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About The Salish Sea

What is The Salish Sea?

Named for The Coast Salish Tribes of which were the first inhabitants of the area, the Salish Sea is an inland network of coastal waterways located between Washington state in the U.S and British Columbia in Canada that includes the Strait of Georgia, the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the Puget Sound. With a surface area of over 6,500 square miles, the Salish Sea encompasses many diverse marine ecosystems and supports an incredible amount of life including over 253 species of fish, 7 species of cetaceans, and much more.


Why is The Salish Sea so Rich in Wildlife?

1. Oceanographic Factors

The Salish Seas position at the confluence of the Strait of Juan de Fuca, the Strait of Georgia, and Puget sound means that the sea experiences complex tidal currents, and upwelling, which contributes to nutrient-rich waters. These nutrients help boost phytoplankton blooms which serve as the base of the food web, transferring energy created with photosynthesis up to higher trophic levels.

2. Climate & Geography

The temperate climate and geographic location of the Salish Sea contribute to its richness in wildlife. Mild winters and moderate summers provide a relatively stable environment for many species throughout the year. Expansive mudflats and variation in sediment across the intertidal allows organisms the ability to have very specific niches, which increases the biodiversity in coastal waters.


3. Ecological Diversity      


The abundance of coastal banks, shelves, and rocky reefs create the perfect conditions for kelp forests which provide food and shelter for thousands of species including fish, seals, sea lions, and aquatic birds. Eelgrass beds found in shallower bays improve water quality through filtration of pollutants, production of oxygen and stabilization of substrate. Eelgrass also reduces the force of wave energy which protects against coastal erosion, as well as providing nursery habitat for smaller fish species including young salmon.


4. Migration Routes

Many species of fish, marine mammals, and birds migrate through or utilize the Salish Sea as a crucial part of their life cycles. Its location along migratory pathways and range of intertidal habitats make it a critical area for breeding, feeding, and resting. One example is the well documented group of gray whales nicknamed the “Sounders” which pass through the Salish Sea to feed on the abundant ghost shrimp in the muddy sediment.


5. Protected Areas and Conservation Efforts

Several marine protected areas and conservation initiatives exist within the Salish Sea region. These efforts help to preserve the natural environment, reduce human impacts such as pollution and habitat destruction, and promote sustainable practices. Species protection and recovery initiatives such as the marine mammals protection act and the southern resident killer whale recovery planning are helping to protect at risk species, and return them to historic population numbers.

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