Identifying the state of our coastal ecosystems and their vulnerability to climate change is a critical component of developing effective watershed-scale management strategies and for adapting to changes in aquatic resource availability. Using the Bellingham Bay/Nooksack River watershed as a model system, the proposed project will investigate four critical areas of concern regarding human impacts on the health and function of coastal ecosystems and the economic and cultural resources of Coast Salish tribal communities. <P>These critical areas of concern include 1) loading of nutrients, organic matter and sediment to Bellingham Bay, 2) increases in the incidence and severity of hypoxia, 3) fecal coliform contamination of surface waters and shellfish beds, and 4) habitat suitability for commercially and culturally important demersal and pelagic organisms. <P>This project will provide valuable insight into the factors influencing water resources for the Lummi community, Bellingham Bay and other similar embayments of the Salish Sea. Bellingham Bay is an ideal model system for evaluating the phenomenon of eutrophication and hypoxia in small embayments of PNW waters. This project will establish a baseline of climate-sensitive parameters that will allow us to track and predict the effects of climate change on water quality in Bellingham Bay. Ultimately, our work will enhance public understanding and awareness of these issues and work towards a more well-informed constituency.
This project is an outgrowth of a previous study that examined the relationships between nutrient inputs, fecal coliform bacteria and areas of diminished dissolved oxygen in Bellingham Bay. In addition to building on the time-series of the previous study, this study will attempt to 1) quantify the magnitude and sources of nutrient and sediment being deposited in Bellingham Bay, 2) identify sources of fecal coliform contamination that occasionally necessitates the closure of shellfish beds in the bay, 3) discover the relationship between timing, and the severity and extent of bottom-water hypoxia, and 4) monitor water quality of fishing areas through a partnership with Lummi tribal crab fishermen. We will also be looking at the influence of climate change on the system, by examining the volume, and timing of the spring freshet, and current and historical trends in water temperature.
This study will be conducted through the following methodologies: 1)By identifying point, and non-point sources of nutrient, organic matter (OM), fecal coliform (FC) and total suspended solids (TSS) inputs to Bellingham Bay; 2)By quantifying seasonal variability in nutrient, OM, FC, TSS and bacteria inputs to Bellingham Bay; 3)By developing a nutrient budget that includes primary sources of dissolved nitrogen to Bellingham Bay capturing seasonal variability in relative contributions to total inputs; 4)By quantifying the temporal and spatial extent of bottom water hypoxia in Bellingham Bay as a baseline for tracking effects of climate change; 5)By synthesizing data collected previously by our group to develop a predictive model of coliform contamination of shellfish beds used by Lummi tribal members; 6)By engaging tribal fishermen in a crab-pot monitoring program to evaluate water quality as it relates to demersal and pelagic habitat sustainability.