have reduced the potential for further impacts to these habitats by reducing fishing effort and restricting areas where bottom trawling is practiced by non-tribal commercial fishers. Strengthened regulation of land use in watersheds and shoreline areas and management of visitor use in intertidal areas should improve protection of intertidal and nearshore habitats. As a result, it is expected that impacts to sanctuary habitats are decreasing, in general.

Figure 25. Groundfish Essential Fish Habitat and rockfish conservation areas mapped with OCNMS boundaries.
Figure 25. Groundfish Essential Fish Habitat and rockfish conservation areas mapped with OCNMS boundaries. (Source: NOAA)
The primary activity affecting the deepwater habitats of the sanctuary is bottom-contact fisheries. As noted under Question 5, the bottom trawl effort has significantly declined in comparison to historical levels. Also, the area subject to commercial trawling has been significantly reduced in the sanctuary through designation of permanent closures of groundfish Essential Fish Habitat and the creation of Rockfish Conservation Areas, where trawlers are excluded for the next several decades while key overfished rockfish stocks rebuild, as well as attrition of the fleet resulting in a reduction in bottom trawl effort (Figure 25). Requirements for use of small footrope gear also limits trawling to areas of low “roughness,” which tend to be seafloor substrates, such as sand, mud and gravel, where habitat is less degraded by bottom contact gear. If these area and gear restrictions remain in place over time, biogenic structures may improve, though with their low reproductive rates, slow growth rates and patchy distribution of source material, recovery may take decades (Andrews 2002, Etnoyer and Morgan 2003, Morgan et al. 2005, Whitmire and Clarke 2007).

The sanctuary’s boundaries include intertidal areas of Olympic National Park where habitat quality can be affected by harvesting and trampling by visitors. Park visitation rates have been relatively stable over the past decade, but the shoreline remains a popular destination, with most visits focused near the few access points where roads or trails approach the coast. Shoreline harvesting by non-tribal visitors is not common, yet evidence of destructive harvest practices, such as boulders denuded for fishing bait collection, can be seen, particularly at easily accessible locations. An exception is the popular razor clam harvest at Kalaloch and Mocrocks beaches, an activity that does not damage the high-energy, sandy beaches where razor clams live. Localized areas of habitat damage have been caused by fish bait harvesting (Erickson and Wullschleger 1998), but regulations have been implemented to minimize this activity. The park plans to implement harvest closure on approximately 30 percent of the shoreline, which will further reduce the pressure experienced at selected mixed gravel/cobble and rocky intertidal habitats (ONP 2008). Trampling and intertidal exploration may degrade intertidal habitats in some areas, but substantial impacts have not been documented (Erickson 2005).

Marine debris may be an increasing problem for the sanctuary, as has been demonstrated elsewhere. For example, the Ocean Conservancy’s monitoring program documented more than a 5 percent increase in debris per year in the United States from 1999 through 2005 (Ocean Conservancy 2007). Wildlife impacts from floating marine debris, such as entanglement and ingestion, have been documented in other areas and are assumed to occur off the Washington coast. Recent cleanup efforts on the Olympic Coast have removed significant quantities of marine debris from beaches — an estimated 24 tons in 2007 during a two-day clean up event — yet debris is continuously deposited on the shores. The decline in nearshore fishing effort and increasing expense of fishing gear might reduce abandonment of fishing gear in the sanctuary. Surveys in limited portions of the sanctuary have revealed few derelict nets in nearshore areas near Cape Flattery. Abandoned crab pots remain a problem along the coast, while in deeper areas abandoned longline gear and netting is likely to remain for many years because removal methods are not cost effective.

Land use in upland areas also has the potential to negatively impact nearshore habitats. Chief among these activities has been timber harvest in upland areas, with consequent alteration of water runoff and sediment transport regimes in rivers and nearshore areas. Road building and maintenance, runoff from roads and the development and maintenance of recreational facilities (e.g., campgrounds) and coastal residences all have potential to degrade nearshore habitats and water quality. Coastal development is increasing along the southern shore of the sanctuary. Although stronger regulation of forestry and construction practices is intended to minimize impacts to marine areas, monitoring for relevant parameters in freshwater inputs to sanctuary waters is not conducted routinely.

The U.S. Navy has historically trained and operated off the Washington coast, as described in the sanctuary’s original EIS (NOAA 1993). The Navy’s research and testing activities involving non-weaponized technologies, as well as their fleet training activities, currently are being evaluated for effects of existing activities and the associated environment in EIS documents. The Navy has proposed significant expansion in the area and extent of research and testing operations in the sanctuary. Although only non-weaponized technologies would be tested, an increase in Navy activity or areas of operation, if not properly controlled, could have potential to disturb the seabed, introduce pollutants associated with test systems, and produce sound energy that could negatively alter the acoustic environment within the sanctuary.

Underwater noise can act as pollution for acoustically oriented organisms, such as some whale and fish species, and can degrade the underwater habitat. The main source of anthropogenic noise within sanctuary waters is vessel traffic, with some contribution from military activities. The establishment of the Area To Be Avoided (ATBA) and high level of compliance by the commercial shipping industry suggests that the risk of pollution and acoustic impacts associated with shipping are reduced in the southern and nearshore portions of the sanctuary where vessel traffic is directed offshore. In northern sanctuary waters, convergence of Pacific Rim shipping routes into the western Strait of Juan de Fuca, vessel traffic lanes and ATBA boundaries all concentrate large vessels (see Figures 20 and 31) in an area where marine mammal density is relatively high (Calambokidis et al. 2004). Stable levels of shipping traffic in the northern sanctuary over the past five years suggest that noise from ships may remain relatively constant in the near future.

