Return To The Salish Sea

Parker Miles Blohm / KNKX

Over the past three months, KNKX has hosted a series of weekly interviews about the iconic waterway that includes Puget Sound and extends into British Columbia. Return to the Salish Sea took listeners to locations all around the shores of this shared ecosystem to hear from people who are deeply connected to it and concerned about its future.

Bellamy Pailthorp / KNKX

The Salish Sea is home to more than three thousand species. Among them are 253 fish, 172 birds, 38 mammals and two reptiles.

Samish Indian Nation tribal chairman Tom Wooten.
Parker Miles Blohm / KNKX

The culture  of the Samish Indian Nation aligns closely with the Salish Sea. Its headquarters are on Fidalgo Island, near Anacortes, and its people are scattered throughout the area, on both sides of the border between the U.S. and Canada.

Historically, they lived on five islands in the central Salish Sea:  Fidalgo, Guemes, Lopez, San Juan, and Samish.

Parker Miles Blohm / KNKX

The Salish Sea is a complex web of waterways that includes Puget Sound and the straits of Juan de Fuca and Georgia. It also has inflows from 64 rivers and 99 wastewater treatment plants in the U.S. and Canada.

Bellamy Pailthorp / KNKX

Beneath the surface of the Salish Sea, there are hundreds of species of seaweeds growing. They provide habitat and nutrition for many forms of marine life. In Sooke, just west of Victoria in British Columbia, one entrepreneur has developed a line of skin-care products made from foraged kelp.  

Parker Miles Blohm / KNKX

For many people in the Northwest, the undamming of the Elwha River on the Olympic Peninsula marked a dramatic turning point. The largest dam removal in the world at the time, it unleashed the lifeblood of a watershed that fronts on the Salish Sea.

Shina Wysocki holds an oyster raised at Chelsea Farms in Olympia, Wash.
Parker Miles Blohm / KNKX

The ocean is becoming more acidic and fossil fuel emissions are making it worse. That can be lethal for oyster larvae because it inhibits their ability to form shells.

But there is one variety of oyster that seems to be more able to adapt to that change. A small, family-run growing operation in Olympia has made growing it a priority.

Bellamy Pailthorp / KNKX

When you think of the Salish Sea, the image that first comes to mind probably doesn’t include grassy plains and meadows. But, in fact, the concept of this shared ecosystem that unites the U.S. and Canada extends to the entire basin of the watershed.

Bellamy Pailthorp / KNKX

The prospect of a major oil spill is something that has many people concerned about the future of the Salish Sea, especially now that the Kinder Morgan Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion has been approved by Canada.

Bellamy Pailthorp / KNKX

One of the biggest concerns about the future of the Salish Sea is the likely expansion of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline. It carries tar sands oil from Canada’s eastern provinces to a terminal in Burnaby, British Columbia, just north of Vancouver.

Parker Miles Blohm / KNKX

If you’ve ever driven on I-5 north of Olympia, you’ve likely been struck by the unique landscape of the Nisqually River Delta.

With Mount Rainier looming in the distance, a huge expanse of marshlands extends on either side of the highway where the fresh water of the river meets the salt water of southern Puget Sound. This is the southern end of the Salish Sea.

Bellamy Pailthorp / KNKX

Squid eggs and harlequin ducks are the latest signs of renewed life on the beach at the mouth of the Elwha River. They have only recently returned, some three years after the completion of the largest dam removal in the world, here on the shores of the Salish Sea.

Bellamy Pailthorp / KNKX

A big issue in the Salish Sea right now is concern about increasing oil tanker traffic. Plans by Kinder Morgan to expand its Trans-Mountain pipeline could more than triple the amount of crude oil arriving at the pipeline’s terminus in Vancouver, B.C.

Bellamy Pailthorp / KNKX

Music that connects people to the land and sea has been with us for centuries. Recent singer-songwriters such as Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell have built on that tradition.

Here in the Puget Sound region, you can add another name to that list: Dana Lyons.

Bellamy Pailthorp / KNKX

One day nearly a decade ago, a Canadian-born colleague came knocking at cartographer Stefan Freelan’s door.

Bert Webber, a professor of Geography and Environmental Social Sciences at the time, was trying to spread the word about a newly-named body of water. He asked Freelan to help him by making a map of the Salish Sea.

Bellamy Pailthorp / KNKX

Bert Webber is the man who coined the phrase "Salish Sea." He is a professor emeritus from Huxley College at Western Washington University in Bellingham.

Webber says while it may be easy to see the Salish Sea as separate waterways, those waterways actually make up one ecosystem that goes beyond political borders.

Bellamy Pailthorp / KNKX

Residents of Western Washington and British Columbia likely recognize bodies of water like Puget Sound, the Strait of Juan de Fuca and the Strait of Georgia. However, many people don’t realize that what were once perceived as individual waterways are now widely considered one ecosystem. That body of water is called the Salish Sea.