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Marine Sciences Division

Puget Sound

Nearshore Restoration

Nearshore Restoration

Seagrasses are a crucial component and barometer of a healthy Puget Sound. They contribute significantly to nearshore food webs, shoreline processes and stabilization, carbon sequestration, and water quality. However, seagrasses have been declining in some parts of the Sound (and in other parts of the world) at an alarming rate. These losses are expected to be further exacerbated by the effects of climate change.

In order to address the decline in eelgrass, the Puget Sound Partnership's Action Agenda has specifically targeted restoration efforts for a 20% increase eelgrass area from the 2008 baseline by 2020. Challenges include determining potential areas that are suitable for restoration and developing meadows that are resilient to the effects of climate change and other disturbances. Determining why eelgrass is absent in an area requires a basic understanding of eelgrass growth requirements and the physical attributes of suitable sites.

In 2012, MSL partnered with the Washington State Department of Natural Resources to develop a multi-step approach for eelgrass restoration. A critical first step is to determine suitable restoration sites for transplanting eelgrass. Utilizing an understanding of eelgrass growth requirements coupled with numerical circulation and water quality models, PNNL developed an eelgrass biomass model. The model has been combined with other spatial data sources to produce spatially explicit maps of potential locations for eelgrass restoration throughout Puget Sound. Subsequently, test transplant sites are planted, evaluated for survival, and large-scale plantings placed in locations with the highest chances for success.

Harmful Algal Blooms

Harmful Algal Blooms

Harmful algal blooms (HABs) are a common occurrence in Puget Sound waters, especially during the summer months. Some bloom-forming algae in the Sound are caused by several species of phytoplankton that produce biotoxins, including Alexandrium, Pseudo-nitzschia, and Dinophysis. Suspension-feeding bivalves can accumulate biotoxins at levels that may lead to paralytic shellfish poisoning or amnesiac shellfish poisoning when ingested by humans, marine birds or mammals.

MSL is working to improve the understanding of coastal phytoplankton and algal blooms dynamics in Puget Sound and surrounding waters. Projected warming trends in regional and global climate could create the potential for increased risk of human exposure to HABs and their toxins. Scientists at MSL are seeking to better understand the mechanisms that trigger the initiation of blooms, as well as characterize the environmental scenarios that lead to greater toxin production. This information can be used to provide better decision support services for public health monitoring of shellfish resources by regional and local entities.

As an example, MSL is currently involved in a project to develop a HAB risk index for the Puget Sound region which will utilize PNNL's existing modeling framework coupled with historical shellfish records. The decision support tool will allow allocation of monitoring resources at a local level based on current and future climate conditions scenarios. The developed approach and framework will be scalable to other regions of the country as well as other marine pathogens of concern.

Water Quality

Water Quality

An ongoing challenge for managing and improving water quality on a regional or watershed scale is to better understand the sources, locations, and loading of contaminants. Effective management requires frequent monitoring integrated with computer models to predict loadings under various climatic conditions.

MSL researchers are assisting with watershed-based assessments of stream and storm water pollution runoff in the Sinclair-Dyes Inlet of Puget Sound. This activity is conducted as part of Project ENVironmental InVESTment (ENVVEST) performed by the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in partnership with the U.S. EPA, Washington State Department of Ecology, the Suquamish Tribe, Kitsap County, Kitsap County Health District, the City of Bremerton, and other local stakeholders.

Contaminant concentrations in representative streams and outfalls discharging into Sinclair and Dyes Inlets are being evaluated during storm events and wet/dry baseflow conditions between fall and late spring. Samples are analyzed for metals (mercury, arsenic, cadmium, chromium, copper, lead, silver, and zinc), polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), nutrients (total inorganic nitrogen and total phosphorus), fecal coliform bacteria, and ancillary parameters to determine event mean concentrations (EMCs) as a function of total event rainfall and upstream land use and cover (LULC).

An empirical model developed at MSL is used to estimate constituent concentrations in streams and outfalls as defined by a step-function based on storm intensity and level of development. The empirical model is combined with a calibrated and verified hydrology model for the watershed and used to predict contaminant loadings from a wide range of land uses draining into Sinclair/Dyes Inlet. An evaluation of the empirical model was obtained by comparing predicted contaminant levels to contaminant levels measured in stormwater sampled from selected watersheds on Bainbridge Island during the fall. The evaluation was based on the probability of exceeding the modeled range.

Contaminants

Contaminants

Environmental managers and risk assessors face growing demands to assess the impacts of climate change and contaminants on biota with greater accuracy, but at lower costs and using fewer or no experimental animals. New in vitro methods combined with advances in computational sciences may be able to help meet these demands.

Ongoing research at MSL in partnership with the University of Washington and University of Idaho seeks to improve the translation of adverse effects measured at the cell or tissue level with adverse outcomes traditionally measured at the whole-animal or population level.

A current study funded by the U.S EPA Science-to-Achieve-Results program is developing cellular assay systems of the rainbow trout pituitary, liver, and ovary. These assays measure essential reproductive endocrine functions of the corresponding organ. For example, pituitary cell assays measure follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH) synthesis and secretion. In vitro results are converted to whole fish estimates of reproductive success using a mathematical model of the salmonid brain-pituitary-ovary-liver (BPOL) axis. The goal of this project is to establish the use of in vitro testing with mathematical models of reproduction as a viable alternative to whole-animal testing.

"EPA Awards Almost $11 Million to Advance Chemical Safety Research."

"High-Throughput Cellular Assays for Modeling Toxicity in the Fish Reproductive System."

Exposure Monitoring

Exposure Monitoring

The nearshore marine environment can be a major repository for many types of anthropogenic contaminants. An important group of contaminants known as polybrominated di-phenyl ethers (PBDEs) were once used as flame retardants and are now ubiquitous environmental contaminants. Structurally related derivatives of PBDEs are the hydroxylated (OH-PBDEs) and methoxylated forms (MeO-PBDEs). Human exposure to these contaminants is a concern due to potential developmental effects in neonates and children and impacts on the thyroid system. Certain OH-PBDEs and MeO-PBDEs also occur naturally in the marine environment. Marine fish and shellfish bioaccumulate both natural and anthropogenic forms and serve as a vector for human exposures. Another important exposure pathway for the anthropogenic PBDEs is indoor dust, which may be unintentionally ingested or inhaled.

Research at MSL is measuring PBDE, OH-PBDEs and MeO-PBDE levels in blood collected from human volunteers living in the greater Puget Sound region. Volunteers are recruited from different occupations such as commercial/subsistence fishing or electronic/computer recycling. The commercial fishing occupation is largely an outdoor activity that promotes above average seafood consumption while electronic recycling may expose workers to dust with exceptionally high levels of PBDEs. Thus, comparison of PBDE levels in samples associated with these occupations can provide important insights on the importance of dust vs. seafood both as an overall source of PBDEs and for specific forms present in only seafood or dust.

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