Living Resources Status and Trends

The living resources of the sanctuary are composed of a wide array of species organized into several ecological communities, including intertidal, nearshore, pelagic and benthic. Community structure is shaped by species-species interactions, such as competition and predation, and physical factors like disturbance, upwelling and temperature. Connections between communities are complex when considering that species can move between habitats at various stages of their life history, or even on a daily basis while foraging or seeking shelter. There are knowledge gaps in the dynamics of ecological communities, and these are areas of active and proposed scientific investigation.

Given the complexity of community types and the diversity within each, not all communities or species are discussed in detail. Rather, there is a greater focus on selected living resources where a better understanding of function and dynamics exists. Also, there is a greater emphasis on those species that serve as proxy for the health of overall community function.

The following information provides an assessment by sanctuary staff and subject area experts of the status and trends of living resources.

Living Resources Status and Trends
table
# Status Rating Basis For Judgement Description of Findings
9. Biodiversity
?
Ecosystem-level impacts caused by historical depletion of fish, high-order predators, and keystone species. Selected biodiversity loss may inhibit full community development and function, and may cause measurable but not severe degradation of ecosystem integrity.
10. Sustainable Fishing
?
Overexploitation of some groundfish species has led to wide area closures to rebuild fish stocks. Extraction may inhibit full community development and function, and may cause measurable but not severe degradation of ecosystem integrity.
11. Invasive Species
Invasive Sargassum and tunicate distrubutions are expanding. Non-indigenous species exist, precluding full community development and function, but are unlikely to cause substantial or persistent degradation of ecosystem integrity.
12. Key Species Status
?
Populations of Common Murres, sea otters and numerous rockfish reduced from historic levels, with differing recovery rates. The reduced abundance of selected keystone species may inhibit full community development and function, and may cause measurable but not severe degradation of ecosystem integrity; or selected key species are at reduced levels, but recovery is possible.
13. Key Species Condition
?
Diseases detected in sea otters. The condition of selected key resources is not optimal, perhaps precluding full ecological function, but substantial or persistent declines are not expected.
14. Human Activities
Commercial and recreational fishing pressure has decreased. Selected activities have resulted in measurable living resource impacts, but evidence suggests effects are localized, not widespread.

9. What is the status of biodiversity and how is it changing?

Biodiversity is variation of life at all levels of biological organization, and also commonly encompasses diversity within a species (genetic diversity) and among species (species diversity), and comparative diversity among ecosystems (ecosystem diversity). While thorough historic or current inventories are not available to fully measure biodiversity and trends in the sanctuary, there are numerous species in the sanctuary that have experienced population declines in recent decades, which indicates compromised biodiversity in the system. Incremental improvement in our understanding of ecosystem processes and intensified regulatory oversight have led to anticipated reductions in some impacts, and some depleted marine mammal populations have increased in numbers. Nevertheless, the decline of seabird populations and limited information about deep-sea organisms support an undetermined overall trend for biodiversity.

The sanctuary’s rocky intertidal community is biologically rich, with at least 300 documented species (Suchanek 1979, Dethier 1988), and new species are continuing to be discovered (deRivera et al. 2005). Long-term monitoring conducted by Olympic National Park in partnership with the sanctuary shows relatively stable trends in biodiversity (Dethier 1995, ONP unpublished data).

Less is known about the historic or current conditions of sub-tidal, open-water and deep-sea communities. A historical perspective suggests that many of the large mammals, high-order predators and keystone species no longer functioned in maintaining community structure when their stocks were depleted by commercial whaling, hunting and fishing (Roman and Palumbi 2003, Springer et al. 2003, Alter et al. 2007), although this topic remains controversial (Trites et al. 2007, Wade et al. 2007). For example, the loss of sea otters in kelp forest ecosystems, like those in the sanctuary, can cause cascading trophic impacts to the kelp itself and significant changes in biodiversity of that habitat due to the loss of predation pressure on herbivorous invertebrates such as the sea urchin (Estes et al. 1989, Estes and Duggins 1995, Kvitek et al. 1998). More recently, harbor seal numbers were severely reduced during the first half of the 20th century in Washington state by a state-financed population control program (Jeffries et al. 2003). Harbor seal and sea otter populations have rebounded to the point where some people are concerned that the Marine Mammal Protection Act’s effective removal of humans as predators on marine mammals is causing an imbalance in the system. Impacts of such dramatic population changes on trophic webs, although not well understood, are likely to have occurred, yet such impacts and recovery from them are difficult to estimate in the absence of historical information.

Although species richness (number of species in a community) may be relatively intact, as evidenced by few documented local vertebrate species extinctions, species evenness (the relative abundance of each species within a community) has undergone documented changes. Severe decreases in abundance of a species can impact ecosystem function. Changes in species evenness are exemplified by declining numbers of several locally breeding seabirds including the Common Murre, Tufted Puffin, Marbled Murrelet, Cassin’s Auklet and Brandt’s Cormorant. Populations of these species are considered declining in the area, and all are Washington state species of concern. The Marbled Murrelet is also federally threatened, and the Tufted Puffin is a federal species of concern. Four species of rockfish found in the sanctuary have been classified as overfished by the NOAA Fisheries Service (NMFS 2006). Nineteen fish species found within the sanctuary are identified as Washington state species of concern, of which eight also have some degree of federal protected status. Eleven marine mammals, three sea turtles and nine species of marine birds found in the sanctuary are on either federal or state species of concern lists across their range (Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife 2008). These are specific examples of the declining indices of biodiversity within the sanctuary.

Biodiversity within deepwater communities off the Washington coast is poorly understood, given the logistical challenges of conducting research in this habitat. Due to technological advances in undersea research, census and evaluation of ecological integrity of deep-sea habitats has only recently begun for fish assemblages (Rogers and Pikitch 1992, Jagielo et al. 2003) and coral and sponge communities (Etnoyer and Morgan 2003, Morgan et al. 2006, Brancato et al. 2007, Lumsden et al. 2007). There are indications that deepwater sponge and coral communities in the sanctuary have been impacted before many aspects of their basic biology and ecology could be ascertained (Brancato et al. 2007). Overall, there is much that is not known about the species richness and evenness of several important communities within the sanctuary. The importance of biodiversity of ocean ecosystems cannot be discounted when considering its central role in recovery of systems from perturbations (Worm et al. 2006).

10. What is the status of environmentally sustainable fishing and how is it changing?

Environmentally sustainable fishing protects the fish and the environment in which they live while allowing responsible use of the species that come from that environment. It is designed to protect the integrity of ecosystem structure, productivity, function and biodiversity, including habitat and associated dependent and ecologically related biological communities. 

The major commercial fisheries that operate in the sanctuary target groundfish (bottom trawl and longline), Pacific halibut, Dungeness crab, pink shrimp, sardines and salmon. In addition, there are significant recreational fisheries in the sanctuary that target salmon, groundfish and halibut. In general, professional fisheries managers appear optimistic that sustainable fisheries off the outer coast of Washington are possible under new management regimes following historical stock declines. Because this is the first condition report completed for the Olympic Coast sanctuary, and acknowledging the potentially long lag period between fishery actions and observable ecosystem level repercussions, this report examines this question from a long-term perspective, looking back one or more decades. 

For several decades, commercial and recreational fisheries have extracted significant biomass from waters now encompassed by the sanctuary, in part using methods that are known to reduce complexity and damage living structures of seafloor habitats. Management actions, such as reduction of fish stocks to less than 50 percent of the unfished biomass, have the potential to alter ecosystems. Meanwhile, scientists are just beginning to understand fundamental elements of ecosystem function — the distribution and community composition of seafloor habitats, the distribution of and habitat requirements for different life stages of important commercial species, the significance of diverse age structures in sustaining fishery resources, and many other factors that influence community development and function. Recent fishery management measures implemented to reduce fishing effort, monitor and minimize bycatch, and reduce impacts to habitat appear to have assisted initial recovery of some overfished groundfish stocks and provide evidence for an improving trend.

The complexity of the groundfish stocks makes it difficult to make generalized statements about the sustainability of groundfish fisheries off the Washington coast. More than 90 species of groundfish, including over 60 species of rockfish, are managed under the Pacific Fisheries Management Council’s ( PFMC) Groundfish Fishery Management Plan. Beginning in the 1970s, improved understanding of life history characteristics led fisheries scientists to conclude that many of these species were incapable of sustaining high-intensity fishing pressure using modern fishing methods (PFMC 2008a). In recent years, West Coast groundfish stocks and fisheries have been in crisis, with steep declines in commercial ex-vessel value, overcapitalization, and several groundfish stocks depleted by a combination of fishing and natural factors (NMFS 2002). There are increasing concerns that our limited ability to forecast groundfish production from single species investigations is missing important natural and fishery-induced changes in the ecosystem and will not be able to forecast truly sustainable harvest policies (NMFS 2002).

Some groundfish species have been depleted in the past and have recovered quickly (e.g., English sole, Pacific whiting, and lingcod), while others are rebuilding more slowly (e.g., Pacific ocean perch) (PFMC 2008a). For depleted species, rebuilding programs are in place, with anticipated stock recovery period from several to over 80 years for different species. All species considered depleted are on track to be rebuilt by their respective schedules, which take into account their different life histories. Most groundfish populations are below 50 percent of their estimated unfished or original biomass (Figure 26). Of the 22 species of groundfish that occur in the sanctuary and are managed at the species level, 13 species have stocks that are considered healthy, three species are in a precautionary status, and five are depleted (canary, yelloweye, widow and darkblotched rockfish, and Pacific ocean perch) (PFMC 2008a). The remaining groundfish species are unassessed or managed in groupings or stock complexes, because individually they comprise a small part of the landed catch or stock assessments have not been completed. For some species, it is likely that insufficient information exists to develop adequate stock assessments.

Figure 26. Historic trends in groundfish abundance off the West Coast. (from NMFS/FRAM)
Figure 26. Historic trends in groundfish abundance off the West Coast. (Source: NMFS/FRAM)

Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary lies within the California Current marine ecosystem, which contains a complex web of pelagic and demersal fish resources, marine mammals, birds, invertebrate resources and elements of the food chain that support these more visible and economically valuable resources. This ecosystem undergoes significant climate fluctuations that last from a couple of years to several decades, and these cycles can both increase and mask the human impacts. For example, computer model simulations of the Northern California current ecosystem (including the sanctuary) support the general assertion of a significant shift in the mid-1970s from a cold regime with high zooplankton productivity to a warmer regime with lower productivity and declining fish stocks (Field et al. 2001). There are some indications that the biomass off Washington of several rockfish species is high (per unit area) compared to Oregon and California, and this information has been taken into account for the management of some stocks (e.g., black rockfish). Survey data have been collected during NOAA Fisheries trawl surveys, but have not been quantitatively analyzed to determine if other groundfish stocks off Washington or in the sanctuary are more abundant than those off Oregon and California. Additional discussion of groundfish stocks is provided under Question 12.

Fisheries for crab and shrimp off the outer coast of Washington experience catch fluctuations but appear to be sustainable. The commercial Dungeness crab fishery has over 200 Washington coastal commercial Dungeness crab license holders. Dungeness crab landing data back to 1950 shows a large fluctuation in harvest, ranging from a low of 1,130 metric tons (2.5 million pounds) in 1981 to a high of 11,300 metric tons (25 million pounds) in 2004-2005, averaging 4,300 metric tons (9.5 million pounds) per year. This large fluctuation in landings is likely due to varying ocean conditions including water temperature, food availability and ocean currents. A fishery for pink shrimp off Washington peaked in 1988, with landings just over 18 million pounds and about 100 vessels involved. Within a few years, a dramatic decline in local abundance drove many fishers out of the fishery. Since 2000, the Washington coastal fishery has been stable, with landings of seven to eight million pounds annually and about 25 fishers participating. Management of the fishery is passive, with no stock assessment or mandatory logbook program in place. Most shrimp and crab fishing occurs off the central and southern coast of Washington.

The Pacific halibut fishery is managed by the United States and Canada in a bilateral commission known as the International Pacific Halibut Commission. Annual catches and bycatch are strictly capped. Female halibut spawning biomass is estimated at three to four times above the historical minimum in the mid-1970s, indicating that the halibut population is in good condition (NMFS 2004).The commission refers to U.S. waters off the states of Washington, Oregon and California collectively as "Area 2A." Because populations in this area are considered healthy, catch limits in Area 2A for commercial, treaty and recreational halibut fishing are approximately double limits imposed in the early 1990s .

Chinook and coho salmon are the main salmon species managed by PFMC off Washington’s outer coast. In odd-numbered years, fisheries are also conducted near the Canadian border for pink salmon, which are primarily of Frasier River origin. Managing ocean salmon fisheries is an extremely complex task, due in large part to the wide oceanic distribution of the salmon and difficulty in estimating the size of salmon populations. Salmon numbers can vary widely from year to year, and returns can differ significantly from model estimates. In the past decade, landings from the ocean troll fishery off Washington (excluding the area south of Willapa Bay) varied five-fold for chinook and nine-fold for coho between low and high catch years, but no clear trends in landings are evident (PFMC 2008b). Salmon at all life history stages are affected by a wide variety of natural and human-caused factors in the ocean and on land, including ocean and climatic conditions, habitat degradation and loss, and predators (including humans). Other challenges to a sustainable salmon fishery off the Washington coast include judging the effects of different regional fisheries on salmon stocks, recovering salmon under the Endangered Species Act, dividing the harvest fairly, impacts from salmon aquaculture, competition between wild and hatchery salmon, and restoring freshwater habitat (PFMC 2008b).

The past decade has seen a paradigm shift in the management of fisheries from assessments of target stocks to a more holistic consideration of sustaining marine ecosystems, as well as fishing yields (NMFS 1999, Pikitch et al. 2004, Fluharty 2005, Tudela and Short 2005, Babcock et al. 2005). Fishery managers are now beginning to define and employ this practice (Zabel et al. 2003, Marasco et al. 2007, PSMFC 2005). The ecosystem-based fisheries management approach requires managers to consider all biotic interactions of predators, competitors and prey at all life history stages, the effects of physical factors such as climate and weather on fisheries biology and ecology, the complex interactions between fishes and their habitat, and the effects of fishing on fish stocks and their habitat (NMFS 1999).

Ecosystem-based fisheries management is designed to forge a healthy long-term relationship within and between ecosystems, economies, and societies (NMFS 1999, Gaichas 2008). Management of ecologically or environmentally sustainable fisheries includes consideration of measures such as the elimination of overfishing, minimizing habitat damage and loss, and insuring that the total of all biomass removed by all fisheries in an ecosystem does not exceed a total amount of system productivity (Pikitch et al. 2004). Such management goals also include maintaining populations of target species to conserve their natural role in maintaining ecosystem function while enabling sustainable reproduction rates, eliminating the use of fishing gear that creates a high level of bycatch or incidental contact with non-target species, and restricting removals from critical feeding, breeding and spawning grounds to protect marine ecosystems (NMFS 2006).

Fisheries management policies enacted on the West Coast and within the Olympic Coast sanctuary have been progressive steps to incorporate ecosystem-based fishery management concepts and improve trends toward restoring historical population levels. A variety of recent fishery management actions off the Washington coast, such as trawl footrope gear restrictions, low-rise nets that reduce bycatch, monitoring of bycatch, protection of Essential Fish Habitat (NMFS 2006), implementation of stock rebuilding plans, and establishment of temporary area closures (Rockfish Conservation Areas) to promote recovery of species under rebuilding plans, have provided early indications that depleted stocks can recover and these fisheries can be sustainably practiced.

11. What is the status of non-indigenous species and how is it changing?

Relatively few exotic or non-indigenous species have been reported in the sanctuary and, of those, only a few are invasive and therefore threatening to community structure and function. Observations by coastal ecologists from Olympic National Park and the Olympic Coast sanctuary of increased amounts of the invasive brown algae Sargassum muticum, the documented range expansion of invasive ascidians (tunicates or sea squirts) (deRivera et al. 2005), and the encroachment of the invasive green crab to areas both south and north of the sanctuary all suggest that negative impacts from non-indigenous species are likely to increase in the future.

The sanctuary’s rapid assessment intertidal surveys from 2001 and 2002 identified nine non-indigenous invertebrate species (two polychaetes, one amphipod, one bryozoan, four bivalves and one ascidian) and one algal species. A 2005 study of non-indigenous species along the West Coast in marine protected areas using settling plates located on buoys offshore found four non-indigenous species (one crustacean and three ascidians) inhabiting the Olympic Coast sanctuary (deRivera et al. 2005).

Ports and marinas tend to have higher numbers of invasive species due to transport by vessels (deRivera et al. 2005). There are no major ports located within sanctuary waters, and the few marinas that exist are relatively small, which may slow the number and severity of species invasions. However, shipping traffic through the sanctuary may provide a vector for non-indigenous species via transport on hulls and discharge of ballast water. To minimize this risk, Washington state recently strengthened regulations covering ballast water exchange. Ships traveling from outside the U.S. Exclusive Economic  Zone must exchange ballast water no closer than 200 nautical miles (374 kilometers) offshore, while ships considered U.S. coastal traffic, including Canadian waters, must exchange ballast water no closer than 50 nautical miles (93 kilometers) offshore. Even with regulations in place, there is a need for basic understanding of the spatial and temporal patterns of invasions (deRivera et al. 2005).

12. What is the status of key species and how is it changing?

Key species (e.g., keystone species, indicator species, sensitive species and those targeted for special protection) within the sanctuary are numerous, and all cannot be covered here. Emphasis is placed on examples from various primary habitats of the sanctuary: seabirds for nearshore and pelagic habitats, sea otters for nearshore habitat, and rockfish for deep seabed habitats. In this response, status refers primarily to population numbers, as opposed to condition or health of the populations as addressed under Question 13. Several species of seabirds that breed and feed in the sanctuary, several species of cetaceans that forage in or visit sanctuary waters, and a few groundfish species that inhabit the sanctuary are reduced in numbers in comparison to historical levels. In many cases, their recovery is uncertain and linked to dynamic and poorly understood ecosystem-level processes. 

Seabirds are relatively numerous, conspicuous, and forage across multiple habitat types and trophic levels. For these reasons, they are often considered indicators of ocean conditions, and the status of their populations provide insight into ecosystem health (Parrish and Zador 2003, Piatt et al. 2007). Many feed on forage fish, a critical link in the food chain, but one that is difficult to quantify by direct observation. Five species of marine birds that breed in the sanctuary are on federal or state species of concern lists: Common Murre, Marbled Murrelet, Tufted Puffin, Cassin’s Auklet, and Brandt’s Cormorant. Trends and common concerns among these seabirds are long-term declines in their population sizes (Wahl and Tweit 2000, Wahl et al. 2005, Raphael 2006); vulnerability to human disturbances such as oil spills, habitat disruption and fisheries bycatch (Piatt et al. 2002, Raphael 2006); and susceptibility to natural disturbances such as ENSO events (Graybill and Hodder 1985, Wilson 1991, Piatt et al. 2002, Wahl et al. 2005). Some population levels do appear to be stabilizing at values lower than historical levels; however, a longer time series is needed to determine a trend (Lance and Pearson 2008).

A closer examination of the Common Murre population provides insight into some factors affecting the status of all seabirds on the Washington coast. The murre population declined dramatically in 1982 and 1983, coinciding with a severe El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO), and has not recovered to pre-1983 levels since that time (Warheit and Thompson 2004). Aside from other ENSO events, it has been suggested that the population has not recovered due to a combination of oil spills, disturbance at breeding colonies (e.g., historic Naval bombing practices), and gillnet mortality (Warheit and Thompson 2004). Two oil spill events have occurred in recent times on the Washington coast, one in 1988 (the Nestucca) and the other 1991 (the Tenyo Maru). In both spills, Common Murres were a significant proportion of the bird mortality (74 percent and 73 percent respectively of the birds recovered; Parrish personal communication). There were 9,275 Common Murre mortalities documented from the Nestucca spill (Parrish personal communication), from which total mortality was estimated at 30,000 murres off the outer coast of Washington (Manuwal et al. 2001). During the Tenyo Maru oil spill, 3,157 Common Murre mortalities were documented, suggesting that a potentially sizable proportion of the total Washington state Common Murre population may have been killed by the spill (The Tenyo Maru Oil Spill Natural Resource Trustees 2000). Although the sanctuary’s Common Murre population showed signs of recovery through the 1990s, the number of birds has diminished greatly relative to pre-spill numbers, and modest declines have been found in recent years (Manuwal et al. 2001). At the breeding colony on Tatoosh Island, Common Murre populations have also been affected by an influx of avian predators, including Bald Eagles, Peregrine Falcons and nest-depredating Glaucous-winged Gulls (Parrish et al. 2001). The multiple stressors affecting the sluggish recovery of Common Murres may be indicative of the challenges facing the long-term recovery of other seabirds.

The sea otter is often considered a keystone species because of the strong top-down influence they have on the nearshore kelp ecosystem. Sea otters are of high interest because sea otters were extirpated from Washington state by commercial pelt hunters by 1911, then were reintroduced in 1969 and 1970 (Lance et al. 2004). This population has been counted annually since 1989 and has shown increases the past few years, with a peak of 1,121 animals in 2008 (Jameson and Jeffries 2008). However, the sea otter population remains vulnerable to catastrophic events (e.g., oil spills), and the population rate of increase has been slower than expected. The population is still considered to be below the estimated carrying capacity based on historical and regional habitat use, which includes rocky, sandy and mixed substrates (Laidre et al. 2002; Lance et al. 2004). However, habitat loss in estuaries such as Grays Harbor could reduce the actual carrying capacity, and it remains to be seen if the projected rocky habitat density (7.1 otters per kilometer of shoreline) will be attained along the Olympic shoreline. The sea otter remains a federal species of concern and an endangered species within Washington state. The sea otter population remains vulnerable because of its small size, limited genetic diversity, existing exposure to pathogens, and risks from spills (see Question 13).

Indicator species of the deep-sea environs are not clearly defined due to limited information about this remote region of the ocean. Very little is known about the status of deep-sea coral and sponge communities (Brancato et al. 2007, Whitmire and Clarke 2007). Rockfish assemblages are a key vertebrate guild that could serve as a proxy for the condition of deep-sea communities. Unfortunately, the status of discrete fish stocks relevant to Washington state is not well defined for most rockfish species independently from the West Coast assessment effort. In general, the PFMC has indicated its support for regional management of stocks where appropriate and when there are data to support such a management structure. Stock assessment authors are asked to review and evaluate all available data to determine whether a regional management approach would be recommended for the stock being assessed. In some cases, however, even when adequate data are available to support more discrete management, the PFMC has chosen to continue to manage those stocks on a coast-wide basis. Groundfish fisheries are also discussed under Question 10.

13. What is the condition or health of key species and how is it changing?

As indicated above in Question 12, the sanctuary selected certain seabirds, sea otters and rockfish as key species or indicators of ecosystem health. The condition or health of each is discussed below. Exposure to pathogens that have killed sea otters in California, bioaccumulation of organic pollutants in high-order predators, modification of natural population structure through harvest, and uncertainty about altered oceanographic conditions associated with climate change all contribute to degradation of ecosystem integrity. Long-term implications of these conditions are uncertain. 

Most wildlife populations in the sanctuary are relatively healthy and unburdened by contaminants, pathogens or related maladies. There are, however, notable exceptions. The sea otter population has been shown to carry several potentially lethal pathogens. In a study where tissue samples were collected from 30 live sea otters, 80 percent of the otters tested positive for the distemper viral complex Morbillivirus and 60 percent tested positive for the protozoan Toxoplasma gondii (Brancato et al. 2006). No direct negative health effects in the Washington population have yet been documented from these pathogens; however, Toxoplasma has been a cause of mortality in California sea otters (Miller et al. 2004). In addition, there was a positive correlation between chemical contaminants such as PCBs and pathogen levels, with the latter used as a proxy for immunosuppression (Brancato et al. 2006). Furthermore, PCB levels were correlated with a significant reduction of vitamin A stores in the liver, yet overall, tissue concentrations of assayed contaminants were relatively low in Washington sea otters (Brancato et al. 2006). Fat-soluble contaminants are generally considered to bioaccumulate or increase in concentration when moving up the food web (Cockcroft et al. 1989). Top predators in the region, such as killer whales, have been shown to carry high contaminant loads (e.g., PCBs and PBDEs) in their blubber (Ross et al. 2000, Ross 2006), though the population effects of such high contaminant loads are unknown.

Sea otter populations were regionally extirpated in the early 1900s, but 59 individuals were reintroduced to the area in 1969 and 1970. Consequently, there is reduced genetic variation in the Washington coast sea otter population when compared with ancient sea otter remains, as determined by analysis of DNA sequences (Larson et al. 2002). Reduced genetic variability is generally considered to impart deleterious effects such as reduced fecundity, higher juvenile mortality and reduced capacity to combat environmental stressors (Ralls et al. 1983, Lance et al. 2004). Sea otter populations should be closely monitored for such adverse effects, and to determine when the population crosses the strait, potentially breeding with the population around Vancouver Island, which could increase genetic variability. At the moment, the condition or health of sea otters is stable, but merits watching.

Age structure, an important measure of population integrity, has been affected by extractive activities. Some rockfish populations have been shown to have reduced numbers of larger, older fish, a factor that could affect their recovery rate (PFMC 2008a). There is a positive relationship between fecundity and age in long-lived Pacific rockfish such as the genus Sebastes (Eldridge and Jarvis 1995). Furthermore, larvae of larger, older rockfish are better conditioned in terms of higher growth rates and ability to withstand starvation (Berkeley et al. 2004). Removals of older individuals from long-lived species can also have broader ecological impacts (Heppell et al. 2005). However, in most cases, the status of the larger, older fish within the population is unknown (i.e., it has not been determined whether the older fish are simply missing because they have been removed from the population, or are not available to the data source — e.g., the fishery or survey used as the index of abundance in the assessment).

Age structure and mortality rates are also in question in some bird populations on the coast. Common murres on Tatoosh Island have experienced documented breeding failures during recent years, partially attributed to oil spills and observed heavy predation by raptors and gulls, but also possibly due to low food supply during critical breeding periods (Parrish et al. 2001, Warheit and Thompson 2003). Because they are long-lived, an occasional year of poor productivity may not impact the population significantly, but multiple years or successive years of breeding failure would likely have future impacts on the population. Baseline mortality rates for Common Murres and other seabirds are currently being examined through the Coastal Observation and Seabird Survey Team program, a comprehensive coast-wide program initiated in 1999 to document beach-cast bird trends over time (Hass and Parrish 2000). Recent demographic studies of Marbled Murrelets in the region have indicated that they have had low nesting success in recent years (Raphael and Bloxton 2008), which may inhibit their recovery or at least slow the rate of recovery.

14. What are the levels of human activities that may influence living resource quality and how are they changing?

Fishing has in the past and continues today to affect sanctuary habitats and biota in a number of ways. For several decades, bottom-contact fishing gear used by commercial fishers damaged seafloor habitat widely in the sanctuary and altered benthic communities by removing biogenic structures and disturbing infauna. As discussed above, recent fishery management actions have significantly reduced, but not completely eliminated, the potential for further habitat damage. However, because the distribution of deep-sea coral and sponge communities has never been quantified or sufficiently mapped within the sanctuary, it is difficult to determine the extent of overlap between existing biogenic communities and current fishing activity. From the ecosystem perspective, there remain concerns that industrial fishing targets larger, older fish, which alters age structure and can reduce the breeding potential of long-lived species such as certain rockfish species (NRC 2006). Moreover, past overfishing has caused dramatic reduction in some fish stocks (see Figure 26). Recent closure of large portions of the sanctuary to fishing techniques that target species most vulnerable to overfishing is expected to mitigate past impacts to both seafloor habitats and ecosystem integrity, and indicates the potential for recovery.  

Oil spills remain the most serious threat to local populations of marine organisms. Although no major spills have occurred within the sanctuary since the Tenyo Maru spill in 1991, some populations, such as the Common Murre, have not yet recovered from that spill. The establishment of the Area To Be Avoided has helped to keep oil barges, tankers and other large commercial vessels away from the most biologically sensitive areas, and the rescue tug stationed at Neah Bay has averted several hazardous situations. However, because of the heavy shipping traffic using the Strait of Juan de Fuca, combined with the challenging seas of the eastern North Pacific, the sanctuary still remains at risk from a catastrophic spill.

Maritime Archaeological Resources Status and Trends

Figure 27. Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary is the graveyard for many shipwrecks. Human error, treacherous weather, dangerous reefs and headlands and ships  navigational or operational failures still contribute to this place's hazardous reputation among mariners. This anchor is nearly all that remains of the bark Austria, grounded at Cape Alava in 1887. (Photo: Olympic Coast sanctuary)
Figure 27. Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary is the graveyard for many shipwrecks. Human error, treacherous weather, dangerous reefs and headlands and ships' navigational or operational failures still contribute to this place's hazardous reputation among mariners. This anchor is nearly all that remains of the bark Austria, grounded at Cape Alava in 1887. (Photo: Olympic Coast sanctuary)
Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary has a rich maritime heritage where lives, languages, communities and cultures are constantly shaped by the sea. The Makah, Quileute, Hoh and Quinault peoples traditionally lived at the water's edge, thriving on the riches of the ocean - plants, fish, shellfish, seabirds and marine mammals. The waters of the sanctuary were highways that linked native peoples all along the coast as they traveled by canoe while mastering currents, weather and tides. The rugged Olympic Coast can also be treacherous, especially during winter storms when high winds and strong currents can push ships dangerously close to the rocky islands, reefs and shoreline - over 180 ships were wrecked or lost at sea in or near sanctuary waters in the years from 1808 to 1972 (Figure 27). The following discussion addresses issues facing these sanctuary resources with respect to their integrity and condition, potential hazards they pose, and ways in which human activities may impact their integrity.

The following information provides an assessment by sanctuary staff and subject area experts of the status and trends pertaining to the current state of the sanctuary's maritime archaeological resources.

Maritime Archaeological Resources Status and Trends
table
# Status Rating Basis For Judgement Description of Findings
15. Integrity
?
Deepwater wrecks stable; shallow wrecks subject to environmental degradation; lack of monitoring to determine trend. The diminished condition of selected archaeological resources has reduced, to some extent, their historical, scientific or educational value, and may affect the eligibility of some sites for listing in the National Register of Historic Places.
16. Threat to Environment
Historic wrecks did not carry substantial quantities of hazardous cargoes. Known maritime archaeological resources pose few or no environmental threats.
17. Human Activities
?
Unauthorized salvaging nearshore; fishing activities and cable installations offshore. Selected activities have resulted in measurable impacts to maritime archaeological resources, but evidence suggests effects are localized, not widespread.

15. What is the integrity of maritime archaeological resources and how is it changing?

In general, the sanctuary’s maritime archaeological resources are not being managed in accordance with the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) due to limited funding, and efforts to locate and assess maritime archaeological resources have been extremely limited.

While the Olympic Coast has been the focus of human communities for thousands of years and has figured prominently in Pacific Northwest maritime history, there is no agency-sponsored inventory of submerged maritime archaeological resources in the offshore environment in the sanctuary. The sanctuary’s inventory contains information of approximately 180 known vessel losses, and limited efforts to locate specific wrecks have revealed only a few wreck sites..

Due to limited survey effort, few deepwater shipwrecks are known. Of these, only the World War II submarine USS Bugara has received any survey attention. Archaeological resources in deep offshore waters are generally in a more stable environment because such environments tend to be calmer and have fewer physical and biological processes accelerating ship degradation compared to nearshore sites. Historical and recent bottom trawling is one probable impact to offshore maritime archaeological resources that has potentially damaged submerged historic resources. Because the majority of wreck locations are unknown, the impacts from historical and recent trawling are unknown. Anecdotal reports have indicated damage from fishing gear or fishing practices, such as entanglement and snagging. The development of underwater technologies now affords the public the opportunity to locate and visit deepwater archaeological resources in the offshore environment. As with divers visiting accessible nearshore archaeological sites, the diving community must be educated on the regulations in place in order to protect these non-renewable resources. In the absence of a robust cultural resources education program, the maritime resources may be subject to vandalism, looting or damage.

Figure 28. Wreck of the Lamut, a Russian merchant ship lost in 1943 near Quillayute Needles.
Figure 28. Wreck of the Lamut, a Russian merchant ship lost in 1943 near Quillayute Needles. (Photo: U.S. Coast Guard)
Shallow shipwrecks are subject to severe environmental degradation resulting from natural processes such as ocean surge, north Pacific storms, strong currents and sea level rise (Figure 28). The General Meigs and the Austria are two wrecks that are heavily impacted from natural destruction. However, no monitoring of changing conditions is currently being conducted.

There have already been significant studies of both the late prehistoric and older archaeological sites, but much remains to be learned. To date, most of the efforts have focused upon the more recent sites, but knowledge of the sites associated with mid-Holocene shorelines is relatively limited. Although some collaborative monitoring of prehistoric sites is currently being conducted by Olympic National Park, the sanctuary and Makah Tribal Historic Preservation Officers, it is minimal and informal. However, data from other parts of the northwest coast suggest that there may be several different types of prehistoric archaeological resources in the sanctuary. Features such as late prehistoric fish traps and canoe runs are known to be present near the sanctuary, and examples of both, may be present within it. There is also the possibility that ancient archaeological sites could be present on inundated late Pleistocene and early Holocene shorelines in the sanctuary. Given the absence of direct evidence, it is not possible to address the conditions of such resources (if they are present). Data from other parts of the northwest coast suggest that such resources are likely to be relatively durable; however, like shipwrecks, prehistoric archaeological resources could be adversely affected by wave energy (particularly those resources in the intertidal zone and shorelines), commercial fishing activities and recreational divers. Prehistoric archaeological sites in the intertidal zone and shorelines are also subject to looting and other human disturbance, but little monitoring, education or enforcement takes place.

There is considerable variation in the integrity of the known archaeological resources near the sanctuary. Nearly all of the late prehistoric sites associated with the modern shoreline are actively eroding. Data exist that document the loss of cultural deposits due to shoreline erosion, and it can be anticipated that rising sea levels will accelerate the rate of this loss. Significant loss of cultural deposits has also been caused by development in and around modern shoreline communities. As can be expected, development is less of a factor in the Olympic National Park. Although relatively limited, some additional damage to cultural deposits along the modern shoreline has occurred due to vandalism. While knowledge of the integrity of the older mid-Holocene sites is more limited, these sites are mostly located in nearshore forest settings and are not being impacted by shoreline erosion. Historic impacts on these sites have resulted primarily from activities such as logging and the construction of logging roads. Given that these sites tend to be located in relatively remote places and are difficult to detect, there are no known cases of damage due to vandalism.

16. Do maritime archaeological resources pose an environmental hazard and how is this threat changing?

The sanctuary’s inventory of known maritime archaeological resources suggests that the potential for shipwrecks in the sanctuary to pose an environmental hazard to sanctuary resources is minimal. Therefore, the situation is considered to be good and not changing.

The historic shipwrecks (at least 50 years old) in the sanctuary include both merchant and military vessels that sank during wartime, as well as older peacetime sinkings and groundings. However, for the purposes of wreck removal, salvage, and pollution response, most of the vessels in question would be from post-1910, when naval and commercial vessels began to shift from coal to oil bunkers (Dahl 2001). It is likely that earlier wrecks are no longer intact and did not carry substantial quantities of hazardous cargoes or fuel oil.

Given the above criteria that constitute “historic wrecks” with potential to pose an environmental hazard, the sanctuary has 12 known vessels in this category. OCNMS Shipwreck Database

Of these 12 vessels, only one, the General Miegs, has been identified as a source of oil leakage into the environment (Clark et al. 1975). However, no monitoring is currently taking place. There are occasional reports of mystery spills (oil sheen reported on the water from an unknown source). This can indicate a release from a wreck; however, this does not occur frequently or consistently enough to give a strong indication of a release from a submerged wreck. It is more likely that this is the result of an illegal discharge of oily ballast or other accidental and unreported release from a vessel (Helton 2003).

17. What are the levels of human activities that may influence maritime archaeological resource quality and how are they changing?

Human activities in the sanctuary have impacted maritime archaeological resources, but a general lack of assessment makes the trend undetermined. This is based on unauthorized salvaging that is taking place in the intertidal zone of the sanctuary and fishing activities and cable installations that are occurring in the offshore zone of the sanctuary.

Prehistoric sites in the intertidal zone and shorelines are subject to erosion, and wave action and storm events uncover new materials every year. As resources are unearthed, they are subject to the threat of looting and vandalism. There is little monitoring, enforcement and education taking place to offset this threat.

Historical and recent bottom trawling can potentially impact maritime archaeological resources in the offshore zone of the sanctuary. Incidental damage to resources may occur through impacts from bottom-contact fishing gear (trawl, longlines, etc.), anchoring and derelict fishing gear. However, because the majority of wreck locations are unknown, the impacts from historical and recent trawling are unknown. Recent closures of large areas of the sanctuary to bottom trawling will reduce these threats. The creation of new or larger areas restricting bottom-contact gear may indirectly protect historical resources.

Also threatening resources in the offshore zone is the trenching of submerged communication cables. As has been mentioned, the installation of underwater cables can negatively impact benthic habitat in the immediate vicinity of the cable, but the impacts are localized to within a few meters to either side of the cable route. In advance of cable installations, route surveys are conducted to identify and avoid maritime archaeological resources, yet there is potential for buried remains to be undetected by surveys and subsequently damaged by cable trenching equipment.

Other human activities affecting archaeological resources in the sanctuary include:

  • With more sophisticated diving technology becoming available (rebreathers, affordable side-scan sonar, etc.) and the allure of treasure or artifacts, some treasure hunters are moving to deeper waters. Any vessel or site could be considered in danger of damage from scavenging or vandalism, but those known in local histories as carrying valuables, such as the steamer Pacific, should be located and evaluated soon. The threat of looting or vandalism increases as erosion and human use and access rates increase.
  • Human use disturbance due to management activities (placement of privies in the wilderness) or lack of mitigating measures (use of informal social trails or campsites) can potentially impact land-based sites that were once coastal. This threat is decreasing due to improved interagency consultation.
  • Mineral extraction activities: Intertidal maritime cultural resources could be imperiled by beach mining activities (gravel, sand, gold, etc.) as have been proposed in the past (State of Washington 2006). Significant timber cutting or inland mining has the potential to increase erosion to river and stream mouths, altering or imperiling intertidal and nearshore resources.
  • The possibility of installation of offshore power generation or aquaculture facilities.

There is a lack of assessment, monitoring and enforcement for maritime archaeological resources in the sanctuary. However, the situation for archaeological resources on lands immediately adjacent to the sanctuary is somewhat better understood. Sites in these areas are relatively more accessible; therefore, monitoring is accomplished with more ease. These sites represent a variety of different conditions and are influenced by varying combinations of both natural processes and human activities. As such, some are much more threatened than others. The human activities threatening archaeological sites near the sanctuary are mostly related to development and terrestrial resource extraction (principally logging). Presumably, both types of activities will continue in nearshore areas for the foreseeable future. Shoreline erosion is also a serious threat to the survival of many archaeological sites, and this effect will become more severe if sea level rise continues to occur in the coming decades (Pendleton et al. 2004).

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